Ritual vs. Reality

As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father 12 tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year. – Genesis 17:20-21


When God stated His covenant to Abram and then commanded the accompanying rite of circumcision, this rite also extended to everyone in Abram’s household … even Ishmael. At the same time, God made a clear distinction between Ishmael and his half-brother Isaac. Isaac would be the son of the covenant and Ishmael would not. Both received the mark of the covenant (by circumcision), but the blessing (and the responsibility that the blessing carried) was only given to Isaac.

Here we see the difference between ritual and reality. Assurance does not come from a ritual, but from the reality behind it; in this case, the actual existence of a covenant. The covenant was guaranteed by God, not by Isaac or Abram. Many may have received the mark of the covenant, but the true covenant (and the blessings and responsibility it carried) was determined by God.

Just as there are many people around the world who mistakenly depend upon a physical ritual for their assurance of blessing, there are many in our churches who make the same mistake. The ritual never guarantees the reality. Only God can do that.

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. – Gandhi

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