Summary: God Almighty can keep the promises he makes! Trust him.
The last time I shopped for a baseball glove, it took me all summer to find what I wanted. Why? Because I wanted a particular brand, a Mizuno, which is made in Japan. But since I was in the States that summer I had a hard time finding Mizuno equipment. Wilsons and Rawlings were everywhere, but no Mizunos. My dad suggested I just get a glove made by one of the other companies, but no, I wanted a Mizuno—a brand I had come to trust. Perhaps you feel that way about the kind of phone you buy, or the car you drive. Not just any make and model will do, only the brand you have come to trust. In our Abraham sermon series today we’re going to learn why, on our journey of faith, we also will want to go with a name we can trust.
In our sermon last week we heard how Abraham and Sarah tried taking a shortcut and made a mess of things when they tried to help God fulfill his promise of giving them a child. Sarah suggested that Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar and that they adopt the child that was conceived. But as soon as Hagar realized she was pregnant, she started to despise her mistress and was run out of the house as a result. It was only after the Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar that she returned to her rightful place as Sarah’s servant. In time, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.
13 years passed before we get to the events of our text. It seems that by this time Abraham believed that Ishmael and his descendants would be the ones to inherit the Promised Land, not a son born to his wife Sarah. But when Abraham turned 99 years old, God appeared to set matters straight. He said to Abraham: “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers” (Genesis 17:1, 2).
Although it might not be clear in the English translation, you were just introduced to another name for God. Last week we heard Hagar call God, El Roi, which means “the God who sees me.” Now God called himself El Shaddai, which means “God Almighty.” Why do you suppose God shared that name with Abraham at this time? Because God was about to do something inconceivable. He was about to implement the plan he had devised when he first called Abraham—a plan to give the aged Abraham and Sarah a child. It didn’t matter, as the Apostle Paul put it that “[Abraham’s] body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Romans 4:19). The God who can do anything, the God who had made whole galaxies simply by speaking them into existence would have no problem giving Abraham and Sarah a child.
What kind of comfort does the name El Shaddai bring you this morning? Are you praying that a loved one recover from a serious illness? Are you asking that God stretch the paycheck this month? God can do that and more. So why doesn’t he always? Sometimes he “delays” in answering our prayers because he wants to train us to keep turning to him. Take Abraham and Sarah for example. How long did they have to wait for children? They would have to wait 25 years from the time God first gave the promise. It was a constant reminder to them that they were not the masters of their fate. God was and in time he kept his promise.
But what about the prayers that God answers with a no—like when loved ones don’t get better? This is not evidence that God doesn’t care or was unable to help; it’s evidence that we live in a fallen world. God’s original plan was that we live forever with him. But when Adam and Eve sinned, a poison was introduced into this world that is slowly killing each one of us. So why doesn’t God do something about it? He did! He sent Jesus to absorb the poison of our sin into his own body. And although we will still die someday, that death releases us forever from the effects of this poison. So while we can pray that God heal our loved ones, it’s important that we also witness faithfully to them so that our loved ones come to confess faith in Jesus. Only then will they forever escape the sting of sin and death.
Let me get back to Abraham and our text. To lock himself into the promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a child, God told Abram, as I really should have calling him up until now, that his name would become Abraham. Abram meant “exalted father,” while Abraham meant “father of many.” Do you suppose Abraham immediately altered his business cards? What would his friends and business associates think when he said, “Don’t call me Abram anymore. I am now Abraham because God said I would be the father of many nations!” But at this point yet the old couple didn’t have any children! Was Abram losing it? Was he like one of those rookies you hear about who gets license plates that say “MVP” before he’s played a game in the league? Guys like that just make themselves a target for ridicule, especially when they fail to deliver on their promise. Was Abraham in danger of facing that kind of ridicule with his name change? No. Because the one who had promised it was El Shaddai, a name you can trust. El Shaddai is the true God who can do anything, really! In fact the Apostle Paul says that he can do more than we could ever imagine! (Ephesians 3:20) And as if to up the ante, God went on to change Abraham’s wife’s name too. She went from Sarai to Sarah. While both names seem to mean “princess” the change in the spelling would have at least reminded the old couple how God added that not only were they going to have many descendants, kings would be among them—including the greatest king, Jesus!