God tells Abram that he is there for him and will be his shield and give him a great reward. All Abram can do is complain about not having kids. Abram’s only heir is a slave born in his house named Eliezer of Damascus. God tells him that he will have his own child who will be his heir. That means that Abram will definitely have a son because women can’t inherit anything (although, they can be inherited). God tells him that he will have descendants as countless as the stars. He really doesn’t because the number of people that have ever lived is still quite countable at about 115 billion people.
When Abram asks God how he knows that he will possess the lands before him, God simply tells him to bring a three year old cow, goat, and ram, along a couple of birds. He cut them in two and chased the birds away to them from eating the carcasses. Then God comes to Abram in a dream and tells him, I assume, of the Israelites who will be aliens and slaves in the land that they serve for four hundred years.
If God knows that this is going to happen, then why not prevent it from happening? Why let the people be enslaved for so long and then free them? Then God promised Abram the lands east of Egypt. But there were people living there already, but now they were to be subjects of this new guy. Of course, he still didn’t have any heirs.
Abram is given permission to “go into Sarai’s slave-girl, Hagar,” so that they can have kids of their own. They get it on, she conceives, gives Sarai a smug look, and earns her wrath. Of course, when there’s another woman thrown into the mix, drama occurs. Sarai “deals harshly” with Hagar which causes her to run away, but an angel of God tells her to go back because she is carrying Abram’s son.
Naturally, because Hagar is not a man, only an angel of the Lord can come to her, not the big man himself. She will have a son and I will try not make the completely obvious Moby Dick joke when I tell you that she will call him Ishmael.
11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 52). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Accord to the Oxford Commentary, the practice of a slave-girl acting as a surrogate for a barren wife was common throughout this area. So Hagar is going to have a boy and he will be “a wild ass of a man”. SPOILER ALERT: He will not be Abram’s heir. We’ll see soon enough. Another point in the Commentary is that God is not present in the messenger, but in the message. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth and, as foretold, we can call him Ishmael.
Finally, God reiterates his covenant and then renames Abram (exalted ancestor) to the more familiar, Abraham (ancestor of multitudes), because God can just do that. He continues reiterating his covenant; lots of land, lots of descendants, kings will come from him. In exchange, all Abraham and his heir have to do is remember God and get circumcised because cutting off the foreskin will be a sign of the covenant.
I mean, really? Couldn’t God have given Abraham and his descendants a cool birthmark or a special card or something else to mark the covenant? Nope, God wants foreskins. Every male currently living among them including slaves, and every male born thereafter. That also includes any slaves purchased from elsewhere. As if slavery wasn’t bad enough already, now they have to be mutilated. I think I’ve spent enough (read: way too much time) on this subject.
God also renames Sarai, Sarah, and blesses her with the ability to bear a son at the ripe, old age of ninety-nine, as Abraham states. God tells him that he will name him Isaac. Ishmael will still be pretty successful and will father twelve princes and will be made a great nation, but the covenant will be with Isaac. We end this chapter with one-hundred year-old Abraham doing a little snip-snip on the men of his house. That wouldn’t be at all awkward.