Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
The Humility of Abram
Then Abram fell on his face. Abraham adopts a classical position of worship; he prostrates himself. The prostration has at least a two-fold significance. First, to lay on the ground is to lower oneself. It is a symbolic gesture of humility and recognition that the other is greater. Abram knows the LORDis greater than himself. The LORD is a mysterious and powerful figure. He is, in fact, the king of Abram and Abram’s descendants. Any sense of entitlement or, at this point in the relationship, equality between the LORD Abram would be absurd. Second, a profound prostration places the face upon the ground. It is a recognition that one should not even look upon the greater party. To see God is to die, as the Hebrew Scriptures often repeat. The mystery of the LORD is not comprehensible by a human person and must not be approached in a human manner. Once Abram has adopted the appropriate external disposition before the LORD, God speaks.
A Gracious Covenant
[T]his is my covenant with you. Notice the LORD is asserting ownership over the covenant. He does not say, “This is our covenant,” as we might expect. Rather, the covenant and its offering belong entirely to the LORD. Commentators, by way of comparing this text to other scriptural texts and secular covenantal texts, often say that covenant is a reward meted out for good deads. Perhaps there is some element of this in the text. However, the LORD's decree separates itself from the concreteness of Abram’s actions or merit and makes the covenant, principally, a divine favor. The LORD has chosen Abram and has does so in his own freedom.
Abram Our Father
You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. At a historical and literal level, the promise of a
multitude of nation refers to the biological descendants of Abram: the Ismaelites, Midianite, Edomites and the Hebrew people. However, a spiritual and broader sense cannot be excluded. The statement by the LORD is too large to be pinned down to a few ancient peoples. The Hebrew word hāmôn has the connotation of a
great army or a
multitude. It is too large an idea to be reduced to a few groups. A spiritual reading naturally arises from the promise. All those who look to Abram as their father are considered his offspring. The
multitude of nations could even encompass the whole world if people would choose Abram as did the LORD.
A New Name
[Y]our name shall be Abraham. Not only will the blessing of the LORD increase the offspring of Abram, it will increase his name! As the patriarch and inheritor of a new covenant, the name
Abram is no longer fitting. His old name, his old identity, cannot contain the promises of God. Abram is renamed, and in a sense transformed into, Abraham. Etymologically the change indicates little.
Descendants of Abraham, Descendants of Covenant
The new covenant is everlasting. There is not an explicitly expressed condition on the covenant, i.e. the LORD will remain faithful even if the descendants do not. While this theme is taken up and nuanced by the Deuteronomist, in its origin it is unconditional. As discussed in my previous post, The Bronze Serpent and the Transformation of Evil, God’s will is not frustrated by human choice. The divine freedom is perfect and without diminishing or interfering in human freedom, is able to achieve its will. This fact is a great message of hope to those who consider themselves descendants of Abraham. There is no need to fear sin and evil because the covenant once made cannot be annulled. The descendants of Abraham will receive all that the LORD has promised them.
 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 124.
 Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 250–251.
 E. A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, vol. 1, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 124.