Daily Distinctives, March 15, 2018 – Ouch

For some reason, I could not sleep last night until I read this chapter. I laid there kind of tossing and turning not finding that comfortable sweet spot where the bliss of sleep would envelop me, I reached over and grabbed my iPhone and found my favorite Bible app. When I finished reading the chapter I fell into a deep sleep and woke up quite refreshed and renewed. This morning has been a blur of activity already, not so much with me but my wife and kids, all moving around and getting ready to go off to work and daycare. A couple of my kiddo’s are enjoying Spring Break. Only one of them, the one who takes after me the most, is still in bed sound asleep. I often wonder if I dream about what I experienced just before going to sleep, and I am curious if that will play out in my life today. Sometimes after a night like last night where sleep is distant, I find myself walking around the next day in a haze. Perhaps that is even a metaphor for my life in general. I find it ironic that when I lose sleep studying the WORD, my day following is more invigorating than if I had not. I wonder if I meditated on the Scripture in my sleep, who knows, perhaps my devotional today will reveal some keen insights mulled over in my previous slumber. Guess we’ll see. But hey, enough of my rambling, let’s dig in.

In my previous study, I looked at Sarai, Abram, and Rahab and their wacky plan to expedite God’s promise. We saw that Rahab had a face-to-face with the LORD in the wilderness, an encounter that must have changed her life forever, and the birth of Abram’s firstborn child. Now today we get into the promise of God on Abrams life a little deeper as once again, the LORD pays Abram a visit. And so coming to Genesis 17 we read:

[Gen 17:1 NKJV] When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I [am] Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

And so we fast forward here 13 years. Abram is the ripe old age of 99 and his boy is now, for all intents and purposes, a man according to the tradition of the day. At this point, Abram is probably thinking that Ishmael would be the first of the legacy that God had promised. After hearing Hagar’s account of her meeting with the Angel of the LORD in the wilderness, there would be no doubt in his mind that it would be through Ishmael that God would fulfill His promise to Abram to bless Abram with descendants that outnumbered the stars in the heavens. And so in verse 1, the LORD comes to Abram again and says, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.” This is the first time we see the LORD call Himself the Almighty. The term here is El Shaddai, and from what I have learned there is some debate on what this name actually means, still it is most widely accepted that this a declaration of God’s omnipotence. I would say also that it speaks to God’s sovereignty as the all-powerful would also be the sovereign over all.

Notice here too that the LORD tells Abram to walk before Him and be blameless. What the LORD is telling Abram here is that it is time to get his heart and life together and live in holiness. If God is to fulfill His promises in our lives we must walk circumspectly before Him avoiding sin and the trappings of it that so easily ensnare us. We must live with a purpose to please God and to be obedient to Him in every facet of our lives. Now, this does not mean that Abram was sinless. Abram was on a journey of faith and had a ways to go, just as each of us does in the process of our sanctification. Which brings up an interesting thought. I am beginning to see that this doctrine of sanctification is not merely a crutch whereby we as believers can shrug off our responsibilities in the work of the Holy Spirit through the process. We must take an active role in being obedient to the calling of the LORD in our lives as our part in the process of being sanctified. To simply minimize our sin and sinful nature by saying, “Oh well, I blew it, but God is working on me and I guess it is all part of my sanctification,” is a dangerous mindset to have. We cannot dismiss our sin and failures and chalk them up as learning experiences. That should be the result and not the excuse. We must, instead, look for them as they come and seek to diligently avoid them. Obedience is the order of the day. Every day. God has a plan for each and every one of us to walk in. Still, in order for Him to bless us and use us to our fullest potential, we must prepare ourselves to be used by Him. We must not simply acquiesce to His authority, instead, we must abandon contrition for the sake of contrition itself as a religious tool and instead be contrite in heart and mind for the sake of truth, committing ourselves and being completely submitted to God in full obedience. That is a tall order which requires absolute dependence upon the Holy Spirit in all things. And so I believe our role in the process of sanctification is to abandon our flesh, recognizing its proclivities and separating it from our spirits. This seems to be the idea expressed in later verses pertaining to circumcision.

[Gen 17:2 NKJV] “And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

Okay, so some years have passed since God initially spoke to Abram and gave him this promise. It has now been over 20 years since the LORD made his initial promise to Abram and here He revisits Abram with the very same promise. Now, we know that God is not slack concerning His promises, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and while this reference deals largely with the unrepentant heart it does find application in life of the believer. God longs to bless us and see His will fulfilled in our lives. Often times we are the ones who in exercising our free will delay the goodness that the LORD would lavish upon us. I feel that this is why God essentially tells Abram in verse 1 to get out of his own way and start living a holy life. To walk before the LORD means that we walk in the path which He has made straight before us. So often we get in our own way and lose sight of the path which the LORD has ordained for us. But God is longsuffering towards us. He is patient and loving, and like a Good Shepherd, a Father, a Teacher, He occasionally has to remind us of His promises to get us back on track.

Of course, God is sovereign and His timing is impeccable. We can only delay the inevitable for so long before God will turn up the heat in our lives and move from giving us gentle reminders to catching our attention with stern rebukes in their various forms. By nature alone when we walk outside of the will of God in our lives we find ourselves in precarious situations. But God loves us so much that He allows things to happen to us that have the end game in mind. God reminds Abram of the promise after telling him to get back on track because God is about to change Abrams life forever. As it applies to us today, God desires that we live in obedience to Him so that we too can experience the fullness of His blessings in our own lives.

[Gen 17:3 NKJV] Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:
[Gen 17:4 NKJV] “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

The LORD had great plans for Abram which include the line of succession that would lead ultimately to the Son of God who would live a sinless life and take on the sin of man, putting an end to the enmity between God and man once and for all. Jesus would come from promise to Abram and God would see it fulfilled. But with this promise came a great blessing for Abram independent of the greatest of all blessings. Not only would Abrams heir be the Messiah, but Abram would be the father of many nations. That is, from Abram’s loins would come the nations that would be saved by the Messiah to come. But in order to get to the Name above all names, Abram would have to rely on God to fulfill His end of the bargain.

[Gen 17:5 NKJV] “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

Now, this would seem absurd if you were on the outside looking in. Here is a guy who was named “exalted father” when he was without any children at all. He finally gets a child and God changes his name to “father of nations.” Can you imagine the jokes that went around the campfire? It reminds me of something I read somewhere that was purported to be an actual ad in the lost and found section of the newspaper which went,

LOST: male dog, has one eye, mangled left ear, paralyzed hind leg, crooked tail. Answers to the name, ‘Lucky'”

What’s in a name right? But to be sure, God would fulfill his promise to Abram and He starts by giving him a new name: Abraham. Now, we know that there are other instances in the Bible where people get a new name; Saul becomes Paul, Simon becomes Peter, Jacob become Israel, but what is the significance of name changes in the Bible? The most reasonable answer I could find is that when God changed a person’s name and gave him a new name, it was usually to establish a new identity. These name changes often corresponded to life-changing events in their recipients. I went from John to Nicky to Nick in my own life, but these were name changes that were imposed by parents and family, the latter being self-imposed. Perhaps one day I can look forward to an even newer name. The truth is that we can all look forward to a new name (Revelation 2:17) when we stand in glory.

[Gen 17:6 NKJV] “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

God reestablishes his covenant with Abraham and adds the fact that not only will Abraham be exceedingly fruitful and that whole nations would come from his lineage, but that kings will be born and reign under him as the patriarch.

[Gen 17:7 NKJV] “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.

God includes a little more insight into this promise as He extends the covenant to make it an eternal or everlasting covenant. I have seen a lot of contracts in my day and there are clauses in each that prohibit transference of terms to successors. They essentially state the terms of an agreement are not binding on relatives and successors. But here, God includes each and every generation thereafter. God makes a contract that has some pretty serious benefits and remedies. At a glance, it would seem that this contract would not cost God anything. God would simply continue being himself for all time and eternity. God is, after all, immutable. The lion share of the agreement would fall on Abraham and his descendants as they would be the ones who would have to change in order to receive the blessings. As we will find in later studies, LORD willing, there are some certain expectations that come with this covenant that requires that fidelity be central to the agreement. Ultimately there is a remedy for Abram that would cost God everything. This covenant would ultimately cost the life of Jesus Christ.

[Gen 17:8 NKJV] “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

God puts a specific clause in this agreement outlining the land in which Abraham and his descendants would possess. He also sets the term for the ownership and a declaration of who has the power to exercise the instrument, that being God Himself. God then proclaims the responsibility of Abraham and his descendants.

[Gen 17:9 NKJV] And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

Now in the previous studies, I looked at the sign of the covenant where both God and Abraham passed through the carcasses of the animal to signify the promise of the covenant to come. And now God would require a signature from Abraham and his people to seal the deal.

[Gen 17:10 NKJV] “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;
[Gen 17:11 NKJV] “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

I can hear the record scratch on the turn-table as Abraham says, “What You talkin bout Willis (doing my best Gary Coleman impersonation) ?!?” “You want me to do what?” You have to keep in mind that apparently, circumcision was not unique to the Hebrew people during this time. According to some scholars, this was a fairly common practice. If you are interested in the history and benefits of circumcision and how it became prevalent around the world there is an interesting history section in Wikipedia you can review. But as a sign of this covenant, God required that not only Abraham but every male child amongst him should go through this, the oldest medical procedure in history.

[Gen 17:12 NKJV] “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.

Notice here God commands that when a child is brought into the world that on the eighth day he should be circumcised. I did a little research on this and found some interesting things regarding this specific day biologically in the life of a male child. Apparently, this is the optimal time for circumcision to take place. I found the following to be truly amazing (found in its original context here):

In Genesis 17:12, God specifically directed Abraham to circumcise newborn males on the eighth day. Why the eighth day? In 1935, professor H. Dam proposed the name “vitamin K” for the factor in foods that helped prevent hemorrhaging in baby chicks. We now know vitamin K is responsible for the production (by the liver) of the element known as prothrombin. If vitamin K is deficient, there will be a prothrombin deficiency and hemorrhaging may occur. Oddly, it is only on the fifth through the seventh days of the newborn male’s life that vitamin K (produced by bacteria in the intestinal tract) is present in adequate quantities. Vitamin K, coupled with prothrombin, causes blood coagulation, which is important in any surgical procedure. Holt and McIntosh, in their classic work, Holt Pediatrics, observed that a newborn infant has “peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life…. Hemorrhages at this time, though often inconsequential, are sometimes extensive; they may produce serious damage to internal organs, especially to the brain, and cause death from shock and exsanguination” (1953, pp. 125-126). Obviously, then, if vitamin K is not produced in sufficient quantities until days five through seven, it would be wise to postpone any surgery until some time after that. But why did God specify day eight?

On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present actually is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal—and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak. The chart below, patterned after one published by S.I. McMillen, M.D., in his book, None of These Diseases, portrays this in graphic form.

Dr. McMillen observed:

We should commend the many hundreds of workers who labored at great expense over a number of years to discover that the safest day to perform circumcision is the eighth. Yet, as we congratulate medical science for this recent finding, we can almost hear the leaves of the Bible rustling. They would like to remind us that four thousand years ago, when God initiated circumcision with Abraham….Abraham did not pick the eighth day after many centuries of trial-and-error experiments. Neither he nor any of his company from the ancient city of Ur in the Chaldees ever had been circumcised. It was a day picked by the Creator of vitamin K (1984, p. 93).

Moses’ information, as recorded in Genesis 17:12, not only was scientifically accurate, but was years ahead of its time. How did Moses have access to such information? The answer, of course, is provided by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16—“Every scripture is inspired of God.”

And so it would seem that God really does know what He is doing. You don’t say. I am always amazed how the scientific disciplines are finite attempts to unravel the mysteries created by an infinite God.

[Gen 17:13 NKJV] “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.
[Gen 17:14 NKJV] “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.”

Now, this sign also carried with it some exclusions as well. Those who were bought, that is sold into servitude must also be circumcised. Those who failed to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin were to be cut off from the people for breaking the covenant. Now, this has some very interesting implications as well. Despite what the Jews viewed as a unique identifier of their people and exclusivity for a particular bloodline these verses seem to indicate something that God had intended all along. That all men could be included in the covenant promise of the LORD. My reasoning for stating this comes from the fact that God includes those who are bought which implies foreigners to which we are all foreigners if we are not direct descendants of Abraham. The New Testament elaborates this in greater detail. I think that John Piper does a good job in summarizing this point where he says regarding Romans 9:6-13:

Paul’s answer in this chapter was given in verse 6: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” No, the word of God’s promise has not failed. Why? Because the “true Israel” who inherit the promises is not made up of every physical descendant of Israel. Paul argues this from the Old Testament itself. He concludes in verse 8: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” In other words, God is not bound by physical descent or flesh. He “counts” as “children of promise” whom he pleases. God acts this way, it says in the middle of verse 11, “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Again, God not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance seems to make the opportunity available through participation in this sign. Still, the sign itself is not what God is looking for. God wants our hearts to be circumcised. It is one thing to go through the ritual and lay claim to a promise, but it is not the ritual, the ceremony or the outward trappings that are important to God. Just as Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change, circumcision is merely an outward sign of adherence to the WORD of God.

Now I am a bit of a traditionalist in many ways. I like the ceremonial pageantry that accompanies some of the rites and rituals of our faith. I love the ornate artwork the liturgies and hymns as they provide an atmosphere conducive to worship. But I could have a Bible study and worship in an alley just as well. Still, when my first born son came into the world (my natural born son not my adopted son) I had him circumcised on the eighth day by a Jewish Mohel according to Jewish tradition. We are Protestants for goodness sake. So why did I choose this ceremonial event around what has become a commonplace surgical event? I did it to honor God. I did it to present my son to the LORD according to His covenant. I did it to signify the separation of my son from the world as a dedication of his life to the LORD. My motives were not from a point of duty or obligation because the LORD does not require that of us, but rather, to give my family and my son in particular something that would point him to the LORD. Much like the naming of a well, or an altar, my choice to have my son circumcised in this tradition was to serve solely to commemorate a very important time in my life and in the life of my son.

[Gen 17:15 NKJV] Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah [shall be] her name.

Now here is a beautiful picture. God not only changes Abrams name to Abraham, but he also changes the name of Abrahams bride from Sarai, which means “princess” but limited to her immediate family, to Sarah which means “Princess” but with no limitation. It would be like me calling my daughter, “princess” only for her to grow up and marry into the Royal Family in Great Brittain. Though the change in her name was subtle the idea here is that she went from being the princess of a family to be the princess of all the nations!

[Gen 17:16 NKJV] “And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be [a mother of] nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

Abraham was still likely clinging to the idea that this promise would come through Ishmael the son of Hagar. But God makes it clear here that it would be through Sarah that the covenant would extend.

[Gen 17:17 NKJV] Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall [a child] be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear [a child]?”

Now we don’t want to get the idea here that Abraham fell on his face and laughed in a mocking manner. Nor did he laugh in disbelief. This was more from joy knowing that God would indeed use a man and a woman who were beyond the childbearing years in a miraculous way. I remember as a child, back when I was still relatively innocent and trusted my daddy absolutely. He would tell me about things that we were going to do that seemed impossible to me and I remember laughing, it was a giddiness, not from disbelief, but because my daddy said so and I was overjoyed. It was almost like laughing and crying with joy at the same time. Still, I get a sense from the next verse that Abraham still did not get it completely.

[Gen 17:18 NKJV] And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Perhaps Abraham thought that this covenant meant that Sarah would be like a spiritual mother to Ishmael. It was beyond his ability to reason how it would be possible for him and his wife to physically conceive a child and so he resorted to logic assuming that God must be implying that the child would  be Ishmael, somehow, some way. But God sets him straight in the next verse and makes no bones about it. You also have to consider in that culture that the first born of a family had special rights to a larger portion of an inheritance. Both custom and logic seemed to point to Ishmael. Again, I don’t think that Abraham was hoping that the covenant would be fulfilled necessarily through Ishmael, but he was concerned none-the-less, as would any father, that his firstborn was not excluded from blessings.

[Gen 17:19 NKJV] Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, [and] with his descendants after him.

God says, No. And I can picture Abraham no longer laughing but looking up at God with a puzzled look on his face. God tells Abraham that he and Sarah would literally have a child together and God gives him a name, Isaac. Now Isaac is an interesting name as it means “laughter.” It could be that God named him after Abrahams response to God’s promise or it could be because Sarah will laugh about it too later, as we shall see, LORD willing. Perhaps it was a combination of both, I don’t know for sure. Other commentators suggest God gave Isaac his name to serve as a constant reminder to Abraham that He laughed at the prospect of being a father at such an age and to show Abraham with God all things are possible.

[Gen 17:20 NKJV] “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

To quell Abrahams worry or concern about his first born son God reminds Abraham that He has blessed him and that He will continue to bless him. He points out that Ishmael will become the patriarch of 12 princes and will become a great nation. God still had a plan in store for Ishmael and still does to this day. But the Messiah would not come through his bloodline but through Isaac’s.

[Gen 17:21 NKJV] “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

So you know, if you do the math here, for the next three months at least, Abraham and Sarah spent a lot of time in the tent if you know what I am saying. I hope that when and if I reach the age of 99 my wife and I will still be active in that department. But I digress. Here we see God setting the parameters on His covenant and appoints the time when Isaac would be born into the world.

[Gen 17:22 NKJV] Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

God went up from Abraham. I am not sure why this directional information is given. Perhaps it is as a proof text for heaven or something. But we know that God finishes his discourse with Abraham and leave him a pretty hefty task ahead of him. It is one thing to make a promise, but there comes a time when action puts the contract into motion.

[Gen 17:23 NKJV] So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.

Now, it is one thing to be circumcised at the tender age of 8 days old. You would likely forget about the pain involved. And there is the issue of no surgical steel scalpels in this age. They had to use flint knives to accomplish this task. So you take a teenager, with no anesthetic and get him to agree to bear his privates so that you can cut a part of something off? Good luck with that one Abraham. But we see that not only is Ishmael circumcised but every male in his household family and servants were circumcised on that very day. Perhaps the next verse gives us some insight into the role of leaders always leading from the front.

[Gen 17:24 NKJV] Abraham [was] ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

Now we are not told specifically what the order in which they were circumcised, but I have to imagine Abraham went first to lead by example, followed by his son Ishmael and then the rest of the men. As outlined in the remaining verses.

[Gen 17:25 NKJV] And Ishmael his son [was] thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
[Gen 17:26 NKJV] That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael;
[Gen 17:27 NKJV] and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

This act alone took a whole lot of faith. First to cut off skin from that particular area of the body takes a whole lot of faith. But when you consider that all of the men, fighting men that would have been a defense against marauders would all be out of commission while they were healing. In fact in another place in Scripture, we see where this act of circumcision was used to decimate an entire city (Genesis 34:13-29).

And so quite a bit in my devotional for today. I enjoyed this study myself as it was thought-provoking and gave me a little more affirmation that waiting on the LORD and not putting God in a box, so to speak, is the best thing we can do. We should honor God with our hearts and not our outward rituals only. In fact, it is better that we honor God in our spirit than in our flesh anyways. Our flesh is perishing and is at war with our spirits. If anything should be given priority, it is our spirit.

Prayer: LORD, thank You for giving me a little something to laugh at today. You bring me great joy. I know that You have delivered me from death and given me eternal life and that I am an heir to covenant by virtue of You grafting me into the family. I will be eternally grateful for Your acts of mercy and grace towards me, and for redeeming me. May You receive all honor from me in my life lived out before You. LORD, I lift up my family to You and ask that Your will would be done as we seek to bring honor to Your name. Bless my children with the understanding of the great promises You have made and let their hearts be filled with joy and the knowledge that You are a keeper of promises. I ask that You would consider my pastor today as he prepares for upcoming studies. Give him wisdom and insight into Your WORD. Bless his family and bring peace to his home. I pray for healing for his daughter and that You would be magnified through their season of ambiguity regarding health issues. Let my pastor go before You on the path You have ordained and give him understanding so that he might comfort his own family. I pray these things in Jesus’ name. –Amen.

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