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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.

4. As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee404404     Ego, ecce pactum meum tecum.” “I, behold, my covenant is with thee.” They who translate the passage, ‘Behold, I make a covenant with thee,’ or, ‘Behold, I and my covenant with thee;’ do not seem to me faithfully to represent the meaning of Moses. For, first, God declares that he is the speaker, in order that absolute authority may appear in his words. For since our faith can rest on no other foundation than his eternal veracity, it becomes, above all things, necessary for us to be informed that what is proposed to us, has proceeded from his sacred mouth. Therefore, the pronoun I, is to be read separately as a preface to the rest; in order that Abram might have a composed mind, and might engage, without hesitation, in the proposed covenant. Whence a useful doctrine is deduced, that faith necessarily has reference to God: because, although all angels and men should speak to us, never would their authority appear sufficiently great to confirm our minds. And it cannot but be, that we should at times waver, until that voice sounds from heaven, ‘I am.’ Whence also it appears what kind of religion is that of the Papacy: where, instead of the word of God, the fictions of men are alone the subject of boast. And they are justly exposed to continual fluctuation, who, depending upon the word of men, act unjustly towards God, by ascribing to them more than is right. But let us have no other foundation of our faith than this word ‘I’, not as spoken indifferently by any mouth whatever, but by the mouth of God alone. If, however, myriads of men set themselves in opposition, and proudly exclaim, ‘We, we,’ let this single word of God suffice to dissipate the empty sound of multitudes.

And thou shalt be a father of many nations405405     Multitudinis gentium.” “Of a multitude of nations.” It is asked what is this multitude of nations? It obviously appears, that different nations had their origin from the holy Patriarch: for Ishmael grew to a great people: the Idumeans, from another branch were spread far and wide; large families also sprung from other sons, whom he had by Keturah. But Moses looked still further, because, indeed, the Gentiles were to be, by faith, inserted into the stock of Abram, although not descended from him according to the flesh: of which fact Paul is to us a faithful interpreter and witness. For he does not gather together the Arabians, Idumeans, and others, for the purpose of making Abram the father of many nations; but he so extends the name of father, as to make it applicable to the whole world, in order that the Gentiles, in other respects strangers, and separated from each other, might, from all sides combine in one family of Abram. I grant, indeed, that, for a time, the twelve tribes were as so many nations; but only in order to form a prelude to that immense multitude, which, at length, is collected together as the one family of Abram. And that Moses speaks of those sons, who, being regenerate by faith, acquire the name, and pass over into the stock of Abram, is sufficiently proved by this one consideration. For the carnal race of Abram could not be divided into different nations, without causing those who had departed from the unity, to be immediately accounted strangers. Thus the Church rejected the Ishmaelites, the Idumeans, and others, and regarded them as foreigners. Abram therefore was not called the father of many nations, because his seed was to be divided into many nations; but rather, because many nations were to be gathered together unto him. A change also of his name is added as a token. For he begins to be called Abraham, in order that the name itself may teach him, that he should not be the father of one family only; but that a progeny should rise up to him from an immense multitude, beyond the common course of nature. For this reason, the Lord so often renews this promise; because the very repetition of it shows that no common blessing was promised.

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