ABRAM CONVERTS TO ABRAHAM
Elohim said to Abram, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:3-7).
Shortly after Ishmael was born, God had to tell Abram again that he was on the wrong track. What was utterly amazing was that God remained faithful to this man who kept on making bad decisions. And every time the Lord entered into conversation with Abram, He added something to the Promises. This time, God became very personal and told Abram to change his lifestyle. The message was: “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers” (Gen. 17:1-2). The new lifestyle would require a new name. Abram, which meant exalted father, would become Abraham, a father of many. God Himself would make the change and finalize His Promises. We read: “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:4-7).
The key to the covenant was that Elohim be Abraham’s only God forever. In addition to being blameless, Abraham and his descendants were to adhere to the conditions that governed the Promises. And this was what Abraham had to do. “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be a sign of the covenant between us. For generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:9-14). Regarding Sarai, she too would change to Sarah, not in meaning but in the spelling of her name. Both spellings mean princess. “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of many nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:15-16).
How did the father of the faithful respond to all the wonderful words of the Lord? “Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessings'” (Gen. 17:17-18). God heard Abraham laughing; but the joke was on him. It only showed that Abraham still did not believe the Lord. He was still trying to tell the Almighty how to run His business. Abraham was saying, “Take Ishmael, my wife and I are too old for kidding around.” God was not impressed with Abraham’s excuse. The Creator was not to be stopped by a man’s failure or suggestion. He was going to bring forth a man that was beyond Abraham’s ability. Hence, God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac (he laughs). I will set up my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Gen. 17:19). Regarding Ishmael, he too would be blessed and be the father of ten nations, but he would not carry the torch of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17: 20-22). The natural or physical descendant would not represent God’s people in the covenant. Perhaps that was why there was and still is enmity and jealousy among Abraham’s descendants to this very day. What was sad was that the struggle between Abraham’s two sons was not his doing, but the election of God. The election would not be influenced by a human decision of elimination. God did not turn to Cain to continue His influence in the world and as we shall see later, He did not let Israel prevail in its warlike spirit. God did not pick the people man offered to Him, but He chose His own.
One year later, Sarah ceased laughing. She became the mother of Isaac. Needless to say, Abraham had become a believer at last (Gen. 18:1-15). At the age of ninety-nine, Abraham and all the male members of his household were circumcised and entered the Promises. But, only Isaac, one year later, was allowed to head the Promises. He too was circumcised properly on the eight day of his life. Abraham and faith had come a long way. He had everything he ever wanted. But that was not why God had called him. The Lord did not go to all the trouble to make Abraham happy. He had a mission for Isaac and time had come to test Abraham as to whether he would part with his dearest treasure. Isaac, too, was to learn at an early age, that God must be obeyed and that He would carry out His Promises. One day the Lord spoke to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Gen. 22:2). For the first time, Abraham obeyed without hesitation. When they arrived at the appointed place, Isaac asked, “Father…. The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7)? Abraham replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8). We can only assume what both father and son felt when they built an altar, put wood on it for a fire, and then the father bound his son and placed him on top of the wood to be sacrificed. It was when the father had raised his hand with a knife about to give up his son God was satisfied with Abraham’s faith. The Almighty had one of His messengers say, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Gen. 22:11-12).
At last, Abraham had become a man of faith. Faith did not fear to part with that which was dearest to Abraham. Faith also helped him meet the Conditions set forth by the Giver of the Promises. And the highest Condition was his Obedience to God. Obeying the Lord was more important than loving his only son. This was a first in the covenant relationship with God. Neither Adam nor Noah was asked to make such a sacrifice. And the Promises of the Lord were finalized with these words: “I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen. 23:16-18). At last, Abraham had become Obedient to the Conditions of the Promises. It was faith without sight, but faith in an architect who could bring the impossible to pass. It was not passive but active faith. There was a long road of hardship and labor that qualified Abraham to become the man who would carry on God’s message to the world. The amazing thing was that Abraham was willing to assume that role without ever actually realizing the Promises. He died a stranger to his own dream. In addition to Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham fathered six more sons with Keturah, a Hittite lady, after the death of Sarah (Gen. 25:1-6). Isaac alone became the heir apparent of the Promises. In the Hittite lady a Semite reconciled with a Canaanite, a daughter of a Hamite. Love can conquer if jealousy and hate do not interfere. Unfortunately, they did and cause and effect diminished the chances of earning the right to the Promises like Abraham did.