Genesis 17 opens with God coming upon Abram and delivering the clearest word of the Lord yet: Live in my presence blamelessly, circumcise yourself and all the males in your household, and I will give you a son by your wife Sarai by this time next year. It was a profound revelation, to be sure, but I can’t help but notice that it was 14 years too late. Between the end of Genesis 16 and the beginning of Genesis 17, there is a 13-year time jump, and that was a big deal. In the beginning of Abram’s relationship with God, God spoke to him on a fairly regular basis. But after Genesis 15, God had apparently gone silent. For well more than a decade, God had seemed absent from Abram’s life, and it was likely the greatest test of faith that Abram would ever experience. The belief he demonstrated in Genesis 15 was clearly strained, else he wouldn’t have compromised in Genesis 16 to marry Hagar. Indeed, the hardest part about believing and following God is when He is quiet, often for long periods of time. The real challenge of faith, though, is believing – acting as though we’ve already received His promise – even when God is quiet.

Something else happens in Genesis 17 that caught my attention: God changes Abram’s and Sarai’s names. In that day, the name represented the very essence of a person. For instance, Jacob was a trickster, even a deceiver, from the day he was born (remember, he’s the one who shoved his way out of the womb in front of his older brother Essau). His name, which means deceiver or trickster, reflects that character. A name change, then, represented a dramatic change of identity. It was as though, despite their age, the old Abram and Sarai were gone, and the new Abraham and Sarah were gone. Now, in the case of this couple, the change may not have been too dramatic. Abram and Sarai had been faithful for many years; this name change was more symbolic than anything else. Even so, this idea of dramatic renewal persists throughout Scripture. God wants to renew us, to remove the old, broken self and all that went with it and replace it with a new self that is marked by righteousness. Now, that is not to say that the new self won’t look like the old, and more often than not, I don’t think God will replace the core aspects of our God-given personality. But He will renew us so that we can have a relationship with Him and live an increasingly changed life here and now. Abram and Sarai were not terrible people, but they needed this renewal. Whatever faults and failures have characterized you in the past, you can be renewed, too!


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