International Sunday School Lesson for September 10, 2017
To live with hope and faith in God’s assurances
Background: Genesis 17
Genesis 17:1-14 (CEB)
1 When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me and be trustworthy. 2 I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” 3 Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, 4 “But me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations. 5 And because I have made you the ancestor of many nations, your name will no longer be Abram but Abraham. 6 I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you. 8 I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God.”
9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants in every generation. 10 This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Circumcise every male. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it will be a symbol of the covenant between us. 12 On the eighth day after birth, every male in every generation must be circumcised, including those who are not your own children: those born in your household and those purchased with silver from foreigners. 13 Be sure you circumcise those born in your household and those purchased with your silver. Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male whose flesh of his foreskin remains uncircumcised will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.”
This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Circumcise every male. (Genesis 17:10)
God’s covenant with Noah and the sign of the rainbow promised a new start for the earth and everyone in it. Later, God chose a 75-year-old man named Abram and called him to gather his household, pack up his belongings, and set out for his own new beginning in a foreign land. Abram lived in Haran, a town along the northern tributary of the Euphrates River, about 24 miles southeast of ancient Edessa (modern Urfa). His summons came, like God’s covenant with Noah, with a promise of land, nationhood, and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). By faithfully responding to God’s call, Abram (whose name God changed to Abraham; 17:5) became the father of three great faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Abraham has been enshrined in those great religious traditions as a revered, patriarchal figure.
Abram was an Aramean by race (Deuteronomy 26:5); however, when he left Haran, he became a “Hebrew” in spirit. The word Hebrews was synonymous with the Mesopotamian word Khabiru and the Egyptian word Apiru and meant “refugees” or “those who pass or cross boundaries.” As a nomad in a foreign land, Abram was considered a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13, where the word Hebrew is used for the first time).
Our text covers the first 3 of 5 different speeches made by God to Abraham. God was trustworthy, and his promises would be fulfilled. His speech was straightforward: “I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” The original promise held firm. The word “covenant” had only appeared once before in the Abraham narrative (Genesis 15:18). But in Chapter 17, to reaffirm that the divine word was reliable, God underlined his “covenant” with Abram and his descendants 13 times.
God’s commandment to Abraham about circumcision was not an easy commandment to keep. “The flesh of the foreskin was to be cut off as a “sign” (or symbol) of the covenant between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants. This was the fourth sign mentioned in Genesis. In Genesis 1:14 (NRSV), God said that the “lights” would be signs for the seasons, days, and years. The sign on Cain identified him as one under God’s protection (4:15). As we previously noted, the rainbow was a sign to remind God of the covenant he made with the earth (9:12-17)
As circumcision signified initiation into God’s covenant with Abraham, his household, and his descendants, so baptism in the Christian tradition represents the Christian’s initiation into the church. In his letter to the Colossians (2:9-11), Paul used the concept of circumcision to explain how the Christian is united with Christ in baptism.
My hymn this week might seem a little weird for the male readers, but it is about making a commitment “O Happy Day.”