This chapter makes me wonder what went through the mind of slaves in the ancient slave market when Abraham walked up to acquire more servants for his household. I just picture them faking injuries and muttering under their breath, “don’t pick me, don’t pick me, don’t pick me.” Abe was the guy whom God told, “Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised” (17:12-13). I can’t think of a worse job than one for which you had to go under that knife before your first day of work.
God keeps promising and promising and promising, but Abraham tells God he’s got it covered. Abe wasn’t sure if God would be able to do this whole “many nations” thing with just infertile Sarah as his wife, so he helped God out and knocked up Hagar. Ishmael is about thirteen at this point, but God comes back promising, promising, promising again about babies and nations. Abe is convinced God has this wrong: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!'” (17:17-18). God just says “no” and then tells him what his son is going to be named. Abe doesn’t believe, but God is already naming his yet-to-be-conceived child. Talk about jinxing something. He didn’t even knock on wood when he said it.
Abraham responds in faith. It takes faith to let yourself be snipped at age ninety-nine. Abraham believed God, and so underwent significant personal sacrifice for the sake of the God who would one day give him everything.
God told Abraham that he would “establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year” (17:21). Abe wanted God to endorse his plan of salvation in Ishmael, but God is not into putting a rubber stamp on the plans we make for our own lives. God would establish his covenant with Isaac. The promised one who would crush the serpent’s head (3:15), who would bring blessing to all the nations, would come through a child yet to be born to parents who were as good as dead so non-functioning were their ancient bodies. God would bring life where was death, fruit where there was only barrenness. God would bring redemption where sin reigned, salvation where judgment was certain, and he would do that through Christ.
The promise of Christ coming one day was so precious to Abraham, that he was willing to be circumcised in his old age. We’ve seen Christ, seen the promise fulfilled. What are we willing to do?