Summary: Historical Events That Colour Our Thinking
Abraham a man of Challenge, Faith and Promise
Historical Events That Colour Our Thinking
Reading Genesis 17:1ff
Abraham had been in the land now some 24/25 years. Upon entering the land he had spoken very readily of what God had spoken to him about, and enthusiastically so about the promise. Yet still there is no son of the promise. In this chapter we see that God comes once again to speak to Abraham, to reaffirm His words to him and to trim to some extent the direction of Abraham’s life. Central to this is the sign of circumcision. A sign which no-one who was born into the nation or becomes a part of that nation called to be priests to the world, could in their most intimate and exposed moments, hide. A sign which in the final analysis said "This is what I am! Nothing more, nothing less, but I am someone who is in a constant state of becoming."
In our reading is the institution of circumcision in the nation. God is clearly saying that this is a token of that work of Grace, whereby God chooses out and marks men for His own. For the decedents of Abraham circumcision is clearly seen as firstly a spiritual, and only secondly a national sign. The national identity is a by-product of just what God was doing in the people. The sign is saying that God has graciously moved toward me, and a derivative of that is mans consecration to God. Abraham was being told to show by the sign of God’s gracious movement towards him, and as God’s desire was that that might be so to every successive generation, then the sign was to every generation.
This was reaffirmed in the time of Moses, but because what took place under the hand of Moses, which was the taking of 12 family tribes and shaping them into a coherent nation, because of that the people started to point to circumcision as a national identity, born out of the time of Moses, instead of the true roots and significance as found from Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis 17.
All who have come to the place of experiencing the new birth, in our owning of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, can point to things of great significance. We can point to events and encounters with the Almighty, which have shaped our lives and have, place us upon a course that we have followed, possibly for many years. There is nothing wrong, there is nothing defective, there is nothing that can be pointed to in that encounter and experience that can in itself be said to be flawed or make it flawed. Yet it is possible to build our doctrine, our theology, our thinking/philosophy of life, without reference to what God has revealed as first principles. The net result is that we end up with a wrong and erroneous stance, which might have all the appearance of being of true orthodoxy, yet in reality being quite the opposite.
For Israel this is clearly seen in their stance concerning circumcision, because of the impact of the deliverance of the people and the subsequent formation of the nation under Moses, circumcision start’s to be seen as a mark of national identity instead of a token of God gracious movement ¬toward them and they in turn being people of obedience to Him. So we find at the heart of much of what the prophets said to the people is the calling back to the true faith of the heart, of people set apart to the Lord, who follow in His precepts, who walk according to His will out of love and not slavish religiosity.
"Break up your fallow ground,
And do not sow among the thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,...’
Running through the previous chapter and those to come is the phrase "Return to Me;" It is possible to have the sign and little more, it is possible to have all the trappings, all the right words, all the right phrases, all the "in" books. It is possible to have all the right signs, but have nothing more. The result is it is spiritually defunct and condemnation.
God was saying to Abraham, "Obey Me." Not because God has a sadomasochistic no fun, no joy all pain will for him. Not because He is sitting on the clouds of time indifferently sitting back waiting for him to make a mistake and come beating in on him with his punishment whip and goad. He is saying it but because he knows what the future holds and in His perfect will it is not only the best for us, but it is the only root to full and complete joy. God was saying "This will be a sign that you are indeed Mine because you are willing to suffer the indignity of the physical disfigurement, you are willing to be known as Mine, so that even when others misuse you, when others mistreat you, when others write you off as nothing or nobody, the sign will remind you that you are Mine. This is not only to you, but also to your generations that are to follow. This sign is to remind them that it is of Me, and that with Me they are utterly invincible, it is to be a sign of Me in them and they in Me. Nothing more and nothing less."