The covenant sealed (17:1-27)
As Abram and Sarai grew older, God told them again that he would be faithful to his promises. He revealed himself to them in a new name of power (God Almighty) and gave them each new names (Abraham and Sarah) to emphasize that he would make them parents of a multitude (17:1-6,15-16). The Almighty had made a covenant to be God to Abraham and his descendants, and he would give them Canaan to be their homeland (7-8).
To reassure Abraham that he would keep his covenant promises, God told him to make a permanent distinguishing mark in his body. This mark, circumcision, was a symbol of God’s faithfulness to his covenant and a sign that Abraham believed God’s promises and obeyed his commands. Circumcision sealed Abraham’s faith and at the same time demonstrated his obedience (Romans 4:9-12; cf. Acts 7:8). Others in Abraham’s household, and all his male descendants throughout the generations to come, were likewise to be circumcised if they wished to be God’s people under the covenant. The covenant originated with God, but people had to respond to God’s grace with faithful obedience if they were to participate in the blessings of the covenant (9-14).
When God promised Abraham that Sarah would have a son, Abraham felt, in view of his and Sarah’s old age, that this was almost too much to expect. It seemed to him more reasonable to expect God to make Ishmael (now an impressive thirteen-year-old youth; see 16:16; 17:1) heir to the covenant promises. God told Abraham that Ishmael would certainly have a notable line of descendants, but God’s covenant people would be established through the son yet to be born, Isaac (15-22). Abraham believed God’s covenant promises, and gave expression to his faith by carrying out God’s covenant commands (23-27).
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