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. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 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. – Genesis 17:1-7
God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her 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 give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” – Genesis 17:15-16
It’s hard to imagine how Abram must have felt in our lectionary reading for today. Here Abram was a 99 year old man minding his own business when the voice of the God of the universe began speaking directly to him! More than that, God promised to make his descendants into “a multitude of nations” that would live forever in the promised land of Canaan. The newly named Abraham’s only part in this new covenant would be to walk with God and remain humble and “blameless.” While this deal with the divine was an incredible gift to what would become the nation of Israel, we know that the people failed over and over again in their simple calling to faithfulness and obedience.
As Christians today, we live under a new, better covenant with God. The righteousness that Israel could never achieve is ours in Christ whose life, death, and resurrection has provided a way back to God by grace through faith. Although our covenant with God may be different, we still serve the same God of Abraham who promises to bless the faithful and has prepared an unimaginable inheritance for the people of God. Instead of an earthly kingdom, though, we seek the inbreaking of God’s will (or the kingdom of heaven) amongst all nations and peoples. One day we will see the ultimate fulfillment of the ancient promises to Abraham when Jesus returns and we live in God’s presence forever in the new heavens and new earth!