|THE HIGH CHAPARRAL
Series: Abraham - Part Six
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 12, 2017
We have arrived at Genesis 17 - studying the life of… Abraham.
The Bible can be divided into two sections. Everything before... God called Abraham and everything... after God called Abraham.
Genesis chapters 1 to 11 are foundational. Creation and the Fall. The Flood and the dispersion of the nations. Sin on display - God’s judgment and yet there’s hope. That all lays the ground work for what God is about to do. Where our creator - the sovereign God - is going with His creation and why.
God calling Abraham builds on that foundation. God calling out a person - a family - the beginnings of a people to be God’s people - to live in relationship with Him - blessed by Him. A relationship and blessing that we experience as we come to salvation in Jesus Christ.
God is showing us through Abraham what that looks like. What it means to live in relationship with Him. To live by faith in God and to experience God’s presence and blessing in our lives.
Chapter 17 is the next lesson in what that can look like for us. Let’s jump into the text and read together verses 1 to 8. God Affirming His Covenant… again.
Verse 1: When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Does this sound familiar? Once again we’re looking at God affirming His covenant with Abram. But each time God does that “affirming His covenant” thing God reveals more of what God wants Abram - and us - to know about what God is doing and how to respond to God.
So, let’s walk through what God says here together. There are some significant truths that God is revealing to us that we need to grab on to.
First - notice that we’re told that Abram was 99 years old.
Meaning it’s been 13 years since chapter 16. Ishmael is now a teenager. Oh boy. Sarai is almost 89. For 13 years Abram - Sarai - and Hagar have been watching Ishmael grow up. For 13 years Sarai has not gotten pregnant. 13 year of potentially more stress and tension in the happy homestead.
Meaning they’ve been waiting for 13 years. Waiting for 13 years of silence - God not saying anything. 13 years of wondering and waiting for God to move forward fulfilling His promises.
Which we understand. There are times when we’re praying for a situation or a person - a need - and we’re waiting. Time is going by and we’re still looking for God to do something or to give us some direction. Up stairs we get it that He is. But, in real time... time is passing. Waiting and wondering. We’ve been there. Right?
Maybe that describes where you are today. Like most of us it probably does.
Second notice God’s name. “I am God Almighty.”
In Hebrew it’s the name “El Shaddai” Literally “I am God - the Almighty.”
Which God? The Almighty God. Emphasis Almighty. Emphasis - the all sufficient - all powerful - most awesome - eternal - cannot be moved - greatest - self-existent - incomparable - totally sovereign - omniwhatever - almighty God.
Behind that word “shaddai” is the idea of mountains. God “El Shaddai” is the God who is like a mountain. Immovable. Powerful.
We all recognize where this is. Yes?
Doesn’t Yosemite get you thinking about God? Almost like it was designed to do that.
El Capitan rises over 3,000 feet off the valley floor. Half Dome rises almost 5,000 feet. Those are some impressive rocks. Granite cliffs - towering - majestic. Immovable. Strength that transcends who we are and the time we spend here on earth.
Which is the idea behind “El Shaddai”
Meaning - what God is focusing Abram and us on - is that God “El Shaddai” is the almighty all sufficient God. God is all powerful and completely able to do anything that God our creator wills to do. Nothing can move Him from accomplishing what He purposes to do. He is the totally adequate - completely capable - all sufficient God.
Point being that whatever God covenants - purposes or promises - to accomplish in Abram’s life - and in our lives - God is able and will accomplish. This is the God - our God - Who comes and speaks to Abram - the 99 year old man - who’s been waiting 13 years for God to do something. “I am God Almighty.”
Then notice what God commands Abram to do: “Walk before me, and be blameless”
“Blameless” has the idea of being “perfect” - complete - perfection. There’s nothing messed up between us and God. No sin. We’re right with God righteous.
Point being - Abram and us - we are to walk through life totally right with God.
Let’s be careful that we understand what God is getting at here. It would be really easy to get messed up by this. How are we suppose to live blameless before God?
When we stop to think about it we realize just how far short of perfection we fall - repeatedly. Or, if we’re listening to other people’s opinions about us they might be helping us to come to the same conclusion about how far short of perfection we fall. It would be easy to think that the answer is to just try harder or maybe even just give up. Which misses the point of what God is calling Abram and us to.
Notice - in verse 1 - that God’s command is first to what? to “walk before Me” - to live with God. Meaning the choice to give our lives to God first - “and” what comes from that is being blameless.
Which we saw with Abram back in chapter 15 - the last time God affirmed His covenant. God showing Abram all those countless stars and impressing Abram with His - God’s - sufficiency to fulfill God’s promises to Abram.
And God declares Abram to be righteous - blameless - before Him. (Genesis 15:6)
Let’s be careful. Abram is not righteous because of His faith. Abram is made to be righteous by God - because God - seeing the heart level faith of Abram - God chooses to make Abram to be right before Him.
Which is true of us. Hebrews 10:14 tells us: “For by a single offering He [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14).
At the moment we come to trust in Jesus as our Savior God chooses to place us into the sinless perfection of Christ. Meaning that right now and forever - positionally - as God looks at us - God sees us as being perfect - blameless - before Him. It’s like He’s looking at us and seeing Jesus.
Being made right before God must come as a gift of God’s grace. We can’t earn it. We can’t achieve it. We don’t even understand it. God gives it. We must receive it by faith. Faith that God awakens within us. Faith that’s because of God’s grace not the depth of our spiritual insight or righteous worthiness.
Meaning we simply have to take God at His word and welcome what God has done for us. God who makes us to be positionally perfect - without the guilt of sin blameless - before Him.
What we all understand too well is the second part of Hebrews 10:14 - which is the “being sanctified” part. Meaning in the day-to-day of our lives we are living far from perfect. We are all in process of learning to live by faith sanctified - set apart - holy - blameless before God.
We’re together? Positionally we’re perfect. Practically we’re in process.
Coming back to Abram. God already declared Abram to be righteous. God has already enabled Abram to walk blameless. What God is calling Abram - here in verse 1 - what God is calling Abram to is the day-to-day living that out process of walking through life moment-by-moment trusting God - God Almighty - who is all sufficient for what Abram needs to walk moment-by-moment trusting in God.
For us to walk before God blameless speaks directly to the openness of our hearts to God. To be perfect - nothing lacking - meaning that nothing is lacking in our complete openness to God - from the core of who we are - our utter dependence - faith - trust - in Him to supply to us everything that we need to live life as He’s created life to be lived.
In verse 1 - God - the Almighty - comes to this 99 year old man - and says to Him - I am your sufficiency - trust me with your life.
In verse 2 God goes on “that I may make my covenant between me and you…”
Notice it’s conditional. “walk before me, and be blameless - so that I may…” Previously when God stated His covenant promise to Abram that condition was implied. Here - God affirming and revealing more - God puts it right out there in black and white.
To benefit from the blessings of God we need to be walking by faith in Him. We need to be in the place where God will bless us. Abram - his descendants - us.
Why should we expect that God will bless us when we’re living trusting ourselves? When we’re saying we’re God’s people but we’re living for ourselves. When we make a relationship with God what we say a relationship with God is not what God says it is.
If we desire His blessings we need to be living in faithful obedience to Him. Makes sense?
Abram falls on his face and worships God. Deep respect - deep heart level faith in God.
Then God reaffirms his covenant with Abram. What theologians call the… Abrahamic Covenant.
The 3 parts of which are…
Land - meaning a place to dwell with God in security. The Promised Land.
Seed - meaning innumerable descendants - a great nation of great influence
Blessing - meaning God is going to bless Abram’s descendants and through them bless all the nations of the world.
In the context of God - the Almighty - re-affirming His Abrahamic Covenant promise to Abram - the 99 year old waiting man - called to live before God with total heart dedication - within all that God changes Abram’s name. Which is a tectonic shift in a culture where names are ginormously significant.
Our children all have first names that come out of the Bible - names that reflect our faith and we pray - will be reflective of their own personal relationship with God as they learn to follow Jesus through life. Their middle names are Armenian - reflecting their ethnicity - and also those middle names are names of members of our family. Our children are integral links - connecting parts between past and future generations. All of that has great significance.
It’s a great privilege given to parents to name their children. Isn’t it? As a parent - with prayer - seeking God - reflecting our hopes and dreams and prayers for that child - to give a name to another person. A name that they’re going to carry with them through life and maybe even pass on to another generation.
Thinking about that - the privilege of naming a child reflects the authority of the parent over that child.
Adam was told to name the animals since he was to have dominion over them. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. He had authority over His disciple and his future.
Follow this: The deeper current running through Abram’s name change is the authority of God over Abraham’s life - who Abram is and Abram’s future history.
To this point Abram has been called… Abram. The name given to him by his father... Terah. Abram means “exalted father.” And he has been. As Abram’s been going along in life he’s become a man of wealth - position - power - esteemed - lifted up - exalted in the eyes of those around him.
God changes Abram’s name to... Abraham. Which means “father of many” or, “father of nations.” Which fits to God’s promise to Abraham.
God has authority over Abraham’s life. He is God - the Almighty - the One that Abraham has fallen on his face before - believed in - is trusting in. It is God the Almighty who makes this covenant with Abraham. God the Almighty who declares that make Abraham a father of nations. God who will make Abraham exceedingly fruitful. God the Almighty who commands Abraham to walk before him.
Grab this: Abram was exalted. He achieved great things and great respect. Abraham is God’s to exalt - to make into the father of nations.
Do you hear the call of God in that? Even for our own lives? To live with God - in the life that He’s created for us - we must loose our desire to exalt ourselves and learn to give control of our hearts totally to the One who really does have authority over our lives - God - the Almighty.
God affirming His covenant again. Revealing more.
Going on to verse 9 - God Illustrating His Covenant.
Verse 9: And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Let’s notice a few things. First - who gets left out? Women and those not in the covenant. Otherwise God is very specific. Every male - eight days old and up - every male born or brought under Abraham’s tent - now and in generations to come - every male is to be circumcised.
Notice verse 11: “and it shall be a sign of the covenant…” Circumcision is the sign of the covenant not the covenant itself.
Verse 13: Circumcision is a sign of an everlasting covenant. The sign of the covenant is this permanent removal of skin. This marking - branding - of the person that declares God’s ownership - forever.
Ray Stedman writes, “What a strange thing this is - the removal of the foreskin of the male procreative organ - literally carving in the flesh the sign of God’s Lordship! This is the great sign of Jewry, intended by God to be the mark of His possession, that they were God’s instrument to use for blessing among the nations. It was placed upon this particular part of the body to indicate that they were to be physically separate from the other nations. The very organ by which that separation could be violated, bore upon it the mark of God’s ownership.” (1)
Circumcised - you’re in the covenant. You’re God’s. Uncircumcised - you’re out. You’re on your own. Have a nice day.
We need to be careful.
Remember where the Jews took this? They made circumcision a litmus test for being one of God’s people. The sign of the covenant becomes the covenant itself.
They thought that as long as they’d done this circumcision thing for God then they were okay. God would bless them and do all those things God promised them. They compared themselves to the uncircumcised nations around them and came off with an attitude of superiority - of self-righteousness - proud of their “chosen people” status with God.
Paul warns us in Philippians 2: “Watch out for… those mutilators who say you need to be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” (Philippians 3:2,3 NLT)
What was a physical cutting of the flesh to Abraham is really intended to show something of great spiritual significance - the circumcision of the heart - our mind, will, and emotions - our soul - our spirit - the core of who we are totally submitted to God’s ownership - God’s authority - His sovereignty over our lives. Circumcision is the outward illustration - the sign of a circumcised heart.
Are we seeing how that illustrates what God is revealing as He affirms His covenant? Abraham’s keeping of the covenant - his walking blameless before God - all that takes place as his heart is placed under God’s control. Circumcision illustrates the heart surrendered to the all sufficient almighty God.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ means that our hearts need to bear the sign of Jesus’ Lordship. All of who we are is to be moment-by-moment at God’s disposal - under God’s sovereign authority and control. To walk before God blameless speaks directly to the openness of our what? hearts to God - the Almighty.
Verses 15 to 22 are God Defining His Covenant.
Verse 15: And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
Let’s walk through this.
Notice the name change. Names are ginormously significant. Sarai means “contentious.” Could have been she was a difficult women to live with. Certainly an interesting choice of names for her parents.
God changes her name to Sarah - meaning “princess” or “mother of nations and kings.” Which is part of God’s promised blessing to her in verse 16: “she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Point being: God revealing to Abraham that the child of promise will come through Sarah. Not Hagar or anyone else. But Sarah - mother of nations and kings.
Then notice Abraham’s falling on his face laughing. Which seems a tad out of place for a man of great faith. A man who has these face-to-face conversations with God. Who gets promised so much by God. He just falls over laughing.
The falling on his face is like what we saw back in verse 3. This is respect - worship - adoration with great uncontainable joy. Taken off guard and processing what God is saying - the reality of what God is saying is so overwhelming that Abraham is caught up in worship and laughter - joy.
And notice that doesn’t mean a lack of faith. After 25 plus years of not having a child by Sarah - Abraham probably believed that God could do it - no question in his mind. But he’d probably given up expecting that it would happen. There’s no way Sarah’s getting pregnant.
It’s the difference between what we believe intellectually and what we believe in our hearts. We’re praying for God to do something but in our hearts we’ve given up believing that He will. Overcome when we realize that He’s still there working.
God’s response: “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac - meaning “laughter” - God and His sense of humor coming through - I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
Verse 21 gives us a 1 year time frame. God defining His covenant. It’s pretty clear. Isn’t it? My covenant is with Isaac - to be born from Sarah - this time next year.
Notice also God’s grace: As for Ishmael, I have heard you - I heard your prayer - behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.
Which reading down through chapter 25 we see that God did and still does. The Middle East today is full of the descendants of Ishmael.
Which brings us to verses 23-27 and Abraham’s Response to God’s Covenant.
Are we seeing the choice Abraham’s confronted with? Whatever his doubts or expectations of what God - El Shaddai - can and will do - Abraham knows what God has said - the covenant promises - God’s promises about Sarah and Isaac. His ongoing grace towards Hagar and Ishmael. He’s heard God’s command to walk before Him and be blameless. Circumcision being the sign of that commitment of the heart.
Bottom line: Abraham - you need to choose who will control your heart.
Verse 23: When He had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then - when? “Then” - not the following week - not when he could schedule it in on his calendar - God leaves. Abraham moves. Immediate response.
Going on: Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
When did Abraham do all this? At age 99. At the ripe old - improbable to have children - age of 99 - not when he turned 100. Emphasis that very day.
Who took whom? Abraham took Ishmael. Took every male of the household. Not some. Not just those who were willing to go along with this. This isn’t up for a vote. Bought or unbought. You’re either in or you’re not. All of them. On that day they were circumcised.
Point being: Complete - total - immediate - obedience. Abraham responded - did exactly what God had commanded him to do. That’s the heart of a man - or woman - who is totally surrendered to God. Walking - trusting the God who is sufficient.
Processing all that...
Do you ever find yourself where Abraham was? Convinced of God’s sovereignty. Convinced of God’s sufficiency.
We know that God has great plans for our lives. That He will bless us and provide for us and care for us - now and forever. He can heal us and bring us to wholeness. Whatever God wills to do in our lives God can do. To God alone be the glory.
And yet in that twilight zone between faith and reality - deep down there are times when we struggle. We struggle with who we are and what we deal with and sometimes we even struggle with God. Walking by faith - blameless - is not always our first immediate response.
Processing all that take home number one is to marinate this week in Who God is and God’s sufficiency for our lives.
To help us with that read with me Psalm 121 which puts a lot of what we’re looking at here in a nutshell. Maybe this week you might want to go back and read through it a few more times - marinating in what’s here.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Whatever God Almighty chooses to do - help us - keep us - shade us - protect us - guard us - spiritually - physically - now and forever - God is sufficient to do.
Processing all that take home number two is God’s invitation to step forward in faith. Just do it.
Great faith - deep faith - circumcision of the heart faith - walking blameless made right and Spirit empowered faith - grows deeper - when commitment - control of our lives - when our choice of walking before God becomes irrevocable - a dogged determination to trust God - with no conditions placed on Him to earn that trust. When trust seems to the hardest thing to do - perhaps even insane.
Moses. When the plague thing doesn’t seem to be working - God says go tell Pharaoh that his first born son is going to die. And he goes. Or, Peter stepping out of a boat onto a raging sea - just because Jesus says, “Come.” Paul and Silas - beaten and thrown in prison - singing their hearts out at midnight - praising God. Or, calming down a panicked crew on a sinking ship. Or Abraham - trust me there’s a son coming through Sarah.
That’s faith that inspires others - that transforms lives - that brings glory to God - that God desires for us - that He can and will accomplish in us and through us to His glory - if we’ll trust Him.
1. Ray Stedman Genesis 17:1-27 “The Circumcised Life”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.