God is a God of totality--He works in totality. He makes sure He utilizes every available opportunity to pursue His plans--with perfection--and His very works justify this fact. Right from creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31, emphasis added). “Jesus, the Prince of life, gave all to bring salvation within our reach” (Ellen White, Adventist Home 480,emphasis added). He was going to draw all men unto Himself when lifted up (John 12:32), and the Gospel is to be preached to all nations (Matt 28:19).
In the same way, God expects His subjects to apply this principle of totality in all their ways. According to Jesus, loving God with the whole heart, soul and body is the first and greatest commandment (Matt 22:36, 37). He also said it is only the one who hates his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and his own life that can be His disciple (Luke 14:26) . Ellen White said, “we are not God's children unless we are such entirely.” (Steps to Christ 44, emphasis added). All these insinuate the idea of totality, implying that God wants every aspect (all faculties) of His subjects to be in His employment. An evidence of this is seen in His dealings with the patriarch Abraham.
The Patriarch Abraham
Abraham has been accorded the title “the father of the faithful” in Christendom. His outstanding records in the Bible with regard to his faith in God place him among the list of Christian heroes. In fact, Abraham’s life consisted of many episodes of faith (Gen 11:29-25:8), with each episode serving an example to Christians (1Cor 10:11). Among these episodes is one that seems to give him a unique identity perhaps among other Patriarchs. This particular episode has to do with his very name “Abraham.”
Abraham: the banner of faith (Gen 17:4-8)
“Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (King James Version, Gen. 17:5 emphasis added).
Both names (i.e. Abram and Abraham) connote “father”; Abram meaning an “exalted father” and Abraham meaning “father of nations or multitudes.” Both names could arouse one’s curiosity. Whilst the name “Abram” (exalted father) could arouse his contemporaries curiosity, not necessarily as to the status of a father, but rather to the adjective “exalted,” the name “Abraham” could have also aroused their curiosity--not necessarily to the status of a father as to the attached idea “nation” or multitudes.”
Evidences in the Bible (Gen 12:5, 16; Gen 13:2; 14) suggest that Abram had a lot in terms of material wealth which placed him among the wealthy people of his time. Like Joseph in Egypt, he might have also attained great status and fame, at least among the five nations whose people he rescued in his quest to free Lot (Gen 14:8-16). Hence any curiosity relating to the justification for the name Abram would have been met by his great possessions, both in material things and prestige. Therefore, any ambition by Abram to justify his name would have not been all that necessary, since he really was in an exalted position in terms of these things, and the subject of faith would have been a non-issue.
As already indicated, the name “Abraham” could also have drawn people’s attention to the qualification “multitudes or nations.” This would have had to do with the number of his biological descendants. Unfortunately, of the many people under his roof, Abraham had none except the young boy Ishmael, who still was not even the progenitor of the covenant (Gen 17:19-25). Thus unlike the name “Abram,” Abraham might have faced at least by two challenges in respect of the justification for his name. Aside from the personal struggle as to the certainty of God’s promise (Gen 17:17, 18), he still needed to justify the sense in bearing a name that contradicted his very status both within and without his household. Secondarily, since the promise (Gen 17:1-8) had a future fulfillment, it would seemed very ridiculous and his intelligence would have been questioned (mostly by those outside his household).
Significance of the name “Abraham”
Names, especially in Biblical times, were given much consideration. It is also clear that names were a medium of communication. Some names emerged with regard to circumstances surrounding the birth (e.g. Benoni (Gen 35:18), Ichabod (1 Sam 4:19-22), Jacob (Gen 25:26). Others were to communicate appreciation to God (e.g. Reuben, Simeon, Judah, and Joseph (Gen 29:31-30:24), and some were meant to communicate an intention (e.g. Levi, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun (Gen 29:34; 30:8, 11, 13, 18, 20). Customarily, names were given by parents, (either father or mother) and occasionally by God himself (Isaac (Gen 17:19) and Ishmael (Gen 16:11)). Like others, these names had unique purpose (i.e. communication). Like many other names, names such as Israel ( Gen 35:10) and Jesus (Mat 1:21) were used by God to communicates their identity or uniqueness. The names John (Luke 1:13) and Ishmael (Gen 16:11) were given to reveal God's nature; Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, Lo-ammi (Hos 1:3-9) to communicates His intention, and Abraham, Sarah and Isaac to communicate His promises.
As already indicated above, God wanted to use everything about Abraham, including his very name, as part of his faith adventure. The subject of absolute faith in Him was so dear that He would not let any little opportunity go waste. The name Abraham was to always remind him of the Lord’s promise (Gen 17:5)--without the promised child, he was left with nothing other than to trust in God, who alone could justify his name. Beyond that, He seemed to be teaching Abraham another lesson; that is, the need to always raise high his banner of faith. Jesus’ words on Matt 5:15, 16 underscore the need to make our faith in God known to the world and not to hide it.
Most Christians only accord God the titles good, merciful, gracious, loving, etc. after they have experienced these attributes of God. Thus, they only testify of their faith in God when the subject of their so-called faith is met or a prayer answered. They will proclaim His greatness and even encourage others to trust in Him, yet they would have done the opposite if their desires were not met.
Even when Abraham failed to believe in God’s promise (Gen 17:17), God still challenged him to proclaim to the world of his confidence in Him. Thus, faith should be a fixed principle, and should not depend on feelings. In the same way, his genuine relationship with God (Gen 18:19) allowed God to lead him through such an experience. This is what God expects from His subjects. In both situations, Abraham was still supposed to progress in his faith by raising it high as an indication of his absolute trust in God.
Only a few people might have been curious about Abraham's wandering from place to place, since it might have been a usual thing in the world then. But to have a name that suggests many children or descendants without having the so-called promise child (Gen 17:18-19) would have made his situation very ridiculous.
Yes, being relentless in our faith in God sometimes makes people question our intelligence and makes us the subject of stigmatization when the focus of our faith seems to be unrealistic. This is what some Christians fear, and as a result, deny their faith in God (either in words or actions). But any faith in God that cannot be expressed both in words and in actions when tested is mere presumption. Not a few preachers have ceased to encourage the church to trust in God in a particular subject (barrenness, poverty, joblessness, an ungodly child, an unfaithful husband, etc.) because they too are victims. And not a few Christians who wish to remain steadfast in their confidence in God do not even testify about Him anymore, because for a very long time, their sincere prayers have not been answered.
Fellow Christian, God calls us to raise high the banners of our faith. He intends that His knowledge and glory shall fill the whole world (Num 14:21, Isa 11:9, Hab 2:14). God had at least two promises for Abraham, and in both he expected him to show forth his confidence in Him. In his exodus from Mesopotamia in search for the promise land, Abraham testified to at least his own house of his faith in God’s promise (Gen 12:1; Acts 7:2-4). In the promise to make him father of nations, he bore the name Abraham, as an open declaration to the world of his absolute trust in God’s promise.
What adventure of faith are you having in the Lord? For a job, a child, a husband or wife, healing, etc.? Do you have your banner of faith raised high? What attitude do you have that tells the world that you still have absolute faith in God no matter the ill circumstances surrounding your adventure? Do you still praise God and talk of His goodness amidst all the ill circumstances, or are you waiting until the subject of your faith is met? Fellow Christians, it is necessary that we always raise high the banners of our faith irrespective of the circumstances. We have been given the story of the life of Abraham with respect to his very name as a lesson (1Cor 10:11). Lets consider the embarrassment and ridicule that Abraham may have gone through both within and without His house, all because of what then seemed like a contradiction between his name and his status. What more effective testimony could Abraham have given to his household, contemporaries, and even Christendom of his absolute faith in God’s promise than to bear the name “Abraham”--an evidence of his trust in a promise that would not be fulfilled until after his death? (Gen 17:1-6). What would have been the lesson of faith if he had only agreed to bear the name “Abraham” after he had born Isaac?