Summary: It had been thirteen years since the birth of Ishmael. God makes a sudden appearance with a startling announcement.
The Life of Abraham, Part 8: Thirteen Years Later
In the last lesson, it finally looked from Abram’s point of view that God had satisfied Abram’s long awaited promise of a son named Ishmael. At the age of eighty-six, Abram was a dad in his own right. Hagar had acted as a surrogate mother in her mistress’s Sarai’s stead. There were big problems in the family which had caused Hagar to leave. But the LORD had intervened and seems to have sorted everything out. Hagar returned home and bore Ishmael to Abram. But the story of Abram and sarai was about to take a new twist.
Exposition of the Text
Fast forward thirteen years from the end of the last chapter and we come to chapter 17. Abram is 99 years old, and his son Ishmael is 12. Things seems to be going on autopilot. Ishmael was at the age of becoming a man in legal standing. There isn’t any mention of the conflict between Sarai and Hagar. But a sea change is about to happen in Abram and Sarai’s life. It starts simply by saying, “The LORD appeared to Abram.” By now we should be tipped off that the LORD was about to do something both great and unexpected in the life of Abram.
The LORD revealed himself as the Almighty God or “El-Shaddai”. This was a revelation of a new title for the LORD to Abram which expresses the idea that God is able to make anything happen. God reveals Himself by many names or titles in the Bible simply because no single title can express who God is. The LORD then asks Abram to walk before Him and be perfect. I don’t know how Abram reacted to that, but I do know when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells us His followers to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, I shudder. How can this be? Certainly I am not perfect, nor can I say that my walk before God is anything close to perfect on God’s terms. If this is to be so, it must be the work of God. Perhaps this is what El-Shaddai reminds us also that nothing is impossible with Almighty God.
The LORD tells Abram that he is making a covenant between Himself and Abram. At this point we must remind ourselves that in Chapter 15, God cut a covenant with Abram which was based solely on God walking though the bloody trench. It was a covenant of grace as Abram could not make a covenant with the LORD and keep it. So now we have a second covenant which is being cut, one that has Abram personally involved and requires Him to walk perfectly before the LORD. So the natural question to ask at this point is, “What gives?”
This covenant to be made between the LORD and Abraham stipulated the covenant promises God will make to Abram. He is going to multiply Abram exceedingly. Abram responds to this by prostrating Himself before the Almighty God in a posture of worship. God continues with the promise that Abram would be the father of not just one but many nations. As the first sign of the covenant to Abram, the LORD changes Abram’s name which had meant “exalted father” to Abraham which means “father of many nations”. In other words, Abraham’s new name is descriptive of what God is going to do in blessing Abraham.
As we have gone along in this study, we have referred to the five ways God originally blessed Adam, life, fellowship, land, seed, and dominion. The work of God’s redemption was to restore these to humankind who had lost the fullness of these blessings because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. These restorations are evident in the life of Abraham as part of the plan of redemption which would be fully realized in Jesus Christ. In this passage, we see again the promise of seed, that is descendant(s), and here dominion in verse 6 in that he would be the father of kings. The promise of the covenant was to be everlasting in scope which concerns the restoration of life. The fact that God was talking with Abraham was the restoration of fellowship with God. And in verse eight is the promise of land. So here we see the promises of the fivefold restoration of blessing.
However, in verse nine comes the stipulation that Abraham and his descendants would have to keep in order to keep the covenant in effect. Basically, Abraham was in the same position of Adam in the Garden of Eden and Sarah in the position of Eve. This is a promise of a new humanity from within a sea of wickedness. Abram and his descendants were to be perfectly obedient.