Abraham, Part 5 (The Covenant & the Cross #51)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 17:9-11 which reads: “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

Some ancient Near Eastern cultures circumcised their children at puberty as a rite of passage from childhood to manhood. God employed the sign for infants to show that the children of believing parents are “holy” (they are separated from the profane world and belong to the covenant community). God continues to use the family institution. The initiation rite into the covenant community today is baptism. In Christ there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, so all may come.

The covenant promises were extended to all within the household of faith. Even in the Old Testament, the scope of the covenant community was not exclusively determined by ancestry—a foreshadowing of the expansion of the covenant to a multitude from every tribe and nation.

The covenant of grace between God and His people is indeed an eternal covenant, although the mode of administration changes with the transition from Israel to the church (for example, circumcision is replaced by baptism).

Today’s quote about the Bible is from J.I. Packer. He said: “We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world.…It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition, in this sense, has molded us.”

Our topic for today is titled “Abraham” (Part 5) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

First, let us consider the question, Was Melchizedek a man or a theophany?

The letter to the Hebrews, in comparing Melchizedek’s priesthood with that of Jesus, describes Melchizedek as follows: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” These words have suggested to some that Melchizedek was not a real human being but a theophany. Since the writer is drawing an analogy between the two, however, it is more likely that he regards both as historical figures. Theophanies are generally understood to be preincarnate appearances of the second person of the Trinity, the Son. Thus, if Melchizedek was a theophany, we would have the writer of Hebrews comparing the Son with the Son, which would not really be an analogy.

THE REITERATION OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár.

A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.

Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God reiterated the promises He had made to Abram. Genesis 17 contains what is often called the Abrahamic covenant. In reality, this passage is merely the fullest expression of that covenant. The distinctive element of this reiteration is that not only does it involve land, blessing, and seed but there is also an emphasis that the seed is to be from Sarai. The word seed is later seen to be ambiguous, for it can have either a singular or a plural reference. In the context of Abram, the focus is immediately upon a multitude. However, Paul picks up on the ambiguity in Galatians 3:16, where he applies the promise to Jesus as the Messiah, the singular seed who will fulfill the promise. Abram had at this time reached the point of totally giving up. It was then that God changed his name from Abram (meaning “exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”). God reiterated the promise of land and gave Abraham the sign of circumcision. God also verified that the offspring would come from barren Sarai, whose name was now changed to Sarah (“princess”).

THE DEMISE OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH

The beautiful, fertile land that Lot had chosen had turned rotten and was ready for judgment. God appeared to Abraham beforehand and told him what would happen to Sodom and Gomorrah. In the account, however, this announcement seems secondary. The fast order of business was for God to assure Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. By this time, the idea had apparently become a joke to the elderly couple, for Sarah laughed.

After this interchange, as God was about to leave, He informed Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. There seem to be two reasons for this announcement. First, it assured Abraham that he was correct in allowing Lot to choose what, on the surface at least, seemed to be the choicer location. Second, it allowed Abraham the opportunity to intercede for his nephew. Abraham virtually bartered with God, as with a local merchant, until finally they agreed that if there were ten righteous people in the city Sodom would not be destroyed.” For the audience at Mount Sinai, hearing the announcement regarding Sodom’s destruction together with this promise of mercy would have helped solidify that the God who graciously gave gifts was also the same God who judged vile behavior. It would also explain features of the land they were getting ready to possess.

When the angels arrived in Sodom, it was soon evident even to Lot that things were much worse than he had expected. In spite of that, the angels had to practically drag him out to safety. The effect of the city on his family was even more evident; Lot’s wife looked back and was lost (transformed into a pillar of salt). Then, Lot’s two daughters got him drunk on consecutive nights and slept with him so that they could become pregnant. The offspring of the sons who were born, the Ammonites and the Moabites, would become obstacles that the Israelites at Mount Sinai would ultimately encounter. Meanwhile, Abraham, off in the distance, saw the smoke of the destruction of the cities. There is no record that Abraham ever saw his nephew again.

Not long after this event, Abraham moved to a different region of the land. While in Gerar, he lied about his relationship with Sarah again. This time, God directly intervened before the king of Gerar had an opportunity to become intimate with her. Thus, God ensured that there would be no question regarding the parentage of the coming son.

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