Please read Gen 17:1-27 beforehand
A. FOUR NAMES (Gen 17:5,15)
- God names Himself
Abram’s years slowly moved on until he reached the age of 99. By that time, 24 years had already lapsed since he had departed from Ur of the Chaldeans and 13 years since the birth of Ishmael.
(You may do well to count them off on your fingers as I did: One year, two years, three years, …, … twenty-two years, twenty-three years, twenty-four years.) Time tends to melt away our faith like the sun melts ice-cream from the stick onto which it is frozen, causing it to run down your fingers and drop wasted to the ground. Only now did it please the Lord to appear to him visually once more.
This is the fifth time of which we know that God had communicated with him in an extraordinary way. In this way He put in extra effort to strengthen his faith in order that he would work with Him to obtain the promised son.
He did this by impressing upon Abraham’s mind that there was no limit to His power. He told him that He was God Almighty. This was now the second time that He brought this specific truth to his attention.
God knew Who He was, but Abraham not – yes He knew that He was the only God, reigning supreme over heaven and earth, but he could not fully accept that He was God Almighty; that He had all power in heaven and on earth and that He could do whatever pleased Him and when it pleased Him.
Abraham cautioned as to his behaviour
He also cautioned Abram to walk before Him, for then he would be perfect (righteous). He always had to be open and honest with Him. It is like a mother telling her little child, “Come play here where I can see you.” Being where his mother can see him, will go a long way in keeping him from mischief. (How true also for ourselves.)
God the Rock
He also again confirmed His covenant with him; that He would multiply him into a multitude of nations and would give the land of Canaan to his descendants as an everlasting possession. By repeating the same thing to him again and again, He imprinted it clearly into his mind so that he would never doubt it. As said earlier on, hearing God speaking to you does something for your faith.
Abram and Sarai receive new names (Gen 17:5,15)
This time the Lord took events a step further than just confirming His covenant. He changed the role player’s names. Abram (Exalted father) was changed to Abraham, which means “Father of a multitude of nations.” Also, Sarai’s name (Princess), He changed to Sarah, “Mother of nations.”
(And so, two old people got new names. When we get born again, we too receive a new, heavenly name which is written in the Book of Life.)
Their son to be is named
On top of it all, He also gave them the name of the son that would be born to them; he was to be called Isaac. God already new him and had him registered in heaven under “L”, for “Laughter”.
Significance of the three names
Firstly, it was a recognition of the many years they had been walking by faith, like a diploma for grade A, allowing them to pass on to grade B.
Secondly, by changing the names of the parents and by furnishing the name of their son ahead of time, the Lord gave them something concrete to support their faith. If they now were to call one-another by their new names and their son to be, by his name (which I believe they did) they would have been confirming to everybody in the camp that they firmly believed God’s promise.
This verbal confession would not only further strengthen their faith, but would also play a practical part in the conceiving of Isaac, because God creates new things by the words that proceed from His mouth and from the mouths of His children.
We too should confess verbally to other people that which the Lord did and said to us. In this way we become co-workers with God in the realization of His promises.
Abraham fell on his face before God, laughed in his heart and said, “Can a child be born to some-one who is a hundred years of age? Or can Sarah who is ninety years old bear a child? May Ishmael live long before your face.”
How must we see this episode? Perhaps as follows: Through all these years, having a son of his own, was an obsession and he would even sleep with a slave girl just to realize his dream but now, God had become more important to him than his dream. So, his mindset was: “Lord whether it be Ishmael or Isaac, I have You and You are more important to me than any of the two. But if it be that a baby be born to us two oldies, what a delightful joke it would be!”
His self-will had been broken; he was now resting in God’s will and timing.
When we give up our desperate, fearful hope for our will to come to pass, God steps in.
- When two parties entered into a covenant, each had henceforth to fulfill certain obligations.
In this covenant, God’s obligations were enormous, but Abraham’s was small and within his ability: He had to continue believing in God and demonstrate it practically by circumcising every mail child born under his authority. It was something he could do right there and then.
As long as Abraham would continue circumcising his male offspring and slaves, he could depend on God to continue His side of the bargain. This too, was a tremendous boost to his faith.
Abraham then right-a-way circumcised himself and all the men under his authority. He always obeyed God immediately. All the other work that had been planned was postponed. Presumably the shepherds had to be called in. God had spoken and this was more important than anything else.
It was a painful and humiliating experience and Abraham must have had a very firm spiritual authority over his people to be able to persuade them to have themselves circum-cised. Because he trusted God, they trusted him. A person’s deeds prove his faith.
For some days the women probably had to take care of all the activities in the camp until the men had healed.
C. ISAAC’S TIME OF BIRTH FIXED (Gen 17:21)
- The third very important move from God’s side was the giving of an approximate date for Isaac to be born namely, “this set time in the next year”.
Wow, this must have come as a wonderful surprise – no longer an indefinite period of waiting; now they could count the months.
Three steps forward: parents receiving new names related to their calling, their son Christened and a red circle on the calendar around a certain period the following year, signifying the baby’s date of birth. Wow, things were now really moving!
But he was not yet conceived! Well, Abraham and Sarah would, I am sure, take care of that little detail.
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