Genesis 17 – Who are Abraham’ Seed?

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“Walk before me and be blameless.” The word “blameless” here means to be complete and sound. In the New Testament it means “Christ in us and we in him, for without him we can do nothing.” It means that completeness comes as God directs our path, to a destiny of wholeness for our lives.  This is the covenant God makes with us, to direct us to a sure end, when we walk in him.

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations,” to depict the promise God made with him. This is the faith that Paul spoke of in Romans four, where he said Abraham called things that were not as though they were, and grew strong in faith, not considering his aged body, but instead giving glory to God, being fully persuaded of the promise regarding his offspring, which later came in Isaac.

God promised he would never leave Abraham’s descendants. He faithfully carried Israel right through to Christ, in whom he fulfilled his everlasting promise to all nations (to all who believe), that we should become Abraham’s eternal descendants in Christ. The land of Canaan was Israel’s initial inheritance.

However, Romans 4:13 claims God promised the whole “cosmos” (meaning the whole earth) to Abraham. In Romans eight, the inheritance is the whole creation. This is because “through Abraham’s seed, all nations shall be blessed.” His descendants possess all the land, all the world, or as Christ said, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” So Isaiah said the former Old Testament land is to be extended, because the seed of Abraham are too many. The land now extends to become the whole earth: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:2-3) “This place (the Old Testament boundaries) is too small for us; give us more space to live in.” (Isaiah 49:20)

This means Abraham’s spiritual descendants bringing Christ’s love to the world. This is not a political invasion, colonialization, domination of the world. It’s rather through the service of the cross through our lives to others. This is Abraham’s blessing to the nations. It is spoken of in Isaiah in terms of “dispossessing nations,” but that is a poetic language: it means a spiritual people with a heavenly way of transforming human cultures of violence and selfishness: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Christ’s kingdom is for this world. Its purpose is to transform this world. But Christ’s kingdom doesn’t originate in this world, like other worldly kingdoms do, in their fallen human cultures of violence and greed. Christ comes from heaven to fill the earth and refashion us and our cultures by his love.

Abraham’s blessing is not fulfilled by the flesh, that is, by his racial descendants, but his seed are those who are born by God’s Spirit, the same Spirit who birthed Abraham into his kingdom.

In Paul’s day, many Jews had trouble with what looked to them like an abrogation of these “everlasting” stipulations in Genesis 17. Paul stated that circumcision was no longer required. He also put no importance on the literal land of Israel, according to Old Testament definitions. He put no value in a political fulfilment of Israel’s promises. Instead, he said, “all these promises are yes and amen in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 – This letter to the Corinthians speaks of the whole creation being renewed. See 2 Cor 4:6, 5:17.)

The promises are all fulfilled in the gospel. So, in the issues today between the Palestinians and the nation of Israel, we are not to seek political solutions, but ultimately these issues can only be solved by gospel neighbourliness from and to both sides, as Jesus taught. Others call this “replacement theology,” but that is not the theology I hold to. Rather, I hold to “inclusion theology.” The gentiles are included in the household of faith, as Paul taught in Ephesians two. All who believe are Israel. The church hasn’t replaced Israel, but is Israel’s promises fulfilled, for Jew and gentile alike.

Circumcision in the flesh was the Old Testament sign of the covenant of God with Abraham and his descendants according to the flesh. Today, circumcision is neither required, nor set aside. It depends on the conscience of the family alone. Whether we are a Jewish believer in Christ, or a gentile believer, circumcision is not required, neither is it prohibited. We are free to choose for ourselves and then to accept each other with each one’s own choice.

In the Old Covenant, the sign of covenant membership was in the flesh, but in the New Covenant, the sign is in the heart. That is, the sign of covenant membership is our love for one another: “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” A “sign” means a “sacrament,” which means that it is something in our lives that prophetically points to the kingdom of God, until Christ returns. The sacrament of the church (our prophetic announcement of Christ’s kingdom) is love, not circumcision, not a ceremony of “communion.” The real sacrament of “communion” is our love.

There is no circumcision, no uncircumcision, no Jew, nor Greek, no this or that land, but love that bonds us together as one family of Abraham, even with our cultural differences and customs, which give a beautiful diversity in God’s creation. There is no nation or race of supremacy. Tribalism was the weakness of the Old Testament. Now, tribalism is done away, since we have all sinned, and have all being accepted by grace alone. This is the promise of God to Abraham fulfilled. Sacred land (sacred space, or place) is not a building, nor a designated land, but it is God’s temple. God’s temple is wherever two or three people of any ethnicity are gathered in love, in Christ’s name, who loved us all. When we love our neighbour, this is sacred place. Thus, Paul said to the Corinthian church, of mixed ethnicities, “you are the temple of God.” This is Abraham’s land. This is new creation, where heaven and earth meet.