THE BADGE OF THE PILGRIM
Generous God, throughout today I want to spread light and not shadows, grace and not pain, love and not apathy. Release Your enabling power in me.
Read GENESIS 17:1–14
The Covenant of Circumcision
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram[b]; your name will be Abraham,[c] for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
- Genesis 17:1 Hebrew El-Shaddai
- Genesis 17:5 Abram means exalted father.
- Genesis 17:5 Abraham probably means father of many.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘I’ll fear not what men say, / I’ll labor night and day, / to be a pilgrim.’1 Give us a pilgrim spirit, Lord, and help us to walk the pilgrim way.
When people went on pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, they wore a badge which identified them as travelers on a sacred journey seeking an encounter with God. In this chapter, Abram and his descendants are given a badge by God which distinguishes them from other people and marks them out as pilgrims.
There is a change in the nature of the text, in that God ‘appears’ (1) to Abram and dominates the narrative by stipulating the covenant relationship. There is no dialogue: Abram remains silent and ‘face down’ (3) before the glory of the Lord and His summons to absolute obedience. What is crystal clear in the repeated demand for faithfullness and justice is that this chosen people are to practice a distinctive way of life which will act as both a rebuke and a magnet to the surrounding nations. Although the focus in this passage is overwhelmingly on Israel, the wider purposes of God for ‘nations’ and ‘kings’ remains in view as the ultimate outcome of the covenant estab-lished here – a fact reflected in the change of Abram’s name (5,6).
Circumcision, which was widely practiced in the Ancient Near East, is given a new significance as the mark and sign of the distinctive nature and calling of this covenant people. Much later in the Old Testament, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon, this practice will assume great importance, since it will remind the people of Israel of their true identity. Circumcision will become not merely a sign of ethnic identity but also the badge of a people who confess their trust in the promises of God. Visible religious symbols have the power to sustain and renew faith – but they can degenerate into empty forms. Brueggemann comments: ‘like circumcision, baptism has potential either as an energizing symbol for faith or a negative alternative to faith’.2
1 John Bunyan, 1628–88, ‘He who would valiant be’ 2 Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, 1982, p155
If you are a baptized Christian, how does that sign of identity actually work in practice for you today?
Covenant Keeping God, when You spoke, Abram listened. I know I like to talk more than to listen. I ask You to help me develop listening ears when others speak, but above all when You speak to me.
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