Explore the Bible Sunday School Lesson for February 18

Here’s the Explore the Bible Sunday School lesson commentary for Feb. 18, written by Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D. professor of biblical studies, University of Mobile.

Explore the Bible Sunday School Lesson for February 18

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By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Mobile


Genesis 17:1–10, 15–19

The silence is deafening. Abram’s life narrative is full of details from age 75 until the birth of Ishmael when he is 86. And then, nothing.

Between Genesis 16:16 and 17:1 are 13 years of silence. Why the silence in Abram’s narrative? Perhaps it is a stark reminder that God accomplishes His purposes according to His timetable, not ours.

More likely, it is to indicate that the covenant would be established through another son. God’s promises made in 12:1–3 and the covenant initiated in 15:18 are more clearly revealed in Chapter 17.

Covenant (17:1–8)

God reveals His name. In Genesis 12, Abram calls on the name of YHWH (Lord, in all capital letters in the Bible). He calls God by the names YHWH, El Elyon (God Most High) and Qoneh (Creator) in 14:22. Abram calls God by the name Adonai YHWH (Lord God) in 15:2. God introduces Himself to Abram with yet another name, El Shaddai (God Almighty) in 17:1. He is the Almighty who accomplishes the impossible.

God reveals His covenant. In Genesis 15, God initiates a covenant with Abram.

Based on the timing of this reiteration in Chapter 17, the Lord indicates that the covenant will not be through Ishmael but through a promised seed yet to be born.

God changes Abram’s name. In Genesis 11, readers are first introduced to the name “Abram.” His name means “exalted father.” As the father of Ishmael, he was to become an exalted father with 12 grandsons. God gives him a new name — Abraham — which means “father of a multitude.” Twenty-four years after leaving Haran, Abraham has a new name and a promise from God of an eternal covenant for his descendants. He would become the patriarch of nations and kings.

Sign (17:9–10)

The sign of the covenant is circumcision on the eighth day of a boy’s life.

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Scriptures communicate directly about the removal of the male foreskin as the physical reminder of the Abrahamic covenant.

This ritual practice became established in Mosaic law (Lev. 12:3).

Mary and Joseph followed this covenant ritual when Jesus was 8 days old (Luke 2:21). The Apostle Paul includes this sign of the covenant on his resumé as an authentic Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5).

Keep in mind that circumcision is not salvific; it does not place a man in right standing with God.

In his epistle to the Galatian churches, Paul indicates that this sign of the covenant is not a means of salvation (Gal. 5:6). Only Jesus saves.

Promise (17:15–19)

Sarai has a new identity — Sarah, meaning “princess.” She will receive blessings from God, and she will become the mother of kings and nations. This 90-year-old barren woman is the recipient of an incredible promise.

Abraham expresses incredulity. “Right. … Sarah and I are way too old to have a child. … You have to be joking!” In our sanctified imaginations, we can envision how impossible this sounded to Abraham. So he laughed.

The meaning of Isaac’s name actually ties back to laughter. What a name. It seems to be a silly name, but it expresses his parents’ responses when they heard God’s promise (18:12).