Summary: God makes a covenant with Abraham that he’ll make his descendants a great nation, that he’ll give them a land and that he’ll bless all peoples through him.
(By Roy Hamer)
There was a Catholic priest, an Anglican minister and a Jewish rabbi who all worked together in a little country town. Like a lot of country towns things were a little tough. So to save money they decided that they’d pool some of their resources to save on expenses. They decided to buy a car together so they could share the costs of the car over the three ministries. Well when the day came to pick up the car the Anglican minister and the Jewish rabbi arrived at the car yard to find the Catholic priest waving incense around the car and praying Hail Mary’s. Quick as a flash the Anglican got out his prayer book and started praying in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Rabbi stood their bewildered for a moment. But then he ran into the workshop, came out with a hacksaw and cut five centimetres off the exhaust pipe.
Well I guess you know that circumcision is a long and well establish tradition in Judaism. In fact circumcision is still practised today within more cultures than just the Jews. But in Jewish culture it continues as a sign of belonging to the people of God.
In today’s reading from Genesis 17, we learn that whilst it was part of the arrangement of God’s covenant with Abraham, it has continuing implications even for us today.
But first I think it is important that we know something about covenants in early Middle Eastern history. Whilst covenants were not unusual, this covenant was significantly different. Early Middle Eastern history was full of violent kings who’d raise armies for battle against each other. Battles were ferocious, and they’d battle until one King had the upper hand. This usually happened when one side had all but destroyed the other side. Well the losing King would approach the winner and make a covenant with him. This usually involved some form of animal sacrifice to the winning king. In effect what the losing king was saying is that if I’m not loyal to you from now on may what has happened to this animal happen to me. But here there’s a difference. God was not a losing King. Yet it was God who was coming to Abraham to make a Covenant. He was coming as a King from a position of power yet the implication was similar.
We heard a few weeks ago from Chris about the calling of Abram and of God’s desire to create a nation. He promised that Abram and Sarai would have many descendants. In fact their family would grow so big it would create a nation. Well I guess Abram like the rest of us had his own plans. He knew that Sarai was barren and had never conceived, so he took things into his own hands. And Ishmael was born. Abram was his father but Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant was his mother. Here we join Abram thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth. That’s thirteen years of Abram getting older. He was now 99 years old. I don’t know about you but for me, that’s far too old to be starting a family. God speaks, and says to Abram, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." (Gen 17:1;2) God’s first words in this exchange are calling Abram back into relationship and obedience.
Abram is also called by God to walk before God blamelessly. This is a new covenant. He’s being called to live in obedience to Gods commands. This is a new start, with new possibilities for the brokenness of the world. This is about the restoration of relationship with God. Not just for Abram but for all who would come after him. God makes his covenant with Abram an eternal covenant. Listen to the words, ’everlasting’, ’for generations to come’, ’everlasting possession’. God is committing to His covenant forever.
So how does Abraham respond when God speaks? He falls down flat on his face before God. He takes a position of worship and servitude. He is expressing his willingness to subject himself to whatever it is God might require. He’s demonstrating his worship of God as it should be.
And it is there, with Abram prostrate before him, that God speaks. And he says three things….. referring to the three main characters in the unfolding story…..
As for me
As for you
As for Sarai
And I want to add a fourth …… as for US.
In the first part, ’As for me’, God speaks again the familiar words of the promise he had been giving repeatedly for the past 23 years. "You will be the father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. The whole land of Canaan I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." (Gen 17:4-8). The promise is about a nation, a land and the blessing of God on them as they become a blessing to others. God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Why? God wants them to be a Nation that other nations will look at and want what they have. So here we see God’s restoration project: First, restoration between God and humanity via Abram. Then, restoration between people via a nation. That is, as outsiders see the people of God living under Gods care they will want the same; this will lead them back into relationship with God. Finally we see in God’s Promised Land the restoration between God’s people and the land.