In Genesis 17, God makes a covenant with Abram. But God has already made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, where He promised him that Abram’s sons would be innumerable, and that he would possess the promised land. God originally promised all of this for Abram back in chapter 12, when He called Abram from Haran. So what is new about God’s promise in chapter 17? Let’s find out.
Please read Genesis 17:1-8.
The twin promises of children and land are basically just restated in different terms. While Abram has previously been promised that nations would come from him, now he is told that kings will come from him; while he had previously been described the Promised land in detail as the land of all the ‘ites’ (15:19-21), now it is described as “the land of your sojournings.” The main difference between the previous covenant and this one is that this one comes with a name change—he is no longer Abram, but Abraham.
Abram means ‘exalted father,’ which is pretty great, but Abraham means ‘father of a multitude,’ which is a pretty bold name for someone who only has one child and is 99 years old! The new name indicates how definite God’s promise is. Abraham can be called a father of a multitude because it is absolutely certain that he will father a multitude—many nations in fact! God didn’t change Abram’s name because of who he was; God changed his name because of who God knew he would become.
Probably the most famous name change in Scripture is that of Simon Peter. Of course, his original name was “Simon Bar-Jonah,” which means “Simon, son of Jonah” (Matt. 16:17; John 21:15-17), but Jesus renamed him Peter, which means, ‘rock’ or ‘stone’ (John 1:42). Yet, this is not a permanent name change, as Jesus seems to go back and forth between calling him Peter and calling him Simon. Or does he? John MacArthur, in his book 12 Ordinary men, does a wonderful job of illustrating how Jesus will refer to Simon Peter as Simon when he “has done something that needs rebuke or correction,” because Jesus was “signaling him that he was acting like his old self.” But, Jesus calls him Peter when He “was commending him for acting the way he ought to be acting” (page 34). Jesus was using the name change to help remind Peter of who he was called to be.
God not only knows our name, and calls us by name, but He gives us a new name. Abram was not called Abraham because he was a father of many nations, but because that is who he would become. Simon was not called Peter because he was a rock, but because he would become a rock. As believers in Jesus Christ, you and I are not called holy, righteous saints because that is how we act now, but because that is what we will become.
God no longer calls you a sinner. God no longer calls you and adulterer, a blasphemer, a liar, a thief, an angry murderer, a drunkard, or a gossip. He no longer calls you greedy, proud, self-righteous, jealous, or vain.
God looks at you, and sees who you will become through faith in Him. So He calls you holy. He calls you a saint. He calls you clean. You are righteous. You are loved. You are pure. You are a child of the King.
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