179 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you are to keep my covenant, you and your seed through every generation. 10 This is my covenant you shall keep between me and you and your seed: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between us. 12 On the eighth day after birth, every male among you must be circumcised, even slaves born in the household and those bought with money from foreigners. 13 Those born in your house and those purchased with your silver shall be circumcised, so my covenant may be in your flesh for all time. Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant. 14 Any male not circumcised, that person shall be exiled. He has violated my covenant.”
15 God said to Abraham, “Sarai, your wife, will no longer be called Sarai. Sarah is her name! 16 I will bless her and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless him. I will bless her so that she will become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
17 Abraham fell on his face, and he laughed, saying to himself, “To a 100-year-old man a child shall be born! Sarah, a 90-year-old woman, shall have a child!”
The covenant relationship runs from G*D to, now, Abraham. A repetition of its details adds in circumcision—not a medical benefit, not a rite of passage, but a sign of being yoked to a G*D, a tribe, a nation, a people, a culture. Circumcision is a physical Shibboleth. Circumcision is not just for Abraham’s lineage but their human property (slaves) as well—a branding.
We have just experienced a covenant binding ritual that cut or divided animals. Now we shift that one-time event to an every generation act of cutting. In sales, this is an undocumented “feature” only discovered after a purchase is completed.
There are later stories that will use circumcision as a charm to ward off evil, but here it is simply requirement.
If a male sports the communal sign of circumcision, they meet the lowest bar of community. Without it they are exiled and, in tribal culture, this is a capital act—death.
The intensity of the significance of circumcision is that G*D will take any exception as a breaking of covenant. With this break comes the loss of possessions and land—the loss of power.
As the shift from Abram to Abraham didn’t change the meaning of his name, only its form, so, too, with a change from Sarai to Sarah (even less of an orthographic change).
Now we receive confirmation that it is specifically Sarah who is to be noted in this line of Abraham. The whole Hagar/Ishmael line will continue, but not as a “chosen” or preferred line.
With the specificity that it is Sarah who will bear a son (and at her age of 90, even one seems a bit much), Abraham finally gets the joke about impossibility as the likeliest route forward and falls down laughing.
Readers will need to decide if this laughter is of absurdity or is a confirmation of everything after a first vision in Haran.