Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.” [Genesis 17:1–6. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]
This week, the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings have guided readers through the story of Abraham. Abraham’s life was a turning point in God’s dealings with humanity. Beginning with Abraham, God chose a people to whom He would reveal Himself. Through that group of people (the children of Israel), God would bless the world (Genesis 12:1–3). That blessing would culminate in the coming of the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through that covenant, God took a “nobody” and transformed him into a “somebody” whose life and faith still impact our world.
Genesis 17 is the third time God called Abraham (originally named Abram) into covenant relationship with Him. Each calling was not so much a new covenant; it was, instead, a reminder or a clarification of the covenant. In Genesis 12, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. In Genesis 15, God promised that this great nation would be his own descendants. However, since Abram’s wife Sarai (or Sarah) was already past child-bearing, they assumed that he needed to take matters into their own hands; instead of believing that God could do the impossible, Sarai suggested that Abram marry a second wife to bear children.
In Genesis 17, God reaffirmed the covenant. Abram was basically a nobody: a Middle-Eastern nomad wandering through the world he knew. Countless nomads wandered the lands of the Middle East throughout the centuries, herding sheep and surviving as he did, only to be forgotten by history. In many ways, he was not the kind of person we may view as a “hero”: at times dishonest, sometimes doubting God. In spite of all that, God chose to establish His covenant with Abram.
Three key thoughts are worth considering regarding this covenant. First, God initiated the covenant. Abram was not a great philosopher or wise man who could ponder his way to an awareness of the divine nature. Left to himself, Abram probably would have wandered around the ancient world, herding sheep, fighting feuds over watering holes, and worshipping his father’s idols. Abram would not have found God; instead, God found him. Let us always remember that we do not find Jesus; the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. He finds us.
Second, God defined the covenant. God determined how He would bless Abram. The blessings of the covenant were decided by God. Abram did not bring God a list of terms, proposals, or counter-offers. God offered the blessing, the terms of the covenant, and the sign of the covenant. God called Abram to accept circumcision as a sign of the covenant; I’m sure Abram could have thought of some less-painful options, but he obeyed without offering a compromise suggestion.
We, too, should accept the call to follow God on His terms. Faith in God is not like dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet (take what you like and leave the rest). God calls us to accept a relationship with Him on His terms, grounded in faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Lord—not our motivational therapist, buddy, or just someone we can call when we think we need a little help.
Finally, God chooses the recipient. We do not earn salvation. He calls us. Salvation begins with conviction by the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to get your life in order before coming to Jesus, you are wrong. He is calling you (even if it is through something as simple as this blog post), come to Him. He will start a work in your life and bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
God found Abram, an anonymous nomad whom history should have forgotten, and called him into a covenant relationship with Him. He transformed that nobody into Abraham, the father of many nations, patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, and ancestor of our Saviour. If we recognize God’s invitation and choose to obey, He will guide us to a destiny far beyond our expectations.