Reaffirming God's Promises
Over thirteen years have passed since God has last talked to Abram. God once again reaffirms his promise with Abram and gives Abram more details about how that promise would be fulfilled. God declares himself to be God Almighty. The Hebrew phrase is El Shadday, which can be literally translated as God Self-Sustaining. God's power and might come from no one else, but himself.
In the previous promise, God takes on all obligations to fulfill the covenant, but this time, God gives Abram requirements to be fulfilled. Abram must continue to be blameless before God. Blamelessness does not mean that Abram must never sin, but that he must live a life that people would not associate with sinfulness. You probably have known people that when something has gone wrong, people first think of them. A blameless person is the last person you would think would commit a sin. It doesn't mean they do not sin, but they manage to avoid sin so well that you do not associate sin with them.
God also requires that Abram change his name to Abraham. Abram means "father", but Abraham means "father of a multitude." By using that name, Abraham is declaring to the world that he believes God's promise. It is interesting that from this point on, only the name Abraham is used. Later, we will see that a man named Jacob who has his name changed to Israel, but he does not consistently use his new name. Consider how much faith Abraham must have had in God to call himself a father of a multitude when at the age of 99 he has sired only one child. Even though he has other children later in life, during his lifetime the child of God's promise only has two boys. Abraham called himself a father of a multitude, but he never saw that multitude while he lived on this earth.
As a sign or witness to the covenant, God requires all men of Abraham's household and their descendants be circumcised. Every child born into these households was to be circumcised when the child was eight days old. The requirement even included servants showing that even the slaves became full beneficiaries of the covenant. Anyone who was not circumcised would not benefit from the provisions of God's covenant.
This is the first time God required circumcision for his followers. The practice did not exist prior to this time. Later, God explains that circumcision represented certain spiritual values. It was a humbling of oneself before God and the removal of stubbornness from that person's heart (Jeremiah 4:4, Deuteronomy 10:16). With stubbornness removed, the followers of this covenant could open their hearts to love God (Deuteronomy 30:6).
Sarai's name was also changed to Sarah. Both names mean "princess." Some commentators believe that Sarah was a more formal version of the name. This is the first indication that Sarah would be the mother of the child of promise. At this news, Abraham laughs, not in disbelief, but in joy and wonderment that Sarah would be able to have a child after all these years. At this time, Sarah is ninety years old, well past the age when most women have children. Because of Abraham's laughter, God requires that the child born will be called Isaac, which means "laughter."
Now that Abraham realizes that Ishmael will not be the beneficiary of God's covenant, he expresses his desire that Ishmael would also serve God. God does bless Ishmael, stating that twelve princes would descend from him. These twelve princes were the founders the Arab nations.
As soon as God left Abraham, he had his entire household circumcised. Ishmael was thirteen when he was circumcised. Many Arabs continue to practice circumcision at the age of thirteen to this day.
Later, God appears to Abraham while he was resting near his door during the hottest part of the day. It is interesting that the passage doesn't say that an angel appears to Abraham, but that God himself appears. Abraham doesn't see God as God, but instead he sees three men suddenly standing near him. The wording indicates that Abraham did not see the men approaching, but was startled to see them standing nearby. To stand by a person's tent, waiting for recognition is similar to our practice of knocking on a door. Abraham jumps up, welcomes his guests, and offers a meal to them. He has Sarah bake bread from approximately twenty quarts of flour. He has a servant butcher a choice calf raised specifically for use in a special occasion and roast portions of the meat. All of these preparations probably took a few hours. Abraham oversaw all the preparations and personally served the meal to his guests. Nowhere in the text does it indicate that Abraham was aware of whom his guests were (Hebrews 13:2). These were the preparations Abraham would make for any guests.
The men ask where was Abraham's wife, Sarah. This should have alerted Abraham that something unusual was going on. Typically, the wife of the household stayed hidden when guests were being entertained. If these men were truly strangers, they should not have known the name of Abraham's wife. By asking about Sarah, the men would have gained Sarah's attention. One of the men then states that Sarah would have a child within one year. Sarah would have known of the promise that God had made to Abraham, but the idea that a stranger, who had never seen her, would state that a ninety-year-old woman would have a baby struck Sarah as ridiculous. She laughed to herself at the idea. However, the man asked Abraham why Sarah was laughing. The man could not see Sarah, nor could he have heard her giggling within herself. In addition to these points startling knowledge, the man then quotes the very ideas that Sarah was thinking! Obviously, these men were not who they seem to be (Psalms 44:21; I Corinthians 4:5). Sarah, fearful of these strangers, denied laughing. However, the man, who is now called the Lord, insisted that she had laughed.
Before we continue on, notice that Sarah refers to Abraham as her lord in Genesis 18:12. This verse is cited by Peter, in I Peter 3:6, as an example of a submissive attitude in a wife. Notice, too, that Sarah referred to Abraham as her lord to herself. It was not just an outward title, but her inward attitude towards Abraham.