Genesis 17:1–8

171 When Abram was ninety and nine years old, YHWH appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk in my presence and be blameless. I set a covenant between us and multiply you greatly.” Abram flung himself on his face, and God spoke, “As for me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of a throng of nations. Your name will no longer be Abram but Abraham, father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful and turn you into nations and king upon kings. I will establish my covenant with you and your seed throughout the generations, a covenant for the ages to be God to you and your seed. I will give you and your seed after you the land in which you travel, the whole land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession, and I will be God to them.”

Just prior to turning to a new page, a new stage of life, a new century, Abram has another encounter with G*D. With Melchizedek, we heard a reference to El Elyon—The Sky God, Most High. Now we hear another ancient designation—El Shaddai—The God of Mountains or The God of Fertility. Given the context, the reference to fertility is the most apt.

After the identification of who is visiting Abram, we hear the deal being proposed (or reconfirmed from the ritual in Chapter 15), “Do as we agreed and I’ll do as I agreed.”

[Note: The “walk” talk is connected to the old story of Enoch, who didn’t die but walked “with” G*D. Here that “walk” is distanced to suggest a following of instructions.]

We hear, again, a promise of a prolific family tree to come. We might begin to anticipate Eliza Dolittle singing, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. All I get from you are words (promises).”

Although there is still an implied hierarchy to an agreement between YHWH and Abram (vs. a partnership such as with ’adam and Eve* in their cool-of-the-evening conversations and with Enoch), Abram is given a new name to indicate a change in the relationship. This name change gives readers a hint that the heretofore promises might begin to come to pass. It still must be asked if this is simply an upgraded title that comes with no increase in benefits.

Exit Abram—Exalted High Father; Enter Abraham—Exalted High Father. The meaning of the names doesn’t change. This formal change in status is not unlike a Pope taking a name to reflect who he comprehends himself to be. Here there is no substantive shift from Abram to Abraham—a change that is no change.The old deal is the new deal—fruitful descendants, everlastingly connected to YHWH (without a mention of slavery), military and economic power, and land.

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