Explore: A new name

The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 1 focuses on Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22.

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The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 1 focuses on Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22.

This is one of the most Christ-centered passages in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples to supplement your teaching.

A long wait fulfilled

God finally revealed to Abram, age 99, his grand plan. The promise made long ago finally would be fulfilled long after Abram expected. Based on Abram’s response, I’m sure he was quite shocked. Later in the story, he even laughs. It reminds me of a sermon title I borrowed from a book written by John Bisagno: “Don’t Be Surprised When God Surprises You.”

If we fast-forward to the opening of the New Testament, we find a harassed Israel, waiting so much longer than they expected for this promise of God to be fulfilled. Desperate for relief from the oppression of the Roman Empire, Israel was looking for a conquering king, a fearless ruler, indeed a national savior. And in a way they didn’t expect, they received it all—except Jesus came to be a spiritual leader and the Savior not only of Israel but the whole world.

It’s about multiplication, not addition

From the beginning of God’s call to Abram, God made it clear he would increase Abram’s family in number. Through this one man, Abram, God would create a nation, a blessed nation, and would multiply not only his offspring, but also his blessing: “Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers” (Genesis 17:2). 

Greatly increase! One can’t help but think about the beginning of God’s holy church when, time and time again in Acts, we learn many were added to their number daily. The kingdom of God never has been about a trickle effect of just a few entering his kingdom. No, it always has been about a flood of people entering his kingdom, making a holy nation that belongs to him alone. And it’s all through one promised coming king right here in the story of Abram.

 Face to the ground

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“Abram fell face down, and God said to him,” (Genesis 17:3). This seems like an insignificant verse, but this is not the case. Repeatedly in Scripture, we find people encountering God, unable to stand in his presence. Many of the Old Testament characters fall on their faces before our holy God. In the Gospels, we find many people, especially those who are healed by Jesus, falling at his feet in worship.

In one of the more comical recordings of Scripture, we find people who don’t even believe Jesus is the Messiah falling in his presence. As Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, John reports that Jesus, knowing full well what would happen, asked the mob of soldiers who they were seeking. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. When Jesus said, “I am he,” they withdrew back and fell to the ground (John 18:5-6). I love that Jesus used part of his great name, “I Am” in the phrase “I am he.” People simply can’t stand in the presence of our God. Not Abram, not those Jesus healed, not the arresting soldiers and one glorious day, neither you nor I. In fact, the Bible teaches “every knee will bow” one day in the presence of the Messiah, from every tongue, tribe and nation.

A name change

“No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). And the exact king God mentions to Abram, now called Abraham, is the exact king, Jesus the Christ, who has name-changing power. It’s interesting that in some cases, God changed the names of new believers in the New Testament. Of course, Saul being changed to Paul stands out as the hallmark name change. There is some evidence the early church changed people’s names, as they became followers of The Way.

In a sense, God changes the name of every believer: Christian. It literally means “little Christ.” We become his adopted sons and daughters. We were children of this sinful world. Jesus made us children of the Most High God.

Jesus gives us an everlasting name: “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it known only to the one who receives it. … I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name” (Revelation 2:17; 3:12).

The Christ-centered parallels go on and on

Sarah was 90 years old when God reported to Abraham she would become pregnant. In Jesus’ birth narrative, John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, are explained this way: “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7).

Yes indeed: “Don’t be surprised when God surprises you.”

Application ideas for your Bible study group:

1. There are other parallels as well. But, I would much rather you lead your Bible study group to find them. What other parallels can you find? 

2. I’ve always been interested in people’s middle names, probably because I don’t like my own! Ask your group to each tell their middle names. Then ask: “Why do you think God wanted to change Abram and Sarai’s names? How does this parallel how God changes the names of new believers?

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