Summary: El Shaddai promises an eternal covenant with Abraham and gives him the covenant of circumcision.
Last week we saw that Abraham tried to rush God by having a son through Hagar. Thirteen years pass and he’s given up any hope of his 90 year old wife giving him a son, so he considers Ishmael to be the son of the promise (:18). But God has other plans:
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God;
El Shaddai may mean “Almighty God” or it might come from a word which means “breasts.” The idea is that God is the one who nourishes and is sufficient. Regardless, Abraham will need the might and provision of God to obey this next command:
walk before me, and be thou perfect.
These two things go together. El Shaddai has determined to make Abraham perfect:
2And I will make my covenant between me and thee,
Take your pen and circle the words “I will.” As we go through these verses I want you to circle those two words every time we come across them. It isn’t “we will” or “you will,” but “I will.” God’s covenant is according to His own will; it’s not the other way around. Had Abraham sought God this would be a covenant of works, but God is doing all this according to His own will and promise:
and will multiply thee exceedingly.
Again, circle the words “I will.” God will give Abraham many descendants. He’s already had one son through Hagar, and he has six more later through a woman named Keturah (25:1-2), but it’s Isaac who’s considered the son of the promise. Although he has several children, Isaac is called his only son (22:2). That’s because God says “through Isaac your descendants shall be named” (Gen. 21:12). This promise of descendants isn’t just some generic promise that Abraham will have lots of kids and grandkids; it’s a follow-up from the initial promise in chapter 12 that “in you all the families in the earth will be blessed.”
These descendants are defined by Paul in Romans four when he says the promise: Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. 18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be (Rom. 4:16-18).
In other words, to be multiplied exceedingly isn’t in a natural sense but a spiritual one. Abraham is the father of all who believe—“if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:24).
3And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
Take your pen and circle “as for Me” and “My covenant.” If you’ll remember, God is the One who walked the blood path, so it’s His covenant which is kept only by His faithfulness. God promises him that he’ll be the father of many nations. It’s interesting that the Jews in Jesus’ day put so much stock in being the sons of Abraham when their own Scriptures declare that a multitude of nations can claim the same thing. But it’s not nationality that matters to God—it’s faith!
So God says to him,
5Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
The name God gives him shows that He’s keeping His promise—Abraham means “father of nations.”
7And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
God’s covenant is with the sons of the promise, and it’s an everlasting one because it’s based solely on His faithfulness.
8And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
God did take the people into the land of Canaan, but they were later exiled because of their unfaithfulness. Some people look at this and say that God has failed because it wasn’t their everlasting possession. But remember, the descendants of Abraham are those who walk in his footsteps of faith (Rom. 4:12). It’s key to note that God will be called “their God”—that is, the God of those who reside in the everlasting possession. This isn’t talking about the physical nation of Israel—most of them don’t acknowledge Him as their God. Look at what the New Testament tells us: For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 12For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:8-16).