Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 17:1-6

1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 

2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,

4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.

5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

It has really stood out to me in this study just how many times God reiterates His promises to Abram, and each time He does so it seems to be more earnest and intimate, drawing Abram closer and closer. The last time He led him through a solemn ritual covenant, and this time He is giving Abram a new name.

Receiving a new name is a very significant and privately sacred event. Each of us is assigned a name when we are born. Sometimes this is a reference to someone that our parents respect, but who may not be anything like us. We might receive a nickname from friends later in life, based off of a single character trait or a memorable event, but this also falls short of defining who we really are. But what if we could be given a name by someone who understood us perfectly, someone who had made us, and knew the very purpose for which He had done so?

Receiving a new name from God is a sign of His fatherhood over us, a way that He claims us as His own. A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of asking God what names or titles He has for me, and if you’ve never done this yourself, I recommend trying it and seeing what happens. Just be sure you avoid the temptation of speaking for Him, though. It will only be a significant experience if it truly comes from God and not your own imagination.

In Abram’s case, there were many qualities that God could have singled out while giving him his new name. Abram had fought the armies of Elam, but God did not call him Abram the Warrior. Abram would become known for digging wells later in his life, but God did not call him Abram the Well-Digger. No, God knew that the primary defining trait of his son would be that of a patriarch, a father of many nations, a revered and respected head of a tremendous family. And so his name became Abraham.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 16:1-3

1 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

The Biblical record comes from a very different culture than the one we have today, especially the Old Testament portion of it. A wife giving a servant to be a second wife to her husband is entirely incompatible with today’s social norms for a number of reasons.

While morals are constant, challenges and priorities do change, and with them our measure of what is socially acceptable behavior. I don’t think any of us can fully empathize with what it was like to live in the time and place of Abram and Sarai, and thus we are not equipped to judge their behavior. If they genuinely felt that they were being moral, then that is enough. Nor do we need to apologize for following a different behavior today. If we genuinely believe that we are moral, then that is enough.

I do think that there is something admirable to how Abram and Sarai are trying to do their part to make God’s promise a reality. This effort of theirs is ultimately not the fulfillment that the Lord has in mind, He intends to perform a miracle on their behalf just a little down the road. But they don’t know that yet, and so they are faithfully trying to help out how they can.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:10-16

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

Yesterday we examined how God made a solemn covenant with Abram, in which He illustrated His absolute commitment to bringing His promises to fruition. But this was a long and involved ritual, and in the middle there were also several moments of distress.

First there was the matter of fowls trying to consume the sacrificial animals. There is an obvious symbolism here for all of the forces that try to sever us from God and His promises, all of the powers that would try to pull Abram and his descendants off the covenant path. But Abram was faithful, and through his efforts he kept them at bay. Then there was the “horror of great darkness,” and the revelation that Abram’s descendants would pass through many afflictions before inheriting this land.

So ultimately God did make a solemn vow to give Abram and his descendants great blessings, but He also admitted that it was going to be a long and hard road to get there. I appreciate this frankness from God, assuring us of good in the end, but not trying to diminish the considerable opposition we will have to face along the way. When all is said and done, God offers us all a happy ending at the end of the road, but he does not promise that the road will be clear and easy.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:7-10, 17-18

7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

I found this passage enchanting to read, but confounding to understand. Abram seeks for some sort of sign that God’s promises will be fulfilled, and as an answer he is led through a strange ritual. Abram splits each creature in two, except for the birds, and lays their halves next to each other. Then, after a moment of darkness and foretelling that we’ll examine tomorrow, God responds with a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between each half of the animals. Accompanying this sight are the words of God, reiterating the promise that He will give all this land to Abram. A captivating image, to be sure, but what to make of it?

Other scholars have given an interpretation of these scenes that I find very compelling. They suggest that dividing the animals in two and having the furnace and lamp pass between them is a way of God making a solemn pledge. It is as if He is saying “so may my body be cleaved in two if I do not keep this word.” Consider how this idea is echoed by the statements of God in Jeremiah 34:18. Or it could be seen as “I will do whatever it takes to fulfill this promise, even to the breaking of my body.” Of course that notion is later reflected in Jesus Christ coming and literally letting his body be broken to keep the promises that God had made to all of mankind.

And there is also the symbolism of the smoke and the flame that God sends between the severed pieces. What was immediately called to my mind was the pillar of fire and the cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness.

In any case, it seems that these verses are meant to describe a solemn ritual, with a solemn commitment made by God. These aren’t just words anymore, He is binding Himself to the fulfillment of them. But, given the seriousness of the situation, God frankly admits that Abram that his children will face all manner of affliction before and after receiving the fulfillment of these promises. We’ll dive into that tomorrow.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:1-6

1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This story of Abram is very moving to me. It has been years since God first made His lofty promises to him, and understandably Abram is feeling hurt that they are still left unfulfilled.

And I think it is important to note that Abram is not guilty of some offense here by expressing his hurt. He isn’t being harsh or abusive towards God, he isn’t giving up on the Lord, but he is stating his sincere feelings in frank and honest terms. And God can take it.

When we are hurt, when we are confused, and even when we are angry, God is big enough to hold that emotion. It is not faithless to say “God, you said that everything would be alright, but they really don’t seem alright right now. I am in a pain that I don’t understand. Can we talk about that?”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 14:21-24

21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:

24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

Sometimes you do something simply because it’s the right thing to do, which makes it a holy act, unless you later accept a worldly reward for it. This was the case with Abram when he rescued his nephew Lot. He was lifting his hand “unto the Lord,” and did not want to tarnish the sanctity of the moment by turning it into an exchange of monetary wealth for services rendered.

Ten years ago I was having trouble with an external hard drive, and I asked the owner of an internet café if he knew anything about them. He spent twenty minutes working on it, then came back with the hard drive installed in a new enclosure and working perfectly. When I asked him how much I owed him he just shook his head and said “not everything has to be for money.” And just like that, an ordinary business transaction instead became a moment of kindness that I will never forget.

There is nothing wrong with running a business and making a profit, but there’s something about acts of service and kindness that makes the inclusion of money immoral.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 14:17-20

17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

There is very little that we know of this King Melchizedek. We do not know his genealogy, we don’t know anything about the land of Salem that he was king over (unless this is a shortened version of Jerusalem), and we don’t know what happened to him after these events.

We do hear some later references to him, though. In Hebrews chapters 5 and 7 it is stated that Jesus was a priest “after the order” of Melchizedek. So clearly he was a figure of importance to the ancient Israelites, and evidently Abram respected him as an emissary of God as he paid his tithes to him.

So much of the biblical account is exclusively about the Abrahamic line that it becomes surprising to hear about a legendary, righteous king that existed outside of that lineage. It makes me wonder how many other good people in history have their ripples washing over us today, and we don’t even know anything about them.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 14:13-16

13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.

14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.

15 And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.

16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.

This story stirs my heart! I love the image of Abram hearing that his kin is in trouble and rushing off to the rescue. Never mind the fact that the army he is pursuing just finished laying waste to the militias of Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other cities. It doesn’t matter what the difficulty of the task is, Lot needs to be rescued, so that’s what Abram is going to do!

I’m also touched by how Lot is called Abram’s “brother” here, not his nephew. I mentioned previously how after the death of Haran (Abram’s brother and Lot’s father) that the record seemed to treat Lot as if he stood in the place of his father, and this verse further reinforces that notion. Of course I’m sure this also has to do with the customs of the time, but that does not diminish the passion Abram clearly has for this “brother” as he smites the enemy, pursues the battle all the way into another land, and doesn’t let up until he has retrieved every single thing they had taken.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 13:17-18

17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.

18 Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.

There is something very satisfying in God’s command to walk the length and breadth of the land, to feel out the whole of it. Even if Canaan was more humble than the plain of Jordan I get excited by the idea of Abram taking stock of the land that God is giving to him.

Maybe this stands out to me because my wife and I recently bought our first single-family home, and I very much enjoy walking between its borders, too! There is something so exciting about having a place of your own. Large or small, lavish or humble, it is the foundation to build your future from.

And now, at long last, we have Abram living fully within the boundaries of Canaan, the place that will be the backdrop for most of the Biblical record. In fact, all of the stories that Abram is best known for will all begin from here.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 13:10-12, 14-16

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.

14 And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

Abram was very decent in how he handled the conflict between his and Lot’s workers. In order to maintain the peace they needed to have enough space, and that meant separating from one another. Having determined this, Abram gave Lot the first choice of where to go. After comparing the two halves Lot took the better portion and Abram accepted the lesser.

And all this helped bring Abram into greater alignment with God’s plan for him. Long before, God had told Abram to go to Canaan, for that was to be the land for his inheritance, and now, at last, Abram was finally dwelling fully within Canaan’s borders. And there, in that promised land, Abram was met by reassurances from God that the covenants that had been made to him years before still held firm.

Just a few months ago God met me in the mountains with reassurances as well, telling me that promises and intentions He had for my life are still in full force. In our dealings with other people it is easy to wonder if the promises they’ve offered have expired, or if they’ve forgotten about them, or if they just don’t want to follow through on them anymore. But God reminded me that He isn’t petty, forgetful, or changing. That though time and circumstance may undo the pledges of man, those do not weigh on the covenants of God.