Chapter Nine

The Covenant

Our intercessory prayers are perfected as we become one with the Lord. The mature believer understands better how to plead on behalf of friends and family members. Over time, we may become those of whom Christ said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13, 14)

To ask in the name of Jesus is to live in such harmony with his teachings that we are one with the Spirit. Our faith will become sight, step by step, despite our sins and failings— an important point. Yet this process is so gradual that we are never or rarely aware we have gained an ascendancy. If an angel were sent to tell us that we had reached a higher plane in faith, we would be alarmed.

Just so, at age 99 Abram had made much progress as a man of God, yet was astonished when the Lord came to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Gen 17:1, 2-NIV)

Here, God makes his covenant with Abram, renaming him to Abraham* to mark the event. Although the NIV uses the word confirm, the Hebrew “natan” has a different meaning which is better expressed in the KJV make. “I will make my covenant between me and thee.” (vs 2) However, this covenant was “in the making” since the Call to Abram in Ur (or, technically, since time immemorial?), so the use of the word confirm is descriptive of this phase.

*For an explanation of this name change, see the Further Study of Chapter 2.

Read Genesis 17:1-8.

1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4. As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

God’s Covenant with his own was made and will be made; it is dynamic. It cannot fail nor die, and continues to everlasting life, as Christ explained, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (Mat 22:31, 32)

Establishing the Covenant was a sevenfold decree that included:

  1. A prophecy that Abram would be a father of many nations.(vs. 4) This meant gentiles.
  2. Changing Abram’s name to Abraham, which shifted its meaning from a focus on God, “Father [God] (is) lofty” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”(vs. 5)
  3. A prophetic promise that God would make Abraham fruitful so that nations would come out of him. (vs. 6)
  4. A prophetic promise that Kings, too, would be born of him. (vs. 6)
  5. A promise that God would be Abraham’s God, (vs. 7) and that
  6. God would be his descendants’ God. (vs. 7)
  7. A prophetic promise that the land of Canaan would belong to him and his seed forever. (vs. 8)

The Covenant promise would be evidenced in each male Israelite or servant by circumcision.

9. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. 13. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

Some say that circumcision signified this expression: “If I or my child is not an obedient follower of the Lord, then may we be cut away and removed from him.” Another viewpoint is that it was a way to ensure fruitful marital relations in order that the seed of Abraham should multiply, in accord with the Covenant. Removal of the foreskin facilitated conception.

This latter viewpoint seems more in keeping with the unconditional nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. However, when Scripture explains Scripture, in the New Testament circumcision is described as a “putting off of the sinful nature” (Col 2:11 NIV). Evidently, this was, or ultimately became, the view of what it symbolized.

This removal of flesh was God’s way of accepting a willing person into his fellowship, or for parents to place sons there. Likewise, baptism seals the person into the body of believers, but neither was circumcision nor is baptism conferred based on works.

The sign of the Covenant would be applied to Ishmael, yet God clearly stated that he would establish his Covenant with Isaac and his descendants after him. (vs 19) The Israelites would not descend from Abraham’s first son. In fact, Ishmael would become a symbol in New Testament times of those who dwell apart from God’s light and freedom. Of course, before he became a symbol, Ishmael was a real person, and he was a circumcised son of Abraham.

Finally, it was Sarai’s turn.

15. And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. 17. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? 18. And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! 19. And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. 20. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. 21. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

Sarai's name was changed from “Jah is prince” to “Princess-royal lady.” She would be the mother of nations, and her son would be Abraham’s inheritor.

With respect to the sign of confirmation, we may ask why God ordained a seal that could only be applied to males. Did he not care about the females? But of course: In God’s plan the wife is considered as one flesh with her husband. The promises to him are for her as well. The baby girls or female servants who would come into the covenant family would be as their brothers. They were divinely ordained to be one flesh with their husbands; they were common participants in God’s blessings.

But what about single women? They too would receive an inheritance, according to the statute of Moses on behalf of Zelophehad’s daughters. (Numbers 27:1-11)

22. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. 23. And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. 24. And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26. In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27. And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

Why would God command that the sign of the Covenant be applied to one whom he knew would live in rebellion, outside the inclusive first family of faith? For that matter, why was Lot never circumcised, since he was considered by God to be “a righteous man”? (II Peter 2:7)

Suffice to say, there are insiders and outsiders, but those outside are not to be viewed as hated or unimportant. Far from it. The closer the insider moves toward the Lord, the more clearly he sees God’s love for the brothers and sisters standing outside. He gave his only son that they might be grafted in and made one with his own. As well, there is a reality of regeneration that outshines any physical mark or symbol. Its evidence is on the inside of a person. Lot, the righteous man, was so marked.

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The Prayer of Abandonment

On they went over the years with many upheavals and many answers to prayer, and always, abiding grace. The Lord empowered Mandy to love Jack in spite of his temperament, and oddly, Jack had many customers who were strong Christians, and they shared their faith with him. He heard the gospel message time and again even though he never went to church. On occasion, it seemed he might become a believer, and in fact, once he said he had accepted Christ, but nothing changed in his behavior. Nevertheless, the Lord has promised, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

I believed this promise and that Jack had crossed a certain threshold, but by any observer, Hebrews 6:4 could also have been quoted: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

It couldn’t be said, though, that Jack had tasted the goodness of the word of God or had shared in the Holy Spirit. A verbal assent is only a vote of confidence, but God can take the smallest seed and grow it into a tree so large and strong that birds can rest in its branches.

Besides honoring Mandy’s obedience by sending people to witness to Jack, God also permitted certain disasters to capture his attention. One occurred when Maddison at age eight was thrown from her horse, landing on her head which caused a concussion. Not long after she had recovered, she knocked heads with a playmate at the bottom of opposing slopes on a fateful sleigh run, which gave her a new concussion. In both incidences she could have been rendered a paralytic or comatose, but God preserved her from tragedy.

Sadly, after the time of the trauma and the period of relief and thankfulness, Jack returned to his old ways, and he was getting worse.

One spring I visited the family following a time when I had been praying a lot for him, and I believed all our prayers were about to be answered. I awoke around 2:30 in the morning when I heard Jack coming home late and then up the stairs. I began to pray fervently that God would finally accomplish his conversion. Not long afterward, I heard someone walking down the hall and down the stairs. I felt sure God was answering and Jack was being moved to go downstairs to pray! I decided after a while to go see if he wanted to talk, but when I got downstairs, I instead found my sister in the living room. She had a terrible headache and had taken some aspirin.

We began to talk. Things were at a drastic point in their marriage. Perhaps Jack was in an affair. Maybe he was in a mid-life crisis since he was now 41. In any case he was drinking too much and showing no concern for Mandy’s feelings at all. We began to pray, and these were our words: “Dear God, we have prayed for Jack for so long that we don’t know how to pray anymore. We’ve prayed for him to come to you in every way we can think of. Now we are asking you to save him whatever it takes. If our prayers have brought him protection, we understand if it has to be removed to accomplish your will for him. Whatever must happen for Jack to be saved, we ask you to do it.” We also prayed he would separate Jack from his real estate office which we felt was a bad influence on him and that God would judge that place.

Was this a prayer of relinquishment— a final letting go? The urgent request that God’s will be done? No, it was a prayer of abandonment. We were not relinquishing Jack as though our own spirits had desired something for him other than God’s perfect and highest will. We were abandoning him to be dealt with in whatever way would way would accomplish his salvation, or the realization of it. This, too, is a form of intercession.

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“God has editing rights over our prayers. He will... edit them, correct them, bring them in line with His will and then hand them back to us to be resubmitted."

- Stephen Crotts, Author

Comment on the Westminster Confession

Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace. The person who is baptized demonstrates his faith in the Lord and a desire and decision to belong to him, just as the person who was circumcised showed trust in God. Parents who present their children for baptism are proving their belief that this sign and seal are God’s, not man’s. However, any baptized person who fails to walk with God as he or she grows older, choosing instead to rebel against him, cannot rely on their baptism as securing God’s promise of eternal life. Baptism saves no one.

Westminster Confession Chapter 28
Of Baptism
1. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.
2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.
3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.
4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
5. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
6. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.
7. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.

For further study and contemplation, go here.

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KEY VERSE: Genesis 19:29 "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived."

Introduction

About

Chapter One

What About Lot?
Further Study

Chapter Two

A Type of Christian
Further Study

Chapter Three

Westward Ho!
Further Study

Chapter Four

Time for Worship
Further Study

Chapter Five

Severing Ties
Further Study

Chapter Six

The Rescue
Further Study

Chapter Seven

The Promise Sealed
Further Study

Chapter Eight

Nearer to God
Further Study

Chapter Nine

The Covenant
Further Study

Chapter Ten

To Whom Much Is Given
Further Study

Chapter Eleven

God Remembered Abraham
Further Study

Chapter Twelve

A Good Ending
Further Study

Afterword

He Draws the Unwilling