Introduction: This week we focus on the sign of Circumcision which God gave Abraham, and compare it to the visible signs of Baptism and Communion which God gives us to hold onto by faith.
Monday: read Genesis 16:15-17:5. Hagar’s cries for Ishmael (whose name means ‘God Hears’) were heard and Abram fathered Ishmael and even prayed for his blessing in Genesis 17:18. However, this family of three depicts Bondage under the Law, not the Freedom of the Family of Faith – see Galatians 4:21-25. This family could not bring Salvation down to earth and ended in failure. The multitude which would come from Abraham, (for whom his name was changed to ‘Abraham,’ ‘Father of a multitude’) would not come by Abraham’s sinful works but by the Sovereign Gift of Faith. Only those who would believe in Christ along with Abraham would be adopted into God’s real covenant family. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Pray and Meditate: Thank God the Father for the most fundamental blessing of the Christian life, that you have been transferred by God’s decree from the dead family of Ishmael and Adam into the living family of Christ, your elder brother. Read Colossians 1:12-14 with great gratitude and meditate on those verses all week.
Tuesday: Genesis 17:4-8 and John 1:12-13. Abraham is the first man in the Bible to have his name changed by God. Imagine what your friends or family would think if your name were changed: at 99 years of age! Surely God was teaching Abraham to acknowledge God’s Ownership of his life – and in a more public way than ever before! Everyone would see the change: no longer called ‘Abram’ (meaning, ‘Exalted Father’); no longer exalted in his own mind as the father of Ishmael and master of Sarah’s slave Hagar. But instead humbled again to wait God’s timing and God’s plan for the multitude which would come from him by faith. This is God’s way: to humble all human efforts to build the family of God. God can do nothing with us until He humbles us with our face to the ground, along with Abraham.
Pray and Meditate: Thank God for the words of John 1:12-13: by faith in Christ, you are born of God’s power: not of the will or decision of man. God gives you a new Name, the name ‘Christian’ – and you can take no credit for this wonderful change of estate.
Wednesday: read Genesis 17:9-11 and Colossians 2:11-12. God gives Abraham the sign of Circumcision as a reminder of His love so that Abraham would believe God’s promises. In Colossians 2:11-12 Circumcision is replaced with Baptism – just as the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament replaces the Passover meal of the Old. In this way God strengthens our faith by giving us visible signs (such as the cup and bread of Communion and the water of Baptism). May God help our often weak faith to find strength to believe that His promises are as real as the bread or cup we hold in our hand on Communion Sundays.
Pray and Meditate: Thank God that He gives us signs for our hands to hold onto when our memory of His goodness falters. As James Philip wrote: “Martin Luther was said to have had great and terrible doubts, often doubting his salvation, mighty warrior of the faith as he was. And what he did when he used to doubt was to remind himself that he had been baptized! ‘I have been baptized.’ – he said. Now he was not clinging to any superstitious rite when he said that, but simply turning his mind and his heart to the objective realities of redemption, to the truth that it was not he who had chosen Christ, but that it was Christ who had chosen him. This is the point. It is not our frail grasp of Christ’s redeeming love that is important. We must never rest upon our frail grasp of Him for our assurance of faith. What we must rest on is His mighty hold upon us.”
Thursday: read Genesis 17:9-14. In Genesis 15:17-18, God symbolically “passed between the pieces” of the sacrifice, bringing upon Himself the curse of the Covenant. Now in Genesis 17:10 God gives Abraham the seal of this same Covenant: Circumcision. Between these two highlights of Abraham’s life, we have the terrible low point with Hagar in Genesis 16. What is the significance of Gen. 17 following hard after Gen. 16’s failure? One scholar says that God knew that the memory of the spectacular vision of Gen.15 would fade as Abraham stumbled into a reliance on the flesh in Gen. 16. God then gives Abraham a more permanent reminder, an abiding sign which will last beyond the ups and downs of Abraham’s experience. Circumcision is that sign which remains permanently with Abraham to remind him of the certainty of God’s promises in a way that will never leave the patriarch.
Pray and Meditate: Thank God for the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, which are meant to be permanent reminders of God’s grace. How does our Confession begin its chapter 27 on the ‘Sacraments’? “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him; as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.”
Friday: read Genesis 17:12-19. Even old Abraham had to endure the painful ritual of Circumcision. This would leave him incapacitated for days, as it did the full-grown men who endured it in Joshua 5:8 because their parents had neglected this rite for 40 years in the desert under Moses. During his pain Abraham would have had time to think about the ‘visible difference’ now on his own body compared to when he had fathered Ishmael. Abraham would always be reminded of what HE had produced by his own sin with Hagar in contrast with the holy offspring Isaac, which GOD produced after Abraham was circumcised! What powerful grace from God, bringing out of Abraham’s unclean, old body of sinful failure something holy and even joyful – as the name Isaac expresses, meaning ‘laughing’ in Genesis 17:19! Abraham laughed at God’s outrageous promise of a holy child in Gen. 17:17, but God had the ‘last laugh’ when this child of holy joy was actually born.
Pray and Meditate: Thank God for the painful sign of Circumcision, which eventually became a token of joy in Abraham’s life. This is what the Sacraments are for us. Though initially painful when Jesus broke His body and poured out His blood, for us the Sacraments are signs of God’s goodwill to us, and cause for rejoicing. As John Calvin put it: “A Sacrament is an external sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences His promise of goodwill toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn testify our piety toward Him both before Him and before angels as well as men”.