Lectionary Year B
March 16, 2003
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Step V: Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

(JFC) The theological center of this passage seems to be God who admits to being "God Almighty", who makes a covenant, who changes names and prophesies many offspring and many nations and kings coming. The other major concerns include Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah. Abraham's new name is noted simply with an assonance as in Genesis 4:1. The additional -ha- might allude to the "many" in the "multitude of nations" mentioned in verses 2, and 4-7. Sarai's new name seems to be little more than an older form of Sarah, her new name. Evidently, then, the new names are less important in their meanings than in that they are changed and, especially, changed by God. These observations leave to be termed minor concerns in this pericope the generations and the nations, the covenant itself and the bowing before God by Abram.

B. Smoother Translation

(JFC) 1 And it happened that Abram was ninety nine years old and Yahweh appeared unto Abram and He said, "I am El Shaddai walk before Me and be whole/blameless. 2 And I made/gave My covenant between Me you and I will make of you many even exceedingly many." 3 And fell Abram upon his face and spoke to him Elohim saying, 4 "I behold My covenant (is) with you and you have become like a father of an abundance of nations. 5 And not is to be called your name Abram for has been your name Abraham for the father of an abundance of nations I have made of you. 6 And I have made you to bear much fruit in exceeding abundance and I have made you like nations and nations from you will come. 7 And I have caused to arise My covenant between Me and you and among your seed after you to their generations like a covenant long-lasting to become to them like Elohim and your seed after you." 15 And said Elohim unto Abraham, "You shall no longer call Sarai your wife by her name Sarai for Sarah her new name shall be Sarah. 16 And I have blessed her and also I have given from her for you a son and there will have become nations from her and kings of people from her shall come.

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

(JFC) "Change is good", says a cute freckle-faced little girl on a TV commercial, her eyes brightly glowing saying she believes it and intends for observers and auditors to believe it, too. It is one of the few commercials I ever see since, when a commercial comes on, I habitually surf through any of the other channels. Yet, that mantra might be healthy for the church to consider chanting. It also might be some of what God does with Abram and Sarai when changing their names, which, remember, in that culture meant their functions were changing, too. God was signaling a transformation in them.

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