Genesis 17:15-16 - "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai ..."

"As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." (Genesis 17:15-16)

Why the big deal about Sarah's name?

The English text assumes the Supreme Being is micromanaging Abraham's relationship with Sarah. As if God is interceding to have her name changed, and then God is claiming that she will be the mother of nations. Could this be right?

What about Eve then? Isn't Eve supposedly the first woman on the planet according to sectarian interpretation? If so, why isn't Eve the mother of nations?

Or Seth's wife. Why isn't Seth's wife the 'mother of nations?' Or at least Noah's wife. After the flood, if we believe that Noah and Noah's wife and family were the only people alive on the whole planet, then we must believe that Noah's wife is the mother of nations. Noah's wife is, supposedly, the ancestor of Abraham, right?

The reality is that other than Eve, none of these women are even mentioned by name in the text, even though they were mothers that preceded Sarah.

Thus it would make no logical sense that suddenly Sarah is granted the title of mother of nations if there were mothers before Sarah in line with Abraham and Sarah - which would make Abraham and Sarah related, which would be weird too.

The reality is that the Supreme Being is not micromanaging the relationship between Abraham and Sarah. This is being paraphrased onto God.

Isn't the context devotion?

Let's consider first the context of this verse. What kind of relationship is existing between Abraham and God, and God and Sarah?

It is a loving relationship. A relationship of friendship and support. The Supreme Being is supporting Abraham's and Sarah's service to Him. They have committed themselves to a life in God's service.

This is illustrated as we've pointed out with the previous verses, by Abraham building temples (altars) to God where ever he traveled and worshiping God by calling His Names - praising and glorifying God.

Thus while sectarian scribes have attempted to mask this relationship as one focused upon Abraham and his wife giving birth to a family that would become kings and rule over Judea, the actual conversation by God here is discussing Sarah's own dedication to God, and her appropriate service.

The sectarian interpreters didn't want to admit that the Supreme Being was discussing Sarah's devotion, and ability to teach others. The sectarian institution who put these books of the Torah together didn't accept that women should be able to teach others. So they made these verses seem like they were all about Sarah becoming a mother at the ripe age of 90.

Yes, this translation of God's statement as focused upon Sarah becoming "the mother of nations" is mistranslated. The entire phrase, "she will be the mother of nations" is being derived from one Hebrew root word: גוי (gowy) which can mean "nation" or "people," but also "a swarm" according to the lexicon. But it has nothing to do with motherhood. It is, rather, related to a large following, with a common purpose or under common leadership.

Furthermore, the phrase "I will give you a son by her" comes from three words: נתן (nathan), בן (ben), and ברך (barak). נתן (nathan) means service or giving as we've discussed with previous verses. בן (ben) means either son, but also follower, depending upon the context - also as we've discussed. And ברך (barak) means to bless, to kneel or to adore.

Furthermore, מלך (melek) can mean king or leader. It can be applied to a spiritual leader as well as a king over a country.

Understanding the context of the discussion and relationship between God and Abraham and Sarah is critical to understanding these words. Without understanding this context, it is easy to misinterpret what is going on.

The Supreme Being doesn't waste His time micromanaging the details of a husband and wife. God is focused upon our relationship with Him, and our ability to help others.

The issue isn't God' changing Sarah's name. The issue was to acknowledge her level of devotion, as "Sarah" - שרה (Sarah) means "noblewoman," whereas Sarai - שרי (Saray) means "princess."

Wasn't Sarah a Noblewoman?

This title of "noblewoman" has nothing to do with motherhood. It relates specifically to being a spiritual leader, just as "nobleman" would relate to being a spiritual leader, because being "noble" is a trait connected within a spiritual or philosophical context. And from this context, we can understand that "princess" can relate to a person who follows - rather than a leader. And indeed, Sarah followed Abraham just as many others - such as Lot - followed Abraham.

God is clearly communicating that Sarah's devotion has made her fit to become a spiritual leader in her own right. This is derived from the Hebrew word ברך (barak) repeatedly, as Sarah's position as God's loving servant is the central topic of this discussion.

While a translation stemming from the interpretation that God was blessing Sarah with a son and as the "mother of nations" may be a possible translation of the Hebrew, we must understand that ancient Hebrew can be variably translated - especially when it comes to many of God's statements. This is because God's statements in Hebrew are largely figurative prose. This makes them a potential candidate for mistranslation and misinterpretation.

Even common statements can be easily misinterpreted. Let's use an example. Let's say that a company executive enters the warehouse of his company and goes up to a young warehouse worker and says, "Son, you are doing a great job, and if you keep working hard like this, you'll be in charge of this whole place!"

Now should the worker take the statement literally, the worker might work extra hard the rest of the day and the next day, and then report back to the executive and say, "I kept working hard and now I am ready to be promoted to the position of the president of the company. And I didn't realize you were my father but am glad to hear that."

This would certainly be a mistranslation of the exec's words, as he didn't mean them literally. He was praising the younger worker and telling him how much he appreciated the hard work and how that hard work will be rewarded one day. "Whole place" was used generally, and could have meant the whole warehouse or the whole company. And "keep working hard" was meant for a much longer time period, such as years or even decades. And the exec wasn't saying he was the worker's father.

To understand the exec's words clearly, we have to know the exec's position with the company and his role with respect to the worker. He wasn't the direct supervisor of the worker. He wasn't making promises to the warehouse worker. He was encouraging him to work hard. He was rooting him on.

The bottom line is that to understand the words of God, we must understand the context of the situation. We must know who God is, who we are (and in this case who Abraham and Sarah are), and understand what God's interests are.

God is interested in spiritual leadership, and being a true spiritual leader requires a spiritual relationship with Him. It is unrelated to the physical body. A person can be in a male or a female body and still become a spiritual leader to many if they have developed their relationship with God. It is the level of devotion of the person, rather than the sex of the person. This is being confirmed here by the Supreme Being. God does not participate in sexual discrimination, in other words.

Is God a racist?

Surely we can accept that the focus of the relationship between Abraham and God was not Abraham's physical family or his descendants. This would make the Supreme Being a racist. It would mean that God gives more rights and abilities to those who are born in certain families. It is saying that God gives greater access to those who are born into certain families, or tribes. Such a notion would make God a racist - which He isn't.

So many heinous interpretations have interpreted scripture in racist terms, trying to support a particular race of people. Adolf Hitler was one of these - thinking that the German people were some sort of special Aryan race superior to others - supposedly deriving this from ancient Asian scriptures. Meanwhile, so many other leaders have done the same thing among their populaces, trying to drum up some sort of false pride in one's own tribe, family or race being superior to another tribe, family or race.

The Supreme Being is not a racist. He does not give special favor to any particular race, creed or family. We each create our own future by the decisions and choices we make in our life.

In fact, those who make similar choices in life will often refer to each other as "brothers" and "sisters," while those who respect a person as their spiritual mentor or priest might refer to that person as their "father." At the same time, a person who is older and wiser will often refer to a person they are mentoring as "son," or even affectionately as "princess." Just imagine if we were to consider all these instances as people who were physically related. Knowing the context, we would be wrong.

The sectarian scribes of the 6th and 7th Century BCE were trying to provide support for their tribes being the God-approved owners of Judea, as the Israelites struggled with other tribes for territory among the lands of the Judean desert.

Is it a mystery that this text - edited by the Israelites - just so happens to justify a scenario where their own tribe - a particular race of people - were superior to others in the eyes of God?

This is an insult to the very relationship of love and devotion that Abraham and Sarah had with the Supreme Being. Such an interpretation is offensive and racist.

What is our real composition?

We are spirit, not the body. We are each spiritual beings occupying a temporary physical body. This body is not us. It is a temporary vehicle. Any of us has an equal opportunity to return to our relationship with God and return to the spiritual realm.

God treats us all as equals, and any one of us can reach out to Him from within and He will offer us guidance.

The spiritual realm is the promised land: And those who decide to devote their lives to the Supreme Being - regardless of the body they might be wearing or what family their body is born in - become the "chosen people." And they are also brothers and sisters, just as Jesus stated:
"Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:35)
And those who mentor others are considered spiritual fathers; and those who follow those spiritual teachers are spiritual sons - students and disciples. So yes, those prophets who represented God and devoted their lives to God were certainly all from the same "family." But this type of family has nothing to do with the physical bodies they occupied.

There is, for example, archaeological evidence that Moses may have in fact been an Egyptian rather than a person born within Abraham's lineage. Does this make Moses any less of the spiritual father of so many? No. His position as spiritual leader had nothing to do with the heritage of his physical body. It was his relationship with the Supreme Being.

There is little spiritual importance regarding who is born into which family. The Supreme Being was not focused upon Abraham's physical family. To do so would be racist, and unfair to many others outside of Abraham's family who may have been dedicating their lives to God. Rather, the Supreme Being's focus is His loving servants continuing their mission to pass on to others their devotion to Him.

This is because God wants each of us to return to Him. He doesn't care about this country or that country, or this physical family or that physical family. These are all temporary assignments of a temporary physical world. The Supreme Being wants us - the spiritual persons who reside within these physical bodies - to return to Him and the spiritual realm. He wants us to be happy. So He encouraged Abraham and Sarah's continued missionary work in order to pass on their devotion to Him, because loving God is what will ultimately make each of us happy.

So rather than this being a petty conversation about changing peoples' names and giving a son to Sarah and Abraham, this statement by God can be understood quite differently. 

The phrase that is often used in this context is to follow in one's footsteps. When a person becomes a leader, others will follow in their footsteps. This is, in fact, the position that Sarah has accomplished. Sarah has pleased the Supreme Being and the Supreme Being wants Abraham to share his missionary work with Sarah.

While the translations of this and following verses seemingly detail Isaac as the physical son of Abraham, Isaac, in reality, actually becomes Abraham's leading student. While they may or may not have also been Abraham's physical sons, this is not the focus of these verses.

Did Abraham laugh at God?

As for the verse directly following this one above, Abraham supposedly falls facedown and laughs:
'Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" (Gen. 17:17).
But this translation and interpretation of the text is not only inaccurate, but it is also blasphemous. Abraham would never laugh at the Supreme Being or doubt His ability to make whatever He wants happen. And why would Abraham fall facedown and laugh at the same time? This is a ridiculous interpretation. That would not only make Abraham offensive to God - it would make Abraham duplicitous, as if he would feign worshiping God while actually laughing at God's ability to change something as minor as infertility.

The word "laughed" is being taken from צחק (tsachaq), which can mean "to laugh, to mock, to jest, play, make sport, toy with, make a toy of."

Abraham was not laughing at or mocking the Supreme Being while he fell facedown. He was worshiping God when he fell facedown: And he was mocking himself.

Abraham was laughing at himself. He was mocking his own self as He worshiped God. He was humbly putting down his and his wife's abilities. He was jesting that He and his wife were old and unable to adequately lead others as suggested by God.

We are talking here about leadership - about being a spiritual leader of thousands of people.

Abraham was a humble loving servant of God. He felt he had no gifts, no abilities and no wisdom. Everything was given to him by the Supreme Being and he in no way doubted the Supreme Being's ability to give him and Sarah many followers. But he did doubt his own abilities. This is what צחק (tsachaq) communicates. It is self-deprecation.

It is quite easy to twist a devotional relationship into a business relationship, if someone does not have the ability to see into the devotional relationships that exist between God and His loving servants. Even if a person insists that God was promising Sarah children, we must accept that the focus of the relationship between God and Abraham and God and Sarah had nothing to do with children. These were relationships of love and loving service - and teaching to others.

This is confirmed by the fact that Moses, Jesus and all the prophets including Abraham and Sarah had one central focus in their teachings:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38, Deut. 6:5)

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 17 of the New Book of Genesis.