Genesis 17:1-6 - "I am God Almighty; walk before Me and be blameless ..."

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. 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." (Genesis 17:1-6)

Was Abraham the 'father of many nations'?

The Supreme Being is speaking here to Abraham. Note that the Hebrew word translated to "Abram" (אברם) means "exalted father" while אברהם or Abraham means "father of many" according to the Gesenius lexicon.

Yet the ecclesiastical translation and interpretation of this text as Abraham being the physical father - as in progeny - of so many must be questioned. How could Abraham's progeny be "father of many" at this point?

How could Abraham be "father of many nations"? We know that Abraham's wife, Sarai could not conceive children, so she allowed Abraham to conceive Ishmael with Hagar. But how did Abraham, now at the age of 99 years, suddenly become the "father of many nations" after giving birth to one son?

In reality, this statement by the Supreme Being has been significantly mistranslated and misinterpreted by sectarian teachers and writers.

For example, throughout the Old and New Testaments, many references to "father" and "son" have been mistranslated and misinterpreted.

This is evidenced by the fact that the Hebrew word for "father," אב ('ab), can refer not only to a father of an individual, but also a ruler, a chief, a teacher or a spiritual leader. Furthermore, the Hebrew word בן (ben) - typically translated to "son" in the Old Testament - can refer not only to a son of the physical body, but also a subject, a servant, a student or a follower.

The translation and interpretation of this text reflect on the time, circumstance and society that passed on these teachings. Some of these were nomadic tribal leaders who required authority over certain lands and peoples. This need for authority also related to the institutional scribes of some Sixth Century BCE. These scribes - whom historians attribute the first written manuscripts that eventually became the Torah.

These texts cemented the basis for their position as owners of the lands of Judah: To help provide a stalwart against those adversaries such as the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians, who were fighting the Judeans for their territories.

So they positioned Abraham as the "father" of their "nation" (tribe) to unite the people under a particular heritage.

Did this strategy work?

Bringing people together under one theoretical ancestor is one thing. But bringing God into the equation is quite another. Being God's privileged and 'chosen' people is quite an honor. right? It is quite the opportunity to invoke unity and pride among a society.

This false sense of authority regarding Abraham helped enlarge and strengthen the Judean peoples, even though most were not even related to Abraham. As such, this misinterpretation of the relationship between Abraham and God was expanded through the texts over the centuries, replacing a real understanding of Abraham and God's relationship.

The text itself reveals this falsehood. Abraham could not have possibly fathered all the people of "many nations" as God is supposedly stating here. Note that the translation states, "for I have made you a father of many nations." This means it has already occurred.

The Hebrew word המון (hamown) is being used in this text. This word can mean "many" or "multiple." Now how could Abraham have already become a father to multiple or many nations?

Note first that the future tense is used, but then the past tense is also used. This is because the original statement is emphatically referring to a present state. This is evidenced simply by the fact that the Supreme Being changed Abraham's name at the time of His statement. The name change indicates a change of position.

So if we use the interpretation of fatherhood as progeny, this translation makes no sense. This translation requires that Abraham would have fathered children who would have given birth to thousands upon thousands of descendants just to form just one nation - not to mention the many thousands - likely millions needed to form "many nations."

All this from one son born a few decades earlier?

This simply makes no practical sense. Some sectarian teachers claim the answer lies in the fact that this is a prediction of the future. If this is true, then we would have to deny God's changing Abraham's name at that time, to "father of many nations."

At what point could we contend that Abraham is the "father of many nations"? Now? Let's see, how about the nations of Jordan, Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Iraq and Iran - all "nations" in the very region Abraham was traveling? Is Abraham the "father" of all these nations? Is he the direct ancestor of all of these people of these various nations?

This makes little logical sense from a family tree perspective. Each of the millions of Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and other nations of people who lived at the time of Abraham would also have created their own ancestries, producing a great mix of people with various ancestries amongst this region.

Wasn't Abraham a spiritual leader?

Because Abraham was at the time, and still is, esteemed by many people throughout the world for his teachings and devotion to God. He can thus be considered a spiritual leader. This could also be construed as somewhat of a father in that sense. But it is not the same kind of "father" being promulgated by sectarian translators and interpreters - who are referring to progeny.

Up until this talk with God, Abraham has been involved with spreading the message of love for God. He has been teaching others about God. He has built altars in different places and has "called on the Name of the Lord." (Genesis 13:4) This means that Abraham was involved in spreading the worship of God. He has been teaching others about God.

Abraham has thus become the spiritual teacher to many people. He and those he had been teaching had been and would be traveling to other regions and spread those teachings far and wide. This has made Abraham a spiritual leader among many people among multiple regions.

Even today we find the remnants of such an attribute of "father" as a spiritual teacher, as we find priests and other clergy often addressed as "father." This is a direct carryover from the days of Abraham through Jesus, whose students referred to their teacher with this sort of reverent title.

Yet they weren't children of their teacher's physical body. They were their children with respect to being their teacher's followers.

And those who addressed Peter - Jesus' disciple - as their "father" - or the "father" of the church - were not referring to Peter being their parent or their direct ancestor. They were speaking of Peter as their spiritual leader - their teacher.

What does fruitful mean?

So what about the rest of the statement by God, such as: "I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you." Doesn't this relate to having many children and giving birth to progeny that will eventually become kings? Certainly, fruitful is the term used for creating progeny in other verses.

It certainly could be twisted to seem that way. But it is still not accurate that the Supreme Being would be bestowing upon a single man that he is suddenly the father of many nations.

What the Supreme Being is speaking of is how Abraham's teachings will be spread throughout the land. They will be spread amongst many societies, and many different people, producing many followers and many successive spiritual teachers (incorrectly translated to "kings") will worship the Supreme Being as a result of Abraham's spreading the message of loving service to the Supreme Being throughout the region. In other words, Abraham's service to God in teaching others has been "fruitful."

Why did God change Abram's name to Abraham?

The reason for the name change from Abram to Abraham relates to Abraham expanding his mission. This means becoming a spiritual leader to many as opposed to a select few. In this context, the word Abram means "elevated teacher," and Abraham means, "teacher to many." It is a subtle difference, yet it is significant because the Supreme Being is basically indicating that Abraham has become the spiritual leader to many people.

It was not about family. That would basically make God a racist.

The Supreme Being is not a racist. He doesn't care about what family we were born into or who our body's relatives are. Every one of us has an equal chance to change their consciousness and decide we want to return to our relationship with the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being loves each of us equally.

We are the ones who are choosing to remain away from Him.

But when a person dedicates their life to the Supreme Being, they become favored by Him, simply because the Supreme Being enjoys the exchange of love. It is not as if we become better than anyone else should we return to our loving service relationship with God.

Rather, that relationship of love will endear us to Him. Those who love Him work to please Him, and He reciprocates that love.

Furthermore, we are not these physical bodies. We are each spiritual persons temporarily occupying a physical body. Our original home is the spiritual world - outside the scope of this physical dimension.

Those who return to their loving relationship with God will often embark on trying to help others return to their relationship with God. They want to please God, and God is pleased when we help remind others of their relationship with God.

This is the real "covenant" between Abraham and God. A covenant is a pact or commitment. It is a trust between two people. In this case, it is a pact of love. It is a commitment of love. Abraham was concerned that his service to the Supreme Being would not be fruitful. So God comforted Abraham that his efforts have and would produce many followers, and many would turn to the Supreme Being as a result of his efforts. In other words, God was supporting Abraham's efforts.

The covenant is about love and loving service. When a person loves God they serve Him. Love without service is not real love. And God reciprocates that love by supporting His loving servant. This is His pact and His promise, not only to Abraham, but to each of us. If we love the Supreme Being, He will be there for us. He will support us. He will provide refuge for us.

Consider another translation of these verses in Chapter 17 of the New Book of Genesis.