Chapter 17 is rich with extraordinary happenings and a real turning point for all mankind. From covenants, new names, circumcision, and laughter so joyous Abram falls on his face (although I’m pretty sure when it came to the circumcision part, there wasn’t as much laughter) this chapter is full. Even though I’m drawing the focus in on one aspect of this incredible chapter of Genesis, I hope you will take some time to explore the other topics on a deeper level. They each hold significant meaning and revelation.
What caught my eye most this week were all the names. New names and name changes filled the verses of this chapter. Right off the bat, in verse 1, we see God reveal Himself to Abram using a new name.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. (v. 1)
In Hebrew, God Almighty means “El Shaddai” and on God’s fifth appearance to Abram, He introduces this new name for Himself. At first glance, this may seem like commonplace because throughout scripture God introduces us to new names for Himself. Ancient of Days, Father/Abba, “Most High”, Elohim, El-Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah, and Adonai, just to name a few. But, what makes this interesting to me is that in this chapter not only does God give Himself a new name, but He also gives Abram and Sarai new names.
In Biblical times and in many other cultures, names hold tremendous significance. Their meanings are relevant and known. I feel as if we have lost this in our culture. So often we choose a name for our child off the list of trending names or the family tree not even looking up or considering the meaning. I remember having a bookmark as a child that had my name “Allison” and its meaning “Truthful One” listed on it. I have always remembered and pondered it. Names hold power. Consider how often we are called by our names every day, year and century.
If I was called “truthful one” all day instead of “Allison” that would be great, but imagine if your name had a negative meaning associated with it. I imagine the voicemail, “Hello, this is quarrelsome. I’m unable to take your call right now, please leave a message and I’ll return it when I can.”
Let’s take a look at some of the name changes and meanings from this chapter.
Abram, (meaning high father), will now be called Abraham (father of a multitude). This is surely an incredible name for someone who only has one son at the present time. God is getting ready to break through to Abraham and make His promise real in name and deed.
Sarai (meaning quarrelsome), will now be called Sarah which means “princess”. Sarah will now be the princess of a multitude. Can you imagine that title? She certainly got an upgrade in this covenant.
Isaac, the son God has promised Abraham that he and Sarah will have, means laughter. How perfect since Abraham fell flat on his face laughing when God told him he would have a son at 100 years old. This wasn’t laughter of disbelief, but one of joy and great delight. What a wonderful name to have and be reminded throughout your life that your Dad was so joyous he laughed until he fell over.
And, then there is Ishmael (Abram’s son who Hagar gave birth to). The Lord tells Hagar to call him this because the Lord heard her cry out in anguish and misery from mistreatment from Sarah. Ishmael means “God hears”.
God did a lot of the naming of people back in the Old Testament and I find the research behind the meaning of names very intriguing. However, Chapter 17 is also the beginning of a great covenant that weaves itself all through scripture to present day. I pray you will sit, ponder and study all the layers of this magnificent chapter because they will help us unlock the mystery and truth of the Bible as we continue through Genesis.