Understanding Genesis 17: What Does It Mean to Be Perfect
Read the entire chapter 17 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
What God Considers Perfect
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Genesis 17:1
Thirteen years after his son is born, God comes to Abram again. After Ishmael is born, Abram and Sarai consider him their son and believe he is the one promised by God. God comes to Abram and tells him to walk with God and be perfect.
Not perfect as in good behavior or deeds, but perfection according to God, which means to become united with Him. God asks Abram to become so like-minded that they will be one. Jesus repeats this throughout his ministry on earth. “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” John 17:23 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
Jesus also implies being perfect, as being loving. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 john 4:8 "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." 1 John 4:16
God = Love
God = Perfect
Perfect = Love
Jesus and God are one, one-minded, united. God comes to Abram and invites him to walk before Him, to be one-minded with God also. Enoch lived an example of this and was eventually taken to heaven. "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." Genesis 5:24 “Jesus said unto him [rich young ruler], If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Matthew 19:21 Jesus invites the ruler to follow him so he could learn from Jesus and become one with Him. Unfortunately, the ruler loved his riches more than Jesus and was unwilling to become a disciple of Christ.
Descendants of Abraham
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. Genesis 17:5
God claims that Abraham is already a father of many nations. At this time, Abraham was a very wealthy man. He had household of servants and livestock. His servants, as well as the neighboring pagans, respected him. Being a Godly man, he was already a blessing to the nations. As he took care of his household and neighbors, they saw him as a revered elder and their patriarch. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28,29
This is how we are to be as a Godly people. We must be a blessing to our neighbors and strangers. "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15:1,2,6
Circumcision of the Heart
And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. Genesis 17:11
God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising him descendants of many nations. He promises that Sarah, at 90 years of age, would give Abraham a son. And to show that Abraham remembers the covenant that God has made, He requests Abraham and all the males in his household to become circumcised. He doesn’t tell Abraham to be circumcised so that God will keep His side of the covenant, he tells Abraham to become circumcised so that Abraham and all his descendants will remember God’s promises.
The act of circumcision was painful, and very personal. The knowledge that they were to remove the foreskin was an act of faith, a revealing to the nations that they were obedient to God, and believer of God’s promises. Partly, it was a reminder of how precious their lineage and seed was; and as God’s people, not to enter into marriage with idolaters. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14
From the time of Seth’s children marrying Cain’s children, the Israelites also made this mistake, repeatedly intermarrying with idolaters and being led away from God. "And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines." Judges 14:1 "But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;" 1 King 11:1
But mostly, it was an act of being set apart. "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." Deuteronomy 30:6 God will remove the sins from your heart and set you apart so you will be different from the idolators. While the Hebrews showed a physical circumcision, we are to show our heart’s circumcision by walking before Him, being perfect, living united with God.
As descendants of Abraham, God has graciously blessed and saved us. He blesses us, He desires to be our God, He saves us. He does everything. All we have to do is submit our uncircumcised heart to His will and become One with Him.
When God asks us for perfection, God is inviting us to BE ONE with Him.