Read Genesis 17:15-27
It’s a striking thing about Abraham how unflinchingly he obeys God: “on that very day…” I can just imagine his hundreds of people bustling about their everyday busyness when Abraham says, “Stop!” and announces that all the men are going to have an operation.
Just like that.
It’s messy and bloody. It’ll be days before returning to work as usual, but God said do it so Abraham does it: that day.
“As for Sarai, your wife…”
What God tells Abraham about Sarai is harder to accept than circumcision. In fact, when he says she’ll have a son, Abraham actually has to bow down to keep from laughing in God’s face. It seems as if Abraham has assumed that Ishmael was the promised child. Who else could it be? Abraham is nearly a hundred years old.
So, when God starts talking about Sarah, Abraham really can’t grasp it. Sarah? Sarah and Abraham – have a baby? It’s preposterous – downright laughable. They’re simply too old.
I suspect Abraham has had niggling doubts about Ishmael all along. Too much about him doesn’t quite fit with the promises. Still, Abraham loves him. “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
It is the cry of his heart, and it expresses what he knows is true: Ishmael doesn’t.
God confirms it, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will give you a son.” Once again he’s bringing Abraham back to his marriage. Abraham may dismiss Sarah, but God won’t. He rescued her from Pharaoh and now, tenderly, he changes her name, as a sort of intimate promise that he will fulfill the covenant through her – and no one else.
I love his answer to Abraham’s plea for Ishmael, “I will surely bless him.” He honors the father’s heart. “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac.”
He is Abraham’s and Sarah’s son, who doesn’t exist yet – who, by all human standards can never exist. But God already knows him, and has named him. In fact, he has named him ‘laughter’, which is so wonderful because it takes all the sting and bitterness out of Abraham’s disbelieving laughter.
In one year, God says, you will laugh with joy and wonder at the way I fulfill this covenant, which now causes you bleeding and pain.
It’s a promise.