God’s covenant with Abraham unfolds in the course of several episodes in the first half of Genesis. In Gen. 12:1-3, God first called Abram in Haran and announced his promise to him. Here he commanded Abram to move forward to a new land in faith, forsaking the life that he once knew, and as a result God would bless him so that he would become a great nation, a nation that would bless the entire world, a nation that would eventually topple all who stood against it. God repeated and expanded on this promise to Abram several times in the following chapters – Gen. 13:14-16, 15:5, 17:1-8 and 22:17-18. In Gen. 17, as God once more renewed this covenant with Abram, he gave two signs of this covenant to Abraham: he commands Abram to be circumcised (17:9-27) and he renames Abram, changing him from Abram to Abraham (17:5).
Abram’s name originally meant – “Father is exalted.” Remember that he was born in Ur and, according to Josh 24:2, his father worshipped the pagan gods of Ur. Therefore, it is likely that this “exalted father” was not necessarily God the Father. But God changed Abram’s name, making him a new kind of father. He added the Hebrew word hamon to his name. Our English translation renders this as “many nations.” This is accurate as the translation of the passage into Greek in Rom. 4:17 shows us. However, it is a very mild translation of a very vivid image. Hamon specifically refers to a noise.
This image is consistent with the promises of God to Abraham that pile up throughout Genesis. Consider a brief overview of the covenant with Abraham.
First we see the continued promise that this was something that would be realized through Abraham’s children. This was surprising to Abraham because when the promise first came (Gen. 12 and Gen 15), Abraham had no children because his wife was barren. But the promise was that Sarah would give him a son. Even when Abraham’s name was changed (Gen. 17), he still had not had a son by Sarah and was hoping that the promise could be realized through Ishmael. But God promised that this great blessing would come through Abraham’s children.
Second, we see that this was a promise of blessing. God promised Abraham “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2) “blessing I will bless you” (Gen. 22:17). But the way that God would bless Abraham was by turning Abraham into a blessing for the world.
“I will bless those that bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Gen. 12:3). God sends his covenanted people into the world and those that receive them with blessing receive also the blessing of God’s covenant, with the result that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, cf. 22:18).
Third, we see that the promise went from a single seed to innumerable descendents, from a single nation, to all nations, from a single land, to all of the world. “I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6)
“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).
And they would be an innumerable host. “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then you descendants also could be numbered” (Gen. 13:16). ‘Then he brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward the heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Gen. 15:5). “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17).
The New Testament
But the authors of the New Testament reveal to us that there is even more to this promise. First, the Apostle Paul tells us in Gal. 3:8-9 that this covenant with Abraham was actually the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Abraham got up and left his family, left his people, left his country and went where God told him to go, that was him hearing the Gospel. And when you receive the Gospel, you receive the same blessing, which he received, and you become that same blessing to the world.
Second, Paul argues here that not only was Abraham receiving the same Gospel which we receive, he also says that Abraham received that Gospel the same way that we receive it – through faith. In Gal. 3:6 and in Rom. 4:3, he points out that Abraham received this promise, not by works of the law, but by believing in it just like us. “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Gal. 3:9).
Third, Paul argues in Rom. 4 that not only did Abraham receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but we have also received the promises that were given to Abraham (Rom. 4:16). Who is the seed of Abraham? Those who have his faith. And those who have an Abrahamic faith, have the Abrahamic promises.
This means that back when we were trying to understand what it meant for Abraham to be promised that his descendents would be hamon nations and we were imagining the army getting suited up for battle, we were picturing ourselves. We are the blessing to the world, because we carry the Gospel to the world. “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Mat. 28:19).
This means that we are an advancing force. Abraham was promised, “your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen. 22:17). That only happens when you are marching on your enemies’ strongholds. When Rebekah left to marry Isaac, here brothers prophesied of the blessing that she was stepping into “Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them” (Gen. 24:60). And Jesus, knowing that his church was the seed that inherited this promise said of the church “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mat. 16:18).
So in the week to come think about where God has put you on offense. Where can you advance this week? You are called to be a blessing to the world. Where do you have opportunities to be that blessing? Where is the world encountering you and having to make up its mind as whether it will respond to you with blessing or cursing?