Summary: The covenant making God renews His covenant with Abram, and changes his name to Abraham.
Last Sunday, we started a new series entitled “Covenant.” Or, we think about the old covenant—that which is revealed in the Old Testament, or the new covenant—meaning that which is revealed in the New Testament.
We are examining the idea of covenant from the biblical perspective. God is a covenant making God, and we’re spending Lent exploring the five key covenants God made with his people, but with the purpose of discovering how they are still meaningful for us today. Shawn began last week with a look at the first covenant recorded in the Bible…well, the first time the word covenant is used…by looking at the covenant God made with all creation through Noah. This week we turn our attention to the man who has been called the father of our faith, Abraham. What can we learn about the concept of covenant from Abraham.
Our text today is actually the third time God has made his promised to Abram. First, in Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave all he knows, family, etc., and go to the land he will show him and he will make of him a great nation. Abram obeys, but he doesn’t see the fulfillment of the promise. Then, in Genesis 15, God shows up again and reiterates the promise.
It’s now thirteen years later. Abram is ninety-nine years old when God appears and reaffirms his covenant a third time, but this time God adds a sign that shall mark the covenant people forever. This is where God established the covenant sign of membership in His covenant family.
Genesis 17 shows us that God Almighty established with Abraham and his seed an everlasting covenant with only one stipulation—that they receive the sign of membership in God’s covenant family.
Genesis 17:1 says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty…’” The Lord introduced himself to Abram as “God Almighty,” El-Shaddai. This is the first time in the Bible that God is called El-Shaddai. Hebrew scholars are not exactly sure how to translate it but wherever it is used in Genesis, it is associated with divine omnipotence, his ability to fulfill his promises and especially to make the barren fertile. God was encouraging Abram to know that the God who was speaking to him was powerful, omnipotent, able to make the barren fertile, and from whom Abram should draw nourishment.
God goes on to say “…walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” God announces again to Abram that he is going to establish a covenant between them.
The first thing I want us to note is whose covenant it is. It is God’s covenant. Five times God says, “I WILL” do this, “I WILL” do that. The main point we need to know about biblical covenants is that God establishes the covenant. God comes from the heavens and does the courting. God establishes the relationship. God lays down the rules for it. This is a picture not of humanity coming to God but God coming to humanity.
We hear the word covenant and we think contract. A covenant is a contract between two people. We think about the “covenant of marriage” as a marriage contract between a husband and a wife. There have to be two people to form a covenant, and we both have to agree to it, right? Yes, in our world, that’s how we think of it, but from the biblical perspective, this is God’s promise to us. We can’t bargain with God for it like we bargain for a home or a car.
The Kingdom of God lost a saint this week. Billy Graham died on Wednesday at his home in North Carolina. As I was driving home from Florida, I was listening to the radio and the many tributes the hosts were offering to Dr. Graham. They said Dr. Graham preached to over 210 million people in his ministry, and over 80 million came to know Christ as a result of his ministry. There is little doubt that no one had a greater impact on the Kingdom of God in the 20th century than Billy Graham. There was one statement I heard that caused me to cringe a little as I thought about the idea of biblical covenant. One host said “He won over 80 million people to Christ.” No, he didn’t. He introduced 80 million people to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It may sound like playing with semantics, but words matter, and if we believe that we are the actors, that this is somehow a contract we make with God, we are sorely mistaken. God is the covenant maker.
We also need to understand that God’s covenants are eternal. God tells Abram in verse 7 that this is an everlasting covenant. That is, God does not change, and since the terms of the covenant come from him and are maintained by him, the covenant does not change either. Oh, we can reject the covenant. We can neglect the covenant, but that does not change the covenant.