Today we will look at Genesis chapter 17. It follows Abram’s and Sarai’s decision to take into their own hands the matter of creating an heir for Abram, and giving Hagar to Abram to create Ishmael.
Verse 1 says that Abram is 99 years old now. God comes to him and says I am El Shaddai, God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless.
The chapter begins by stating how old Abraham is because it wants to point out how his body should not be able to create an heir by this time. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. He loves to create impossible situations where only he can create the solution, provide salvation, do the impossible, because only he will be praised when it happens.
That is why his next statement is so important. In the face of the impossibility of Abraham’s Natural Body producing a son, he says I am God Almighty, the one with all power, able to do anything! Your body’s physical limitations mean nothing in the face of the Eternal and all-powerful ruler of the universe.
Now that God has established the fact that this is an impossible situation, and yet he is a God who can do the impossible, he gives Abram the single most important instructions for his life. Live in my presence and be blameless. I’m going to explain the Hebrew words for presence and blameless so you understand what God is instructing him to do. But first, what do you think it means to live in his presence?
Now, you can be in someone’s presence, and still not pay any attention to them. Imagine sitting next to someone watching TV. You are in their presence, but don’t know how they are feeling, what they are thinking, what they would want you to do. That is why the Hebrew meaning for presence is so important.
Presence means face, so in other words, Abram was not only to be around God, but to always be seeking and looking at his face, to get his instructions, to see if God was pleased or upset or amused. It goes back to the Garden of Eden where God would walk and talk with Adam. Being in God’s presence without listening to him is meaningless. God doesn’t just want our bodies and spirits to be around him; he wants interaction and most importantly communication with us, true relationship with us.
The second half of God’s command is to be blameless. That word actually means entire, whole, complete, integrity. What do you think it means to be blameless in regard to God? What does it have to do with being in his presence and seeking his face?
In the same way that it is not enough to be in the same vicinity as God’s holy spirit, but we must be looking at, seeking direction and approval from him, once we get instructions from him, we must act on them. To be entire and whole means to be entirely and wholly his. Everything we do must fall in line with his instructions to us.
We cannot be partly his, partly ours and partly belonging to someone or something else. To act with integrity means to be the same person around everyone, and act the same way at all times. To be blameless means to listen to what God says, and then trust and obey Him, act on it every time.
So God’s instructions to Abram are to always remember that nothing is impossible with the almighty God, and that he is to always seek God’s Will and instructions for his life, and be completely devoted to obeying whatever God asks of him. Now, remember who the man is that we are talking about. This is The Man Who Would partially obey God’s instructions to leave behind his family, who would tell half-truths about his wife to Kings out of fear that God would not protect him and his family, and who gave in to his wife’s demand that he marry and sleep with her maid to produce an heir.
Up until this point, Abram knew God, and partially trusted God, but Abram had never been wholly and completely God’s. He had heard God’s promises to him, but had never fully entrusted himself, his family, and his future to God. God was making it clear that this was what he expected from Abram and Sara from this point on, because of the Covenant God made with Abram. They would both need to live their lives according to a higher, holy standard to prove worthy of the calling on their lives to be the father and mother of many nations.
And this was the Covenant, that God would use Abram and Sarai to create many nations that would belong to God. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, from exalted father to father of many. He changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, from Princess to Noble woman. A name symbolizes an identity, and God was creating new persons, new identities for both of them, that represented who they would be when they were completely and entirely his, and who they needed to be in order to fulfill his purpose and call on their life.
God does the same thing for us. Revelation says that God has a name for us that no one else but he knows. Corinthian says that we are New Creations in Christ, that the old has passed away and the new has finally come. We are called to walk worthy of our calling to be entirely and completely his as well.
There is also something else I want you to see. In verses 5 through 8, God repeats two words over and over and over again he says I will. I will make this Covenant with you, I will make you the father of many nations, I will… The beauty of being completely and wholly God’s is that he will do and provide everything that we need. It is not up to us to figure things out, or do things in our own power. He makes a way, he leads us in that way, he gives us the power to follow and obey. Belonging to God means we have everything we need for life and godliness because he provides it all.
In verse 9, God introduces a New Covenant with Abraham. The other Covenant, where God promises to make him the father of many nations, is not a covenant that Abram can break. This is the one that God made with Abram and put him to sleep as God passed through the cut pieces of the animal. It is a one-sided Covenant that God will keep no matter what Abraham does.
However, this second Covenant is something that Abraham and his descendants must keep as a symbol that they belong to God. This is where circumcision is introduced as an outward sign of the Israelites’ promise to seek God’s face and be completely his. Circumcision is the removal of the outward layer of skin on a man’s penis. Now, why in the world would God choose this as a sign that the Israelites belong to him?
Removing the protective covering from the most vulnerable part of a man’s body made it extremely sensitive to touch. In Romans, Paul talks about true circumcision not being circumcision of the body, but circumcision of the heart, removing any self protectiveness, any Hardness of Heart that separates us from being able to feel God’s gentlest touch. In Jeremiah, God says that he will remove Your Heart of Stone and give you a heart of Flesh, meaning that the very center of our soul will be vulnerable and sensitive to his touch.
God wants the closest, most intimate relationship with us. That is why the picture of the church and Christ comes together in a marriage ceremony where they become one. Marriage is supposed to symbolize two people becoming one, laying down their guard and setting aside their self protection, becoming intimate not only physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well.
In the act of circumcision, whether physically or spiritually, a person bares to God the most vulnerable part of their self, entrusting it to Him. They remove whatever separates them from being as close to God as possible. That is how they become incredibly sensitive to God’s touch.
The last point I want to bring up about circumcision is that it is hidden from the world. You would think that God would choose an external manner of showing the world that his people belong to him. Other cultures use tattoos or scars from cutting, or specific outer attire so that everyone knows that they belong to a certain group. But God chose a symbol that is only known by the person who is circumcised, or someone extremely close to them. Why?
I believe that it is very easy to Adorn ourselves with the external symbols of Christianity, like crosses, or carrying Bibles, or wearing our hair or clothes in a certain way, without ever making the self-sacrifice of denying ourselves in order to obey him. I believe that he chose this very private sign to remind us of our promise to remain vulnerable to and intimate with God, and our commitment and personal responsibility to continually seek His face and trust and obey Him.
The only outward sign He wants from us is to live for him in a way that will unmistakably reveal to others that there is a power greater than our own working in us, and which will cause others to want to know the God whom we serve and to whom we have dedicated Our Lives. The Apostle Paul instructs women not to be adorned with outward signs of beauty, but to be adorned with good works and holiness. Our everyday lives lived in obedience to Christ are our external symbols of being a Christian.
Moving on, I want to say that one of the things I love the most about the Bible is how it doesn’t portray the people we read about as anything less then human, with flaws and failures. God is just shared this huge Prophecy with Abraham about how he and his wife are going to be the father and mother of many nations and that he will have a son, and Abraham responds by laughing!
He says to God I’m 99, and Sara is 98. I really don’t think this is going to happen like you say it will. Are you sure you just don’t want to use Ishmael for this?
God’s response is abundantly clear. No! I am not going to use the product of your lack of faith in me, and your own manipulation of people and things to fulfill my will and purpose for your life. I have one perfect plan, and it will happen only the way that I say it will. Because of your love for your other son, I will bless him, but he is not the one with whom I will make my Covenant, nor will become my chosen people.
And I believe that God is saying to you as well today, that he will not use the efforts of your own strength, The Works of your own hands, the plans from your own mind, the relationships that you have manipulated, as a substitute for his perfect plan for your life. He may not destroy those things that you have created out of a lack of faith in him, or even in ignorance or Disobedience to him. But he will not settle for less in your life. You will have to adjust to his plan, not make him adjust to your plan.
The chapter ends with Abraham making an important decision, and proving his faith through his obedience to God’s instructions. He circumcised all of his household, including himself. He did something that was very painful, removing a part of himself because God said it no longer belongs with him. I’m sure he had no desire to do it, but he was willing to follow God all the way, not partially this time.
God is calling you to go all-in today. He is challenging you to make yourself vulnerable to him, and not to protect yourself from the possibility of him failing or leaving you. He wants you to make the conscious decision to commit to seeking his face and trusting and obeying him. He wants you to let go of the plans you made for yourself and instead trust completely in his plans for you. He wants you to allow Him to remove those things which he has been trying to take away from you, and which you know need to leave your life.
Today, who is ready to have their heart circumcised, to become vulnerable and sensitive to God’s touch, and enter into a new relationship with Him that will result in you experiencing God’s perfect plan in your life? Do this one thing, and He says, over and over and over to you, I will, I will, I will do all those things you cannot do for yourself.