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From Abram to Abraham
Bible Speaks
Rev. L. Althouse
September 10, 2006
Background Scripture: Genesis 17. Devotional Reading: Hebrews 6:13-20.

If you had the time and I had the space I could give you a long list of failed promises given to me by salespeople, manufacturers, employers, employees, contractors and politicians. Really, when it comes to keeping promises, upon whom can one depend today?

If I remember accurately, as a young man I foolishly believed that the end result of my faith in God was a promise to escape the dangers and upheavals of life. While I would never have said that in so many words, unconsciously that was what I expected, the way I prayed.

In the intervening years, like many of you, I have found that God never promised me an exemption from pain, defeat, disappointment and tragedy. How silly of me to have expected otherwise. What God does promise and the promise he has always kept in my life is that, whatever happened to me, he would be with me to help me see it through. He has never forsaken me; the warranty on my new life in Christ has never expired nor has it exempted certain of life’s risks.

A limited warranty?
Warranties on various mechanical items will explicitly state that the guarantee is voided if the device is used in a manner contrary to the purpose for which it was designed. Not so the promises of God. The people of Israel broke their covenantal obligations innumerable times, but God was always willing to renew his covenant with them. There is a way home for the prodigal.

The very first verse of Genesis 17 has the power to take the breath away: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said…”

Ninety-nine years - that’s 30-plus years after the point when most of us retire. In our society the sons of Abram would be hiding his car keys, and he would probably be in a nursing home or hospice. At any age, God’s challenge to Abram would be hard to take serious, but at 99!

The covenant God was offering Abram had promises and responsibilities for both parties. Abram was to “walk before me, and be blameless” (17:1), “keep the covenant” (v. 9) and see that every male in his group was circumcised as “a sign of the covenant.” (v. 11)

This was to be an outward evidence of the commitment within.

Party of the second part
It was the party of the second part of the covenant who gave the most promises: God promised he will “multiply you exceedingly” (17:2, 6); extend the covenant to Abram’s descendants (vs. 7, 8); give to Abram and his descendants Canaan, “the land of your sojournings” (v. 8), give Abram a son by ninety-year-old Sarai, who will also be given homage by kings (v. 16); give a substantial blessing to Ishmael, Abram’s son by the concubine Hagar and he will change the name of Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of many nations”).

Although “Abram” and “Abraham” are two somewhat different renderings of the same name, “Abraham” will denote an important change. Similarly, “Sarah” is an enhanced form of “Sarai,” (which possibly means “princess”). As “Jacob” would become “Israel,” “Peter” was added to Simon’s name and “Saul” (Hebrew form) became known as “Paul” (Roman form), so, under the covenant, Abram and Sarai would become Abraham and Sarah. We remember these people primarily for what they did and who they were after their names were altered.

The story of Abraham and Sarah is not only about God’s promises to Abraham and Israel, but about his covenant with us. What promises have you made to him? What promises has he given you? And who does he want you to become?

This farm news was published in the Sept. 6, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.