God’s covenant with Abraham – Genesis 17

The word covenant appears more than 300 times in the Bible. Throughout both Old and New Testaments, God’s relationship with men and women is describles as a covenant relationship. A covenant is an agreement or a treaty. A covenant with God is an agreement between two unequal partners – King and subjects. It is based on God’s gracious promises and man’s response of unconditional obedience.
Here in Genesis 17 we see the beginning olf the “Old Covenant” – God’s covenant with the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The covenant which was to be the basis of God’s dealings with his chosen people for the next 2000 years.
God’s side – blessings and promises.
10 times in Genesis 17:1-8 be read about what God does or will do. 13 years have passed since God’s promises to Abram in Genesis 15. In that time God has said nothing and done nothing. Abram’s faith must have been severely tested. But THEN we read vv 1-3
Descendents v 4-7
Land v 8
Heir who would be Isaac v 19-21
The new covenant: rests on God’s grace and God’s promises, not on human effort. We have the privilege of belonging to God’s chosen people, the household of faith, the church, dwelling not in the promised land of Canaan but even better in the promised Kingdom of God. All these are gifts of grace, received by faith. God kept all His promises to Abraham and He will keep all His promises to us as well.
Abraham’s side – devotion and obedience
We saw last time how Abram had already embraced those promises by faith: Gen 15:6
But at well as simply trusting God, we read now how that faith is expected to be worked out in practice in everyday living. Faith is more than just intellectual agreement. As the letter of James makes clear, faith without actions is dead. And God makes clear what he will expect from Abraham.
v1 “I am God Almighty – Walk before me”
Adam – God walked in the Garden of Eden and talked with Adam and Eve.
Enoch “Walked with God and then was no more, before God took him away.
Noah walked with God
It is the destiny of the redeemed of the Lord to walk with God: Revelation 21:3-4
And it is God’s requirement of His chosen people that they walk with Him Micah 6:8
Walk before me, God commands Abram, and “be blameless” just as Noah was: Genesis 6:9
That doesn’t imply a state of sinless perfection – but a singleminded devotion to God, wholehearted obedience, complete surrender.
This covenant will be renewed with Isaac – Genesis 26:3-5. But we can see there that God’s blessing on Abram’s descendents only followed from Abraham’s obedience.
In the New covenant: Like Abraham we are saved by believing God’s promises. “We are saved by faith alone, but true saving faith is never alone.” (Calvin)
Our proper response to God is Romans 12:1-2
We must devote ourselves to fellowship with God, prayer, worship and complete obedience, total commitment. If Abraham could offer these things to God at the age of 99, without the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, then we have no excuses.
Circumcision – the outward sign of an inward reality.
God had sealed His side of the covenant with an oath – Genesis 15:8 and17-18 – a cutting ritual.
God now demands a cutting ritual from Abraham. Genesis 17:9-12. This would be the mark of Abraham’s descendents the people of Israel for 4000 years.
The rite of circumcision was a sign that Abraham believed God and claimed his promises. It was also a sign that Abraham in turn promised to do what God required, to walk with God and be blameless.
Circumcision was a religious sign – a sign of the need for change before human beings can have fellowship with God – a sign of separation from the world, a mark of God’s ownership on men so they cannot forget that they belong to God.
It was also a public sign so that everybody would know they belong to God. Many religions have public and visible signs – perhaps we Christians need some more public signs that we belong to God? Wearing a cross? Or fish symbol? It is too easy to blend into the crowd and hide the fact that we belong to Jesus Christ.
Change of name was also a pretty public sign! vv 5, 15. But then people can lie about their names – the rite of circumcision was the sign God commanded for his chosen people.
Outward sign was meaningless without the inward reality. Romans 2:25-29
Salvation rests on grace, received by faith, not obedience to Law Romans 4:9-13. The gift of salvation comes first, response by the external sign followed for Abraham. But in Judaism the outward sign and the inward reality are inseparable. To refuse the sign is to break the covenant. Genesis 17:14
In the New Covenant: the sign of the covenant is believers’ baptism.
Acts 2:38-39 Colossians 2:9-12.
Baptism is the sign that we have received God’s promises by faith and that we commit ourselves to obedience and worship. The outward sign does not guarantee the inward reality – we do not believe in baptismal regeneration. But in parallel to the rite of circumcision, in the New Covenant the inward reality will normally be accompanied by the outward sign.
So Christians will normally show their faith publicly by believer’s baptism. And we renew that covenant each time we eat the bread and drink the cup. We claim God’s promises afresh and we renew our baptismal promises to trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and our Lord and to follow Jesus and serve Him all the days of our lives in the fellowship of the church.
God’s covenant with Abraham in the Old Testament is the pattern for the New Covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. It is a relationship based on God’s blessings and promises and sealed by an outward sign. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. God expects the same response of faith and obedience from us as He did from Abraham. No less – maybe rather more! Genesis 17:1

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