It is impossible to avoid disappointment. No matter who we marry or how much squad goals our friend group is, they will disappoint us. We will disappoint them. It’s life. We all can more or less accept this and live with it. That’s why it’s so surreal to consider the one Person who breaks that universal expectation. We consistently ignore, betray and disappoint God, but He is perfectly faithful. He never leaves us on read or flakes or drops us. Even when disaster strikes.
So true to form, even after Abram colossally messes up with his family, sinning against God in the process, God sticks by him. In this chapter He gives their relationship a second chance. Abram and God renew their commitment to each other. God promises for what seems like the hundredth time to make Abram the father of many powerful people and nations (verse 4, 6). He commits again to loving and helping Abram and his descendants forever (verse 7). He promises him the land of Canaan (verse 8). Then He seals His promise to Abram by renaming him. Abram is now Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”. His name serves as assurance that God will keep His promise. Abraham has the name to describe his future before it even arrives.
In return, Abraham recommits himself to God by engaging in the practice of circumcision. God asks him to do it as a sign of their restored relationship (verse 11). Not getting circumcised would be rejecting God’s offer, deciding not to be part of His family. Thus, Abraham circumcises everyone in his household, including Ishmael. He wants them all to have a relationship with the one true God.
Finally, God promises again that Abraham will give birth to a son by his wife, who is renamed Sarah (verse 15). Abraham can hardly believe God, chuckling as if God had made a mistake (verses 17-18). But God is so calm, so firm. Abraham will have a son by Sarah. And when it happens, it will be just one of the ways Abraham and Sarah will know that this God is faithful and does not disappoint.
The Treasures Within:
Never Gonna Give You Up
In the last chapter, Abraham went outside of God’s promises. He was determined to take care of his destiny by himself. He didn’t trust God. But God forgave him. He didn’t put Abraham on some sort of probation or decide to “think about it” before renewing their relationship. He eagerly and excitedly came to Abraham’s side and wooed him back to His heart. He was not willing to let Abraham go. He was determined to bless him and his family, just as He had promised so many years ago.
It wasn’t like God didn’t acknowledge what had happened. The very first thing we see God say to Abraham after the Hagar catastrophe is “walk before me faithfully and be blameless” (verse 1). Right after messing up, Abraham has been given a second chance. The promises God has for Abraham’s life have not changed, nor have the plans God has for Abraham’s heart. God can still transform Abraham, and this time, He will.
There’s something interesting about the covenants God has made with Abraham. Not much has changed between the covenant in chapter 15 and the one in chapter 17. God promised the same things to Abraham in the first covenant. Abraham believed Him then and was made righteous by God. Thus, in chapter 15 Abraham experiences righteousness by faith. Soon after this covenant, however, Abraham rejects God’s way and tries to receive the promises on his own strength. Thus in chapter 16, Abraham learns that just as it is possible to become righteous by faith, it is possible to become unrighteous through unbelief.
Now, in chapter 17, God gives Abraham another chance. God repeats His promises. Abraham is again made righteous by faith (verse 1). Then God asks Abraham to fulfill the covenant through works. This is attempt number two at Abraham’s relationship with God, upgraded with a ritual that will daily remind Abraham of who he has committed himself to. This is righteousness established. This is righteousness fulfilled.
It all makes me wonder about our options in this modern day. We don’t engage in circumcision as a sign of our relationship with God anymore. We still, however, believe in righteousness by faith. What establishes our righteousness today? How do we fulfill it? What is our sign of our relationship with God? What do we have that daily reminds us of Him, lest we lose our faith and the righteousness that God has given?
The law does not save us, just like circumcision held no saving power for Abraham and his family. No, the role of the law is different from the role of grace and faith. Yet it, like circumcision in Abraham’s day, is essential.
God’s Message To Us:
“Let’s try this again. Walk uprightly. Walk faithfully and blamelessly before Me. You can, because I have made you righteous because of your faith.” Abraham had righteousness, and then he lost his way. But God was not done with him. He wants us to know what He made clear to Abraham in this chapter – He will make us righteous again and again. He will not give up on us. He has plans and promises on end for us, and He won’t let us pass them by without a struggle. Will we try again this time? Will we believe in God’s promise, allowing Him to make us righteous? Will we establish our righteousness through a sign, obeying God and signifying the relationship we have with Him? We already know how God wants us to answer those questions. How will our hearts respond?
What do you think? What do you hear God saying to you with this chapter? What other lessons do you see in the faith journey Abraham has taken in the last three chapters?