We stopped last time in the middle in Abraham’s tale of two covenants. Let’s revisit some of the verses we read previously as we continue Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants…
Genesis 17:7-14 (NKJV)
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also, I give to you and your descendants after you the land in (of your sojournings) which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
God presented Abraham with a new covenant, working in conjunction with the first covenant. And God called this new covenant,
the one of circumcision, a sign of God’s earlier covenant, the one we call the Abrahamic Covenant. You could say this chapter is a tale of two covenants. No doubt Abraham is pleased to know that his earlier missteps with Hagar and Ishmael haven’t weakened God’s resolve to keep His promise to Abraham which He made concerning his descendants, the land, and inheritance. Nevertheless, he probably wasn’t too thrilled to learn that circumcision was to be the sign of that earlier covenant.
Last time, we were trying to understand the spiritual meaning of the covenant of circumcision and the relationship it has to the Abrahamic covenant and ultimately the relationship it has to, saving faith. Let’s try to understand how they are working together, if at all, at this moment. We said that the covenant of circumcision was a two-way covenant, different from the first covenant. Two-way meaning both parties had obligations. God said He had some obligations to Abraham and He gave Abraham obligations to do something new. In this case, the father of a family was the one who actually had to take the step of obedience when they chose to circumcise the son on the eighth day. So that led us to conclude this was a cross-generational covenant. The terms, in other words, are moving forward in time as the obedience takes place in the family. As one man does what he is supposed to do obediently, he is bringing a new generation into the covenant.
If they failed to circumcise their male children as required, then that would be a breaking of the covenant of circumcision and by breaking the covenant of circumcision the man was separating his future family line from participation in the earlier covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant. The covenant was cross-generational in the way it demanded obedience from the parents to ensure the children were counted as a part of the covenant to Abraham. The nation of Israel was being perpetuated through their line. The children who were circumcised was becoming part of the next generation of Israel. If the family denied the sign, if they did not keep that covenant, they were ceasing their family from being a part of Israel. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
Why did God want Abraham and his descendants to carry this new sign, the sign of circumcision, in their bodies forever? First, consider what happened in chapter 16. Earlier in that chapter, Abraham and Sarai had concluded that God’s promises were only going to be available to them if they in their own power went out and made an error. That led to Hagar, that led to Ishmael. That was what chapter 16 was about. That line of Hagar coming through Ismael, that line of descendants will have blessings of their own. God made those promises to Hagar. But they are not parties to the Abrahamic Covenant. Ismael is not a party to the covenant. He and his descendants will not be included in the promises God made to Abraham. It is ending with Ishmael.
Now, in chapter 17, God is responding to the problem that Abraham created by having a child with Hagar. Because now a question arises from Abraham’s behavior. What will distinguish the descendants of Abraham, who are in versus the descendants of Abraham, who are not in the promises given to Abraham? God establishes a second covenant, the one of circumcision, to designate who will share in the promises of the first covenant and who will not. The covenant does not take priority over the earlier covenant. A person, for example, like Ishmael couldn’t force his way into the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant simple by going out and getting circumcised. He didn’t somehow create for himself a promise by taking on circumcision.
But if someone was a descendant of Abraham and they are told to keep this covenant as a sign or as a reminder of the earlier covenant and if they were to fail to do that, then they would invalidate their future generations from participating in that earlier covenant. Why did this covenant come along? To allow for God to distinguish who would be and who would be out physically in terms of the covenant to Abraham. Thus, who was in the nation of Israel. Secondly, to the nature of the sign itself (the idea of cutting a mans body), why is that the sign that God chose? First, it is a reminder of the blood covenant to Abraham and his descendants because you could not perform circumcision without the spilling of blood. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
There was a debate among Jewish rabbis and schools of thought, what would happen if somebody was brought into the nation of Israel as a servant. Notice the covenant also applied to servants. So, what if you bought a servant and brought them into your household and yet they had already been circumcised because they were part of some pagan cult, let’s say, that practiced circumcision as well. Were you obligated to try and cut them again to draw blood or not? The Jewish conclusion was you would cut them again, not in any significant way because there was not much to cut. But you would draw blood just for the sake of ensuring blood was spilled because the Jewish view was the whole idea was to remind the participant, of the blood covenant that was in place between Abraham and God.
Secondly, it involves the reproductive organ and that is a reminder of the eternal nature of the promise from generation to generation. This promise is being extended multi-generationally and the adopting of a sign in each new generation showed where the passing of the promise laid. In the next generation. In the moving forward of the seed. The seed promise. It was connected to the nature of the covenant.itself. A multi-generational covenant. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
In Israel, Jewishness is transferred through the male, you are Jewish because your father is Jewish. But a woman was included in this covenant by virtue of the fact that she was either under her father’s authority or she was under her husband’s authority. As such, under her father’s authority, his circumcision became the covering for that family to be in the covenant. And if she marries she would have to marry a good Jewish man who was also in the covenant. Then she would be covered by him. That was how women were included in this. They were covered by virtue of being part of the same generation being included in the covenant.
But if anyone along the way should forgo this sign, they are making a decision for their family. Making a statement, that for hereafter, we are not participating in this covenant of Abraham. They cut themselves off, so to speak. In fact, in the Hebrew, there is a wordplay. God says for anyone who does not cut themselves, he will be cut off from the nation of Israel.
So by changing Abram’s name to Abraham and by making circumcision for those who were cut, they now become a living testimony to the covenant that God gives them. In the first covenant, God delivered Abraham with saving faith. He delivered all the promises and guarantees. That came strictly because God made a promise. Similarly, when God granted us grace through faith there was no condition. You didn’t have to run out and do something in order to be a part of the family of God by faith. We have a similar future to Abraham because we have been grafted into those promises in the same manner, by faith. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
The glory we will have in the future is depended solely on the faithfulness of God to His promises. But then God comes along and tells Abraham and his descendants here is a new covenant, a second covenant which is a sign of the first, keep this or else. If they obey that covenant, then the next generation carries the promise forward. If they disobey they cease their testimony and their opportunity in future generations are cutoff. Is there a parallel for us? Likewise, we have a call in our life, don’t we? To live as a testimony to our faith. We are called to obey Christ’s commandments. That is why we are told in the great commission as we go out we are to teach others to obey all that Jesus commanded us. We are to obey and teach others to obey what Christ commanded. That is our mission and our testimony.
If we fail in doing that, what is our consequence? If we don’t keep the Lord’s commandments in our life as a testimony, then though we don’t forfeit the first covenant, we still disobeyed His instruction and as such we put at risk, the opportunity to see our testimony continue in future generations. Wouldn’t you agree? We’re not suggesting here that God is obligated to bring faith into the next generation by virtue of our obedience. But that’s the essence of God’s commandment in Proverbs when He says: Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)
6 Train up a child in the way he should go,
And (even) when he is old he will not depart from it.
The essence of that commandment is when every part of your life is a testimony to God in all that you say and do and believe. The propensity is for God to take that and use it to great effect in your life and the lives of other people, particularly in the next generation. If though you are like a person of Israel who says, I know what God has said but I don’t want to practice this. That is something like a believer today, who though they have faith and they know the truth, selects to live in a way that it is not reflective of that belief, there are consequences. Sometimes our children come to faith to despite it. But the reality is, the potential for that to happen is far greater when our life is picturing Christ properly than when it is not. It’s just a general rule. No guarantees. But it is generally true. When we live according to God’s commands we don’t make salvation sure, but we do have an influence.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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