Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Genesis 17:3-8

Genesis 17:3-8: And Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Abram surely had not forgotten how he tried to take matters into his hands, not trusting God to deliver on His promise for an heir. That God would still talk with him in the way He did was beyond anything that he would have expected. Sometimes we are like that. I know from personal experience, that when I do what I should not, I don’t expect God to be as forgiving as He always is. I feel I’ve blown my relationship with Him forever if not for a long time. Yet, I forget that while I may disappoint God, as His child, He still has a covenant with me. He still is my Father and I am His son. So Abram falls on his face before God in total worship, respect, and submission. And His loving Father continues to talk with him and to assure him again of His love and His plans for his life.

God basically tells him, “Listen, I made a deal with you, and I intend to keep it. No matter what you’ve done. I believe this agreement can still be accomplished. It’s not too late.” Abram may have given up on himself and perhaps God, but God never gave up on Himself or Abram. Like the ultimate loving Father that He is, God never gives up on His children. No matter what you or I have done. If we’re willing to be led by Him, there is still hope for a future that you could never have dreamed of.

God tells Abram “you will be the father of many nations.” There’s no doubt about it – “you will be.” It was a certainty. Because God exists, then anything He says will happen can in fact be counted on. It’s as simple as that. Our fallen humanity and our lack of faith get in our way of readily accepting that kind of thinking. All of God’s promises to His children will be, or have been, fulfilled. In His way and manner. That is a reality, but we need also to make it a state of mind and way of life.

Now God does a most interesting thing next. He modifies Abram’s name. Abram, which meant exalted father, was already a pretty good name. So why vary it? I think it is important to note that God did not totally change Abram’s name, although He could have and in fact, in the New Testament we read of Christ changing the name of one of His disciples. God does not always want us to forget our past and the various stages He has brought us through. Here, God just wants to expand Abram’s name to include His covenant with him – that is, to give him a name that also means “father of many nations”.

It is as if God was saying, “Abram, you had a little trouble remembering my covenant with you. So let me arrange that this will not happen again. Every time you hear someone calling you, you’ll remember my promise, and it will come to pass.” And you know that name He gave Abram that day also serves to remind us of God’s covenant with him, ensuring that our views do not go counter to that promise even today. What an amazing God. He so much wants us to succeed and to be happy. What has God had to do in your life to help you remember His promises? For me, it was something as simple as having two young girls and a little boy start calling me ‘dad’. God had kept His promises of giving my wife and I children and now He wanted me to keep mine of being a loving dad just like Him.

Then God goes on to describe in greater detail what the impact of that revised name will be. Abraham would become the father or originator of many nations and be extremely fruitful with respect to generations of people coming after him. God promises his people will be established into nations. It is of interest here to note that God promised more than one nation being established from Abraham’s seed, but He did not promise kingdoms. God would be their king. This idea is further supported when one studies the next phrase, “and kings shall come forth from you”. Interestingly, it does not say “and I will allow kings to come forth from you” but rather just that they will. The significance of that distinction becomes clearer as the Old Testament unfolds.

The Lord then reiterates that He will establish His covenant not only with Abraham but also with Abraham’s descendents. There will be no expiration date – it’s an everlasting covenant. And here’s the first bonus – the covenant includes the fact that He will be God to Abraham and his descendants forever. Not only will Abraham be the father of many nations, but God will also be his God and the God of his children forever. There is nothing that Abraham’s people can do that will change that. They may disappoint God but He will be their God forever. We need to remember that as we deal with Israel today.

And then comes bonus number two – God will give to Abraham and his descendents all the lands on which they journey including all of Canaan. And he’ll give it to them as “an everlasting possession” – that’s forever. The land is not something they will trade or lose in a war. As I pen these words on April 2, 2008, I am struck by the fact that in this verse written thousands of years ago we have the very basis of what this world’s greatest strife is all about today – the ongoing situation between Israel and Palestine, a situation that has somehow managed to engage the entire world on one side or another. God will not have His covenant broken by anyone – be it Jew, Palestinian, American, or any other world power that may attempt to resolve this issue in a way contrary to this verse.

The God of Abraham many thousands of years ago is the same God of Abraham’s descendents today. May we be encouraged by that fact.

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