The Blessing (Genesis 17:15-22)

By American artist Julie Lonneman

God said to Abraham, “Don’t call your wife by the name Sarai anymore. Instead, her name is Sarah [Princess]. I will bless her, and I will also give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will become a mother of nations, and kings will come from her.” Immediately, Abraham bowed with his face touching the ground. He laughed as he thought to himself, “Can a son be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, have a child?” Then Abraham said to God, “Why not let Ishmael be my heir?”

God replied, “No! Your wife Sarah will give you a son, and you will name him Isaac [He Laughs]. I will make an everlasting promise to him and his descendants. I have heard your request about Ishmael. Yes, I will bless him, make him fertile, and increase the number of his descendants. He will be the father of 12 princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will make my promise to Isaac. Sarah will give birth to him at this time next year.” When God finished speaking with Abraham, he left him. (God’s Word Translation)

Life can only be lived with faith. We all believe in something, in someone. It’s just a matter of what or whom we place our faith in. Whomever we direct our faith, that is where we give our allegiance and obedience.

As for Abraham and his wife Sarah, they had their faith in the God who called them from Ur of the Chaldees. They demonstrated their belief by doing exactly what the Lord said to do – they went West to the land God would show them. (Genesis 12:1-5)

Abraham and Sarah listened to God and acted accordingly.

I don’t want to cross over into TMI territory (Too Much Information) yet I want us to consider what had to take place when the Lord tells the old couple they will have a baby next year. Here’s where the faith and action comes in: It is highly unlikely that a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman were sexually active. But the Lord essentially told them to get going on conceiving a child. So, they did!

I can’t speak for Abraham and Sarah, but I know as a grandfather that I am really glad I don’t have to raise kids anymore. It makes me exhausted just thinking about it, at my age, so I’ve got to believe it crossed their minds, too. Maybe that’s why Abraham sort of pleaded with God to let Ishmael be the son of promise; the reality of being responsible for a newborn was maybe the last thing on old Abe’s mind.

But faith they had, as the New Testament attests:

Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith that God would do what he had promised, and she had a son. Her husband Abraham was almost dead, but he became the ancestor of many people. In fact, there are as many of them as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand along the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11-12, CEV)

Genuine belief results in decisive action. At Abraham and Sarah’s age, sex may likely have seemed a safety hazard. Yet, they were submissive to God’s plan that divine promises would come through Isaac – who was indeed born the next year, just as the Lord said.

Abraham and Sarah by Marc Chagall, 1956

All this is consistent with the names “Abraham” and “Sarah.” Names were (and still are in most of the world) important identifiers of personal character – particularly toward what sort of person one would become.

God made a name change for the old couple. “Abram,” meaning “exalted father,” was changed to “Abraham,” “father of many nations.” “Sarai” was altered to “Sarah,” yet both names have the same meaning: “Princess.” (Genesis 17:3-8, 15-16)

The change of names was meant to communicate the promise of divine blessing from God for the future. All the world will be blessed through the covenant made with Abraham. Sarah’s alteration of name, though only in form and not substance, brought to the fore that Sarah, too, had a special purpose along with her husband in blessing the world.

Today, this blessing is still unfolding. Throughout all history, since the time of Abraham and Sarah over four millennia ago (c.2100 B.C.E.), the divine ripples of God’s covenant with them have moved across the earth.

Their progeny, through Isaac, the son of the promise, the Jewish people, continue to exist as arguably the most resilient group on the planet. We, especially Christians and Muslims, owe a great debt to the Jews for persevering in faith for such a long stretch of time. They have much to teach us, if we have ears to hear and hearts receptive.

Since the time of Christ, the blessing has extended well beyond the physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah:

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised [Jews] or also for the uncircumcised [Gentiles]? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. 

So then, Abraham is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised….

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:9-12, 16-25, NIV)

May you know the depth and breadth of your faith, that it stretches far beyond this time and place. And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you, now and forever. Amen.

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