The Sign of an Eternal Covenant
A covenant with God is a serious thing. However, that doesn’t mean that God is cruel or ego dominated and just wants to wield power. God makes promises that are infinitely valuable. We, as humans, tend to not see them that way. There are other things we don’t get right all the time, such as the rights, and responsibilities that these covenants bring.
In Abraham’s case, God was about to make him the father of many nations, but what nations and how they are determined is often misunderstood and abused even today. It is especially visible in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry as He talks to the Sadducees and Pharisees.
At this point in Genesis 17, God has already changed Abram’s name to Abraham. This change in name is also a change in direction. Instead of looking back to his family tree for his identity, he is to look forward to the eternal generations that God will bring forth from him. The sign of this covenant that God now makes with Abraham is circumcision, but the way the covenant people of God were to manifest was not biology but faith.
God’s condition for making a covenant with Abraham was obedience and not circumcision. Circumcision was only an effect of the obedient cause. If Abraham wanted to be obedient to God, then he would perform the rite of circumcision to demonstrate that faith. God’s response to Abraham’s faith was keeping His covenant promises of a faithful people comprised of many nations. Abraham would be the father of the nations of faith. They are only his “children” when they are obedient to God’s call, just as Abraham was.