Genesis 17.1–10 The covenant of circumcision (16 January 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters. Darllenwch rhain yn Gymraeg.

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

Circumcision, the Sign of the Covenant

1When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right. 2I will make my covenant with you and give you many descendants.” 3Abram bowed down with his face touching the ground, and God said, 4“I make this covenant with you: I promise that you will be the ancestor of many nations. 5Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, because I am making you the ancestor of many nations. 6I will give you many descendants, and some of them will be kings. You will have so many descendants that they will become nations.

7“I will keep my promise to you and to your descendants in future generations as an everlasting covenant. I will be your God and the God of your descendants. 8I will give to you and to your descendants this land in which you are now a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan will belong to your descendants for ever, and I will be their God.”

9God said to Abraham, “You also must agree to keep the covenant with me, both you and your descendants in future generations. 10You and your descendants must all agree to circumcise every male among you. 11-12From now on you must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old, including slaves born in your homes and slaves bought from foreigners. This will show that there is a covenant between you and me. 13Each one must be circumcised, and this will be a physical sign to show that my covenant with you is everlasting. 14Any male who has not been circumcised will no longer be considered one of my people, because he has not kept the covenant with me.”

15God said to Abraham, “You must no longer call your wife Sarai; from now on her name is Sarah. 16I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will become the mother of nations, and there will be kings among her descendants.”

17Abraham bowed down with his face touching the ground, but he began to laugh when he thought, “Can a man have a child when he is a hundred years old? Can Sarah have a child at ninety?” 18He asked God, “Why not let Ishmael be my heir?”

19But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will name him Isaac. I will keep my covenant with him and with his descendants for ever. It is an everlasting covenant. 20I have heard your request about Ishmael, so I will bless him and give him many children and many descendants. He will be the father of twelve princes, and I will make a great nation of his descendants. 21But I will keep my covenant with your son Isaac, who will be born to Sarah about this time next year.” 22When God finished speaking to Abraham, he left him.

23On that same day Abraham obeyed God and circumcised his son Ishmael and all the other males in his household, including the slaves born in his home and those he had bought. 24Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised, 25and his son Ishmael was thirteen. 26They were both circumcised on the same day, 27together with all Abraham's slaves.

The Demand for a Miracle

1Some Pharisees and Sadducees who came to Jesus wanted to trap him, so they asked him to perform a miracle for them, to show that God approved of him. 2But Jesus answered, “When the sun is setting, you say, ‘We are going to have fine weather, because the sky is red.’ 3And early in the morning you say, ‘It is going to rain, because the sky is red and dark.’ You can predict the weather by looking at the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs concerning these times! 4How evil and godless are the people of this day! You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of Jonah.”

So he left them and went away.

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5When the disciples crossed over to the other side of the lake, they forgot to take any bread. 6Jesus said to them, “Take care; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7They started discussing among themselves, “He says this because we didn't bring any bread.”

8Jesus knew what they were saying, so he asked them, “Why are you discussing among yourselves about not having any bread? How little faith you have! 9Don't you understand yet? Don't you remember when I broke the five loaves for the 5,000 men? How many baskets did you fill? 10And what about the seven loaves for the 4,000 men? How many baskets did you fill? 11How is it that you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? Guard yourselves from the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”

12Then the disciples understood that he was not warning them to guard themselves from the yeast used in bread but from the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Peter's Declaration about Jesus

13Jesus went to the territory near the town of Caesarea Philippi, where he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14“Some say John the Baptist,” they answered. “Others say Elijah, while others say Jeremiah or some other prophet.”

15“What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17“Good for you, Simon son of John!” answered Jesus. “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven. 18And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20Then Jesus ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Jesus Speaks about his Suffering and Death

21From that time on Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.”

22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “God forbid it, Lord!” he said. “That must never happen to you!”

23Jesus turned around and said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from human nature.”

24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget self, carry his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26Will people gain anything if they win the whole world but lose their life? Of course not! There is nothing they can give to regain their life. 27For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his deeds. 28I assure you that there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Son of Man come as King.”

Plots against Nehemiah

1Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and the rest of our enemies heard that we had finished building the wall and that there were no gaps left in it, although we still had not set up the gates in the gateways. 2So Sanballat and Geshem sent me a message, suggesting that I meet with them in one of the villages in the Plain of Ono. This was a trick of theirs to try to harm me. 3I sent messengers to say to them, “I am doing important work and can't go down there. I am not going to let the work stop just to go and see you.”

4They sent me the same message four times, and each time I sent them the same reply.

5Then Sanballat sent one of his servants to me with a fifth message, this one in the form of an unsealed letter. 6It read:

“Geshem tells me that a rumour is going round among the neighbouring peoples that you and the Jewish people intend to revolt and that this is why you are rebuilding the wall. He also says you plan to make yourself king 7and that you have arranged for some prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem that you are the king of Judah. His Majesty is certain to hear about this, so I suggest that you and I meet to talk the situation over.”

8I sent a reply to him: “Nothing of what you are saying is true. You have made it all up yourself.”

9They were trying to frighten us into stopping work. I prayed, “But now, God, make me strong!”

10About this time I went to visit Shemaiah, the son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was unable to leave his house. He said to me, “You and I must go and hide together in the Holy Place of the Temple and lock the doors, because they are coming to kill you. Any night now they will come to kill you.”

11I answered, “I'm not the kind of person that runs and hides. Do you think I would try to save my life by hiding in the Temple? I won't do it.”

12When I thought it over, I realized that God had not spoken to Shemaiah, but that Tobiah and Sanballat had bribed him to give me this warning. 13They hired him to frighten me into sinning, so that they could ruin my reputation and humiliate me.

14I prayed, “God, remember what Tobiah and Sanballat have done and punish them. Remember that woman Noadiah and all the other prophets who tried to frighten me.”

The Conclusion of the Work

15After 52 days of work the entire wall was finished on the 25th day of the month of Elul. 16When our enemies in the surrounding nations heard this, they realized that they had lost face, since everyone knew that the work had been done with God's help.

17During all this time the Jewish leaders had been in correspondence with Tobiah. 18Many people in Judah were on his side because of his Jewish father-in-law, Shecaniah son of Arah. In addition, his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah. 19People would talk in front of me about all the good deeds Tobiah had done and would tell him everything I said. And he kept sending me letters to try to frighten me.

Timothy Goes with Paul and Silas

1Paul travelled on to Derbe and Lystra, where a Christian named Timothy lived. His mother, who was also a Christian, was Jewish, but his father was a Greek. 2All the believers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy. 3Paul wanted to take Timothy along with him, so he circumcised him. He did so because all the Jews who lived in those places knew that Timothy's father was Greek. 4As they went through the towns, they delivered to the believers the rules decided upon by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and told them to obey those rules. 5So the churches were made stronger in the faith and grew in numbers every day.

In Troas: Paul's Vision

6They travelled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. 7When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8So they travelled right on through Mysia and went to Troas. 9That night Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10As soon as Paul had this vision, we got ready to leave for Macedonia, because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there.

In Philippi: the Conversion of Lydia

11We left by ship from Troas and sailed straight across to Samothrace, and the next day to Neapolis. 12From there we went inland to Philippi, a city of the first district of Macedonia; it is also a Roman colony. We spent several days there. 13On the Sabbath we went out of the city to the riverside, where we thought there would be a place where Jews gathered for prayer. We sat down and talked to the women who gathered there. 14One of those who heard us was Lydia from Thyatira, who was a dealer in purple cloth. She was a woman who worshipped God, and the Lord opened her mind to pay attention to what Paul was saying. 15After she and the people of her house had been baptized, she invited us, “Come and stay in my house if you have decided that I am a true believer in the Lord.” And she persuaded us to go.

In Prison at Philippi

16One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a young servant woman who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. 17She followed Paul and us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!” 18She did this for many days, until Paul became so upset that he turned round and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I order you to come out of her!” The spirit went out of her that very moment.

19When her owners realized that their chance of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities in the public square. 20They brought them before the Roman officials and said, “These men are Jews, and they are causing trouble in our city. 21They are teaching customs that are against our law; we are Roman citizens, and we cannot accept these customs or practise them.” 22And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas.

Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. 23After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail, and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. 24Upon receiving this order, the jailer threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet between heavy blocks of wood.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, which shook the prison to its foundations. At once all the doors opened, and the chains fell off all the prisoners. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he thought that the prisoners had escaped; so he pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself. 28But Paul shouted at the top of his voice, “Don't harm yourself! We are all here!”

29The jailer called for a light, rushed in, and fell trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas. 30Then he led them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your family.” 32Then they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33At that very hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; and he and all his family were baptized at once. 34Then he took Paul and Silas up into his house and gave them some food to eat. He and his family were filled with joy, because they now believed in God.

35The next morning the Roman authorities sent police officers with the order, “Let those men go.”

36So the jailer told Paul, “The officials have sent an order for you and Silas to be released. You may leave, then, and go in peace.”

37But Paul said to the police officers, “We were not found guilty of any crime, yet they whipped us in public — and we are Roman citizens! Then they threw us in prison. And now they want to send us away secretly. Not likely! The Roman officials themselves must come here and let us out.”

38The police officers reported these words to the Roman officials; and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were afraid. 39So they went and apologized to them; then they led them out of the prison and asked them to leave the city. 40Paul and Silas left the prison and went to Lydia's house. There they met the believers, spoke words of encouragement to them, and left.

Reflect

Daily Reflection on Genesis 17.1–10

According to the story, Abraham's faith in God has by now been severely tested. It is 13 years since the birth of Ishmael, and there is no sign of a son for Sarah. Now the sign of circumcision is to be imposed on all the males of his household as a physical mark of the spiritual covenant God has made with him. He and Sarah will be given their new names. Only after this will Isaac be born.

The promises God makes to Abraham are extensive: he will be the father of many nations, and the covenant will be 'everlasting' (verse 7). He and his descendants will receive the whole land of Canaan for ever.

The covenant, though, comes with responsibilities. God makes promises, but they come with obligations. Abraham and his descendants cannot expect to receive all the blessings of the covenant if they don't keep their side of the agreement – as the prophets were repeatedly to warn them. So God says: 'I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right' (verse 1, GNB).

When we're joined to the people of God – grafted on to the olive tree, as Paul puts it in Romans 11 – we know that God will always keep his promises to us. But this shouldn't make us complacent: we're called to be holy, and this means making hard choices. With privilege comes responsibility.

Pray

Pray

God, thank you that I can share in the blessings of your covenant. Help me live up to the responsibilities that brings, and to honour you in the way I live.

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