Summary: Fourth in a six-part series on the life of faith as seen in the person of Abraham
Shortcuts to God’s will are not worth taking. In chapter 16, we read that Abram and Sarai decided that enough was enough; perhaps God meant that Abram would have a son by another woman, since Sarai was barren, and so she gave her maiden Hagar to Abram. Hagar conceived and bore Ishmael to Abram; Sarai despised Hagar’s ability to bear children when Sarai herself couldn’t; it turned into a big mess full of envy and jealousy and ugliness. It’s a mess that we still read about in the newspapers today, namely the rift between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac. Shortcuts to God’s will are not worth taking.
Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God again comes to Abram. Abram is 99 now. Ishmael is fast becoming a young man, and a rather insolent one at that. Despite this, he is Abram’s flesh-and-blood, loved greatly by Abram, who at this point likely had assumed that Ishmael was God’s promised heir, and Abram no doubt hoped that Ishmael, despite his youthful brashness, would turn into a man after God’s heart. God had given Abram a lot of time to think.
Now, God comes to Abram to reconfirm his covenant with Abram, this time with the stress, not on the land aspect (as Genesis 15 records) but on the descendants that God would provide, not one conceived by natural means, Ishmael, but one conceived by supernatural, from the womb of a barren woman, Sarai.
God acts sovereignly in history; He always calls for a response of obedience from us as well. This chapter helps us to see this clearly; God does things, promises He will do other things. He also calls for certain responses, not only from Abraham personally, but from Abraham’s descendants for perpetual generations. According to Derek Kidner, the two chapters, Genesis 15 and 17, set out the bookends, if you will, of both inward faith (15:6) and outward seal (circumcision) and imputed righteousness and expressed devotion. Thus we have God’s first words to Abram, “walk before Me and be blameless”.
Finally, before we dig into the text, note the fact that God is serious about our relationship with Him. This chapter amplifies that truth; He isn’t interested in being our hobby or our pastime. I shuddered recently when I heard someone say, speaking of attending a service of worship, words to the effect of “let’s go and get our God-time in”. The implication is that we are obligated to tip our hats to God for a few minutes here and there at a specified time, and then we are free to go about the serious/real business of living life, God having been mollified by a few moments of professed devotion. This is a big point, folks, one that we dare not skip merrily by: God is serious about our relationship with Him. He’s not messing around, and He doesn’t expect messing around out of us either.
So note as we begin
1. God’s Declarations
a. “I am” – God’s powerful name
“el-Shaddai” – God Almighty
Perhaps in your translation it is rendered, “God Almighty”. In using this name, God affirms His mighty power, that He will do all of the things that He has promised to Abram. God told Moses that He had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the name El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3).
As a multi-faceted God, He does have several names which emphasize different aspects of His deity. This name is particularly used by God when He is encountering His frail, unsteady servants who are hard-pressed, needing assurance and reinforcement. Abram remained confused, perhaps despairing, wondering if his situation would change, if God really would come through. No one in the Bible, perhaps, exemplifies a desperate plight than does Job, and it is in the book of Job, not surprisingly, that God’s name is “el-Shaddai” more than any other. Job questions God, fires back at God, borderline accuses God of being unsympathetic to his plight, and God patiently allows him to question, but then responds, el-Shaddai, with assurances that He is indeed in control. And perhaps that’s you, today; perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you need the re-assurance of God, His affirmation that He is almighty, in control, sovereign over all. He is el-Shaddai for you, just as He was for Abraham.
Every person is a theologian. The way we live will be determined by what we think of God. We all think something of God. God revealed Himself to Abram as “almighty”. What do you think of God?
b. “I will” – God’s covenant promises
• Make you a great nation
We spoke last week of this particular promise, the promise of God that out of Abram’s body would come a great nation, fulfilled by God in the physical sense via the nation of Israel, but in just as real a sense spiritually in that we are depicted in the New Testament as Abraham’s children of faith. God has indeed made good on this promise!