Cherishing God’s Covenant (Genesis 17:9)

“And God said to Abraham, ‘Thus you shall cherish my covenant—you and your seed after you to the generations.”

(Genesis 17:9)

Do we really cherish the things that God has done for us? As I interact with Christians, sometimes I wonder. How often we will tell our neighbors about an award that one of our children might have received, but we will neglect to tell them about eternal life because it might be seen as socially awkward. It seems odd that we are often so silent about that which we profess to hold so dearly. Indeed, those things that we genuinely cherish are things that we seek to keep pure and preserve from outside influences. How often, though, we allow our theology to be polluted with non-Biblical but popular ideas. We often talk much about how God is love and how God forgives, but at the same time tend to downplay the fact that he is going to judge sin with eternal fire and how those who do not come to him in his Son, Jesus Christ, are guilty of the greatest offense imaginable before a holy God. How often truth becomes so watered down that its taste is barely recognizable.

Many of our English translations will render this word as “keep” and not “cherish.” The Hebrew verb used in this passage is rAmDv (shamar), which means, “to keep, to guard, to cherish, or to preserve.” It conveys the idea of protecting something that you treasure or hold dear. When this word is used to speak of commands, it usually reflects the idea of the people keeping them by doing them. Such is the same here. God is going to institute the sign of the covenant, that is circumcision. Yet, note that being circumcised is not how one fulfills the covenant—the covenant requires perfect obedience for it to be fulfilled—something that no mere human is able to perform.  Hence, we need a savior; hence God moved through the split animal pieces, not Abraham. Thus the tone here as this word is being used is not so much the actual fulfillment of the covenant, but whether or not Abraham is going to be faithful enough to the covenant to preserve the covenantal sign not only in his life but also in the lives of his children.

In the Christian church, we use the same language to refer to Baptism. As blood in its fullness has already been shed by Christ, the sign is a bloodless one and thus circumcision as a command has been done away with. Though many Christians still circumcise their sons, it is simply a matter of preference and family tradition at this point in history. Baptism is now the covenantal sign we place on the heads of our children. This sign is not necessary for salvation (as the thief on the cross could not have been baptized), but it is a matter of obedience and a reflection as to how seriously we cherish the covenant that God made with Abraham for us—which of course, was confirmed by Christ. If you cherish the things of God, your obedience to them should follow.

Loved ones, my prayer for you is that you take these words seriously. God has made a covenant with us as his people and he has always been fully and completely faithful to that covenant; are we being faithful to him? Do we really cherish the things that God is doing in our lives and do we raise our children to cherish those things as well? People say that children will hold dear the things that they see their parents holding dear. Do we cherish the covenant of God so dearly that our children and our grandchildren are also drawn to cherish those things as well?

Christian hearts, in love united,

Seek alone in Jesus rest;

Has He not your love excited?

Then let love inspire each breast;

Members on our Head depending

Lights reflecting Him, our Sun,

Brethren His commands attending,

We in Him, our Lord, are one.

-Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf

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