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The Sign of the Covenant


When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the L ord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; 27and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine Moses passes over thirteen years of Abram’s life, not because nothing worthy of remembrance had in the meantime occurred; but because the Spirit of God, according to his own will, selects those things which are most necessary to be known. He purposely points out the length of time which had elapsed from the birth of Ishmael to the period when Isaac was promised, for the purpose of teaching us that he long remained satisfied with that son who should, at length, be rejected, and that he was as one deluded by a fallacious appearance. Meanwhile, we see in what a circuitous course the Lord led him. It was even possible that he brought this delay upon himself by his own fault, in having precipitately entered into second nuptials; yet as Moses declares no such thing, I leave it undetermined. Let it suffice to accept what is certain; namely, that Abram being contented with his only son, ceased to desire any other seed. The want of offspring had previously excited him to constant prayers and sighings; for the promise of God was so fixed in his mind, that he was ardently carried forward to seek its fulfillment. And now, falsely supposing that he had obtained his wish, he is led away by the presence of his son according to the flesh, from the expectation of a spiritual seed. Again the wonderful goodness of God shows itself, in that Abram himself is raised, beyond his own expectation and desire, to a new hope, and he suddenly hears, that what it never came into his mind to ask, is granted unto him. If he had been daily offering up importunate prayers for this blessing, we should not so plainly have seen that it was conferred upon him by the free gift of God, as when it is given to him without his either thinking of it or desiring it. Before however we speak of Isaac, it will repay our labor, to notice the order and connection of the words.

First, Moses says that the Lord appeared unto him, in order that we may know that the oracle was not pronounced by secret revelation, but that a vision at the same time was added to it. Besides the vision was not speechless, but had the word annexed, from which word the faith of Abram might receive profit. Now that word summarily contains this declaration, that God enters into covenant with Abram: it then unfolds the nature of the covenant itself, and finally puts to it the seal, with the accompanying attestations.

I am the Almighty God400400     אל שדי, (El Shaddai,) a title of Jehovah, apparently of plural form, Gesenius calls it the plural of majesty. It seems chiefly intended to convey the notion of Omnipotence. Some render the words, ‘God all sufficient; ‘but the original root of שדי conveys the notion, rather of overwhelming, than of sustaining power. The word is therefore better rendered, as in our version, Almighty. It corresponds with the Greek παντοκράτωρ, and with the Latin Omnipotens. — Ed The Hebrew noun El, which is derived from power, is here put for God. The same remark applies to the accompanying word שדי (shaddai,) as if God would declare, that he had sufficient power for Abram’s protection: because our faith can only stand firmly, while we are certainly persuaded that the defense of God is alone sufficient for use and can sincerely despise everything in the world which is opposed to our salvation. God, therefore, does not boast of that power which lies concealed within himself; but of that which he manifests towards his children; and he does so, in order that Abram might hence derive materials for confidence. Thus, in these words, a promise is included.

Walk before me The force of this expression we have elsewhere explained. In making the covenant, God stipulates for obedience, on the part of his servant. Yet He does not in vain prefix the declaration that he is ‘the Almighty God,’ and is furnished with power to help his own people: because it was necessary that Abram should be recalled from all other means of help, 401401     Ab aliis omnibus.” “De tous autres moyens.” “From all other means.” — French Tr that he might entirely devote himself to God alone. For no one will ever retake himself to God, but he who keeps created things in their proper place, and looks up to God alone. Where, indeed, the power of God has been once acknowledged, it ought so to transport us with admiration, and our minds ought so to be filled with reverence for him, that nothing should hinder us from worshipping him. Moreover, because the eyes of God look for faith and truth in the heart, Abram is commanded to aim at integrity. For the Hebrews call him a man of perfections, who is not of a deceitful or double mind, but sincerely cultivates rectitude. In short, the integrity here mentioned is opposed, to hypocrisy. And surely, when we have to deal with God, no place for dissimulation remains. Now, from these words, we learn for what end God gathers together for himself a church; namely, that they whom he has called, may be holy. The foundation, indeed, of the divine calling, is a gratuitous promise; but it follows immediately after, that they whom he has chosen as a peculiar people to himself, should devote themselves to the righteousness of God.402402     Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” Romans 6:13. — Ed For on this condition, he adopts children as his own, that he may, in return, obtain the place and the honor of a Father. And as he himself cannot lie, so he rightly demands mutual fidelity from his own children. Wherefore, let us know, that God manifests himself to the faithful, in order that they may live as in his sight; and may make him the arbiter not only of their works, but of their thoughts. Whence also we infer, that there is no other method of living piously and justly than that of depending upon God.

2. And I will make my covenant He now begins more fully and abundantly to explain what he had before alluded to briefly. We have said that the covenant of God with Abram had two parts. The first was a declaration of gratuitous love; to which was annexed the promise of a happy life. But the other was an exhortation to the sincere endeavor to cultivate uprightness, since God had given, in a single word only, a slight taste of his grace; and then immediately had descended to the design of miscalling; namely, that Abram should be upright. He now subjoins a more ample declaration of his grace, in order that Abram may endeavor more willingly to form his mind and his life, both to reverence towards God, and to the cultivation of uprightness; as if God had said ‘See how kindly I indulge thee: for I do not require integrity from thee simply on account of my authority, which I might justly do; but whereas I owe thee nothing, I condescend graciously to engage in a mutual covenant.’ He does not, however, speak of this as of a new thing: but he recalls the memory of the covenant which he had before made, and now fully confirms and establishes its certainty. For God is not wont to utter new oracles, which may destroy the credit, or obscure the light, or weaken the efficacy of those which preceded; but he continues, as in one perpetual tenor, those promises which he has once given. Wherefore, by these words, he intends nothing else than that the covenant, of which Abram had heard before should be established and ratified: but he expressly introduces that principal point, concerning the multiplication of seed, which he afterwards frequently repeats.

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