Genesis (Part 70)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 17:15-21

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

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“God” = אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:—angels, × exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), × (very) great, judges, × mighty.

“Sarai” = שָׂרַי Sâray, saw-rah’-ee; from H8269; dominative; Sarai, the wife of Abraham:—Sarai.; שַׂר sar, sar; from H8323; a head person (of any rank or class):—captain (that had rule), chief (captain), general, governor, keeper, lord,(-task-)master, prince(-ipal), ruler, steward.; “Princess”

“Sarah” = שָׂרָה Sârâh, saw-raw’; the same as H8282; Sarah, Abraham’s wife:—Sarah.; שָׂרָה sârâh, saw-raw’; feminine of H8269; a mistress, i.e. female noble:—lady, princess, queen.;

Occasionally the exercise of being a non-expert who tries to understand the original language leads to confusion. Here… I do not have the context to understand the significance of the name change from the definitions alone. We will thus look to the Commentaries for help.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(15) Sarai.—Probably princely, an adjective of the same form as shaddai, Genesis 17:1; while Sarah means princess. The change of name shows that she was admitted to the covenant. (Comp. Genesis 17:10.)

From The Pulpit Commentary:

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.Verse 15. – And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, – who, not having hitherto been mentioned in any of the promises, is now expressly taken into covenant, and accordingly receives a new name (cf. Ver. 5; Genesis 32:28Revelation 3:12) – thou shalt not call her name Sarai, – “my princess” (Gesenius); “princely, noble” (Ikenins, Rosenmüller, Keil, Delitzsch); “the heroine” (Knobel); “strife, contention” (Ewald, Murphy), with special reference to her struggle against sterility. (Kalisch) – but Sarah “princess” (Gesenius), the meaning being that, whereas formerly she was Abram’s princess only, she was henceforth to be recognized as a princess generally, i.e. as the mother of the Church (Jerome, Augustine), or as princess to the Lord, the letter A being taken from the name Jehovah, as in the change of Abram into Abraham (the Rabbis); though Ikenius and Rosenmüller derive from an Arabic root, sara, to have a numerous progeny – shall her name be.

The latter commentary gives a more clear explanation of the meaning behind the change in names. We also see here that Sarah was taken into and made a part of the covenant between God and Abraham. Remember that previously, she was not directly included and that her lack of inclusion led her to believe that the covenant would be fulfilled through Abraham and Hagar.

Abraham was a relatively old seventy-five when he left his home city following God’s promise to him. Now a quarter century has passed and he is still waiting. God rewards Abraham’s patient faith and tells him here that Sarah will bear him a child a year from now. How does Abraham respond? He laughs.

The Pulpit Commentary clarifies that the nature of the laughter.

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?Verse 17. – Then Abraham fell upon his face (vide Ver. 3), and laughed. וַיּצְחָק from צָחַק, to laugh. Cf. καχάζω καγχάζω, cachin-nor, German, kichern; καὶ ἀγέλασε (LXX.); rejoiced (Onkelos); marveled (Jerome, Targums); laughed for joy (Arabic version, Augustine, Calvin, Delitzsch, Keil, Murphy, et alii); not a smile of incredulity (Jerome, Chrysostom) or of diffidence (Kalisch), as partitionists assert in order to produce a contradiction between the Elohist and Jehovist of Genesis 15. And said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is (literally, to the son ofan hundred years old? A suggestion of natural reason which was overruled by faith (Calvin, Wordsworth), though better regarded as the exclamation of holy wonder, or as an illustration of believing not for joy (Inglis; cf. Luke 24:41). And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? Yes. What reason declared impossible was possible to faith. “He considered not the deadness of Sarah s womb” (Romans 4:19).

More on Abraham’s reaction from David Guzik’s Commentary:

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?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

a. Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed: Abraham’s laugh didn’t seem to be one of cynical doubt, but of rejoicing in something he knew was impossible by all outward appearance, but that God could perform.

b. Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? He knew both he and Sarah were well past the time people normally have children. Yet, in the presence of Him whom he believed; God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. (Romans 4:17-21)

c. Oh, that Ishmael might live before You! At the same time, Abraham didn’t really understand God’s promise completely. He perhaps thought God simply meant Ishmael would be Sarah’s “spiritual son.” Abraham – like all of us – found it hard to trust God for more than what he can conceive of.

We see here in verse 18 that Abraham has concern for his son Ishmael who is at this point thirteen years old. He does not know what any of this means for his son. From Ellicott:

(18) O that Ishmael . . . —For thirteen years Ishmael had been the “son of the house” (Genesis 15:3), and regarded probably as the true heir. Mingled then with Abraham’s joy there was also the pain, natural to a father, of knowing that this transference of the promise to Sarah’s child meant the deposition and disappointment of one who for so long had held the post of honour. Stoicism would have repressed this upright and natural feeling, but God hears and accepts the father’s prayers; and while the birthright and religious pre-eminence is justly given to the son of the freewoman, there is a large earthly blessing for the handmaid’s son.

In verse 19, God (from the plural ‘elohiym throughout this section) replies to Abraham’s reply and addresses his concerns. Again from Ellicott:

(19) Indeed.—In the Hebrew this word comes first, and is intended to remove all doubt or desire for any other turn of affairs. It should be rendered, “And God said, For a certainty Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son.”

Thou shalt call his name Isaac.—That is, he laughs. The name was to be a perpetual memorial that Isaac’s birth was naturally such an impossibility as to excite ridicule.

“Isaac” = יִצְחָק Yitschâq, yits-khawk’; from H6711; laughter (i.e. mochery); Jitschak (or Isaac), son of Abraham:—Isaac. Compare H3446.; צָחַק tsâchaq, tsaw-khak’; a primitive root; to laugh outright (in merriment or scorn); by implication, to sport:—laugh, mock, play, make sport.

God also addresses Abraham’s concerns regarding Ishmael in verse 20. Form The Pulpit Commentary:

And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.Verse 20 – And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee (meaning, also, “and will grant thy prayer; an allusion to the significance of the name Ishmael, “God hears”): Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he begot (videGenesis 25:12-16), and I will make him a great nation.

The section of verses ends though with God clarifying that the covenant will run through Isaac and not through Ishmael.

But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. Verse 21. – But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year (cf. Genesis 21:2).

Verse 21 is also the first timetable that Abraham has been given in the quarter century of God giving him promises and speaking with him. We arguably see something of God’s character in these last few chapters. God is less concerned with the natural than the spirit. He seems to delight in doing the “naturally” impossible when He receives faith and belief from His people. God is also not a God who feels rushed. He seems to want a people who are also not rushed. There are numerous subsequent verses throughout the Bible which refer to “waiting on the Lord.”

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