OT Encounters: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – Entry Into the Covenant

By Jeff Pulse

Our Old Testament text for Lent II, February 25, 2018, comes to us from the first book of the Torah, Genesis. The text is Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and is the establishment of the covenant which is marked by the Sacrament of Circumcision—although the actual verses dealing with circumcision have been left out of the pericope. This is unfortunate because the cutting of the covenant (berith karat) includes the mark of the covenant in the flesh: circumcision. We even have the language that indicates that everyone who is not “cut” shall be “cut off” (vs. 14).

We do have the account of the name changes that take place, and these are significant as well. Generally, people focus on what the new names mean: Abram to Abraham (Father of a multitude of nations), Sarai to Sarah (both mean “princess”). Perhaps it would be better to focus on the idea that the name change goes along with the new identity that comes with being a member/child of the covenant. This reality is seen throughout Old and New Testament. When Jacob wrestles with the LORD, he is given a new name which reminds him of his new identity—no longer a deceiver and heal grabber, now he is one for whom God contends (Israel). In the New Testament, when Saul has his bright light experience, he is blinded until the Sacrament of Baptism when he receives his new name, Paul. Thus, the church has traditionally understood Baptism as a naming sacrament. It reminds us of our new, baptismal identity. It tells us who we are and whose we are.

St. Paul tells us that the Sacrament of Circumcision is replaced by the Sacrament of Baptism in Colossians 2. He also notes similarities in the two. Both are signs of, and entry points into, the covenant which God has established with His people.

17:1 ben tishiym shanah wethesha “a son of ninety-nine years”

         thamiym “blameless; whole; sound; innocent” Later this word is used to describe the proper sacrifices to be offered to the LORD. Also the idea of without blemish or spot. In this context it does not mean that Abram was to be without sin—simply that he should walked by/in faith.

17:2 weetenah—root: natan “to give; to make”

         beyniy uveyneka “between me and between you”

17:3 wayipol—root: naphal “to fall”

17:4 hamon “multitude; crowd” (a crowd of nations) also vs 5.

17:5 note the connection of the name change as an indication of the covenantal identity.

17:6 wehiphrethiy—root: parah—hiphil “to make fruitful; cause to be fruitful”

         yetsu—root: yatsa “to come forth”

17:7 wahaqimothi—root: qum “to raise up; to cause to be established”

         zaraka “your seed; your offspring”

         livrith olam “for an everlasting covenant”

17:15 Note again the name change associated with the covenant.

17:16 uverakti—root: barak—piel “to bless”

           wehaythah—root: hayah “to be; to become”