Genesis 17 The Changing of Names
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘The LORD Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.”
El-Shaddai is connected with “I AM” or ego eime in Greek. Shaddai is indicative of sufficiency.
The LORD is Almighty because he is about to make the impossible happen. He can do anything. He is announcing that he can create an impossible pregnancy in a 90-year-old woman. It is prophetic, as so many Old Testament stories are, of creating a pregnancy in a virgin woman 2000 years in the future.
Here are some blameless (Hb. taman) people according to the scriptures. Job (1:1), Noah (Genesis 6:9), king David (2 Samuel 22:24), the church (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22), and the 144,000 (Revelation 14:5). It is common for readers to jump to the conclusion that because Abram was blameless, he was also perfect and this is why the LORD blessed him. In Matthew 5:48 perfect is better translated blameless. Compare Luke 6:36 where compassionate is used.
This is because we think in transactional terms rather than relational terms. Good parents love obedient and rebellious children. They bless all their children with care and affection. Some children respond to parental care by caring for their parents other children neglect their parents but good parents continue to love them all. Verse one records the LORD’s initiative towards Abram and the consequence in Abram’s life. The covenant is not dependent on Abram’s conduct or performance but on the LORD’s affection and his relationship with Abram—not withstanding his lapses of faith.
2 I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”
A better word for ”covenant” in western culture is “promise.” There is an irony in this statement by the LORD as the name Abram means father and this “Father” is childless in his marriage with Sarai. At this time children were a guarantee that one’s name would remain on the earth and that one’s wealth would be cared for. To be childless was a tragedy for any couple. God is responding to the greatest need Abram and Sarai had. This response of God is indicating the kind of God Abram’s God is. He is the faithful God of
compassion and affection.
3 At this, Abram fell face down on the ground.
Abraham’s response includes unfamiliar, physical actions which are remarkable for a 99-year-old man. His response is culturally determined. When we lived in Uganda in the sixties it was common to see people prostrating themselves when the traditional ruler passed by. Western culture allows for energetic physical responses at sporting events but not at the opera or symphony concerts or church. Here a polite, restrained applause is expected from so called gentle people.
Then God said to him, 4 “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations!
Notice the change from LORD to God. This appellation continues for the rest of the chapter.
God is going to unilaterally make many descendants appear in his family line. This at a time when he has one child who does not qualify as the child of the LORD’s promise and Abraham is 99 years old. This situation really strains Abram’s credulity as the subsequent dialogue demonstrates.
5 What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram (exalted father). Instead, you will be called Abraham (father of many), for you will be the father of many nations.
In the bible a name and character or personality are linked. When there is a name change this indicates a character change. There are many examples if this claim. Jacob to Israel (Genesis 35:10), Jesus of Nazareth to Jesus Christ, Saul to Paul, “a new name” (Revelation 2:17)—“name” indicates belonging.
We write our names on what we own. A child takes the parents family name. “Name” in the Bible also indicates character (Revelation 14:1) and thus the 144,000 have a character which reflects the LORD’s character. This is what it means to be sealed with the seal of The LORD (7:3). This seal is in contrast with the mark of the beast (13:17). Abram (aleph, beit, num) father of native country changed to Abraham or father of the whole world.
6 I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim Abraham as their spiritual origin. This means that there are almost 4 billion people who claim allegiance to Abraham and the LORD who called him to a special relationship. Abraham was ignorant of this future when he died. How surprised he will be on the resurrection morning!
7 “I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
8 And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.”
Jews claim this promise as the reason for the existence of the state of Israel. It is a tenuous claim as it could end at any time as it has in the past. Syria (700 BC) and Babylon (600) took the Jews away and dispersed them. A few came back with the blessing of Cyrus (500 BC) and rebuilt the city and the temple. The Romans destroyed the city and dispersed the Jews (70 AD) and no Jewish state existed until 1947 AD. There are about 15 million Jews and this population seems to remain constant. Overtly, at this point
in time, one can question the veracity of this promise. However, after the second coming Abraham will discover that he owns the whole planet because of Jesus Christ who is one of his descendants.
The Mark of the Covenant
9 Then The LORD said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility.
10 This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. 11 You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. 13 All must be circumcise. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. 14 Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.”
This sign is possibly the strangest covenant sign ever given. Why not cut off a piece of the ear or finger? The sign is the symbolic cutting off of Abraham’s penis, the part of his body he had used to create the fulfilment of The LORD’s promise with Hagar. This covenant sign is given when Esau is 14 years old and Isaac is not yet been conceived. The LORD is using a repeatable sign to remind Abraham and his descendants that he fulfills his promises without the need of human assistance. It is a sign with profound
Understanding this meaning explains how Paul could conclude that circumcision ended as the covenant sign with Christ. Christ had no human father. Circumcision also, more profoundly, pointed to him who had no human father. When Jesus arrived, he became the sign. The reality had arrived and the covenant sign was fulfilled. The saved are not signed with a physical mark but with a new heart given to them by the Spirit acting as a proxy for Jesus Christ. The new heart bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians
5:22-23) and is now the covenant sign for believers. The desire to earn salvation by choice or obedience is cut off and salvation is recognized as a free gift in the same way Isaac was a free gift to Abram and Sarai.
On the eighth day of his anointing the priest was installed (Lev 29). Baby becomes viable after eight months in the womb. Jesus is raised on the eighth day. 8 supersedes the natural order of 7. It is the day of life mentioned often in Leviticus. Animals cannot be sacrificed before 8 days of life. Hannukah celebrates the rededication of the temple after Greek occupation and lasts for 8 days.
On the eight day the level of prothrombin is most effective in clotting the blood. Jesus was raised on the eight (first) day. Circumcision was the sign of loyalty to the covenant made with Abraham. When the Israelites are in rebellion for 40 years in the wilderness none of the babies are circumcised. When Moses’s son is un-circumcised, he is not protected from evil (Exodus 4:25) and this protection is restored when the son is under the covenant sign.
Having a covenant sign does not preclude additional covenant signs of significant events. Take the Sabbath for instance.
Exodus 31:13 “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
Exodus 20:8-10 indicates this sign was instituted at Creation. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 indicates this is the sign that God liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery. In the New Testament the overt covenant sign is the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-11; Ephesians 1:14; 4:30). The various translations use nouns like “earnest,” “guarantee,” “pledge,” “seal” and other synonyms to describe the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Sabbath sign is redundant since circumcision did not make the Sabbath sign redundant.
“It (circumcision) is one of the oldest surgical operations known to have been performed, with the earliest available records dating this ancient procedure back to at least 6000 years BC, and anecdotal evidence suggesting it as a rite of puberty in aboriginal tribes before 10,000 BC.” (Morgan, WKC. The rape of the phallus. JAMA. 1965;193:123–124. [Google Scholar])
Because neonatal circumcision poses both potential benefits and risks and because the procedure is not necessary for a child's well-being, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Task Force on Circumcision in its latest policy statement in 2012 affirms that "existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision."  https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1015820-overview?form=fpf
It seems that a consensus on male circumcision having health and sensual benefits for both men and women is difficult.
Sarai Is Named Sarah
15 Then God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai (princess in Ur dialect). From now on her name will be Sarah (princess in Canaanite dialect). 16 And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants.” 17 Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?”
Abraham is an unbeliever at this point but The LORD does not disown Abraham or Sarai in their incredulity. Belief means to have an intimate relationship with The LORD. Having this relationship does not mean we can believe everything the other claims. Personal relationship means emotional connection, time and space is involved. It is to experience affection from the person with whom you have this personal relationship. Mark 9:23-24—“Help Thou, my unbelief!”
Betrayal destroys a personal relationship. We can resist relationships with evil or evil people.
John Gray’s definition of a significant relationship:
1. Purposeful Communication (Rapport talk)
2. Search for a Right Understanding of the other
3. Give up Judging—be accepting.
4. Take Responsibility for the relationship
If these 4 points are premised on affection for the other there are amazing positive consequences.
1. The LORD knows me by name, 2. I am precious to him, 3. He has forgiven my sins, 4. He loves me.
18 So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!”
This is the only verbal response Abraham makes in the giving of the covenant or promise. It is a statement of disbelief in a son by Sarah. This chapter is primarily a monologue by God, and it continues. Ishmael had become used to the idea he was Abraham’s heir and all the camp would have understood who Abraham’s heir was. Now this understanding is being challenged and changed. This might be why Ishmael became a wild man. There is also trauma in being the son of Hagar who was hated by Sarah. Ishmael would have sensed this animosity and Hagar could have told him about being sent away by Sarah into the desert to die. This prophecy about the birth of a son to Sarah is a huge paradigm shift for everyone in the camp.
19 But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac (he laughs), and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. 20 As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” 22 When God had finished speaking, he left Abraham.
The dialogue is over. All that need to be said has been said. Abraham has his part to play and God will play his part. Abraham’s part is to come under the covenant sign. This he does immediately. God will take a year to accomplish his part, the birth of Isaac.
Notice the play on words: Abraham laughs in disbelief and Isaac means “he laughs.” Does “he” refer to God having the last laugh or to Abraham who laughed in disbelief? Perhaps both. 23 On that very day Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male in his household, including those born there and those he had bought. Then he circumcised them, cutting off their foreskins, just as The LORD (God? Elohim) had told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and Ishmael, his son, was thirteen. 26 Both Abraham and his son, Ishmael, were circumcised on that same
day, 27 along with all the other men and boys of the household, whether they were born there or bought as servants. All were circumcised with him.
Who circumcised Abraham? Did he lead by example? The Hebrew grammatical form indicates this was a biblical imperative. Google suggests from the Midrash (an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures) that Shem circumcised Abraham.
Ian Hartley, December 2022
Are there signs which never end apart from the scars in Jesus body?
It is appropriate to think about the meaning of “for ever,” or “everlasting” and similar words (13). Eventually Israel no longer lived in Canaan. Eventually circumcision was no longer the covenant sign. It is clear that we must find the meaning of these terms out of the culture that we are dealing with. “We read of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them. . .suffering the vengeance of eternal [aionios] fire.’ Jude 7. Are those cities, set a blaze long ago as a divine judgment, still burning? No: their ruins are quite submerged by the Dead Sea. The Bible itself specifically states that The LORD turned ‘the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.’ 2 Peter 2:6. Now the fate of these cities is declared to be a warning to all wicked men of the fate that impends for them. Therefore, if the “aionios fire” of that long ago judgment turned into ashes those upon whom it preyed, and then died down of itself, we may properly conclude that the “aionios fire” of the last day will do likewise.
When we turn to the Old Testament, we discover that ‘everlasting’ and ‘for ever’ sometimes signify a very limited time. We shall quote texts in which these two terms are translated from the Hebrew word olam, because olam is the equivalent of the Greek aion.
“The Passover was to be kept ‘for ever [olam].’ Ex. 12:24. But it ended with the cross. (See Heb. 9:24-26.) Aaron and his sons were to offer incense ‘forever [olam].’ (1 Chron. 23:13), and to have an ‘everlasting [olam] priesthood.’ Ex, 40:15. But this priesthood, with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross. (See Heb. 7:11-14.) A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him ‘for ever [olam].’ (See Ex. 21:1-6.) How could a servant serve a master to endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, ‘The earth with her bars was about me forever [olam].’ Jonah 2:6. Yet this ‘forever’ was only ‘three days and three nights’
long. Jonah 1:17. Rather a short ‘forever.’ Because Gehazi practiced deceit, Elisha declared, ‘The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee [Gehazi], and unto thy seed forever [olam].’ 2 Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi’s family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?
“Thus by the acid test of actual usage we discover that in a number of cases aion, aionios, and olam have a very limited time value.” Answers to Objections by F.D. Nichol, 360, 361.
“I have told you a thousand times,” does not literally mean a 1000 times.