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.