Change of Character — Genesis Chapter 17
This blog post will cover the devotionals #89, 90 for Genesis Chapter 17.
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 Genesis 17:1-14,23-27
In devotional #88, we saw that Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. Thirteen years later, God appeared to Abram once again, repeating His promises and calling him to walk in His ways and be perfect. It was at this point that God changed his name (which, recall, denotes a change in character) to Abraham. We discussed this thoroughly in devotional #77. God reminded him of the covenant He had made with him, but then He went on to show Abraham his end of that agreement. Genesis 17:10-14 lays out that every one of Abraham’s men (him, his offspring, and his servants and slaves) would need to be circumcised (if born in his home, they’d have it done their eighth day of life). Just as the Sabbath is a memorial of Creation, this circumcision was a memorial of their covenant and more. This wouldn’t be a condition of the covenant, but a symbol of it. We know this because we see repeatedly in Scriptures about how God counted Abraham as righteous because he believed (not because he was circumcised—see Romans 4:2, 3). In Romans 4:9-12, we’re told, “Does this blessedness come upon the circumcised only then, or upon the uncircumcised also? We saw that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How was it reckoned at that time—when he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? It was not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. He received the sign of circumcision—a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had still being uncircumcised: so that he could be the father of all those that believe, though they are not circumcised—so that righteousness could be imputed to them also—and so he could also be the father of circumcision to them who are not only circumcised, but also walk in the steps of faith of our father, Abraham—which he had while still uncircumcised.” Circumcision was a representation of the works we do in faith—not the righteousness we gain by doing works. Abraham was already considered righteous for believing God long before he was circumcised. His faith was to be passed down to his offspring (both blood and spiritual) so that the promise could also be passed down to them. He didn’t hesitate. As soon as they were finished with their conversation, Abraham took his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael, and every other male in his household, and circumcised them and himself (a ninety-nine year old man). We’ll see, in devotional #90, how (despite how the remainder of their conversation went) Abraham didn’t hesitate or doubt, but moved forward with the circumcision as an act of faith about what they’d just discussed.
 Genesis 17:15-22
Isn’t it interesting how God not only renamed Abram, but also his wife, Sarai? Many times, when we see name changes in the Bible, they were for men. One interesting connection we can see, though, is that it wasn’t until after Adam’s first sin that his wife was named ‘Eve’. She was originally called, ‘Woman’ (as we saw in devotionals #15 and #26)—which means, ‘taken out of man’ and ‘wifmon’ (or ‘wife’). After her sin, as well as God’s plan to still move forward and populate the earth through her, she was named, ‘Eve’, meaning, ‘life-giver’. Sarai was also renamed based on her purpose of mothering multitudes. Thus, we can see yet another parallel between the first couple and this one. In Genesis 17:16, God not only foretells of her birthing Abraham a son, but that her descendants would include kings. Thus, renaming Sarai (which means ‘head person’, among other similar titles) to Sarah—meaning ‘female noble (‘lady’, ‘princess’, ‘queen’)’—seems highly appropriate. “As for Sarai, your wife, you must not call her, Sarai, but Sarah will be her name. And I will bless her and give you a son from her also: yes, I will bless her, and she will be a mother of nations; kings of people will come from her.” How about Abraham’s initial and final responses to God’s comments? When God said, “I will give you a son from her also…she will be a mother of nations…”, Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and thought to himself, “Will a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear?” This seems funny, and it is, but underlying the joke was full doubt. We know this because of how Abraham then responded to God: “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” As we saw in devotional #84, Abram believed God’s promise that he’d have an heir—but in his current mental condition, he resorted to believing he’d have to adopt his servant, Eleazar, to be his heir—possibly fulfilling God’s promise that way. Then, when God told him that his heir would be his own blood, he again believed, but didn’t wait for God to accomplish it in His own way and time—and we saw what happened with Hagar and Ishmael. Now, at ninety-nine years of age, when God returns to tell him that his promised son still hadn’t come but was about to, Abraham still clung to the belief that God was going to accomplish His promise through Ishmael, who was the product of their attempt to do that very thing to begin with. Thus, God had to re-clarify that his promised son would indeed come through Sarah, his first, and only true, wife. Genesis 17:19 says, “Sarah, your wife, will indeed bear you a son; and you will call him Isaac: and I will establish My covenant with him—and his seed after him —for an everlasting covenant.” However, God didn’t forget about Ishmael, who was still so dearly loved by Abraham, and He said, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: See, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; he will father twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” God calmed Abraham’s concerns about his son, Ishmael, just as He had done nearly fourteen years before with Hagar about him. Yet, He made it very clear that, despite the blessing He would bring upon Ishmael, he wasn’t the son God would establish His covenant with—but it’d be done with Isaac, who’d be born in the next year. At that, God ended His conversation, and Abraham was left with a decision to make. Would he believe God and act on that faith, or would he doubt and hinder God’s plan? Well, we saw what ultimately happened in devotional #89—he went that very day and circumcised every male—including himself, and his son through whom the promise would not be established—as an act of faith in God’s promise.