In Genesis 16 we left Abram at the age of 86 with a new son born to him by Hagar who was his wife’s servant. Now, in Genesis 17, Abram is 99 and his firstborn son Ishmael is 13.
In this chapter God confirms his covenant with Abram and reminds him that the promise made to him in Genesis 12 v 2-3 will be fulfilled through a son born to him by Sarai. We commented on the fact that when Abram was in Ur he could have ignored God’s purpose for him but he knew about God’s covenant with Noah and was prepared to worship the LORD in the way that was appointed and have faith in his promises.
The act of circumcision was introduced as a sign of both physical and spiritual obedience to God. Abram was reminded of the blessings that both he and his descendants would enjoy if they obeyed God’s commandments (Genesis 17 v 6 – 11) but also reminded that those who did not obey God could not be part of the promises (Genesis 17 v 14).
Abram’s name was changed to Abraham meaning ‘father of a multitude’ and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah meaning ‘a princess.’ In this way Abraham was told that the blessings that he and his descendants would receive would come through his relationship with Sarah (Genesis 17 v 15 – 16). Abraham’s concern for Ishmael as his firstborn was also considered by God and a blessing given (Genesis 17 v 20).
Although Abraham has difficulty in understanding how both he and Sarah could have a child at the ages of 100 and 90, and laughed at the idea, he nevertheless carried out God’s commandment and had himself, Ishmael and the other males in his household circumcised. In this way God’s covenant was established through faithful Abraham. He was told that his son by Sarah would be called Isaac which means ‘he laughs.’
We talked about the three men who visited Abraham on the plain at Mamre (Genesis 18 v 1 – 15) and agreed that they were messengers (angels) from God who came to see Abraham for two reasons. The first was to inform Sarah and add more detail to the promise of a son for them both and the second was to give Abraham an insight into the way that God deals with the wickedness of mankind.
Abraham greets the visitors and offers the typical hospitality of the time which involves Sarah preparing a meal for them. Like Abraham Sarah laughs at the idea of having a baby when she is old but, unlike Abraham, she lies about her innermost thoughts and is shown that human thoughts cannot be hidden from God’s messengers (Genesis 18 v 10 – 15).
Two of the visitors left Abraham and set out for Sodom but the third stays to inform Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God allows Abraham to plead for the lives of the inhabitants of these two cities for he knows that his nephew Lot is living in Sodom. However, Abraham soon becomes aware that there are less than ten people who have turned away from the evils being practiced there and that he must rely on God’s mercy to save Lot.
The difference between Abraham and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is highlighted by God when he says ‘For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD.’ In contrast God condemns Sodom and Gomorrah because ‘their sin is very grievous.’ The people in these cities were perverted in the way that they lived and dealt with each other and did not want to change their ways as we will see in the next chapter.