Reading through the Bible together
Many have wondered why circumcision played such an important role as the sign of the covenant. (See v. 14 and Exod 4:24-26 for how seriously God took this sign.) Besides other factors, it seems significant that God asked for Abram and his descendants to accept a voluntary cutting in the flesh, something that He Himself would accept for us, as a sign of how serious we are about entering into covenant with God. The thigh (groin) area is a very private area, normally expected to be kept covered (Isa 47:2-3), an area that requires great trust for anyone to be permitted to touch. It came to represent the place where solemn oaths and covenants are formed by placing the hand there and swearing (Gen 24:2-3,9; 47:29-31).
What is suggested by the name changes God made for Abram and Sarai in the context of confirming the covenant (17:5,15)? Note that the covenant is formed not only with Abraham and Isaac (vv. 2-7,19,21), but also with Sarah and Abraham’s descendants, including Ishmael (vv. 7-8,16,20). Note also that Sarah was not the only one who laughed at God’s promise of a son for the elderly couple (v. 17). Abraham still urged God to accept the fruit of his own works in place of the child of promise (v. 18). What is it about us that we, like Abraham, so frequently prefer the fruit of our own efforts over that provided by God as a free gift?
Professor, Southern Adventist University