Athlete, God Gives Us Signs

*This devotional series was written by the AIA staff team at the University of Virginia

Read Genesis 17

Abram is still waiting.  It's been thirteen years since the events of Genesis 16.  Thirteen years!  Twenty-four years since leaving home (12:4)!  God is still reassuring Abram of his faithfulness.  Abram is still doubting, wondering how God will make good on his promise (17:17-18).  

God gives Abram two outward signs or tangible reminders/experiences of his covenant-promise.  First, He changes Abram's name to Abraham ("exalted father" to "father of many"), and changes Sarai's name to Sarah.  Second, and more important for understanding Scripture, God gives Abraham the sign of circumcision (17:11).

Circumcision seems like an odd sign of God's covenant-promise to our modern ears, but it actually makes a lot of sense.  First, the promise is about Abraham's offspring, and circumcision is obviously involves the part of the body relating to offspring.  Second, circumcision is a bloody operation.  As we saw in Genesis 15 when God "cut a covenant" with Abraham and passed through the divided animals, the fulfillment of God's covenant-promises to Abraham would ultimately entail the death of Jesus, the shedding of blood.  Third, circumcision signals separation.  The foreskin is separated and thrown away.  Abraham and those in his household were called to separate themselves from the sinful ways of the world and to be "blameless" (17:1) in response to God's love toward them.

Throughout the Bible, God gives his people signs of his covenant in order to strengthen our faith.  In Genesis 3, God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, which also required the shedding of blood, as an outward sign of covering their shame.  In Genesis 6, God hangs a rainbow in the sky as an outward sign of his promise to keep the world from universal catastrophe.  The Old Testament is full of outward signs of God's covenant.  In the New Testament era, in which the mystery of Christ has been revealed, the Old Testament signs that pointed forward to Christ are no longer observed.  Now that God's work in Christ has been made plain, we have two signs by which we remember his finished work, grow in his grace, and look forward to our resurrection:  baptism and communion (aka the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist).  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

1. Throughout the history of God's people, many have attached too much importance to an outward sign of God's covenant-promises, to the extent that they have found their righteousness in the sign itself rather than in the Christ to which the sign points.  Others dismiss the signs as unimportant, but God himself gives us the signs for our good.  

2. Where do you fall on this spectrum?  Take some time to reflect the cleansing and forgiveness and inclusion signified in baptism.  Take some time to reflect on the body and blood of Christ sacrificed for us, and the coming feast and fellowship with God, signified in communion.

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