- Locate the passage
This passage occurs after Abram’s belief expressed in God in Genesis 15 is followed by a lack of faith in Genesis 16. As with Gen. 15:1, the Lord appears to Abram and introduces Himself with a new understanding of who He is.
The passage is narrative. Most of the speaking in this passage is from God to Abraham. When Abraham does speak, it betrays his lingering uncertainty. But, ultimately, Abraham’s actions demonstrate his faith
- Determine the structure of the passage
17:1-8 – Walk before Me
1-2 – God’s command to Abram to walk before Him
3 – Abram’s humility before God
4-6 – The changing of Abram’s name to Abraham
17:9-27 – Keep My Covenant
9 – God’s command to Abraham to keep His Covenant
10-14 – The sign of the Covenant
15-16 – Sarai’s name changed to Sarah
17-27 – Not Ishmael, but Isaac
17-18 – Abraham’s solution: Not Isaac, but Ishmael
19-22 – God’s solution: Not Ishmael, but Isaac
23-27 – Abraham’s obedience to God’s command
- Exegete the passage
There are two cycles of conversation between the Lord and Abraham that both involve: A command, an explanation of the Covenant, a name change, and Abraham falling on his face.
Note that Abraham twice falls on his face in this passage – once in humility (17:3), and once in doubt (17:17).
Abram was ninety-nine – the passage breaks 13 years of silence after Abram’s lack of faith with Hagar and Ishmael. The listing of Abram’s age in consecutive verses (16:16 & 17:1) highlights the tension of the consequences of sin.
Abraham only speaks once in this pericope (17:17-18) and what he says demonstrates his lingering uncertainty. But his actions (17:3, 23-27) demonstrate his faith.
17:1 – Seventeen years have passed between 16:16 and 17:1
17:1 – I am Almighty God
- “El shaddai.” This is the first occurrence of this term as a divine description in Scripture.
17:1 – Walk before Me
- Abram is instructed to “walk” before the Lord
- Gen. 5:22, 24 – This is the description made of Enoch
- 2 Kings 20:3 – This is the description that Hezekiah made of himself
17:1 – Blameless
- “Tamim” means complete, perfect
17:2 – The Lord reminds Abram of the Covenant
17:3 – Abram’s response is humility before the Lord
17:5 – Your name will no longer be Abram, but … Abraham
- The name, “Abraham” is here given the meaning, “father of a multitude.”
- The Hb. ( אַב־הֲמ֥וֹן גּוֹיִ֖ם) or “ab hamon goyim” may be an example of paranomasia with similar sounding words conveying a new meaning
- It is interesting that like David, no other person in Scripture has the name Abraham. That is perhaps due to the reverence for those individuals.
17:7 – An “everlasting” Covenant
- This Covenant with Abraham will not be superseded by subsequent Covenants
17:9 – “As for you”
- There are stipulations to this Covenant
17:11 – Circumcision
- As with the Noahic Covenant, whose sign was the rainbow, this covenant is sealed with a “sign.” Since the Covenant would be through Abraham’s seed, circumcision is the physical sign of God’s Covenant with Abraham.
17:15-16 – Sarai’s name changed to Sarah
- “do not call her “Sarai” because “Sarah” is her name
- “Sarah” means princess. There does not appear to be a specific change in the meaning of her name, but the change in name corresponds to Abraham’s name change indicating the significance of her role in the Covenant.
- Significantly, God promises to “bless” Sarah.
17:17 – This time when Abraham fell on his face, it was not out of humility (17:3), but out of a lack of faith
- Despite God’s frequent repetitions of the Promise, this appears to be the first time that Abraham considered the possibility that the “descendants” would actually come through him and Sarah.
17:18 – Abraham’s effort at negation regarding Ishmael suggests the impossibility with which he views the prospect of Sarah having children
17:19 – Sarah, your wife will have a son
- The Hb. “abal” can carry the connotation of a positive assertion (as in “truly”) or a more negative contradistinction(as in “on the contrary”)
- The LXX renders this more as “truly.”
17:20-21 – Ishmael will be blessed because of his association with Abraham, but the Covenant will be according to God’s plan and not Abraham’s
17:23-27 – Abraham’ immediate response of faith indicated his assent to God’s plan
- Abraham, Ishmael, and all the males of his house were circumcised.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. Two conversations are recorded in this passage that both begin with God’s command to Abraham. In both cycles, Abraham responds by falling on his face before the Lord. The first time (vs. 3), he fell on his face out of humility. But the second time (vs. 17), he fell on his face out of unbelief.
Exp. God wants you on your face before Him, but for the right reason
- Walk Before Me – God’s plan for Abraham to walk before Him involved: a new name, the same promise, a new sign, the same plan
- Keep My Covenant
- Third times’ a charm – God reassures Abe of His blessing
- My Covenant is with you …
- What’s in a name? The greatest significance lies in the fact that they were divinely attributed.
- Laughter and faith
- Sarah laughed, too
- Bargaining in ignorance … (what about Ishmael?)
- God doesn’t need our help
- When God blesses our mess
- Abe’s response of faith (circumcision)