“Then God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (Genesis 17:15-16, NKJ).
God appeared to Abram when he was 99 years old and plainly outlined the way things would be. He referred first to himself, saying, “As for Me”, and promised to bear the burden of keeping everything legal between us and God for those who believe and obey him. Then God addressed Abram: “As for you.” God laid upon Abram one requirement: circumcision. Lastly, God said, “as for Sarai” this is how it will be.
God changed Sarai’s name, which means “to dominate, to rule or control, to exert the supreme or guiding influence,” to Sarah. Sarah means “a mistress, female noble, princess or queen.” Understand what Sarah represents, and you’ll find it easier to understand the significance of God changing her name. Sarai represented the Old Jerusalem dominated by a covenant of law that made her barren because none of her children could keep the law. Sarah is symbolic of the New Jerusalem, which is the gracious queen of God himself. When dominated by love, the harsh, unmerciful law becomes a noble gracious and kind lady.
God had told Abraham, “I will bless Sarah and give you a son by her.” The immediate result of that promise was the couple’s son, Isaac. But God was also looking further down the road to the sacrifice of Jesus who made God’s dream possible. Sarai, the old Jerusalem, dominated by law made her people servants. Sarah, the New Jerusalem, dominated by love will make her people kings, for she will be a mother of nations and “kings of peoples shall be from her.”
God dreams big. He had nations of kings and priests on his mind. Abraham had yet to see any further than the end of his nose. All Abraham wanted was one son to leave his stuff to. I can identify with Abraham more easily than God. Being a king wasn’t on Abraham’s mind any more than being a queen was on mine when the Lord revealed himself to me. In 40 years of being a Christian, I have not met anyone who accepted Christ so they could become a king.
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17-22, NKJ)
God had his mind on a vast spiritual family. Abraham had his mind on a carnal family. When God mentioned Sarah bearing a son, all Abraham could think is, “Hey, God! Sarah and I are too old to have a baby. We tried for years. Now it’s too late. I’m near 100, and she’s 90 — how are we going to have a son? Sure, God – ha, ha, ha!”
If you think God appearing to you will impart great faith, think again. God appeared to Abraham and told him what he planned to do, and Abraham fell on his face laughing at God and then proposed his solution.
“…Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18, NKJ)
Everything God told Abraham was dependent on Sarah giving birth to a son. So Abraham blurted out, “God, why wait for the impossible! I solved the problem 13 years ago. What about Ishmael?” Then God said:
“No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish MY covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19, NKJ).
God had no intentions of establishing his covenant with a son raised by a slave. He will establish his covenant with a son raised by a free woman. Paul explained in Galatians Chapter 4 that Hagar is symbolic of the covenant made at Sinai – the one that gave birth to the Jerusalem God ultimately rejected. God doesn’t want a house full of servants; he wants a house full of children. Still, God is good to all, and he didn’t ignore Abraham’s request.
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, who Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year. Then he finished talking with him and God went up from Abraham” (Genesis 17:20-22, NKJ).
God gave Ishmael the same thing he gave Isaac — 12 princes who became the foundations of great nations. God chose Isaac before he was born and had done anything good or bad to influence his decision. On his own merits, Isaac was no more worthy of the covenant then is Ishmael or anyone else.
God teaches us the gospel not only with his words, but also with his actions. As Isaac’s birth was “impossible,” so was Jesus’. God will establish his new covenant with a son whose birth is not humanly possible. That son is Jesus, the only man God foreknew would be born on earth and never sin. God knew what Jesus would do because God knew what he was going to do. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In this way, God’s way, both Isaac and Ishmael can be saved — if they will walk in the steps of father Abraham’s faith.
But stop and ponder this: When God finished talking to Abraham he departed without Abraham ever acknowledging that he believed God or would obey God’s instruction to circumcise all the males in his house.
It sometimes appears that Paul had a different copy of Genesis than we do. Speaking of God’s promise that Abraham would be the heir of the world, Paul writes that Abraham believed God when he said that he would make Abraham a father of many nations by doing the impossible. In Abraham’s mind, the “impossible” was Sarah bearing a son. In God’s mind, the impossible was the city if Jerusalem producing a son. How can someone who never knew a man bear a son? God’s wife is a city, and his son is Jesus (Revelation 21:2, 9-10). Paul goes on to say about Abraham,
“…and being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19, NKJ).
Well, that’s not what I read in Genesis. I read about a man who fell down laughing at God. And that’s probably why he fell down — so God wouldn’t see the smirk of unbelief on his face. He was laughing in his heart. He considered his own body, now close to 100 years old, dead, and Sarah’s womb just as dead. How were they going to make a baby? So what gave Paul the audacity to write such a statement about Abraham and even more boldly go on to say,
“He (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform” (Romans 4:20, NKJ)
When did Abraham stagger not? If Abraham wasn’t staggering at the promise of God through unbelief, why did he bring up Ishmael? Abraham most assuredly did stagger at the promise of God through unbelief! So when did the things Paul wrote about happen? I’ll tell you when! THE SAME DAY! Paul is writing about what Abraham did, not what Abraham said! Consider Jesus teachings and it will become clear.
Jesus was talking to some Chief Priest and Elders, in our day that would be the Pastor and board of deacons. He said to them,
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, Son, go, work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not, but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go sir, but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said to him, the first. Jesus said to them, Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him and when you saw it you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32, NKJ).
Jesus said elsewhere,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29, NKJ).
In Jesus’ parable which of the two sons did the will of the father? The first one who said, “No”, changed his mind before the day ended and went to work in the fields. The other son knew the right thing to “say”, but he never actually worked. It doesn’t matter what you say about believing God; it does matter — much — what you do.
All right then, what did Abraham do when God finished talking to him and departed?
“Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner were circumcised with him” (Genesis 17:23-26, NKJ)
That very same day, twice the Bible says Abraham obeyed God that very same day. Like the son who said, “I go not to work in your field” but changed his mind, Abraham stopped laughing in disbelief and chose to believe what God promised! That very same day, Abraham went to work by circumcising himself and all the males in his house.
“Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts… (Hebrews 3:15, emphasis added).
Abraham could have hardened his heart, just as Israel later hardened their hearts in the wilderness. But he didn’t: “Being not weak in faith,” he refused to consider the age of his body or the barrenness of Sarah womb. After laughing at God, he humbled himself. “God is not a liar,” Abraham reasoned. “He is greater and smarter than I am.” So, “Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what God had promised God was able also to perform.”
How did Paul know that Abraham had faith? Abraham’s actions, he went to the kitchen for a sharp knife and made all the men in the house line up. Then he obeyed God’s instructions. Abraham didn’t have to do the impossible; God only asked Abraham to do the possible – remove a small piece of flesh.
That very same day, Abraham “spoke” with a “voice” God could trust — his actions — when he circumcised everyone in his house.
Don’t let the sun set before you make up your mind to do it God’s way. Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart. Today is the day of salvation. Don’t say, “Oh, some other time.” Make up your mind while it is still “today” — before Jesus brings a new day and you’re not included. You don’t have to do the impossible; just do the possible: Circumcise your heart by casting all your care upon him and God will do the impossible for you!