Nov 20, 2016
Genesis 17:1-27

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Genesis 17:1-2, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

At the end of Genesis 16 we’re told Abram was 86 years old. Now, as we just read, chapter 17 opens with Abram being 99. This is significant because it tells us a total of 13 years has passed since Abram made this fatal error in judgment when he failed to trust in the promises of God and produced a son of the flesh (Ishmael) with Hagar - Sarai’s Egyptian handmaiden.

You have to wonder what transpired during these 13 years? I think it’s safe to assume nothing - at least nothing important to the plans of God. Since it’s only reasonable to infer any interactions between Abram and God would have been recorded for us, it would appear this season of Abram’s life ended up being 13 years of divine silence. 

WOW! 13 long years of God’s silence following Abram’s failure? How completely terrible that must have been! Have you ever been in a similar situation where someone’s silence came as a result of your failure? I know I have… You can reason those 13 years of silence had left Abram wondering if his failure had completely ruined God’s plans for his life? 

Which leads me to ask… Does this sentiment resonate with you in anyway? Have you ever so seriously stepped in it that you were convinced your relationship with God was all but finished… You might still be saved and going to heaven, but because of your sin there was no doubt in your mind you’d been sidelined for good - set on the shelf?

The truth is that many people who’ve come to the cross and begun this exciting journey with Jesus only to, at some later point, screw up and fall headlong back into the very sinful lifestyle they’d once been liberated from do end up possessing this exact mindset. 

“Pastor Zach, Jesus did so much for me and I blew it! I’ve ruined the life He died to give me… I know He loves me, but there’s no way He could still use me… My marriage failed and I got a divorce… I started using again… I fell off the wagon… My girl-friend and I are back having sex… I got a DUI… I got caught looking at porn… etc.”

This is what I’m confident of this morning… (A) There are some of you struggling with these very notions right now, and (B) All of you will at some point have these thoughts cross your mind. And here’s why I’m confident of this… Your failure is inevitable! And yet, as we’re going to see in the life of Abram, “the Lord appears” with a powerful message…

  1. God reveals to Abram a new aspect of His person.

  2. God reminds Abram of his righteous standing.

  3. God reiterates to Abram His amazing grace.

  4. God restates to Abram His unwavering promises.

  5. God reestablishes the essence of their relationship.

First… God reveals to Abram a new aspect of His person.

Notice how God breaks this 13 year silence… He says, “I am Almighty God.” In the Hebrew this name for God is interesting because it’s a compound word “El Shaddai.” While the word “El” spoke of the raw, masculine strength and authority of God, this word “Shaddai” is derived from the feminine word meaning “breast.” The word literally signified one who nourishes. Note: This is the very first time this name is used for God in the Scriptures.

What makes this name so fascinating is that it uniquely encompassed both the masculine and the feminine. It combined the strength of a man with the tenderness of a woman. In his place of failure Abram would need the strong hand of God (“El”), but in his place of brokenness this would need to be measured with tenderness and compassion (“Shaddai”).

Can you imagine Abram’s initial reaction the moment “the Lord appeared to him” after 13 years of silence? Don’t forget he hasn’t heard from the Lord since his blunder with Hagar! I’m sure this “appearing” didn’t produce delight or even relief. Instead, I have no doubt it produced fear! What would God do? What would He say? Uncertainty flooded his heart!

I hope you know this morning that if you’ve failed and you’re questioning your standing with God there is absolutely no reason to fear His presence. I’m sure these words, “I am [El Shaddai] Almighty God” brought immediate comfort to Abram’s anxious heart. God had not appeared to “whip him good.” This was not a day of reckoning. “The Lord appeared” intending to minister to him in the same manner of love a mother would have for her child!

Notice what else God says to Abram, “I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” For starters, please understand, while the English translation makes it seem as though God is going to be establishing a new “covenant” with Abram, this word translated “make” would be better translated as “deliver or grant.” 

In a sense, God is reminding Abram (a man broken by his failure) that, while there were consequences to his decision to sleep with Hagar, the covenant He originally made with Abram remained intact. How glorious! Note: In the exchange that follows God will use this phrase “My covenant” nine times and will declare an astounding twenty-four times “I will.”

Though undoubtedly Abram had made a royal mess of things, what a wonderful reality to know that God’s covenant wasn’t predicated upon his performance but was instead founded on His ability to make good on His promises regardless!

Secondly… God reminds Abram of his righteous standing.

Look at God’s exhortation to Abram… He says, “Walk before Me and be blameless!” What an interesting command in the context of everything that’s been going on in Abram’s life. 

Now, to understand what God is saying, let’s unpack this statement working backwards… In the Hebrew this phrase “and be blameless” is actually one word meaning “complete or whole.” The KJV translates this directive as “be perfect.” Note: This was not something God exhorted Abram to do, but rather it was something God reminded him he was. 

This phrase “walk before Me” shouldn’t be overanalyzed as it’s literally nothing more than an invitation for Abram to come meet with God face to face. How incredible to think God invited a failed man like Abram to come and stand before Him as one who was perfect? What grace!

Aside from the fact “repentance” is a buzz word mostly found in Christian circles, the sad truth is that most people don’t fully grasp the role of repentance in the Christian life. When you find the word “repent” in the Hebrew you’ll typically encounter two different words: “nacham” which implies “sorrow and regret” and “shuwb” meaning “to return or turn back.” 

It’s this second Hebrew word that lines up with the Greek word found in the New Testament. “Metanoeō” which was a military term meant “to about face - to stop, turn around, and head the opposite direction…” It was a changing of the mind that fostered a change in direction.


You see the problem with repentance is that so often the emphasis ends up being placed solely on what a person is supposed to turn from as opposed to what it is they’re supposed to be turning to. Consider, when you first became a Christian, repentance manifested that moment you left behind this world in order to come to the cross and place your faith in Jesus. 

But (and this is what so many seem to get wrong) it’s in this same way repentance should still manifest in the life of the believer. Repentance is so much more than ceasing to sin. Repentance, like we see with Abram, is a decision to return to the cross, the place of salvation, the demonstration of grace, your position of right-standing before God.

What God does right from the beginning is that He appeals for a failed Abram to repent. After reminding him who He is (a God of compassion) Abram is invited into the presence of God so that he can be reminded of his status. While he’d failed, God’s promises had not been detoured and most importantly his standing had not been tarnished. It’s as though God is saying, “Abram, come to Me and remember you’re still a righteous man in My eyes!”

Christian, in the place of your glaring failures, always remember [Romans 8:1-2] “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” [Hebrews 4:16] “Therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Thirdly… God reiterates to Abram His amazing grace.

Genesis 17:3-5+15, “Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.’ [15] Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.’”

Before God restates His promises to Abram, did you notice this amazing statement of God? He tells Abram, “I have made you a father…” Because Abram had been willing to place his faith in the coming Savior, God’s future promises were based upon His unmerited favor for Abram - independent of Abram’s performance. As a result, God’s work was just as good as done. He was working in Abram and who he’d become had already been determined.

In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul makes an incredible statement about you… He writes, “Blessed be the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose you in Him before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined you to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made you accepted in the Beloved.”

Aside from this amazing reality, I love the fact that God then gives this 99 year old man and this 89 year old woman new names. In an interesting twist, He changes “Abram” to “Abraham” and “Sarai” to “Sarah.” Keep in mind, in ancient times the ability to name something was significant because the act itself demonstrated dominion over that thing.

Example: Adam was given the responsibility of naming the animals because he had been given dominion over the animals. Additionally, God named Adam, but also allowed Adam to name his wife Eve. He was responsible for her. The giving of a name mattered.

Though we have no record that God had any particular role in giving the names “Abram” and “Sarai,” this act of renaming them illustrated God’s dominion over their lives. In his worldly life “Abram” was the “Exalted Father” - which was a cruel joke as he had no children; and yet, in this instance, God renames him “Abraham” meaning “Father of Many Nations.” Though “Sarai” meant “Princess,” the name “Sarah” means “Mother of Nations.” 

So the question begs… How did Abram become Abraham and how did Sarai become Sarah? How did an exalted father and the princess without kids become respectively the “Father and Mother of Many Nations?” Did they do something to demand this name and destiny change? No! God acted on His own and totally redefined who they were to be!

And how did God practically do this? Amazingly, all he did was simply added one letter to each of their names… “Ah” is inserted into “Abram” to make him “Abraham” and it’s added to “Sarai” making her “Sarah.” The reason this is so fascinating is “ah” is the 5th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which according to Biblical numerology always represented grace! 

So how did Abram and Sarah literally receive these new identities which corresponded to their new destiny? The exact same way we do… God’s amazing grace! 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Revelation 2:17, “To him who overcomes I will give a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

Fourthly… God restates to Abram His unwavering promises.

Genesis 17:6-8, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

This covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants to follow is described by God as being “an everlasting covenant…” This word “everlasting” implies the promises God had made to Abram would possess a “continuous existence.” They'd be perpetual and indefinite. God would give him a son, who’d become a nation, who’d possess all the land of Canaan. 

You can imagine what a relief this reiteration of God’s promise to work in and through his life would have been for a man who’d been questioning this very reality for the last 13 years! And in like manner, I hope you know even when you fail, in 2 Corinthians 1:20 we’re told, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.”

Fifthly… God reestablishes the essence of their relationship.

Genesis 17:9-16, “And God said to Abraham: ‘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 child among you shall be circumcised; and 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 child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.’

Then 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 also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’”

Just in case you don’t know what circumcision is let me take a second and define it ever so carefully… According to Urban Dictionary, “Circumcision is a surgical procedure that removes a male’s foreskin.” (Not what you expected?) If you need a better illustrative picture I like to say, “Circumcision is a surgery that turns a man’s turtleneck into a crew.”

It's important to note the practice of circumcision was not invented in this moment, but was instead a practice God now institutes to “be a sign of the covenant” He’d made with Abram. And what was the covenant? By His grace God would provide a Savior to save man from his sin so that by faith in this Man’s sacrifice we might become righteous before God!

Though circumcision would also be mandated within the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 12:2-3), this passage makes it clear the purpose of circumcision predated the Law! Which tells us circumcision was never to be the sign of the Law (works based righteousness), but was rather a physical reminder of the covenant God had made with Abraham - Namely that God would provide a Savior through his lineage (righteousness by faith). 

Consider the context… Abram had acted out in his own efforts to fulfill the promises of God which is why God now institutes circumcision in order to reestablish the fact their relationship and the fulfillment of His future work in Abram’s life would only be yielded through His grace!

To this point, in Romans 4:11, the Apostle Paul wrote that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised (speaking of these new Gentile believers), that righteousness might be imputed to them also…”

While the Jewish people would come to see circumcision as an external act that brought with it God’s acceptance and entry into the lineage of Abraham (which is why they wanted Gentile Christians to become circumcised), the truth is that Genesis 17 demonstrated the exact opposite reality… Circumcision was God’s way of hammering home the point that no natural work of man’s flesh could ever substitute for a supernatural work of God! 

As Pastor David Guzik rightly observed, “Circumcision is a cutting away of the flesh and an appropriate sign of the covenant for those who should put no trust in the flesh.”

Circumcision never intended to represent man’s obedience, but was instead an act that physically represented one’s faith in the coming Savior! Circumcision was God’s way of emphasizing to Abram (and to all those who’d look for the coming Savior) how powerless the flesh would always be as it pertained to fulfilling the promises of God. 

Which, for the student of Scripture, explains why the act of circumcision was no longer necessary following Jesus. To this point, in Galatians 5:5-6, Paul would write, “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”

This act of cutting away the flesh was to demonstrate a faith that rejected human activity in the place of divine involvement! God was making it clear to Abraham after his mistake with Hagar that he needed to stay out of the way so God could work in and through his life!

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note, the procedure of circumcision was to occur on the 8th day following a child’s birth. Once again, according to Biblical numerology, the number 8 represented a new beginning, a new creation, being born again. How fascinating God institutes circumcision directly after Abram’s been given a new identity through God’s grace!

Genesis 17:17-18, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? And shall Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?’ And he said to God, ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’”

Though it would be easy to see this exchange as Abraham finding hilarity in all the things God had just said He was going to accomplish, Romans 4:19-21 gives us deeper insight into what’s happening… “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.”

“Abraham fell on his face and laughed” because he was overcome with amazement at the work God was going to do! His laughter manifested out of the wonderment he had concerning God’s grace! Having a child when he was 100 and Sarah 90 blew his mind!

Additionally, this statement, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you” was not Abraham’s way of telling God He could just use Ishmael. Instead, Abraham, recognizing that Ishmael was not the son of promise, is simply appealing to God on behalf of this innocent son.

Genesis 17:19-27, “God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.’ 

Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same 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 same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

In closing… If you’ve blown it and find yourself this morning questioning your status with God, you need to find great encouragement in the way God approached Abraham. 

  1. God reveals to Abram a new aspect of His person.

  2. God reminds Abram of his righteous standing.

  3. God reiterates to Abram His amazing grace.

  4. God restates to Abram His unwavering promises.

  5. God reestablishes the essence of their relationship.

There is no reason you should fear God! As a matter of fact, this morning I believe, in His abundant compassion and tenderness He’s trying to tell you it’s ok you failed. He already knows and it was largely expected. Regardless of your failures, God is wanting to remind you that you’re still righteous in His eyes because of the work of Jesus. Because your righteousness exists apart from your works, even when you fail you’re still alright!

His grace is sufficient. His promises sure. He’s still working on you even when you didn’t know it. Remember, who you are! You’re not that person any longer. God has given you a new identity… The identity of Christ! Instead of beating yourself up, God is asking that you stop trying, return to the cross, and let Him make you into the person only He can!


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