Abraham (Genesis 17)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • God visited Abrah again in this chapter.
  • The Lord appeared suddenly, without warning, and said, "I am God, the Almighty."
  • The Hebrew word for "Almighty" is El Shaddai; scholars don't know exactly how to translate it.
  • The word might derive from the Hebrew word for "mountain," so it could be translated as "God of the mountain."
  • Others see female imagery, so it could refer to a female deity.
  • Or it could come from a word meaning, "destroy," which leads to a translation of "powerful, omniscient."
  • God had already initiated the covenant; He was now ready to put it into effect.
  • Abrah fell on his face in worship.
  • This could mean that Abrah had grown in his relation to God, but his circumstances had also changed. The birth of Ishmael thirteen years ago had fulfilled God's promise, "The son from your body will be your heir." (Gen 15:4 -- The Message)
  • God continued. His covenant "between me and thee" was so significant that God changed Abraham's name.
  • Abram meant "exalted father," and Abraham meant "father of a host of nations."
  • After the name change God repeated the promise.
  • He added, "I will be their God;" the promise was extended to include Abraham's descendants.
  • This time the covenant would be two-sided. Abraham had to keep the covenant. The sign would be "in his flesh."
  • Ancient cultures used circumcision to mark puberty or prenuptial rites – both were crucial times in a male's life.
  • God, however, told Abraham to circumcise every male immediately and, then, every newborn male eight days after birth.
  • This was an original, new meaning.
  • The purpose was to help Abraham and his descendants remember their status as God's people and their obligations to keep the law. (Even though, at this point, no law had been introduced yet.)
  • Anyone who refused would exclude himself from the religious community and would have no part in the covenantal blessings.
  • Then, God included a promise for Sarai; she would have a son.
  • God changed Sarai's name to Sarah. Both names essentially mean "princess." Sarah's life would have a new beginning, too.
  • Twice, God stated, "I will bless her." Not only would Sarah have a son, but nations and kings of nations would also descend from her.
  • Abraham fell down laughing to himself, thinking, "Shall one be born to a 100 year old man? Or Sarah — shall a 90 year old woman give birth?"
  • He asked God for a blessing for Ishmael. For thirteen years, he thought Ishmael was the promised heir; he cherished him, raised him, and implanted all his hopes upon him. Ishmael was already there; he didn't need another child.
  • God repeated his promise. Within a year, "Sarah, your wife, will bear you a son and you shall call him Isaac."
  • "Isaac" means, "he laughs!"
  • Yet Ishmael was not to be excluded.
  • Ishmael would become a great nation and the father of twelve princes. But the covenant would be with Isaac's descendants.
  • Abraham obeyed God's command.

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