Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
The Hebrew Bible lection this week records the covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 17. The covenant occasioned the changing of Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. The former means “ancestor of multitudes” and the latter means “princess.” Both are predictions of the covenant’s fulfillment (Abraham will indeed become the ancestor of multitudes and Sarah will be a princess who gives birth to kings).
The covenant is once again given by God’s initiative. Abram is 99 years old. The covenant made with Abram/Abraham seems ludicrous (how can such an old man father multitudes?). Yet God declares that the covenant promises God makes with Abraham are everlasting. The descendents of Abraham will be a mighty nation, and the special people of God.
It is important to note that the covenant is unconditional, i.e. there are no requirements on the part of God’s chosen people that if left unmet make the covenant null and void (although one can ‘opt out’ of the covenant by not participating in the sign of the covenant, i.e. circumcision).
For a helpful look at our how our section of Psalm 22 fits into the overall structure of the whole psalm please read the commentary by Nancy deClaisse-Walford available here.
Nancy concludes that our verses come from the “expression of praise and adoration” that typically ends psalms of individual lament. Psalm 22 is famous for its lament because it contains words quoted by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The “expression of praise and adoration” that ends psalms of lament are often given in respect for what God has done in the past. In other words, even though my times are tough right now and I do not feel God’s presence, I know of times when God’s faithfulness was very apparent and God’s presence was felt strong and I will praise God for that.
The “expression of praise and adoration” found in Psalm 22 functions as a response to our reading from Genesis in that it recounts God’s faithfulness to the descendents of Jacob/Israel, who is, of course the grandson of Abraham and Sarah through Isaac. The “expression of praise and adoration” also points to the future, in that God’s covenant faithfulness, and the praise of God’s people, will call all the nations of the earth to recognize the goodness of God.
Our reading from Romans directly references the covenant God made with Abraham. Paul’s purpose in Romans it to level the playing field between Jew and Gentile, and to show the universality of God’s grace to all who seek it (this is foreshadowed in the “expression of praise and adoration” in Psalm 22, as well as elsewhere in the Hebrew canon).
Paul argues that before circumcision was made a sign of the covenant, and before the Law was given at Sinai, Abraham was reckoned righteous as a result of his faith. It is faith, not law, or circumcision, that links one to the benefits of covenant. When we, like Abraham, believe in God’s power to raise from the dead, and to provide salvation through Jesus Christ then we enter into the benefits of God’s covenant.
Jesus never pulls punches. Because of this each of us has our negative reactions to the things Jesus says. Peter couldn’t help it. His loyalty to Jesus forced the words out of his mouth before he had a chance to think better of it. How could Jesus undergo great suffering and then be killed? Not the messiah. To say that the messiah would be killed was kin to national treason. All the hopes of Israel rode on the Messiah’s shoulders. Nevertheless Jesus insisted, saying it all “quite openly.” Pete’s rebuke was quick and harsh. Jesus’ response was just as quick and just as harsh, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The distinction between divine and human things is an important one. After Jesus’ rebuke of Peter he will call his disciples together and give them one of the great gospel paradoxes, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Divine perspective is elusive. We cling to life and to all it offers, believing our salvation is found therein. It never occurs to us that in the giving of our lives we find our lives’s true value.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the God who initiates unconditional covenants. This is especially important for us to remember in our times of lament. When God’s presence is nowhere felt it is good to remember God’s covenant faithfulness that is passed down through the generations. We are part of this covenant by our faith, which is reckoned as righteousness. Our faith is in Jesus, who said that in losing our lives we would find them. He provided for us this example, and our lives have never been the same.