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Abram, a brand-new figure in this chapter, is employed to carry out yet another agreement between God and man. Abram was married to Sarai at the time, but she was unable to have him a child. God told him to leave their present home and go to the place He had given him, Canaan. In addition to making Abram the patriarch of a vast nation, God promised to punish anyone who would curse him and reward those who would bless him (Gen 12:2-3). God told Abram to leave his own country and travel to Canaan. With him, he took his wife, Sarai, Lot, who was his nephew, and all their possessions (Gen 12:5). In every place that God assured Abram of the land, Abram built an altar from the Lord (Gen 12:7).
After some time, there was a drought in Canaan, and therefore Abram and his family set out to look for food. Due to Sarai’s beauty, Abram convinced her to tell the Egyptians that they were siblings so that Abram could not be killed (Gen 12:13). Abram was treated with respect and given a good amount of livestock. However, the Lord was angry by Abram’s lie and thus inflicted diseases upon Pharaoh (Gen 12:17). Pharaoh commanded Abram to take Sarai and some livestock and leave Egypt (Gen 12:20).
God had promised Abram that he would be the father of a great nation, but at the moment, Sarai had borne no child. Abram was worried that God had promised him a great nation yet he had no heir (Gen 15:3). God assured Abram that he would bless him in due time and Abram believed in Him (Gen 15:6). Unlike Noah, Abram lived to question God. He wondered how all these blessings would come upon him yet he had no heir and also, the land unto which he was promised, was occupied by other people (Gen 15:8). God instructed him to bring some animals for sacrifice and told him to cut them into halves (Gen 15:10). In the evening, as Abram lay down, God told him to look up to the skies and count the stars. God compared his generation to the infinity of the stars. Then God made a covenant with Abram that evening and told him that he would give the land between Egypt and river Euphrates (Gen 15:18).
Then God sealed his covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham, meaning the father of great nations (Gen 17:5). Also, he changed his wife’s name to Sarah, that meant mother of nations (Gen 17:15). He requested Abraham to ensure that covenant is kept by the generations to come (Gen 17:9). As a sign of remembrance of this covenant, all the males in the lineage of Abraham were to be circumcised at eight days (Gen 17:10). Only the males who were born in the household of Abraham were to undergo the circumcision; foreigners were excluded from this pact (Gen 17:12). Any male who was not circumcised by eight days old would be considered to have broken the covenant (Gen 17:14). It was, therefore, the duty of the parents to ensure that this covenant was passed from one generation to the next.
At this time, Abraham had borne a son with Haggai and named him Ishmael. According to the laws, Ishmael was considered a foreigner meaning would not be the one to fulfill the covenant. With the advancement in age, Abraham began to question God on how he and his wife would bear a child (Gen 17:17). God told him that Sarah would bore a son and they were to name him Isaac. It was through Isaac that the pact would be kept (Gen 17:21). Nevertheless, Ishmael was circumcised when he was 13 years as he was a male in the household of Abraham (Gen 17:26). On the same day, all males, even the slaves were circumcised.
Berlin, Adele, et al. The Jewish study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004.
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