16 November 2012

Genesis 17:1-27

"I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant , to be God to you and your offspring after you." (v. 7)


This chapter contains a pivotal moment in the life of Abram and the nation of Israel.

Thirteen years have elapsed from yesterday's passage and Ishmael is of an age to be recognised as an adult. Abram still sees him as his heir and has spent all of Ishmael's life as seeing him as the heir to the promise of God. It must have been such a shock to hear something different, and not just to Abraham but to Sarah, as well. Sarah's turn to respond comes later, but in this chapter we hear only of Abraham's response.

God is very clear that Sarai will bear a son, who is to be called Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that the covenant is fulfilled. Isaac, not Ishmael was to be the one through whom the covenant would be fulfilled. Can you imagine the turmoil in Abraham's mind when he heard this?

The image of Abraham lying prostrate on the floor before God and laughing (verse 17) is a fascinating one which provides an insight into the depth of relationship that was between God and Abraham. It's ok to be in such close proximity to God and laugh at what you have heard.

The personal promise then turns to the promise for the nation. As part of the everlasting covenant a new requirement was that that "every male among you shall be circumcised" (v. 10). The sign of circumcision was a deliberate act which perhaps did more than anything in creating a sense of belonging and of being part of the same tribe. Belonging to this strange community and trusting in a scandalous promise requires a mark of distinctiveness. Circumcision announces that the nation of Israel belongs only to this community and to God.

God renames Abram "Abraham" (verse 5), meaning "father of many," and gives Sarai a new name, "Sarah" (verse 15), meaning 'princess'. This surely is an appropriate name for one who is to be 'the mother of nations'. However, Sarah is not included, so far in these discussions. She is a passive bystander as her husband and his God plan together.

To Ponder

  • The sign of Baptism in the Christian tradition welcomes people into the family of the Church, in response to God's invitation and grace. What does Baptism mean to you?
  • How have you reacted when the plans that you thought you had made for the future had to be changed and moved in a new direction?
  • Would you, or have you ever, changed your name, to show a new direction or understanding in your life? Why?

Bible notes author

Susan Johnson

Susan has recently moved house from the north east coast in Durham to the west coast in Cumbria. After completing eight years as the Darlington Methodist District mission and development enabler she is taking time out to explore what next, but hopes to get involved with the local foodbanks in the area.