I am studying the Abrahamic covenant and I have two questions after reading Genesis 15-17.

1) In Genesis 15, God establishes the covenant with Abram. It is an unconditional covenant and because of the fact that only God himself walked through the pieces of the carcass, the full burden of fulfilling the covenant rested on God, not on Abram. Abram did not have to do anything to merit the benefits of the covenant, correct? Why then does God in Genesis 17 require that Abram circumcise himself and all the members of his household in order to receive the benefits of the covenant?

2) If it is established the the promise of the covenant would be fulfilled through Isaac, why does Abraham circumcise Ishmael at the end of Genesis 17? Wouldn't that signify that Ishmael was part of the covenant?

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    Sometimes God asks people to do things to prove their faith. Circumcision alone has no power--it was simply the thing God asked Abram to do. Dying on a cross has no power--but it was the thing that Jesus had to do. Is that what you were getting at? – LCIII Aug 19 '14 at 15:30
  • Ishmael was part of the covenant but there is absolutely no indication of who the descendants of Ishmael could be. The Prophet Mohammed wanted to be Jewish but the Jews would not have him so they sent him away with the story that he was a descendant of Ishmael. It was fiction. That changes the perspective of your question making it important to know your thinking behind asking it. – gideon marx Aug 19 '14 at 18:22
  • Does this question belong here or at BH? – user13992 Aug 19 '14 at 23:17

It is true, as you say, that God covenants with Abram (later called Abraham) and does not ask anything as part of the covenant making. However if you read verse 6, you will find that Abram had already "given" God something -- his trust.

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty. (Gen 15:6 NET)

Most versions say the LORD "counted it to him as righteousness."

It is my understanding that whenever anyone believes in God and puts his or her complete trust in God's message, God responds with promises of eternal fellowship. God didn't need to ask Abram to do specific things or to respond to later requests; it was already in Abram's heart to seek God's will as mentor and ruler. When Abram later did what God asked him to, it was not with any thought of getting a benefit for doing so; it was because he knew God asked for something that would be good for Abram in the long run and would enhance his relationship with God.

Ishmael was a member of Abram's household, and considered part of the covenant, although God told Abraham that the most important part would be fulfilled through his later son, Isaac. There was no guarantee that every descendant of Abraham would have numerous descendants, just that Abraham himself would. Abraham pleaded with God that Ishmael would also have blessings, and indeed Ishmael's descendants were numerous. Having an ancestor in the covenant was no guarantee of having the full benefit of the covenant. Each person had to choose whether he or she would also put full trust in God as Abraham had done.

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    I like most of your answer. The Judaic understanding, that Abraham chose God and not the other way round, is close to it. – gideon marx Aug 19 '14 at 18:16
  • @gideonmarx I would like to hear more about the Judaic understanding, perhaps over on the Jewish site. I don't see Abra(ha)m being first to reach out to God. Earlier, God had asked Abram to leave his country, and Abram responded to God. It is my understanding that no one puts their full trust in God until God first draws them to Himself. – Bit Chaser Aug 21 '14 at 18:11
  • I think they will appreciate the question at Mi Yodeya. It is something important. – gideon marx Aug 22 '14 at 7:49
  • Abram's "discovery" of God is discussed on Mi Yodeya, here. It appears more a matter of knowledge than choice, though. – Bit Chaser Aug 22 '14 at 13:44

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