Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 - A covenant to walk in love forevermore

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.


God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”


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This is the Old Testament reading selection for the second Sunday in Lent, Year B, according to the Episcopal Church’s lectionary. It precedes a reading from Pauls’ letter to the Romans, in which he uses the story of Abraham as being relative to Jesus Christ and faith. It also is read before Psalm 22, where David sang, “My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord's for ever,” which reflects the faith of Abraham, Paul, and Jesus. Finally, this history of Judaic lineage precedes the Gospel reading from Mark, when Jesus foretold his death, leading to him warning his followers to pick up their crosses of faith, or forget about inheriting anything heavenly.


This reading begins by making a point of stating the age of Abram. For us today, ninety-nine would be well beyond normal expectations for life in the flesh. Knowing that Abraham lived to be one hundred seventy-five years, at ninety-nine he had lived 56% of his life. In today’s standards of living eighty years, 56% would equate to the age of forty-five. For a male American today to not have children by the age of forty-five, most would have little desire to go through the challenge of raising a baby and caring for it until one’s retirement years. But, that reflects the selfish nature of these times, when there are few males who have children when they are one hundred and fewer who live to be one hundred seventy-five.


The telling of Abram’s age serves two purposes. The first is it says Abram was not a descendant of ordinary blood. Being a descendant of Noah (from Shem), who lived to be nine hundred fifty (Shem lived to be five hundred), the age of Abram says he was born of holy blood. Abrams’ father, Terah, lived to be two hundred five years. (Genesis 11:32) Still, the second purpose lets the attentive reader realize that it had been twenty-four years since Abram left Haran, as commanded by God when Abram was seventy-five. (Genesis 12:4) That says Abram had clearly been devoted to God, along with Sarai, for quite some time, dating back to when they married while living in Ur [perhaps sixty years earlier]. Thus, it is important to realize those years of service to God that led to this conversation about to take place.


The translation presented by the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] above, has God tell Abram, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” This comes after we read, “the Lord appeared to Abram.” Both of these statements should be taken as absolute truth, but they need to be understood in terms of Abram being a long-time servant of God.


From jumping ahead in the Holy Bible and knowing all about Moses, we have an understanding that God told Moses that no one can look upon the Lord and live. That knowledge needs to be brought back to this reading, so we can clearly see the truth of what is written [it was all dictated by Moses, many years after the fact, from divine visions of pertinent history]. Sleep is metaphor for death, meaning dreams are visions in a dead state of being. When in a dead state of being, one can have a “face-to-face” meeting with God.


Moses would enter the tent of meeting and once in that chamber he probably went into a deep sleep state, when he then had God appear before him. In this same way, Abram had “the Lord appear to him” in a dream. It should be realized [from having read his story in Genesis] that this was not the first time God spoke with Abram; so, it is important to see Abram was a prophet of the Lord who regularly had God appear before him and give him instructions.


From there the statement to Abram was made, but it cannot be read like an introduction that tells Abram, “I am God Almighty.” The two were already well acquainted. That means the Hebrew needs to be closely inspected.


The Hebrew written [realizing Hebrew has no capital letters] is as follows:


’ă·nî-’êl šad·day” – “I god of the land” ,


hiṯ·hal·lêḵ lə·p̄ā·nay weh·yêh ṯā·mîm” – “walk with face and be blameless” .


There is no need for God to announce His greatness. As God [Yahweh] speaking to Abram, His name needs no embellishment. Thus, God spoke of “el,” which is a “god” [in the singular number], that is “shadday” or a god of the world, land, fields. This is then a statement not about God – Yahweh – but about Abram. It says “You are Me incarnate in the flesh. As Me, You are a “god of the earth.”


In the second part, the word “walk” [from “halak”] becomes a statement of how far Abram has “come,” while also a statement of how far he will “go,” because he has become the vehicle of “god on earth.” Wherever Abram “walks,” so too does God.


Next is a word that clearly says “face,” but one that is regularly translated as “before me.” There can be no human being ever who walks before God, as “before” becomes a statement of greater than, or a leader of God, making God be seen as a follower. The root Hebrew word, “panim [sing.] or paneh [plur.],” means “face or faces.” This word becomes key in understanding the first Commandment given to Moses.


There, the Hebrew states: “lō yih·yeh-lə·ḵā ’ĕ·lō·hîm ’ă·ḥê·rîm ‘al-pā·nā·ya,” with the last word again a form of “panim.” The standard translation says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” but the literal translation says, “not you shall have gods other [as your] face [before my face].” The first Commandment says no one can come before God [in a meeting or an appearance] as self. To be received by God you must wear the face of God, as only one who has been possessed by God can enjoy the presence of God. Without oneself wearing the face of God, one is thinking one's ego is a god [an elohim]. Thus, here in Genesis, God told Abram in a dream, “As Me in You on earth, you walk with My face, which makes You walk without sin.”

See the masks of Mardi Gras as symbolizing the face of self-pleasure worn for the last time, before the face of self comes off on Ash Wednesday and the face of God is then worn forevermore.


This becomes a significant statement that Abram had long before sacrificed any and all forms of self-ego, so he only wore the face of God as he went through life. When we read that Moses’ face would glow greatly after meeting with God, the Israelites made him wear a veil to cover the face of God, or else they feared they would die from looking at God. Certainly Jesus wore the face of God in the same regular way as did Abram, which was evidenced every time Jesus said, “I do not speak for me, but for the Father.” That means wearing the face of God is a requirement to “walk blamelessly,” or live a life of righteousness.


This quote by God then leads to him telling Abram of a promise He was making to him. A promise made by God is thus a covenant. Still, a covenant with God implies an agreement being made between God and the one to who God makes a covenant, such that the one receiving God's good will will continue to be the face of God on earth. [One's face still looks like one's face, as God is invisible; but one's face has a glow of holiness surrounding it - a halo.]


Simply by understanding that God does not make Covenants with just anybody, such that Abram had long proved his metal to God [think about that in Lenten terms], God was giving to Abram the one thing he knew Abram wanted, but never asked for [begging for self is selfish]. In addition, God was giving to Sarai the one thing she had long wanted, but could never reward her husband with – a son. Sarai was also a long devoted servant of God, but she had never made demands of God to make her pregnant. She did not blame God for her being barren, thus she too was "blameless." All of this must be seen as God caring for those who serve Him unconditionally.


As a purposeful selection for the second Sunday in Lent, this story of a covenant between God and Abram [and by extension Sarai] is told one week after a purposeful selection that told of the covenant between God and Noah. This trend forces one to realize that humans having been long dedicated to serving God [Noah five hundred years; Abram ninety-nine years] do not go unrewarded. The stories of Noah and Abram [largely unwritten in the Holy Bible] say these men were upright and righteous, which means they listened to the voice of God telling them what to do. As they did what God told them to do, God supported them in those tasks. Both Noah and Abram are then projections of how we should listen for God’s lead, act upon having gained a good conscience, and thank God for leading us, rather than demand God do more to please us.


The symbolism of the Lenten experience – forty days of self-sacrifice – is not about recognizing the time Jesus spent in the wilderness of Judea and it is not about us being asked to give up one indulgence – one recognizable sin of selfishness – because Lent is a marker in one’s personal life, relative to when one ceased wearing the face of self-ego and began wearing the face of God. Once one puts on the face of God there is no end to that subservience. Thus, the lesson of this reading is hearing the voice of God say to you – from within – “I am the god of the land. Walk on holy ground forever wearing the face of God and being blameless for only doing what God has led you to do.”


All of the seasons of the liturgical year are set up the same way. None of them are expectations to remember the life of Jesus and force one to believe Jesus did this and Jesus did that. Jesus is the model for all who seek to serve God. Serving God cannot be done alone. Serving God demands one become married to God, through the receipt of His Holy Spirit, it then becoming meshed irrevocably with one’s soul.

  • Advent is when an individual servant of God remembers when he or she first felt the need to serve.

  • Christmas is when one first felt the birth pangs of a new being within.

  • The Epiphany is when one realized Jesus Christ has been born within and one is no longer wearing the face of selfishness.

  • Lent is about one’s test of commitment to God.

  • Easter is about the death of all past connections to sin and the resurrection within one’s soul to the state of Apostle-Saint, when one no longer keeps God a secret experience.

  • Pentecost is when one truly walks in the name of Jesus Christ, as a minister or priest that tells the world God wants to marry them too.

Thus, the seasons call believers to become the faithful, through coming to know God and Jesus Christ personally – not through stories told us about someone else’s life.


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