Thirteen years passed since Ishmael was born. Although Abram seemed to be doing well financially and Ishmael was growing into young manhood, Scripture is silent during this time. It would be easy for Abram to give up hope of having a son through Sarai and forget God’s covenant promise.
But God—who is not bound to our time table or expectations—didn’t forget. He would carry out His plan in His perfect timing.
And His time was ripe.
Although God had spoken His covenant to Abram four different times (Gen. 12:1-3; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5-21) and used the term “covenant” (Hebrew berith) once defining the boundaries of the promised land (Gen. 15:18), God sharpens the focus by using the term “covenant” thirteen times in chapter 17.
The adjectives attached to the word (covenant) are significant. Nine times it is called “my covenant,” three times it is called “an everlasting covenant,” and once it is called “the covenant betwixt me and you.” – Henry Morris (The Genesis Record)
This post covers Genesis 17:1-8. But you may read the entire chapter here: Bible Gateway.
When God appears again, Abram is 99 years-old. He and Sarai are well beyond child bearing age. In response to God’s powerful and glorious presence Abram falls face down.
I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
God’s admonishment to be blameless is not conditional to His covenant. Rather, it is a command.
God sharpens His promise: 1) He would give Abram many descendants. 2) Many nations would descend from Abram. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham “father of a multitude”. 3) God would keep His covenant with Abraham’s descendants. 4) God would give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants.
Only God’s strong arm would accomplish all of this in His perfect timing.
Morris writes: “No action on the part of Abraham’s descendants can ever permanently sever the land from them . . . . ‘I will be their God’: Though many have gone astray, and the history of Abraham’s seed has been long and sad, there has always been at least a remnant in every generation that continues to worship and obey the God of Abraham. . . . This promise no doubt applied primarily to those who are his seed according to the flesh, but also encompassed the spiritual seed of Abraham, who is the father of all them that believe.”
God’s command to Abram, “Walk before me and be blameless” still applies to us today. My NIV Study Bible sums it up: “We are to obey the Lord in every respect because He is God – that is reason enough. If [we] don’t think the benefits of obedience are worth it, consider who God is – the only One with the power and ability to meet [our] every need.”
Next week we’ll look at the covenant terms God gave Abraham (Gen. 17:9-27). Have a great week!