17 September 2015

Genesis 17:1-10

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 91


In today's passage we move away from the journey of Abram to a very different conversation with God. Von Rad in his commentary on the Book of Genesis places chapter 17 firmly in the priestly strand rather than part of the Yahwistic report of his life. (The priestly writer's version of the world's beginnings and people's encounters with God is a confirmation of the goodness of God and the goodness of the people God created. This is in contrast to the Yahwist version which tells the story of increasing disobedience, violence and corruption. Originally the two accounts formed separate texts, but the texts gradually were brought together by the scribes until we have the account before us today.)

Here we have a series of covenant promises made by God. God is speaking of the heritage which will be Abram's if he stays faithful to his side of the bargain - the name Abraham is nothing more than an extension of the name Abram but signifies the ongoing relationship which God is making with him. The majority of the passage tells us of the good things which will happen to them as they travel on, not just physically but spiritually, through the life time of Abraham and on through the generations - it is interesting to note that no response is required. It is a one-sided promise telling of security with the promise of great things and a widening of influence from the narrow family situation to cover other lands and people. It is a timeless promise not only with the people but also with the land.

From verse 9 onwards we find out what God demands from Abraham and his descendents in return for this goodness. Human covenants were always accompanied by an external sign showing that the parties were obliged to keep the agreement which has been forged. Hence the requirement is placed upon Abraham and all those of Abrahamic faith to the practice of circumcision, a sign that they will keep their side of the bargain and that they affirm God's promise to them.

To Ponder

  • How does reading this passage help you more fully to understand the position of some Jewish people with regard to what they see as their God-given land?
  • Are the words of the Covenant response in the Methodist Covenant Service a strong enough response to God's goodness to us? If not, how might should we bear a more visible sign?
  • What are you prepared to offer as a response to God's promise within your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pat Billsborrow

Pat Billsborrow is a supernumerary minister in the Northwich and Winsford Circuit, and is at present part of a district ministry team working within that circuit with pastoral care of four churches. She is ecumenical officer in the Cheshire part of the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District.