“Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him.” Gen. 17:23
“In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son.” Gen. 17:26
Note the immediacy of Abraham’s obedience to God’s request for circumcision – the very same day, as soon as “God went up” from him. Some translations may not be clear on this, and instead sound as if all of the circumcisions were completed on the same day, but that was not necessarily the same day God spoke to Abraham, however the original language seems to support the idea that Abraham’s obedience was immediate.
We would do well to obey God quickly, especially when we may dread the thought of fulfilling His request. In this case, circumcision would likely have been both a painful and frightening prospect – a medical procedure done with somewhat primitive tools – yet the wise reaction would be to fulfill the request before we have much time to think about it. To quote Matthew Henry, “While the command is yet sounding in our ears, and the sense of duty is fresh, it is good to apply ourselves to it immediately, lest we deceive ourselves by putting it off to a more convenient season.”
Bear in mind Isaac will not be born for about another year (v. 21) yet Abraham does not use this as an excuse to put off the circumcision. This also tells us that quick obedience on our part does not necessarily ensure God’s promises will be brought about quickly – God still works on his own timing. This way God can ensure we are obeying for the sake of obedience, and not simply in exchange for a fulfillment of a promise.
We must also consider that Abraham was called to do this not only to himself and his son Ishmael, but to all male members of his household. How did he gain such consent? One may consider it could have been done by force, but I would offer that his servants allowed him to do it. Why? Because Abraham is a man of God living a godly life and has been for at least 24 years now (Abraham was 75 when he left Haran and is 99 at this point.) His men have already risked their lives following him into battle just to save his nephew Lot. Jewish tradition holds that Abraham was well-respected in his household and was likely a teacher of the ways of God to his servants (see my previous posting about this here).
How respected and trusted does a man need to be for one to allow him to do such a thing to him as circumcision? Very respected and trusted indeed!