1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
23 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. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
James Earl Massey has passed on a charming story from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s youth:
Harry Emerson Fosdick told the story of his father’s leaving the house one morning on his way to work, and he told his wife to have a young Harry mow the lawn if he felt like doing so. Fosdick’s father paused on the walk when he saw just how tall the grass had grown. He called back loudly and said, “Tell Harry he’d better feel like it!”
It is a charming story but it raises an intriguing question: Is it possible to bring one’s desires in line with the commands put upon one? Or, put another way: Might we actually want to do what we ought to do?
William Temple once wrote, “The most agreeable experiences in life are those which are marked by a coincidence of duty and pleasure.” This is so, but I wonder if such seemingly rare occurrences must remain merely coincidental? Might they become natural?
In Genesis 17, we find God calling for Abraham’s life to reflect the covenant promises he has received, for his behavior to match the promises. What is interesting about this is that this call for consistency between character and covenant does not hinge upon a raw assertion of divine power. The Lord rather speaks of Abraham having a changed character and being a new person, and he does so by giving Abraham a new name and a physical mark of belonging.