Genesis 17:1-17:27 Abram = Abraham – Ha!

… new name for God… from God… from personal to descendants… extends the covenant… cutting close to home… Sarah is included… beyond skeptical to laughing… God will get the last laugh…

Genesis 17:1-17:27

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I [am] the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

In this appearance (ra’ah), Yahweh (Y@hovah) has a lot to say (‘amar):
1. A new name for God: God Almighty (‘el Shadday), now well known thanks to Amy Grant & Michael Card
2. A new command: walk before me (halak paniym )
3. A new goal: be perfect (tamiym )

A very interesting choice of words. Walking with God is associated with Enoch and Noah — the latter also described as ‘perfect’ — but this is the first time either is a command; though, the mandate to walk the land is perhaps similar. Perhaps the new obligation is related to the new revelation somehow.

Quite a lot to process for poor old Abram — and that’s just the first verse!

And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

Shifting from commands, God promises (b@riyth) exceeding (m@`od ma`od) multiplication (rabah). Interestingly, the same promise given to Hagar, as well as the same term for reproduction used during creation.

Then comes the big name switch (apologies to anyone confused by my interchanging Abram and Abraham in the preceding chapters):

As for me, behold, my covenant [is] with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

Now a new name from God: his name (shem) is no longer Abram (‘Abram), from exalted father (Abiram); but Abraham (‘Abraham), father (‘ab) of many (hamown).

Interestingly, the emphasis seems to shift from personal prestige to his descendants, though of course the two concepts were deeply intertwined back then. Yet, God does in fact manifest an explicit interest in Abraham’s children:

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

While God had promised Abraham seed (zera`) before (twice!), this seems the first time God explicitly extends the covenant to include them — rather like He did with Noah, and perhaps mirroring His creation of plants. God also makes it tangible:

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.

That’s what you might call cutting close to home! It certainly links obedience to God and procreation in a very visible way.

The name game continues with admittedly subtle shift from Sarai (Saray, princess), now Sarah (Sarah, noblewoman):

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah [shall] her name [be].

Perhaps it is just to shift Abraham’s thinking, more than a change in meaning. God certainly makes it a point to explicitly tell Abraham (this time) that Sarah is included in the blessing (barak):

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.

Abraham is understandably skeptical:

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?

Well, he goes beyond skeptical to laughing (tsachaq) at the idea, and asking God to ratify his choice instead:

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

God tells Abraham that He will get the last laugh — Isaac (Yitschaq):

And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, [and] with his seed after him.

Though Ishmael will also prosper (rabah m@`od):

And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

And, to his credit, Abraham acts that day (`etsem yowm ) on what God said (‘elohiym dabar):

And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

Whew, what a day. New names, new commands, new promises. Plus a very tender reminder of how seriously God takes children.


God, teach me to walk before you like father Abraham. May I know you as God Almighty, and receive your promises on behalf of my wife and children. May my laughter be only that of joy, not skepticism. May I be willing to submit all of my hopes and dreams, no matter how intimate, to your tender but uncompromising pruning. In Jesus name, Amen.