No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
People view their preferences or unusual physical traits in different ways. Some want to blend in with the crowd and try to minimize any differences. Others celebrate their differences as part of their individuality. Today in our reading we see that God gave Abraham a new identity rooted in separation from the world around him, yet with a definite purpose.
Genesis depicts the crucial role naming plays in transmitting identity. As God created, He named (Gen. 1:5). Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:20), and parents named their children. When God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, we should understand that He is remaking Abraham into something new.
Some suggest that God instituted circumcision for issues of hygiene. This may be partly true, but the command to circumcise meant much more than this. God gave this command just after reminding Abraham about his role in creating a new people of God. Circumcision obviously involves Abraham’s reproductive capacity and his role in the creation of new life. The practice of circumcision would distinguish Abraham physically, and it would also remind him of God’s promise.
All males in Abraham’s house, regardless of ethnicity or status, received circumcision (v. 27). Even before Isaac’s birth, Abraham “fathers” many nations. The blessings Ishmael received (v. 20) foreshadow this. Later, God commanded Israel to observe distinctive habits in things like food and dress. As with circumcision, these practices were never meant as an end in themselves. Their carefully cultivated difference reinforced their role as a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). God’s people sojourn in the world not for ourselves only, but that others might follow.
Apply the Word
Romans 12:2 exhorts, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” This contrasts our creation in God’s image with our desire to make a home in this fallen creation. Like Abraham, we are to sojourn with God in order to bless those around us. We may have to make changes that allow us to better reflect our true home and great hope in His presence.