Lectionary Year B
March 16, 2003
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Step IV: Cross-Section

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) Several images in this week's Old Testament Lesson carry over into the world of the New Testament. Abraham's good reputation is noted in Romans 4:16f as "the father of many nations" and Galatians 3:6f says, "Just as Abraham 'believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness' so, you see those who believe are descendants of Abraham." Also, in Galatians 4:22f we read, "For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of a slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise." The Apostle Paul boasts of being a son of Abraham and claims all others are, too, (as Acts 13:26 indicates) in II Corinthians 11:22. In some of Jesus' "I am" sayings, in John 8, He declares freedom for Jewish believers in Him. There they protest in verse 33a, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone." And, in Hebrews' roll call of the faithful, 11:8fff, Abraham and Sarah are listed. Also, God changed the names of Saul of Tarsus to Paul (Acts 9, 22 and 26) and Simon bar Jonah's to Peter (Matthew 16:15-18). The term covenant occurs in the New Testament in two different ways, first, in the Epistles as an emphatic new and corporate entity and then in the Gospels rather routinely as in the mention of covenants of bread and cup in the Eucharist, for example. See the interesting designation, in II Corinthians 3:6, that God "makes us competent to be ministers of the new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." God's promises are furthermore important to early Christians as well.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) Of course the covenant in the Old Testament gets plenty of play. It evolves into a Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24:7 and II Chronicles 34:30) and an Ark of the Covenant for David (Exodus 24:10-22 and Numbers 10:33f). Jeremiah envisions God declaring a new covenant in 31:31, which will be everlasting, as the Priestly writers emphasis regularly, (as for Noah in Genesis 9:1-17) in 32:40 and 50:5. Also, the element of promise, so prominent in the Priestly parts of the Pentateuch, according to Brueggemann, is in Genesis 1:22 and 28, 9:1 and 7, 28:3, 35:11, 47:27, 48:4 and Exodus 1:7. And, the "walking before Me and being blameless" appears also in Genesis 24:40 and 48:15, similarly for Solomon in I Kings3:6 and 9:4 and for Hezekiah in II Kings 20:3. Circumcision is described in more detail in Exodus 4:25f and Joshua 5:2-9. As a ritualistic figure, circumcision is termed a "circumcision of the heart" in Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, 9:26 and Ezekiel 44:7. Then, from the second century CE Testament of Isaac, we read of eternal bliss prophesied for Abraham's descendants, blessed is everyone who manifests mercy on the memorial day of the father of fathers, our father Abraham and our father Isaac, for each of them shall have a dwelling in the kingdom of heaven, because our lord has made with them his true covenant forever." The second-third century CE Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers pray, "But truly, having given also Isaac to him, and having known him to be like that one in character, you were also called His God, having said, I will be your God, and of your seed after you." These must still be popular sentiments among the pious.

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) These thinkers would probably appreciate God's talkativeness and Abram's humility before such a God. The numerous generations and nations would also capture their imagination. The covenant, too, could occupy their dialoging endlessly, as well.

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