9 April 2014

Genesis 17:1-9

“And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” (v.2)


Abram was now an old man and yet despite being very rich with many servants, slaves and large herds (Genesis 13:2), he had no children. Status was not only reflected by material wealth but also by the size of your family. He had left his homeland with a promise from God that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2) and yet many years later there was still no sign of that promise or of his life being fulfilled.

In the previous chapter his wife Sarai encouraged Abram to have a child, and an heir, with her slave girl Hagar (Genesis 16:2), which lead to the birth of Ishmael. However Abram continued to doubt that God would truly bless Ishmael (Genesis 17:18), which makes this repeated discussion about becoming the father of a multitude of nations all the more important yet in the mind of Abram, increasingly improbable.

To underline the commitment God is making to Abram, God both enters in to a covenant with him and changes his name to underline the point. From now on he will be known as Abraham, which is taken to mean "ancestor of a multitude".

This is an important moment in the history of the Jewish people as it is from this point that they can record their own descent and recognise the faithfulness of God who stuck by this covenant. It is also something Jesus himself will refer to when he talks about the importance of being descended from Abraham (John 8:31-58) as we shall see in readings later this week.

To Ponder

  • God not only promises that Abraham will have a multitude of descendants, but also promises him "all the land of Canaan" (v. 8). Pray for the many peoples who now live in Israel and Palestine.
  • Pray for those who are unable to have children of their own

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.