The Life of Abraham:
Last time when we looked at the life of Abraham, we read a related but someone side story about Hagar and the birth of Ishmael. She was the mistress of Abram’s wife Sarai. Sarai attempted to force God’s promise of children born to Abram to fit her imagined timeline. She insisted that Abram take Hagar as a second wife and have children with her. Hagar did become pregnant but became disrespectful toward Sarai. Sarai, in turn, treated Hagar harshly, so she ran away from her master.
In the wilderness, God met with Hagar and promised that her son, Ishmael, would become a great nation. Then He instructed her to return to Abram’s house. She believed in God, was renewed and refreshed by His words, and obeyed Him with hope.
Now, a full thirteen years later, we read of God once again meeting with Abram. We do no know if God met with Abram during this thirteen year stretch but we have no reason to believe He did. Even when God seems so far away, He is still working out His will. Our sins cannot derail God’s plan.
Now 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.
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)
Abram was ninety-nine years old now. He had been old for some time. With each passing day, it became more and more impossible for him to have children. Ishmael was not the promised child but it seemed that it was more and more unlikely that God would be able to bring about the promised child with every year that passed. But, then, the Lord proclaims to Abram, “I am God Almighty.”
God tells Abram that He is the Almighty, the most powerful, the all-powerful God. God has complete power over all creation. If it is His will for Abram to father a child even in his old age, He has the power to make it so.
“He is a God that is enough; or, as our old English translation reads it here very significantly, I am God all-sufficient.” ~ Matthew Henry1
God is essentially telling Abram not to take matters into his own hands. God has the power to cause His promises to work out in His perfect timing. He is enough. He is sufficient.
God is sufficient for each of us even today. Whatever distress we find ourselves in, God is enough. Our stuffing may not ease but we can rest in God’s grace.
Just as He told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul went on to say, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Abram was weak in that he was old. We are weak in our circumstances as well. But, we should marvel in these weaken states. God’s glory, omnipotence, and sovereignty shines even brighter when His power shows forth in spite of our weakness. When God works though us in spite of our weakness, we shouldn’t hesitate to proclaim our weaknesses to all and point out the power and sufficiency of God.
God then tells Abram to “walk before Me.” This “walk before” Him makes me think of the entourage that would accompany a king. Some would walk before him announcing his presence and preparing the way. We should be the same for our King. It is our mission should proclaim His coming and prepare people for His return. We implore people to bow to the King now and turn from their sinful life before the Judge returns.
When we walk before the Lord, we seek to honor Him continuously and with deep sincerity. Not because we are afraid He will strike us down at any moment but because our loving Father has us continually in His sight. Just as Hagar recognized, we have a God that sees us.
“…to be religious is to walk before God in our integrity; it is to set God always before us, and to think, and speak, and act, in every thing, as those that are always under his eye. It is to have a constant regard to his word as our rule and to his glory as our end in all our actions, and to be continually in his fear. It is to be inward with him, in all the duties of religious worship, for in them particularly we walk before God (1 Samuel 2:30), and to be entire for him, in all holy conversation. I know no religion but sincerity.” ~ Matthew Henry1
This walking before God is also to live “coram deo,” before the face of God. This is to keep in mind that we are always in the presence of God. There is no where we can escape His presence. No sin is hidden from Him. When we remember this, we think twice before sinning.
“To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.
“To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. God is omnipresent. There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze.” ~ RC Sproul3
God goes on to instruct Abram to walk before Him and be blameless. Jesus did this in the New Testament. He would forgive people and then instruct them to “go and sin no more.” God is telling Abram that he is forgiven and to “go and sin no more.”
In this short phrase, God has told Abram why to obey Him, He is all-sufficient and all-powerful; what to do, walk before Him; and how to do that, be blameless.
God thankfully does not leave us in ignorance, without direction, or without reason. He provides us with all the information we need to please Him.
God then renews His covenant with Abram. Abram had sinned but that did not derail God’s plan. His covenant with Abram had been made with Himself. Nothing Abram could do would change that.
“For God is not wont to utter new oracles, which may destroy the credit, or obscure the light, or weaken the efficacy of those which preceded; but he continues, as in one perpetual tenor, those promises which he has once given.” ~ John Calvin2
God changes people, not His promises. He is using this difficult situation in his family to remind Abram of his weakness and to cause him to rely more fully in Him. God confirms His promise to Abram letting him know that He will fulfill every promise He has made to him.
Abram Fell On His Face
Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:3-4)
Abram fell on his face. He was overcome with humility and worship of God. It had been so long since God had spoken with Him and he knew he had sinned greatly. Now God was rebuking him, forgiving him, and reinforcing the promise He had made to him. The mercy and grace Abram was being show was too much for him to bear. He fell to the ground and humbled himself at God’s feet.
“Those that are admitted into fellowship with God are, and must be, very humble and very reverent in their approaches to him. If we say we have fellowship with him, and the familiarity breeds contempt, we deceive ourselves.” ~ Matthew Henry1
God reminds Abram that he will be the father of “a multitude of nations.” He didn’t promise Abram that he would be the father of one great nation or even two nations (Ishmael & Isaac) but of “a multitude of nations.”
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. (Romans 14:13-17)
In Romans 11, we learn that Jewish “branches” have been broken off so that Gentile “branches” might be grafted in. The Bride of Christ, the Church, the Children of God come from a multitude of nations. Revelation 7:9 describes how people of all nations will worship God in heaven. Abram is the father of Israel, genetic Jews. However, true Israel, God’s true chosen people, is made up of people from all nations. This makes Abram the father of a multitude of nations.
There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
For You are great and do wondrous deeds;
You alone are God. (Psalm 86:8-10)
As a kid, we use to sing “Father Abraham” and it never really made that much sense to me. I wasn’t Jewish, so how could Abraham be my father? Now, I understand and can heartily sing “Father Abraham.”
If you haven’t heard the song “Father Abraham,” you need to look it up. It is essentially a Christian version of the “Hokey Pokey.” The song has no real depth to it at all but it is fun song with motions to teach to children. Having studied God’s covenant with Abram, I would encourage you to use this song as an opportunity to talk to your children about who Abraham was, our all-sufficient God, and how all children of God can genuinely claim Abraham as their “father.”
Abram to Abraham
“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. (Genesis 17:5)
Here God changes Abram’s name to “Abraham.” This seems odd to us today but names were very significant in the past. It was a way of defining a person. It was almost like presenting a person your resume.
So what is the significance between these two names?
“Abram” meant “exalted father” or “high father.” Abram must have felt, at times, as if he were living the wrong life or that he was an imposter. He had lived much of his life as a man with no children to his name yet he presented himself as this high & lofty father. I wonder if he was mocked or gossiped about due to this name.
Now God has given him a new name, “Abraham.” This name means, “father of a multitude” or “chief of multitude.” Now he wasn’t just a father but a father of many, and yet, he only had one son. I’m sure people did a lot of eye rolling when he started asking to be known as a “father of a multitude” with only one son. But this was a way of for God to continuously remind Abraham of the promise He made to him. Every time someone would call his name throughout the day, for the rest of his life, He would be reminded of God’s covenant with him.
“God calls things that are not as though they were. It is the apostle’s observation upon this very thing, Rom. 4:17. He called Abraham the father of a multitude because he should prove to be so in due time, though as yet he had but one child.” ~ Matthew Henry1
Those of us who have been redeemed by God call ourselves “Christian.” There are times that this title is used to mock us but every time we hear someone call us a Christian, we can smile knowing what all that means and all the promises God has made to us. We are not perfect and we will never perfectly represent that title, but we know that the promises do not lie in the title but in the One who that title is modeled after.
“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 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. 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.” (Genesis 17:6-8)
In Biblical times, they did not have bold font or exclamation points or anything like that to show intensity. Rather, they would repeat themselves several times to prove a point. God has three times now, in this passage alone, promised that He would bring many nations from Abraham. Each time, He has added details. The first time, He told Abraham that He had made a covenant with him. The second, He changed Abraham’s name. Now He is giving more details. Kings will come from him, God will extend this covenant to Abraham’s descendants, again promising the land of Canaan as a possession, and promising to be their God.
God promised kings would come forth from Abraham. And they did. There have been kings of many nations and kings of Israel. Israel had not been born yet, the father of Israel had not yet even been conceived, yet kings were promised. Israel was a nation ruled by judges for many years before the nation demanded that God give them a king. But God is omniscient. He foreknew that kings would rule Israel many years in the future.
Not only would many kings arise from Abraham but the King of Kings would come from his genetic lineage. Jesus, the King of Kings, would be born as a promised descendant of Abraham.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
The covenant with Abraham was extended to include his descendants and it was an everlasting covenant. This perpetual covenant, this eternal promise is to be a God to his descendants. It has already been established that all Christians are considered descendants of Abraham so this promise is for us today, as well. The Creator, Almighty, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Sovereign God has chosen us to be His children and to be our God. What a blessed adoption we have!
“All the privileges of the covenant, all its joys and all its hopes, are summed up in this. A man needs desire no more than this to make him happy. What God is himself, that he will be to his people: his wisdom theirs, to guide and counsel them; his power theirs, to protect and support them; his goodness theirs, to supply and comfort them. What faithful worshippers can expect from the God they serve believers shall find in God as theirs. This is enough, yet not all.” ~ Matthew Henry1
Abraham’s descendants of the flesh were promised the land of Canaan. As Abraham’s spiritual descendants, we also await the eternal Promised Land, Heaven.
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord,
“So your offspring and your name will endure. “And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; (Hebrews 12:28)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
Although Abraham had sinned against God and it had been many years since God had spoken to Abraham, God forgave him and confirmed that all His promises still stood. We are not sinful enough to cause God to withdraw the promises He has made to us.
God has promised to be the God to His chosen people, He has promised eternity with Him, and He has promised that He is sufficient. If the all-sufficient, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign God is your God, you can rest in complete assurance that He will bring about all the promises He has made.
1. Henry, M. Genesis – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway. Biblegateway.com. Retrieved 21 February 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Genesis
2. Calvin, J. Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org. Retrieved 21 February 2018, from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.xxiii.i.html
3. Sproul, R. (2017). What Does “coram Deo” Mean?. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved 21 February 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-does-coram-deo-mean/