OUR FAILURES DON’T NEGATE EL SHADDAI’S COVENANT PROMISES –
GOD ALMIGHTY REAFFIRMS HIS COVENANT PROMISES AND COMMANDS CIRCUMCISION AS THE SIGN OF HIS COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
Our faith in God’s ability to bless us and carry out His promises to us always needs strengthening. We are no different than the disciples whom Jesus patiently trained – as Jesus lamented over and over again – “O Ye of little faith. How long Have I been with you and you still struggle with completely trusting Me.” How easily we grow impatient when God’s timetable does not correspond to our expectations. How easily we doubt despite all of the times God has proved to us His power and His faithfulness. How fragile is our faith when it should be robust and a shield against the darts of Satan. How easily our failures and our sins drag us down.
We are no different than Abraham who tries to play God and take matters into his own hands and makes a mess of things as we saw in Chap. 16. He first tried to put forth his servant Eliezer as the one through whom God could fulfil His promises. Then he and Sarah resorted to having a child through her hand maiden Hagar. But this Ishmael was a child of the flesh – not the child of promise. Against all odds; despite the impossibility of the situation – God is going to accomplish His program His way. He will always keep His covenant promises to His people.
Here God presents Himself as El Shaddai – God Almighty – the one who makes it happen for His people.
I. (:1-8) COVENANT PROMISES REAFFIRMED TO ABRAHAM – DESPITE HIS FAILURES
A. (:1-2) General Reaffirmation by God Almighty
1. (:1a) Divine Revelation
“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old,
the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him,”
13 year timeframe has intervened since Abram and Sarai tried to play God and come up with their own pathway to the promise through Hagar giving birth to Ishmael; Now God breaks the silence and speaks to Abram once again
Hughes: Ishmael, the shortcut heir (the child of fleshly expediency), was rushing toward manhood. . . It had been some 23 years since the initial promise.
2. (:1b) Divine Identity
“I am God Almighty;” El Shaddai / all sufficient
S. Lewis Johnson: Now, we have had three names for God so far. You remember the word “Elohim,” that is “God who creates and preserves nature,” and then we have had “Yahweh”, He is the God who makes covenants of grace, and now God Almighty, and it is clear from the context in which it appears here and the remainder of the context of the Old Testament that this is the God who controls nature.
Parunak: This is the predominant name for God in the patriarchal period, used more times in Genesis than anywhere else (17:1; 28:3; 35:11: 43:14; 48:3; 49:25), and described in Exod 6:3 as the dominant patriarchal name. . . Combines 2 concepts from study of etymology:
– God’s personal care for His people
– God’s power
El Shaddai is the almighty God, but not in an abstract sense. He deploys this power to bring blessing to his people. [often associated with fruitfulness]
Youngblood: The God who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.
3. (:1c) Divine Charge
“Walk before Me, and be blameless.”
“Be holy as I am holy”
Waltke: The expression does not imply moral perfection, for David claims this (2 Sam 22:24) even after his adultery and murder in the case of Bathsheba. The Hebrew word literally means “complete,” and it describes “wholehearted commitment and wholeness of relationship.”
Leopold: The one command demands a God-conscious life of the best type; the other, faithful observance of all duties. The one is sound mysticism; the other, conscientious conduct. The one is the soul of true religion; the other, the practice of it.
S. Lewis Johnson: To walk before God seems to me to walk with the eyes of God upon all of our affairs. It means that we do not run ahead of Him. It means that we do not hang back behind Him as if we are afraid that He will examine our steps but we walk before Him. That is desirous of His approval, of His pleasure. . .
I find no difficulty in accepting that as the teaching of the word of God. The Apostle John said, “These things I write unto you that you sin not,” not that you sin not often or something like that. So, to be blameless, to be perfect, well, it would be all right to say the standard is the standard of perfection. The word, however, probably does not quite connote that idea.
4. (:2) Divine Promise
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.”
Parunak: The AV, “I will make my covenant,” is misleading. The verb for initiating a covenant is “cut,” which we saw in 15:18. Here the verb is “give.” The emphasis is not on the initiation of the covenant, but on the conveyance of its benefits to Abraham. Up to this point he has had only words. Now he is to receive tangible evidence: the sign of circumcision, and the promise of a son within the year.
• “Cutting” a covenant establishes the relationships between the parties;
• “Giving” a covenant makes it tangible; it enables the recipient to be more full conscious of it.
9 references to “My covenant” — not Our covenant – This is God’s Covenant
God is the one who will make all this happen; He guarantees its execution
He is God Almighty
B. (:3-8) Specific Reaffirmation to Abraham
(:3) Divine Revelation
“And Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,”
1. (:4-5) Name Change
“As for Me, 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 will make you the father of a multitude of nations.”
“As for me” vs. 4 – Emphasis on Divine Sovereignty –
coupled with “As for you” vs. 9 – Emphasis on Human Responsibility
Ab-ram means “exalted father.”
By adding an “h”, it becomes a pun for “father of a multitude,” ab-hamon.
S. Lewis Johnson: What is your name? Exalted father! Oh! What a wonderful name. How old are you? I am 99. Are you married? Oh, yes, I am married. How many children then do you have? None.
So Abram, you can just imagine the years of embarrassment. One morning, he came down to breakfast, came into the tent, the maids in the back were cooking bacon and eggs, and as Abram sat down, he said I have an announcement to make — and so there was quiet, and he waited. He said, “I have changed my name.” “Ah,” someone said, in the back, “He couldn’t not take it; the old man finally could not take it.” “Exalted father” and all he has got is Ishmael from Hagar.
He said my name is no longer going to be “exalted father”, it is going to be “father of a multitude,” and you can just imagine them saying, “What do you know?” Some of them said the old man has gone around the bend. And then some said, no doubt, “Well, after all he had one child by Hagar and now he is beginning to get ideas.” You can just see this is a most amazing situation.
2. (:6-7) Seed Promise
“And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Key Aspects of this Seed Promise:
– International Promise
– Royal Promise
– Eternal Promise
– Relationship Promise
3. (:8) Land Promise
“And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
II. (:9-14) CIRCUMCISION COMMANDED AS THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT –
DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY DOES NOT NEGATE HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY
A. (:9-10) Covenant Responsibility Commanded = Circumcision
“God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.’”
Circumcision — the cutting off of the foreskin of the male sex organ is what is in view here;
Involves pain and blood
B. (:11) Application to Abraham = Sign of the Covenant
“And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin;
and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.”
MacArthur: The symbolism had to do with the need to cut away sin and be cleansed. It was the male organ which most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners. Thus, circumcision symbolized the need for a profoundly deep cleansing to reverse the effects of depravity.
Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4
Hughes: As a sign, circumcision functioned much as a wedding ring symbolizes commitment. The external sign signified a whole life commitment. But unlike a wedding ring, circumcision could not be cast aside. It was a permanent, ineradicable sign. It would bear terrible, unremitting witness against a sinful, unconsecrated heart.
Parunak: What is our obligation today, as the spiritual seed of Abraham?
• The early church logically thought that circumcision continued to be the required sign. The pharisaic party in Acts 15 actually had logic on their side. But God’s explicit intervention in the case of Cornelius indicated that though the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant extend to Gentiles, the sign does not.
• The doctrine of infant baptism is based on a supposed parallel between baptism, as the sign of the new covenant, and circumcision, as the sign of the old. But baptism is nowhere called a “sign” or “seal” of the covenant.
• What in fact was the sign that persuaded the early church that Cornelius and other Gentiles were in the covenant? The outpouring of the HS, Acts 10:44-48. Note the following linguistic detail:
a. Paul calls circumcision a “seal” of the Abrahamic covenant, Rom 4:11. (Gk “seal” can mean either instrument or impression; Heb must distinguish the two, and so uses “sign.”)
b. He uses the same word to describe the Holy Spirit as seal of the New Covenant, Eph 1:13,14; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22, which corresponds with God’s promise in Ezek 36:24-27.
So our seal is the HS. Thus injunctions not to grieve (Eph 4:30), tempt (Acts 5:9), resist (Acts 7:51), or quench (1 Thes 5:19) the Spirit are tantamount to the command to Abraham not to neglect circumcision. The penalty now, as then, is temporal death through divine cutting off: cf. Acts 5:9.
C. (:12-13) Application to All Males in Abraham’s Household
“And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.”
Guzik: Unfortunately, through the centuries, the Jews began to trust more in the sign of the covenant (circumcision) than in the God of the covenant, believing that circumcision by itself was sufficient and necessary to save. Paul refutes this idea extensively, especially in light of the finished work of Jesus (Galatians 5:1-15).
D. (:14) Penalty for Remaining Uncircumcised = Breaking the Covenant
“But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin,
that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Constable: This expression undoubtedly involves a wordplay on cut. He that is not himself cut (i.e, circumcised) will be cut off (i.e, ostracized). Here is the choice: be cut or be cut off.
– excommunication from the covenant community and its benefits.
– execution, sometimes by the Israelites, but usually by God, and premature death
III. (:15-22) COVENANT PROMISES REAFFIRMED WITH RESPECT TO SARAH –
DON’T DOUBT GOD’S ABILITY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN ACCORDING TO HIS PLAN
(:15a) “Then God said to Abraham,”
A. (:15) Name Change – Raise Your Level of Expectations
“As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”
Constable: Name change from my princess [perhaps a reference to her noble descent; confines her dominion to one family] to “Sarah” (royal princess [from whom kings would come;
– Abraham’s name emphasized the number of his seed.
– Sarah’s evidently stressed the royal nature of their line
B. (:16) Integral Role in the Covenant Promise – Don’t Dismiss Sarah’s Role
“And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Parunak: The error of ch. 16, at root, was a failure to understand that God’s covenant with Abraham included his wife. She is not just an accessory. The promise that Abraham will have a seed necessarily includes her. The two of them haven’t fully grasped this up to this point, so here God makes it explicit.
C. (:17-19) Miracle Methodology – Don’t Doubt God’s Ability
1. (:17-18) Abraham’s Disbelief
a. (:17) Impossibility of Conception at This Late Age
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart,
‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old?
And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”
Parunak: Rom. 4:19 seems to point to faith on Abraham’s part — “Fully persuaded” (Rom 4:21) implies that one has overcome the opposition, not ignored it.
[Gen. 25:1-4 — After Sarah died; Abraham remarried and had 6 more children]
b. (:18) Ishmael Proposed as Alternative Solution
“And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!’”
2. (:19) God’s Declaration
“But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son,
and you shall call his name Isaac;
and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.’”
Isaac = “he laughed” = Abraham’s response in vs. 17
Hughes: a sweet symbol of faith’s struggle
D. (:20-22) Distinction Between Ishmael and Isaac – Don’t Confuse Their Unique Roles
1. (:20) Child of the Flesh – But Still Abundantly Blessed
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”
2. (:21) Child of the Promise = Covenant Line
“But My covenant I will establish with Isaac,
whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.”
(:22) “And when He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”
(:23-27) EPILOGUE — CIRCUMCISION CARRIED OUT BY ABRAHAM AND HIS HOUSEHOLD
A. (:23) Circumcision Applied to Entire Household
“Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him.”
– Born in his house
– Bought with his money
B. (:24-26) Circumcision Applied to Abraham and Ishmael
“Now 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. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son.”
C. (:27) Circumcision Applied to Remainder of Household
“And all the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.”
Charge to us = same as to Abraham:
Walk before Me / Be Blameless