Read Genesis 17:1-14
Ishmael is now about 13 years old.
Had you already figured that out? Compare verses 16:6 and 17:1. It has been 23 years, and Abram is still a foreigner in Canaan. Once again God visits him and renews the promises, which seem to be getting bigger and better: “You will be the father of many nations”! “Kings will come from you”!
Now God adds another layer: a new covenant, in addition to the one about the land. This covenant has two parts: God’s part is to give Abram countless descendants and to always be their God; and Abram’s part is to make sure that the men are all circumcised.
This is an invitation.
God is making a kind of divine club, and the entrance requirement is circumcision. The people of this club are God’s people in a unique and special way. He plans to give them everything that he has promised to Abram.
The physical proof of belonging is an intimate thing. It’s not something other people will see, as if it were a special way of dressing, or shaving the head. God choses a sign that is private, but no less real.
It’s also painful; cutting off skin in a sensitive area of the body. Entrance to this club comes at a cost.
Those who are circumcised belong to God. He is doing a huge thing – creating a nation so He can use it to bless the whole world: “you will be a blessing …. all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” (12:2,3).
Yet, while doing this huge thing, God never loses sight of Abram. Now, he renames him.
You may have read in the notes of your bible that ‘Abram’ means ‘exalted father’ which is a pretty fine name – but not fine enough for God. He changes it to ‘Abraham’, which means ‘father of nations’.
It’s a ridiculous name, really, because Abraham is ninety-nine years old and the father of one: Ishmael. It’s like calling a short man “Stretch”, or a bald man “Curly” – except that this is God, who wants Abraham to know that his name is El-Shaddai – “God Almighty” (17:1).
What he names a person matters because as he names them, so they become.
What do you wish he would name you?