GENESIS 17=PROMISES! PROMISES!
Bible Background: Abram and Sarai enter the story in Genesis 12. God makes a covenant with Abram in Chapter 12. God reaffirms that covenant with Abram in 15. Why a third time in 17? A couple of things: Genesis is a compilation of several sources or writers. There’s a “J” version (writer who uses the name ‘Yahweh’ for God) and an “E” version (writer uses the name ‘Elohim’ for God.) And then there’s a “P=Priestly” source that supplies some material and editing. Today’s reading comes from the P source. The other reason for a ‘third’ covenant, is that the first two were about Abram. This one is about including Sarai!
Digging Deeper: 1. By chapter 17, we know several things about Abram and Sarai: They’re old. They have suffered through childlessness. (Though Abraham has a son, Ishmael, now 13 years old!) They have walked with God and stumbled a few times. They are on the receiving end of great promises from God! And we know that their ‘waiting’ on these promises has been hard.
2. The covenant in chapter 17 underscores and expands on God’s promises: a) a multitude of descendants, b) an everlasting covenant, c) a land of their own. Abram (and the male descendants) will accept circumcision as a sign of belonging to the covenant. (Omitted from today’s reading.) Oddly enough, circumcision was not unique to the Jews-others did this also. And, it’s an external sign of belonging to God-but on a private and never-to-be seen part of the body!
3. The new feature in this version of the covenant is really the inclusion of Sarai. She has been barren. She had suggested-and then hated-the idea of Abram fathering a child through her slave girl Hagar. God specifically says Sarai will bear a son! The idea causes Abram to ‘fall on his face’ (posture for worship and obedience), but in laughter rather than praise. And, in chapter 18, when there’s still no baby to hold-Sarah is the one who explodes in laughter when she hears again the promise of a child! There will be a child; a boy-no less, and guess what his name will be? Isaac=He laughs! God shows them!
4. In this account Abram becomes “Abraham” and Sarai becomes “Sarah”. When God gives a new name, God confers new status on a person. These two are in for a whole new life when they are way up in years, and when their hopes had run dry! Also, Abraham and Sarah are to “walk blamelessly” with God. The word means “walk faithfully”, not live perfect, sin-free lives.
5. Think about the difference between a promise and a guarantee! What does it take to trust in a promise? Promises call for faith….and for patience!