Genesis 17 Part Two: I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you

Read Genesis 17

Yes, I know, we’re still in Genesis chapter 17, but it’s so rich that I can’t resist sharing more from this chapter.

Two weeks ago we talked about how Abram, the friend of God, didn’t hear from God for fifteen years. We covered how God sometimes builds our faith by putting us in situations where we don’t hear from Him in the way we anticipated, in the way we desired, or perhaps for a long period of time we seemingly won’t hear from Him in any way at all. We also looked at what we’re to do during those times between God’s speaking to us: how we’re to be faithful in our walk and in what God has set before us to accomplish at church, with our family, at work, etc. (see previous post on Genesis 17:1)

Last week we looked at Abraham’s verbal reply to God’s grace and how faithful God and Christ are to us. They never fail us but are faithful to fulfill their promises. God will always do what’s best for you — always. (see previous post: Genesis Chapter 17 Part One)

This week we’ll cover the story of Genesis chapter 17 in its entirety.

So when Abram’s ninety-nine years old God engages Him in a very powerful and direct manner. The first words out of God’s mouth are “I am God Almighty…” (El Shaddai in the Hebrew) God goes on to tell Abram that he’s to walk before Him faithfully and blamelessly. And He tells Abram again, as He did in Genesis chapter 15, that He will make a covenant with him.

Abram’s response? He falls face down. I like that. That’s how we should respond to God’s presence, with reverence for God and with humility for ourselves.

After that God imparts a more thorough understanding of His covenant to Abram as compared to what He said to Abram in chapter 15. He tells him that he will be “the father of many nations.” And He denotes the covenant by changing Abram’s name from Abram to Abraham, adding the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The number five is the number of grace in the Bible and God’s adding the fifth letter to Abram’s name speaks of God’s grace and faithfulness toward Abraham and his descendants. Over and over again we’ll hear powerful words of grace and blessing from God in this chapter. God tells Abraham that he’ll be the father of many nations and that kings will come from him. He shares that this covenant is an everlasting covenant with Abraham and with his descendants. This is interesting because many from the Muslim faith prefer to believe that God’s covenant with Israel is no longer valid. Personally, I think I’ll go with what God says rather than what men say. God goes on to say that this everlasting covenant means that God will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants. Then he promises Abraham the whole land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to Abraham and his descendants.

Then God said to Abraham that in addition to walking before Him faithfully and blamelessly, Abraham, Abraham’s male descendants, any male born in Abraham’s household, and any male slave must be circumcised. And anyone not circumcised would be cut off from his people.

I’ll never forget the time when my two sons Gabe and Nate were circumcised. When they were born we were living in a community where the practice of circumcision was considered to be an old fashioned and unnecessary tradition. But after a few years and several unsuccessful battles with minor infections, it became obvious that there are good reasons for circumcision. So we had it done when Gabe was around three and Nate was around one. It was amazing. They were so brave. Afterwards their attitudes were great! They were both very cheerful but oh how carefully and gingerly they walked.

So Abraham’s household was to walk faithfully and blamelessly. And they were to walk awkwardly as well, at least for a day or two — after circumcision.

God then changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. Adding the same letter, the fifth letter, of the alphabet to her name as well. Again, thus emphasizing God’s grace in this exchange and in these promises. God goes on to share that Sarah will bear Abraham a son and will be the mother of nations. He says that kings will come from her!

At this point Abraham laughs at God’s promise to bless him with a son from Sarah. After all, at the time of birth he’ll be one hundred and she’ll be ninety! Romans 4:20 says that he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, so with that in mind, either Abraham laughed out of skepticism but God showed him grace in Romans 4:20, or, Abraham laughed with delight at God’s promise and indeed he did not waver at this point in our story. This is one of many questions I hope will be answered on the other side of heaven. After Abraham laughs he falls into the coulda, woulda, shoulda trap. He made a mess by taking Hagar and now he asks God to bless his mess. How much better off we are when, rather than asking God to do what WE want Him to do, we ask God to do what HE wants to do. It makes so much sense for He who with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens to make the call rather than a tiny speck of dust like me! (Isaiah 40:12) How much better it would have been for Abraham to pray, “Lord, I messed up. What do YOU want to do now?”

God is so gracious in response to Abraham. If I were God my attitude might have been, “laugh at Me will you?!” Then I might have sent a lightening bolt to earth within a few yards of Abraham’s location — just to get his attention. But God doesn’t do that. Instead He simply replies to Abraham, telling him that yes, indeed your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you’ll name him Isaac by the way. Then God says that He’ll establish His everlasting covenant with Isaac.

And He shows more grace by blessing Ishmael. He promises to make him fruitful. He promises that Ishmael will be the father of twelve rulers and that he will become a great nation. “But,” He says, “My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Genesis 17:21)

And that was the end of the conversation. God went up from Abraham.

So Abraham does something very wise at this point. Disregarding that it would be painful, that to adults it was shameful, that his enemies might take advantage during those first few days of awkward walking after the deed was done, disregarding that it might prove offensive to the Canaanites Abraham goes for it. He doesn’t wait. He obeys immediately. On that very day he takes his son Ishmael and all the males, of his family, and of all those who were not family but a part of his household, and of all his slaves, and he circumcises them. There’s wisdom in obeying God’s commands immediately.

And Abraham doesn’t leave himself out even though he’s ninety-nine! Age and experience are often used as an excuse to remain on the sidelines. Not so with Abraham for he is circumcised along with everyone else. This is a great example for husbands and fathers. Your example is often the most powerful thing you have in leading your family.

In verse one the name God Almighty is El Shaddai in the Hebrew. This is the first time in the Bible that we see this particular name used to describe God. El refers to the right arm which speaks of God’s strength. As Psalm 18:2 tells us, The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Shaddai is derived from another word meaning breast which speaks of nourishment and nurturing. So we see that God is our strength and our protector as well as our loving nurturing provider.

And in His love, even as He provided Abraham with the promised land of Canaan, He provides all those who abide in Jesus with our own promised land, for Christ said,

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)

“…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

Genesis 17

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

Genesis Chapter 17


Bible Gateway

Blue Letter Bible

Jon Couson’s Application Commentary, Volume 1

Matthew Henry Commentary

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