Read Genesis 17 (opens in new window)
God’s words to Abram in verse 1 was a way of saying that he should stop trying to work things out in his own strength and let Almighty God work for him. Immediately afterward God renewed His covenant and changed the patriarch’s name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). Circumcision was then instituted as a sign of the covenant. This surgical operation, performed on the male child, was a physical sign that the person belonged to God’s chosen earthly people. Every male in Abraham’s house was circumcised, and thereafter every male baby was to be circumcised when he was eight days old or else be cut off from his people—that is, put away from the congregation of Israel (Gen. 17:9-14). The expression “cut off” sometimes means to put to death, as in Exodus 31:14-15. In other places, as here, it seems to mean to ban or ostracize.
The Apostle Paul is careful to point out that Abraham was justified (Gen. 15:6) before he was circumcised. His circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11). Believers today are not sealed with a physical mark; they receive the Holy Spirit as a seal at the time of their conversion (Eph. 4:30).
Circumcision was adopted by God as a physical sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Gen. 17:10–14), because of its relationship to reproduction, thus “keying” it to God’s promise to Abram that he would have descendants. Thus all descendants of Abraham became known as “the circumcision” (Acts 10:45) and Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11). It is also the sign and seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Rom. 4:5).
But then the words “circumcision” and “circumcised” took on a variety of meanings. “Uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12) signified a lack of ability to “speak righteously” and skill in public speaking. “Uncircumcised ears” and “uncircumcised hearts” spoke of failure to hear, love, and obey the Lord (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 6:10; Acts 7:51). “Uncircumcised in flesh” (Ezek. 44:7) meant unclean.
In the New Testament, “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11) refers to His death on the cross. Believers are circumcised through their identification with Christ; Paul speaks of it as “the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11). This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer, but should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:5). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3), in contrast to a party of Jewish legalists known as “the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).
In addition to their symbolism, some of God’s laws were designed to save His people from the diseases of the Gentiles. Many medical authorities today believe that circumcision tends to prevent certain forms of cancer in both the man and his wife.
God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (princess) and promised Abraham that his ninety-year-old wife would have a son. The patriarch laughed, but in joyful wonder, not in unbelief. His faith did not waver (Rom. 4:18-21).
When Abraham pled that Ishmael might have favor before God, he was told that the covenant would be fulfilled through his son, Isaac. However, Ishmael would be fruitful, would multiply, and would become a great nation. Isaac was a symbol of Christ, through whom the covenant receives its ultimate fulfillment.
Notice the promptness of Abraham’s obedience: That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael.
Read Genesis 18 (opens in new window)
Shortly after the events of chapter 17, three men appeared to Abraham. Actually two of them were angels and the other was the Lord Himself (Jesus, in a Christophany). With typical Middle Eastern hospitality, Abraham and Sarah entertained the angels unawares (Heb. 13:2) and One who was greater than angels. When Sarah overheard the Lord say that she would have a child within a year, her laughter betrayed her unbelief. She was rebuked with the searching question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” But the promise was repeated in spite of her doubting (Gen. 18:9-15). Hebrews 11:11 indicates that Sarah was basically a woman of faith in spite of this momentary lapse.
After the Lord revealed to Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom, and while the two angels were walking toward that city, Abraham’s great intercessory countdown began—fifty … forty-five … forty … thirty … twenty … ten. Even for ten righteous people the Lord would not destroy Sodom! Abraham’s prayer is a wonderful example of effectual intercession. It was based on the righteous character of the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25) and evidenced that boldness, coupled with deep humility, which only an intimate knowledge of God can give. Only when Abraham stopped pleading did the Lord close the matter and depart (Gen. 18:33). There are many situations in life for which the truth of verse 25 is the only satisfying answer.
Don’t miss the reasoning that God demonstrates as to WHY He chose to inform Abraham of His plans regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. Many times, God reveals something to us, in order that we will teach it to others (especially our own family).