Abraham was born around 2000 BC. His was the privilege of entering into a special covenant with God and receiving specific promises available to him and his posterity because of his righteousness.
The token of the covenant between God and Abraham was the act of circumcision. In Genesis 17 we read.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
Why was this token of the covenant? Why wasn’t this part of the covenant between God and the patriarchs prior to Abraham for the 2,000 years of history before him? The patriarchs before Abraham were righteous individuals, but God waited a long time to introduce this particular covenant. Why? Why didn’t God promise a previous patriarch a promised land? Was it because Abraham was tested in a unique way? Taken captive and almost killed in a foreign land so that God would covenant with him to give him a promised land of his own for his posterity? I have a lot of questions on this topic which I don’t know the answers to, but there are some wonderful and insightful things we do know.
As part of the covenant, God gave Abram (“exalted father”) the new name of Abraham (“father of a multitude”). He also renamed his wife Sarai (“my princess”) to Sarah (“noblewoman”). In each instance, the name is upgraded from one level to a higher one.
For Abraham to be a father of a multitude, the Lord promised them a son in their old age.
16. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
17. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
Abraham was 99 when this promise was made to him, and his wife was 90. He rejoiced that the Lord would bless them with this miracle, but I didn’t understand the symbolism here till I read some of the writings of Frederick Weinreb, introduced to me a long time ago by an institute teacher. Weinreb was a Kabbalist, a Chassidic Jew who delved deep into the meaning of things which includes the deep ancient meanings of numbers and symbols.
Weinreb explained that the child would be born when Abraham was 100 but the covenant of circumcision would be entered into at age 99. When he was 100 he would see the fulfillment of this promised covenant blessing.
In Hebrew, the value of each of the 22 letters goes from 1-9 by 1’s, then 10-90 by 10’s, and then 100-400 by 100’s. In the simplest terms, where the one’s digits are a basic level in this world, the 10’s are the fulfillment of the concept in this world, and the 100’s are stepping into the next world. They stop at 400 because beyond that you have to be in the next world.
The letter for 100 is Qoph. Its symbol in ancient Hebrew was the eye of a needle and it represents a transition from the this world of the 10’s, into an exalted world of the 100’s. It is the impossible transition like the camel going through the eye of a needle. We say it’s not possible but we accept it in spite of our concerns and fears because God says it’s real and happening.
Abraham had to impossibly pass through the eye of the needle. It was “laughable,” or “absurd” which is what the meaning of the name Isaac is. It was laughable that this could happen, and yet God made it so.
The token of this covenant, circumcision, symbolized a transition from one world to another by permanently removing the cover from the organ that provides seed to the womb of life. The removal of the cover was a symbol that there is no more restriction to Abraham’s seed. It would be innumerable, and for all his posterity blessed to enter into this covenant as well.
Doctrine and Covenants 132:30 “…as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.”
Sarah, his wife, couldn’t have children until God opened her womb long after menopause had closed it off. In ancient Hebrew, Teth, the 9th letter, has a symbol of womb. It finds it’s mortal fulfillment in the 90 which has a symbol of a fishhook. For Sarah to be 90 and have a child is the extension of the womb to its fulfillment. God must fulfill before one can enter the eye of the needle and pass into the next state, but Weinreb explains that the fishhook of 90 is the rescue. It is essentially drawing one out of the water (the womb, the barrenness) and making the transition. The miracle God provided was a sign he would fulfill the covenant through Abraham’s seed.
Why wasn’t this covenant made with Noah? Adam? Enoch and others who were God’s chosen prophets before Abraham? I do not know, but each prophet’s life had parallels to great gospel symbolism. In Abraham’s story we see the transition from this world into the next and see his two sons carry out symbolic work that relates to Abraham being an exalted father of many nations.
In Ishmael (“God will hear”) we see the story of each of us.
But he calls upon God who hears him and promises to make him a great nation as well.
Isaac on the other hand, was the child of promise, the only begotten. His is the parallel to Christ, going like a lamb to the sacrificial altar. He was not born until Abraham entered into the covenant of circumcision.
Abraham was 99 and Ishmael was 13 when they were circumcised on the same day (Genesis 17:23-26). Weinreb mentions there is a symbolism to Ishmael being 13 which is just beyond the 12 representing time. In other words, the 12 represents life until the 13 arrives, the first step beyond time where the ‘1’ appears (13-12=1) and we receive the word (1). Thus, in Ishmael we each receive the covenant in the 13 bringing us into contact with the 1 (the Word).
It’s deep and I’m a novice at this but it’s so fascinating to have the Bible symbolism come to life in ways I never realized when I was younger. When I discovered this, I really gained a testimony of the Bible in new ways. It’s far too complex that anyone could have made up stories and so perfectly aligned the language to testify in the very words and numbers about the meaning beyond the stories.
If you are interested in learning more about Weinreb, you can check out a very large sample of his wonderful book “Roots of the Bible: An ancient view for a new outlook” on Amazon (just click ‘look inside’).
There is also a foundation set up to his works and their website has a lot of information and articles. It’s all in German but you can install a plugin to your browser to translate the pages to English (Chrome has Google translate built in). Just go to your browser’s extension page and type ‘translate’ into the search box.