A Name of Promise

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. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1–8 NRSV)

Throughout my life, I have been given different names. There are the names I was given at birth, names that are connections to my family, names of significance. Then there have been other names given to me through the years – names of affection, names that hurt, and names/words that signified a powerful part of my journey. One of the names that has been spoken over me is “Overcomer.” It’s not necessarily a name I would answer to if someone called it out at me while I was walking down the street, but it is a name of promise and remembrance that has proven true, even when I did not see it.

In Genesis 17:1–8, we see a similar story of a name change that is both a promise and a way to remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God. This passage is part of a bigger covenant God has made with Abram (now Abraham). At the beginning of Genesis 12, we see God promises to make Abram a great nation. God will bless Abram, make him famous, and cause him to be a blessing to others. Those who bless Abram will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. Finally, all families on the earth will be blessed through Abram.

Abram and his wife journey from their home. They have some adventures, and then the Lord reminds Abram of the covenant he has made with him, and specifically speaks to the promise about the number of his descendants in chapter 15. Abram and Sarai then decide to help God with his promise, and Abram takes a second wife, Sarai’s servant – Hagar. Ishmael is born to Abram and Hagar, and then we find ourselves with another reminder of the covenant in Chapter 17.

God reminds Abram, again, that he will be the father of many nations, and this time, he is given a new name, meaning “father of many.” In return, God asks Abraham to serve God faithfully and live a blameless life.

Even after Abram lies and takes the situation into his own hands, God reminds him, somewhat gently it seems, that he has made a covenant with Abram. He will fulfill it and his only request of Abraham is that he would stay faithful to God.

I love that in this conversation, where God is reminding Abraham of the promise he has made, he not only repeats the covenant to him one more time but he gives Abram a new name so he cannot forget his life is going to change. Through the missteps Abraham had taken up to that point, God did not change his mind about the covenant. He did not forget it. The Psalm that also accompanies today’s reading, Psalm 105:4–11, encourages us to, “Remember the marvels he has done [. . .] He has always been mindful of his covenant, the promise he made for a thousand generations.”

Is there a promise (or promises) you feel God has given you in your life?

If a promise has been realized, take some time to give God thanks today.

If you feel like it has not yet come to pass, engage in a conversation with our Father God about it. Could you use another reminder from God? Is there a word or phrase he could give you that would give you peace in the midst of a waiting season? (Keep in mind, though, that sometimes the actual words or phrases that will bring us peace are not what we think they are).

If you find yourself in a season of waiting, anticipating how God might bring an answer to a promise, be encouraged by the story of Abraham. The fulfillment of the covenant came in ways he would not have expected but, ultimately, in the words of the book of Hebrews, “he who promised is faithful” (10:23).
Sara-May Cardy is a member of the pastoral staff at Greenfield Community Church in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as the NAB’s Missional Initiatives Team.