This chapter gives the account of the fifth appearance of God to Abram in which a divine covenant was made. At this point his name was changed from Abram, which means exalted father, to Abraham, which means, the father of a multitude. The change was significant, as it placed emphasis not upon the importance of the man, but upon the purpose of God through him. Here Jehovah announced Himself as El-Shaddai, the full meaning of which is God all-sufficient.
Abraham yielded himself to the revelation in adoring prostration and thus entered into a yet higher region of fellowship. It was now that the symbol of circumcision was appointed. This was to be an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible relationship. It is well to remind ourselves that while this rite was indeed the sign of a spiritual relationship, it was by no means capricious and cruel but hygienic and beneficent. Medical science has now set its seal on the value of the rite.
At this point also the name of Sarai was changed to Sarah. The meaning of the old name is uncertain. The meaning of the new is Princess, in that she was to be the mother of nations. Abraham's laughter, unlike Sarah's later, was the laughter of gladness; and if the questions asked seem to suggest doubt, the fact of asking them on his face before God is evidence of the triumph of faith.
It was now that Abraham, in communion, gave expression to something that was evidently pulling at his heart. Ishmael was dear to him. The answer of God was not discipline, but the realization of a divine purpose. God is ever patient with us when the heart clings in affection to some method which is not His own. However, He never allows the man of faith to have his own way. There is a kindness which would be cruel. There is an apparent cruelty which is of the essence of kindness.
the Second Week after Epiphany