When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you … God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.” Genesis 17.1-6, 15.
There are any number of things that I could pick out from this passage to think and write about this morning; but one thing in particular has stood out for me, so I’ll go with that … It is the change of name for both Abram and Sarai — the way that name-change was made, and what it might signify.
Abraham’s birth-name ‘abram means “exalted father” (‘ab is “father”, ram is “exalted”) but God breathes into it — in Hebrew, he adds an aspirate, the single letter he — and turns it into a word meaning “father of a multitude”. Likewise God takes Sarai’s birth-name saray which means “nobility” and breaths into that too, turning it into a word that means “princess”.
Surely we are meant to see here that God is doing for Abram and Sarai what he did with the piece of clay that was Adam. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2.7). Just as the breath of God brought life to Adam, so it is now bringing fertility to Abram and Sarai, and the literal breath, the aspirant, that God has introduced into both their names is both a symbol of that and the assurance of its truth.
Breath and wind and spirit are one and the same word in both Hebrew and Greek — ruach and pneuma respectively; so it is the Spirit of God that is being given to Abram and Sarai to be their divine enabling … to make the impossible become a reality. (We catch this identification between breath and spirit in English in that great hymn where we invite the Holy Spirit to fill us by using the words, “Breathe on me, Breath of God …”)
I note that God tells Abraham here, “I have made you the father of many nations” — past tense. In God’s eternity, beyond time, it is already accomplished, and the Spirit in Abraham and Sarah will now bring it to pass in time. Abraham and Sarah must just believe God and wait for it to happen, however hard (at the ages of 99 and 90 respectively) they might find it. I once heard a speaker remark how embarrassing Abraham’s new name must have been for him until Isaac was born …
“And your name is?”
“Abraham, eh. Interesting name. ‘Father of a multitude’. Wow! So how many children do you actually have?”
“Er … well … er … not that many, in a manner of speaking. That is to say, none … at the moment … actually.”
What is it that God wants to accomplish in me today that is quite beyond all possibility? The Breath of God can bring it about. Someone has said that the Breath of God turns the impossible into the him-possible.
We are still in the first few days of Easter and these thoughts this morning have now led me back to the upper room in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday evening. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20.19-22).
The mission of God, whatever that might be for me, can be accomplished only in the power of the Holy Spirit. I need Jesus to breathe on me today … to, as it were, put an “h” in my name (though quite where it would fit in “Neil” I’m not sure!) For only if he will do that, can anything that now, to my mind, seems beyond the range of possibility be brought into reality.
God is at work in us, His purpose to perform
building a kingdom of power not of words;
where things impossible by faith shall be made possible:
let’s give the glory to Him now.
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is in you —
the hope of glory in our hearts.
He lives, He lives!
His breath is in you.
Arise! A mighty army we arise!