The Life of Abraham: Ishmael Blessed and The Household Circumcised
We are finally coming to the close of this meeting between God and Abraham. First, God gave him the sign of circumcision as a permanent sign that God would fulfill all He had promised Abraham. Then, God renamed Sarah and revealed that Abraham’s promised child would be born of Sarah. God even went as far as to tell Abraham that this child would be named Isaac.
God showed Abraham, and us, that although we may fail and sin against Him time after time, God is faithful. He keeps all His promises.
In the last few verses of Genesis 17, God will show that, although Ishmael is not the chosen child in which God will send His Ultimate Promised Child, Jesus, He still cares for Ishmael and will also bless him. We will also witness Abraham submitting to God’s command and obeying Him in circumcision.
Ishmael will be Blessed
“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20)
Last week, I mentioned how Abraham had interceded on Ishmael’s behalf. Abraham had prayed to God that Ishmael would live before Him, that He would be blessed by God.
Here, in verse 20, we see God’s response. He starts out by telling Abraham that He has heard him. What a wonderful blessing it is to be heard by God. Just as Hagar was humbled that God saw her, we see that God hears us, as well.
God isn’t some being floating up in the clouds looking down at earth watching humans run around. He not only sees us but He hears us. He is omnipresent and omniscient.
We can have confidence that when we, as children of God, pray, He hears us. This should encourage us to cry out to Him even more. The Faithful One who has been directing the paths of all humans since even before Abraham hears us. We, fallen and depraved creatures, have the ear of the all-powerful God of the Universe.
Abraham must have been encouraged to hear that not only did God hear his plea but that his oldest (and only, at this point) son would be blessed by God. He would be prosperous and would go on to become a mighty nation.
The Covenant will be Established through Isaac
“But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:21)
God promised Ishmael all the blessings he could desire in this temporal life. However, the spiritual blessings were to be granted to Isaac. The truer and eternal blessing would be given to Isaac.
All our physical comforts in this life are fleeting. They may cause us happiness for a time but they have no real permanence. Only the spiritual blessings will last for all eternity.
“For God liberally and profusely promises to Ishmael whatever is desirable with respect to this earthly life: and yet He accounts as nothing all the gifts He confers on him, in comparison with the covenant which was to be established in Isaac. It, therefore, follows, that neither wealth, nor power, nor any other temporal gift, is promised to the sons of the Spirit, but an eternal blessing, which is possessed only by hope, in this world.” ~ John Calvin2
God promises us in Romans 8:28 that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him. Our temporal and fallen mind often translates that to be what we think are good, the temporal, fleshy blessings. We think of financial prosperity, good health, happy lives, lives filled with things and vacations and all other forms of comfort. However, God loves us enough that when He says “good” He means true good, the best. God’s best rarely, if ever, fits that picture.
God’s best for us is sanctification, a life growing in holiness and conforming to the image of His Son. Christ, the most righteous to ever live was not spared from suffering, it would be foolish for us, who call ourselves by His name, to think for a minute that we might escape suffering.
While Ismael might have been granted all the blessings of this temporal life, Isaac received the better blessing. Through Isaac, God would fulfill His covenant. This covenant would ultimately be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and it is through Isaac’s dependents that Jesus would be born many generations later.
It is also interesting that God gives Abraham a timeline for when part of this promise will be fulfilled. He tells Abraham that in the next year, Isaac would be born. God has made this promise very real to Abraham at this point. He has not only given Abraham the name of his son but has also given him a time frame in which he will be born. Abraham must have been left speechless at that moment.
All are Circumcised
When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those 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. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:22-27)
Since I have already written on the act of circumcision, I will not rehash that topic here again today. However, there are still many things that can be learned in these closing verses.
Abraham immediately obeys God in the command of circumcision. He did not delay, he took to the task that day. He circumcised himself, Ishmael, and all the men in his household.
Imagine for a moment. Abraham comes in from the wilderness, gathers all the males in his household together, and then informs them that God had told him to cut off the foreskin from each and every one of their penises. Now, I don’t think it would be out of the realm of possibilities that these men might question Abraham’s sanity. He was ninety-nine years old at this point. It would be easy to think that he might be starting to lose his mind to old age.
However, miraculously, this passage does not mention that Abraham had any kind of huge debate, mutiny, or have to physically force any of these men to partake in this practice. It doesn’t even say that men left his household. It seems to suggest that they all willingly allowed this to happen. This is a testimony to how much these men believed in and trusted Abraham. Abraham must have been a truly great man.
In his commentary over this passage, John Calvin points out that this seemed to be an impossible thing, to convince these men to let Abraham circumcise them. However, God made the impossible possible. Calvin also points out that God has asked us to do the impossible even today in spreading the Gospel to the whole world. We look at this mission and think of all the ways people will show us hate for trying to give them the saving truth. We will likely be ridiculed, mocked, spit on, physically attacked, threatened, slandered, and some of us may even lose our lives. However, it is the task we have been given by our Commander. Let us embark on our mission this very day.
“So, at this day, God seems to enjoin a thing impossible to be done, when he requires his gospel to be preached every where in the whole world, for the purpose of restoring it from death to life. For we see how great is the obstinacy of nearly all men, and what numerous and powerful methods of resistance Satan employs; so that, in short, all the ways of access to these principles are obstructed. Yet it behoves individuals to do their duty, and not to yield to impediments; and, finally our endeavors and our labors shall by no means fail of that success which is not yet apparent.” ~ John Calvin2
It is also important to recognize the type of men who were included in this act. They were free men and servants, family and foreigners, old and young, rich and poor. No distinctions were made that day. All men were circumcised. This truth brings about an amazing beauty to this bloody act. All were welcomed.
This points to all people being welcomed into God’s family today, under the New Covenant. Colossians 3:11 says, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” It does not matter your background, your genetics, your status in life, your gender, your family, your financial status, your age, or how many sins you have committed in your life. God welcomes all kinds of people into His Kingdom.
“…the church must be the one institution on earth where race, age, gender, economic status, or other such identity markers do not divide people, for all believers are one in Christ. Take some time to help your church achieve such unity by befriending a Christian who is at a different stage in life than your own.” ~ Ligonier1
The Lord blesses many in this life with physical comforts and desires but it is only in His spiritual blessings that we have hope for our eternity.
God has welcomed all types of people into our family. Because of this, we can often have differences in our opinions. However, when we look at ourselves, we see that we all were in need of circumcision of the heart, we were all sinners in need of the Promised Savior, there is no meaningful distinction between us. We were all hopeless sinners bound for hell until God took pity on us and made us His children. We are still weak and sinful and without God’s grace sustaining us, we would return to the pigsty from which we came. When we see that, our petty disagreements and differences seem to fade away.
Let us see each other as we truly are and praise our God for the amazing love, mercy, and grace He has shown us.
1. Abraham Took Ishmael. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/abraham-took-ishmael/
2. Calvin, J. Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.xxiii.i.html
3. Henry, M. Chapter 17 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway. Biblegateway.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.17.1-Gen.17.27