In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the message, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
This week I’m preaching again in our church’s contemporary service and am working from Genesis 17. We’ll read vv1-9, 15-16, which will emphasize the renaming of both Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, but will not include the part about circumcision. I’ll definitely preach the whole passage, but for reading purposes, I have found it beneficial to limit the length of the reading. And people are always good with my presenting it later within the sermon for context or to round out the whole passage.
On to the study part… The dominant feature of the text literarily is the genre of covenant structure, presumably with some parallel to Ancient Near East (ANE) covenant structures generally. This is also a cultural cue, so those categories for my usual study sort of collapse together somewhat. This means that I’ll try to run down some material on ANE covenant structures to get a sense of the background information and to see if there is anything of interpretive significance going on we might otherwise miss (for example, deviations from normal ANE covenant structure, or from typical role relationships between the greater and lesser powerful parties in the covenant).
That said, the basic outline for the passage looks something like this:
- 17:1-2 – Covenant Intro
- 17:3-8 – God’s part of the covenant (“As for me…”)
- 17:9-14 – Abraham’s part of the covenant (“As for you…”)
- 17:15-16 – Sarai/Sarah name change too
- 17:17-18 – Laughter, appeal for Ishmael
- 17:19-22 – Covenant for Issac, blessing for Ishmael
- 17:23-27 – Obedient response to covenant
The places I’m really keying in on right now are the themes of increase/expansiveness, covenant & identity, promise & fulfillment, and expectation.
The theme of expansiveness runs strongly through each instance in which God is talking about what he will do–making Abram and Sarai fruitful, parents of many nations, Abram father of kings, generations coming from them, and greatly increasing his numbers (meaning, presumably, family but perhaps household as well?)
The theme of covenant & identity strikes me as particularly evident in two things: (1) the giving of new names (vv5, 15), and (2) the physical mark of circumcision (vv9-14).
The theme of promise & fulfillment is also seen in God’s changing their names and in his covenant-promise of the land, and the fruitfulness of Abraham and Sarah and the nations that will come from them.
Finally, the theme of expectation is two-pronged. First, Abraham’s expectations would seem to be reinforced and strengthened concerning this promise of an heir that God keeps telling him about. Now it has taken formal covenantal shape. Second, God is expressing expectations of Abraham and his descendants–circumcision, faithfulness, etc. The covenant goes in two directions.
That’s a good place to stop for now.
Thoughts so far?