Community Group Study “Genesis: The Covenant Sign”

Before your community group meets:

Read Genesis 17:1-14 and write down 8-10 observations from the text like names in the text, how the word covenant is used, how much time has passed by and ages.

How does God expand on the covenant from Chapter 15? 

Abram meant “exalted father”, God changes his name to Abraham which means “father of many peoples”, why does God do this? (Look back to Genesis 16:15) 

Why does God give them the sign of circumcision, look to the text of scripture to find an answer.

Study Information:

One of the consistent themes we’ve seen in Genesis is that God meets his people in the midst of their failures. Genesis 16 focused on Hagar’s struggle and God “seeing” her and providing for her in the midst of distress. In Genesis 17, 13 years later (Genesis 16:16), God once again reminds Abram of his covenant promise but gets more specific and in the midst of it and calls Abram to specific obedience and dependance on God. This is God’s grace fleshed out in the real life of Abram as he struggled with fear and faith. 

Notice Genesis 17:1, Abram’s age is mentioned and we learn that it’s been 24 years since the original promise in Genesis 12. It becomes more and more impossible in our minds that God can fulfill his promise to give him a son. Yet, God reminds him of his nature and character… he is “God Almighty”! He works his power and sovereignty, especially in moments that most people would naturally write off as impossible (Genesis 18:14). In response, God calls Abram to walk before him and be blameless. This call is God reaching out to a man whom we last saw as passive and acting out of fear. God does not give up on his covenant promise and the call is to walk before God in dependence and to strive for holiness by God’s consistent and loving grace. The hope of followers of Jesus is that God does not treat us like how we deserve, but perseveres and shows relentless love to his people because he is faithful. 

This passage expands upon the covenant promise and gives Abram a sign to the covenant. 

First, the expansion of the covenant. Notice 4 things that take place in Genesis 17:1-8. God first changes Abram’s name to highlight that he is no longer just the father of one nation, but many nations. This points back to the birth of Ishmael and that God will bless and work in Ishmael’s family line, although not in the same was as Isaac/Israel. Second, the promise is that this people will be numerous and that there will be kings from this line. Ultimately the covenant if fulfilled in Jesus and the people of God called today who are many and from many nations (Romans 4:16-17). Third, this covenant is multigenerational. It is an everlasting covenant and will be passed down from generation to generation (Abraham to Isaac to Jacob). The everlasting nature of the covenant is that his promise is to be Abraham’s God and to his offspring (17:7). Finally, God reaffirms the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham. Throughout Genesis we see God get more and more specific about the nature of his covenant as he reveals himself to Abraham and to his people who are reading the text.

Next, God gives a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-14). Just like God gave Noah the rainbow as a sign of the promise to not again flood the earth, God gives Abraham the sign of circumcision as a sign that he will be their God and they will be his people. Circumcision was a physical mark given to the male members of the people of Abraham and it served to do three things for the people of God. First it was a physical reminder of God’s promise to Abraham that the covenant would be passed down from generation to generation… hence an 8 day old male being circumcised. Second, it was as a practical reminder of God’s gracious presence. And finally in circumcision God marked out his people as different and distinct; they were his. This sign gets discussed often in the New Testament in places like Galatians and Colossians, and we find out that the covenant is everlasting, but the sign is not. The focus in places like Romans 2:25-29 is the circumcision of the heart and the New Covenant promise of God giving his people a new heart through faith, which becomes the ultimate sign of God’s gracious presence to redeem his people. 

As you read through this passage and pray about how to respond, think about God’s gracious pursuit of his people and his call on us to be distinct, set apart, and to walk close to him. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?

Scripture and Discussion Questions:

Why does the scripture highlight the age of Abram again here and what do we learn about God in God’s declaration to Abram in Genesis 17:1. 

Earlier we saw God give Abram an unconditional promise in Genesis 15. God will accomplish and do what he promised, even if Abram failed. Here God seems to give conditions, what does he call Abram to do and why do you think God would give conditions (what is being highlighted? See 17:1 and 7 for some hints). 

Read Romans 2:25-29 and Galatians 5:1-6

What is the emphasis on circumcision in Romans 2? Is it just a physical mark or the sign of something greater? In Galatians, which members of the trinity are highlighted? Is Paul telling you that being circumcised is now a sin? How is he trying to shift the way we think about this sign of God’s covenant for the people of God today?

This passage once again highlighted for us God’s gracious presence to his broken people. God reached out to Abram in his even older age and in the text it is immediately after another major fail, but chronologically its been 13 years since he has heard from God. How has God ministered to you as you’ve interacted with this theme throughout our time in Genesis?

Looking Ahead:

Read Genesis 17:15-18:15 and write down 10-12 observations from the text like who laughs, who is in the story, and do any characters do the majority of speaking?

How did Abram express obedience to what God called him to in Genesis 17:9-14. Does the text give us any indication to how quickly or slowly he responded?

Why would Abram try to present Ishmael to God as the fulfillment of the promise? How does Abram’s laughter mirror Sarah’s response when she hears the promise in Genesis 18:9-15?

Reflect and pray, do you put up barriers and obstacles to God fulfilling his will in your life as he works out spiritual growth, sanctification and dependance to him? Spend time praying about these areas and meditate on Genesis 18:14. 

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