Abraham’s Revised Covenant
As we have seen, God has already made a covenant with Abram, His chosen follower. He has promised to make Abram’s name great, to make of him a great nation, and promised the land of Canaan unto Abram’s seed. God even intervened on Abram’s behalf when Hagar fled with Ishmael still in her belly. Other than that, however, we have yet to read of Abram receiving any of The Lord’s favors—unless you count grief and strife.
It’s also worthy to note that Hagar is never mentioned again. And why should she be? After all, she’s already outlived her usefulness by playing surrogate wife and mother to Abram, bringing young Ishmael into the fold.
And again, The Lord must work in mysterious ways. Because on Abram’s ninety-ninth birthday, Jehovah appeared before His chosen one to redefine the terms of their covenant (Genesis 17:1).
As if Abram needed to be reminded, God again told him of all the things He’d promised (Genesis 17:2-17:9), but added two catches to the deal:
Genesis 17:5, Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
Well, this is interesting. So far, God hadn’t made Abram a father of much of anything, much less “many nations.” But perhaps God was speaking of a later moment and what He’d planned to do. At any rate, it seems rather superfluous to change the man’s name. But this is The Lord, you see, and He had yet another surprise in store for the man now known as Abraham:
Genesis 17:10, This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
Now, since there’s been no mention of circumcision thus far in Genesis, and since there’s been no other covenants of this sort mentioned, one must conclude that poor Abraham had no idea what God was talking about. But rest assured that God didn’t leave His chosen one in the dark. Can you imagine the look on Abraham’s face when he heard this proclamation from The Almighty?:
Genesis 17:11, And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
Sounds great, doesn’t it. God has favored him, yet for some reason His favor must be accompanied by the excruciating pain of removing flesh from the most sensitive part of his body—at ninety-nine years old, no less! And if that isn’t bad enough, God also demanded that to maintain this covenant Abraham must see to it that every child, man, and every stranger bought with money—unto the house of Abraham, I assume—had to be circumcised as well (Genesis 17:12-17:13).
God, of course, wasn’t very big on explanations for His actions, and didn’t offer any to Abraham. But I can’t help but wonder why God would demand such an unintelligent trifle of a sacrifice for His followers. I mean, if He didn’t want men to have foreskins, then why didn’t He just design them that way? Furthermore, why exactly is an almighty being playing favorites, anyway? Why are a certain people His “chosen” people? And although it also doesn’t make any sense, God obviously needed some sort of blood sacrifice in those days. So perhaps He just tired of seeing animals slaughtered in His name?
But nevertheless, God made it very clear to Abraham just how important these small sacrifices were:
Genesis 17:14, And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
So…cut off your foreskin or forever be forsaken by your All-loving, All-knowing Creator.
Sounds fair, right?
And, by the way, what is the covenant regarding women? It’s not as if God has shown women any sort of reverence before, so do they not deserve any special sacrifice…or are they just beneath notice?
Before we go any further, let’s get our terms straight on what circumcision means. An infant male child is held down while someone stretches out his foreskin—his genitalia, mind you—and cuts it off with some sort of sharp instrument. This is an utterly asinine procedure which causes unnecessary pain to an innocent newborn. And lest any reader accuse me of outright editorializing on this, allow me to say that I speak from personal knowledge:
I am not circumcised, and never in my life have I experienced any adverse health effects from having foreskin.
I confess that I’m in no way medically educated, but it’s readily apparent to me that the extra skin around the head of the penis, or glans, is there to protect it. Like a glove over a hand. How does removing it help a child, boy, or man in any way? I’ve heard it said that circumcision prevents infections, but I’ve never had any type of penile skin infection. Bathing on a regular basis thwarts that nicely. In fact, studies have shown that men who retain their foreskin experience a higher level of glans sensitivity than men who’ve had theirs removed, which only makes sense. If the glans is constantly exposed and rubbing against different materials such as clothing, what else could be expected?
And this business of circumcising grown men is beyond barbaric. At least an infant doesn’t have any idea of what’s being done, and will have no memory of the pain.
But, at any rate, we can now add the precious gifts of unnecessary pain and genital mutilation to all of humanity.
Getting back to this revised covenant, God had still more to tell Abraham, but now it concerned his wife, Sarai:
Genesis 17:15, And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
Another pointless name change, but the next proclamation was quite drastic:
Genesis 17:16, And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
Again, this edict only reinforces The Bible’s underlying message that women are only good for bearing children. But aside from that, this completely invalidates the little escapade with Hagar the housemaid. I mean, why go through all of that in the first place? God could’ve made Sarah fertile to begin with, and Ishmael could’ve been born through her. It’s not as if Hagar is described as being in any way special or crucial to the events surrounding her, other than being Ishmael’s vessel.
So all of that grief and strife was for nothing, much like every other story we’ve covered so far.
As you might imagine, Abraham was a bit incredulous at the notion of Sarah becoming pregnant at ninety years old (Genesis 17:17), and cried out for God to favor Ishmael (Genesis 17:18). But God assured His servant that, not only would Isaac’s birth come to pass (Genesis 17:19), but that Ishmael was also destined to multiply and become a great nation (Genesis 17:20).
God then reiterated his covenant with the as yet unborn Isaac, and left Abraham to fulfill His edict (Genesis 17:21-17:22). Abraham, no doubt invigorated by God’s command, returned to his abode and set about his business. The text doesn’t specify who did the circumcisions, but nonetheless it came to pass that Abraham, one year shy of his hundredth birthday, parted ways with his foreskin. Likewise, little thirteen-year-old Ishmael also endured the pain, humiliation, and utterly senseless procedure (Genesis 17:23-17:24).
All for the love of God.
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