“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5).
- Genesis 17:3–5
We have seen that the Lord’s call for Abram to live blamelessly (Gen. 17:1) did not mean the patriarch would be perfectly righteous. The practice of holiness is never complete in this life; therefore, God, in Christ Jesus, provided the impeccable merit and once-for-all sacrifice that secures our salvation (Gen. 15:6; 2 Cor. 5:21).
Nevertheless, the same faith that lays hold of God’s promises in Christ also receives the Spirit who enables us to obey the Lord. John Calvin reminds us in his commentary on Genesis 17:3 that God, when He offered His grace to Abram, required him to be faithful to the covenant and that we who share in this faith as adopted heirs of so great and gracious a salvation are also to live in newness of life.
Abram prostrates himself before God when he is addressed, illustrating a heartfelt pledge to keep covenant (Gen. 17:3). Worship is the proper response to the Lord, and a life of worship shows our intent to walk uprightly coram Deo — before the face of God.
Just as God formally sealed His existing covenant relationship with Noah after the flood (9:8–17), so too does He confirm His solemn bond with Abram. As we shall see, the promises of descendants, land, and a name are more concretely specified, and the Abrahamic covenant is promised to be an everlasting one. This is all by grace, for Abram is a fallen man (12:10–20; 16), and he will sin again (chap. 20). But God has sworn to achieve his purposes in Abram (15:12–16), and He will fulfill His oath.
The promise of abundant progeny is fleshed out and intensified as the Lord tells the patriarch he will father a “multitude of nations” (17:4). Peoples across the globe will be counted as Abram’s sons and receive all his blessings. Moreover, to illustrate the gravity and permanence of the covenant, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude” (v. 5). The patriarch’s new name also has phonetic affinities with the Hebrew words for covenant, multiply, and fruitful, and so it serves as a perpetual reminder of God’s good will toward him. For the rest of his life, Abraham remembered the Lord’s promises and fidelity whenever his name was called.
All those with faith in Jesus are counted as one of Abraham’s true sons, just as Christ is the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). If we trust in the Messiah, all of the blessings of Abraham have come to us in part and will be completed when Jesus returns. Our only response can be to worship Him in gratitude and pledge our fealty to Him. Take time to worship Him today and renew your commitment to serve the Lord.
Passages for Further Study
- Gen. 32:22–32
- Ps. 105
- Micah 7:18–20
- Matt. 16:13–20
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