September 10 lesson: Circumcision

9/5/2017

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Circumcision

Fall Quarter: Covenant with God
Unit 1: Signs of God’s Covenant


Sunday school lesson for the week of September 10, 2017
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell


Lesson Scripture: Genesis 17:1-14
Background Scripture: Genesis 17


Key Verse: This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Circumcise every male. (Genesis 17:10)

Purpose: To live with hope and faith in God’s assurances

Hearing the Word

The Adult Bible Studies’ writer begins this lesson paralleling the call of Noah (the rainbow promise of a new start for humanity and the earth) to the call of Abram (the journey, his household, and the Circumcision covenant). In this scripture, God uses Abram, a 75-year-old man to be the “Father of all nations.”

Background

Abram’s Heritage:

  • Abram lived in Haran, a town along the northern tributary of the Euphrates River, about 24 miles southeast of ancient Edessa (modern Urfa).
  • He was an Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5); however, when he left Haran, he became a “Hebrew” in spirit.
Teacher: Ask class members to remember their heritage and to connect, if possible, how it aligns with God’s promise or their call.
God’s promise to Abram:

The writer conveys the following:
  • His call came, like God’s covenant with Noah, with a promise of land, nationhood, and blessings (Genesis12:1-3).
  • God’s promise in Genesis 12:2: “I will make of you a great nation.” To a man who appeared too old to have a child, God later declared that Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the “bits of dust on the earth” (13:16). The divine promise followed that he would have his own biological child and descendants as many as the stars in heaven (15:5).
  • By faithfully responding to God’s call, Abram (whose name God changed to Abraham; (Genesis17:5) became the father of many nations.
  • Although archaeological evidence for his existence is lacking and the claim that he discovered monotheism is not supported by Genesis, he has been enshrined in those great religious traditions as a revered, patriarchal figure.
Abram’s risks and struggles on the journey:
  • A questionable deception in Egypt (12:10-20).
  • A conflict between him and his nephew, Lot, that Abram was able to resolve peacefully (13:1-12).
  • A successful war with the kings who had captured Lot and his household and looted their property (14:4-24).
  • Domestic tension between him and his barren wife, Sarai, over his son born to her servant, Hagar (Chapter16).
Even though Abram’s travels and conflicts were many, God continued to be faithful, provided restoration, and kept His promise. It seems that in the darkest hours in our troubles, God never leaves us. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.” He keeps us in His loving care and protection. Hebrews 13:5 states: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Teacher: Ask class members to share moments in their lives where God’s plan was a derailment from their plans. Ask how they navigated through the challenges and struggles.

God Continues His promise to Abram

While still awaiting a child with his wife, Sarai, the 99-year-old Abram heard God say, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you” (17:6). In Verse 17:17, Abraham fell on his face in laughter and doubt when God promised him a child. He was 100 years old, and Sarai was 90 years old. God carries out his promises. There are so many encounters in the Bible that bear witness to God’s divine plan. Who would imagine that someone in his or her “golden years” would bear a child? But, we see the evidence that what seems impossible to us is possible with God. (Luke 18:27) The writer expresses that the final part of God’s promise is the blessing that began with a divine pledge to protect: “I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse” (12:3).

Reflections: Have class members to draw on a sheet a of paper three columns: one column is for the promises by God; the second column is for the struggles while encountering the promises, and the third column is for the outcome of the promises.

The Promise and Purpose of Circumcision

The writer shares these promises and purposes:
  • A sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision did not guarantee spiritual wellbeing.
  • Circumcision, a practice not unique to the Israelites.
  • It was more than the removal of the foreskin. It was a matter of the heart, of faith, of ready response to God’s call. The prophet Jeremiah warned: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will deal with everyone who is physically circumcised: whether they are Egyptians or Judeans, Edomites or Ammonites, Moabites or the desert dwellers who cut the hair on their foreheads. All nations are really uncircumcised; even the people of Israel are uncircumcised in heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).
  • The practice of circumcision among the Jewish captors, who did not circumcise, gave them a sense of identity.
  • Circumcision was a liturgical act affirming that they belonged to the community of Jews, to their God, and to that original covenantal promise. It connected to their faith and the need for God in their lives, especially during times of struggles. It also was a reminder of the liberating protection of God.
Conclusion

God’s covenant through circumcision is not magical or mystical. As we have explored in this lesson, circumcision is a covenant with God and His people. It is to honor His call, to symbolize His protection as the liberator and for a pure and changed heart. Even though God no longer requires the act of circumcision as a covenant of promise, He still requires that we walk in his ways and live a life that is pleasing to Him.

Closing Prayer

Father, we thank you for your covenantal protection, liberation, and your divine provisions that keep us close and near to you. Let us turn to you in Word and prayer during struggles and for your promise to be fulfilled in our lives. Amen.

Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at earnestine@sgaumc.com.

The Adult Bible Studies, Series Fall 2017 book is used for the content of this lesson.