Saturday, July 28, 2018

Genesis Post 33 - Names, Name Changes, and Circumcision (Chapter 17)

Chapter 17 sees the Abrahamic Covenant being completely revealed.  It was introduced in chapter 12, it continued in chapter 15, and now we will see its completion.

Chapter 16 wrapped up when Abram was 86 years old, so we have a break in the action, so to speak.  Ishmael grew up.  Chapter 17 opens with Abram's age:  99.

Verse 1 says,
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

In chapter 15, we saw God first introduced as YHVH Adonai, which is a covenant name of God.  Now in this chapter, we see a new name:  The LORD appeared to Abram and called Himself El Shaddai, which is usually translated Almighty God.  This is the first time El Shaddai appears in the Word.

Almighty probably isn't the best translation of that word.  It is a variation on the Hebrew word shad, which means breast.  God is the one who provides sustenance, comfort, and protection, just like a nursing mother provides for her child.  Shaddai is used 48 times in the Hebrew scriptures.  Each time it is used in Genesis,  the context is childbearing and fruitfulness.  In the other places, Shaddai is used in the context of our great Protector.

This can be seen in the ancient Hebrew letter shin, which looked like our letter W, but was written both smoothly and with sharp lines.  It can represent sharp teeth and also breasts.  In the meaning of the letter, we can see the meanings of both sustenance and protection.

When the Hebrew priests would bless the congregation, they would hold their hands like the letter shin.  Are you a Trekkie?  Leonard Nimoy, an orthodox Jew, had that in mind when he came up with this gesture:

Live Long and Prosper:  A paraphrase of the Aaronic Blessing

The chapter continues with some mind-blowing promises, and the name change we have been waiting for!

Starting with verse 2...
And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Did you see how this section wrapped up with the connection to the land?  They are inseparable.  The land of Canaan is promised as an everlasting possession to Abraham's descendants.

We need to note that even though he is a child of Abraham, the land was never promised to Ishmael.  Further on in Genesis we will see that Abraham's covenant will pass to Isaac and then to Jacob.  Ishmael received his own prophecy from YHVH, but no land was connected to it.

Also, we finally see the name change. Abram means exalted father.  Now, Abraham means father of many nations.  The only thing that took place in the Hebrew to change Abram's name was that the letter hey was added.

This letter carries the meaning of  look, check it out, take notice!  Is this where our exclamation hey! comes from?  The letter also appears twice in the name of God, YHVH.  In fact, all forms of the name of God have this letter hey in it.

Hey! The LORD wants us to pay attention to what He is doing in the life of Abraham.

Hey!  (Doesn't that earliest form look like someone trying to get our attention?)

What follows next is the sign of the covenant, which is this:  Every male child shall be circumcised on the eighth day of his life, plus every male who lived in Abraham's household, including all his servants and also his son Ishmael.

Ishmael was 13 when this happened.  To this day, Muslims circumcise their sons at age 13.

Circumcision was a  perfect sign for 99-year-old Abraham, who had a 90-year-old wife.  Childbearing?  No way.  They can’t. It’s over.  Why did God wait so long? So He would get all the glory. Every last smidgen of it!

God was about to do something supernatural, so He endeavored to cut away part of the natural.  The natural part of man that makes babies had to be cut away.  Ouch!  The New Covenant speaks of the circumcision of our hearts, when the natural is cut away and we become saved supernaturally.  New children of God, born again, being shaped into His image.  We see a separation here, of the cutting of the flesh.  God gives us the picture of the physical, and then the figurative.

I can only imagine the popularity of Abraham's announcement

Abraham was justified by his faith before he was circumcised.  So with us, God does the first part and we participate in the second part... justification by our faith and then sanctification through the circumcision of our hearts.

God wants our hearts, so let us allow Him to cut away any barriers to Him.

In the midst of all this cutting, God also changed the name of Sarai to Sarah. Sarai means my princess, but Sarah simply means princess, or mother of many.  The same letter that was added to Abraham's name, hey, was added to Sarah's name.  God then promised a son to Abraham through her.

BTW, the name Israel comes from this same root word of Sarah's name... sar.  Israel means prince of God, but it can also mean struggles with God. 

So now that the supernatural has been added to Abraham and Sarah, we have this old couple who are about to have a miracle baby. Without God in the equation, it was impossible.

God told Abraham that kings of peoples would descend from Sarah.  Abraham fell down laughing.  (Is this where that acronym ROLF comes from?)  Abraham's laughter was not of disbelief or mockery, but he was stunned and delighted. His was the laughter of rejoicing in faith.  I will write more on this laughter in my next post.

So what is with verse 18?
And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

It sounds like Abraham was asking that the covenant go through Ishmael, but that was not what he’s asking. When you read it in the Hebrew, Abraham was asking if Ishmael might live in God's presence.

God then assured Abraham that Ishmael would be great, and he would produce 12 rulers (and he did).  But then the LORD clarified to Abraham that the covenant will be established with Isaac, who would be born in a year. 

Chapter 17 ends with all the menfolk (and boyfolk) recovering from their painful surgery.  The next post features heavenly visitors!  Click here to read it.

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