“More of You and less of me”
II. Vs. 1-14 Outward sign of an inward reality
III. Vs. 15-27 True holy laughter
In the 16th chapter Sarai and Abram tried to obtain the promises of God through the energy of the flesh with tragic consequences but God who intervenes by His grace and runs ahead of Hagar who would have fled back to the world. The keys to understanding the 17th chapter falls upon three words repeat numerous times:
- Covenant = 13 times
- Circumcised = 11 times
- I “will, have etc” = 15 times
We see an agreement based upon God’s promises and the evidence that they were recipients of God’s grace was the cutting away of the flesh.
II. Vs. 1-14 Outward sign of an inward reality
Vs. 1 We are told that Abram’s age is 99 before we are told the events that are about to take place. Abram wants us to realize that 13 years gone by since the end of chapter 16 as we were told in 16:16 that he was 86. For 13 years no special revelation of God came to Abram, Sarai or Hagar. Much of our life will be spent waiting on God to accomplish what He said He would, very little of our experience before God is a “new encounter” most of it is learning to appreciate Who He is moment by moment.
The words “I am Almighty God” come after we are told that 13 years have elapsed thus it took that long for them to realize the significance of this “new revelation” of God’s character. There are several possibilities as far as the interpretation of this glorious name of God:
- Shaddai comes from a root word that means to display power, so the idea is that of the God who displays His power and ability.
- Jewish tradition saw it, as El the (God) Sa (Who), Dai is (sufficient). Thus the idea is the Eternal God is irresistible and unchangeable.
- The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) gives us perhaps what is the best translation, “The One who has His hand on everything!”
With this new revelation of the character of comes a further understanding of our responsibility in light of it.
- “Walk”: Abram was to live and move with an awareness of always being in the presence of God. Abram’s relationship with the Lord is described in terms that relates to a continual moment by moment journey instead of a momentary emotional experience! It’s a walk with Him and not a sighting of Him!
- “Before Me”: Not behind as if trying to hide something but up front in full view. God desired Abram to be genuine, real and not phony. A God who not only knows all of our secrets but desires for us to be able to comes to Him with all of our secrets.
- “And be blameless”: The word “blameless” comes from a root word that means “entirely”, thus in means whole or completely. God is saying, “I’ve given you all of Myself so naturally I want all of you.” He is not asking for moral perfection, the idea is that God asks Abram to “completely” give all of himself to the Him so that Abram would be able to receive all of Him. The Lord through the prophet Micah put it this way (6:8) “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Vs. 2 In the 15th chapter God established His covenant with Abram it has now come time for Him to cause those things that were promised to come in to fruition. God had spoken to Abram in terms that of ultimate outcomes as thought they had already taken place because in eternity they had already taken place. The problem is that those precious promises to be immediately materialized. God reminds Abram of His promises because He wants Abram and Sarai to be reassured that He has not forgotten His promises even though 25 years had lapsed. Five times in Abram’s life God described His abilities to fulfill His promises as “exceedingly”, the word is actually repeated twice in the Hebrew. We sing, “He is able, more than able” which suggests what the Lord is saying here to Abram.
Vs. 3 Abram’s response to God’s promises is that he, “fell on his face” which is the humblest form of reverence and worship. We see a pattern in walking with God: “He saves us, we thank Him, He blesses us, we thank Him more by bowing before Him, He blesses us exceedingly, and we fall on our faces.”
Vs. 4-8 God restates His promises:
- Vs. 4 The promised “seed” of 15:4 is now explained to include many nations. In chapter 12:2 Abram was told that from him would come a “great nation” now it is many nations. This was told to a man who at 99 years of age had only one child and that child was not the one promised.
- Vs. 5 He is given a new name which in the Hebrew adds only one letter. What is interesting is that exhaling forms this one letter, which is equivalent to our letter “H” sound. It is this letter in which the word “Spirit” is translated meaning breath. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham from “father of many” to “father of a multitude” by adding the “H” that is Him!
- Vs. 6 He is not only the father of many nations but also a father of many Kings. In other words these nations will accomplish the will of God.
- Vs. 7 God promises Abraham that through his seed will come an everlasting covenant that will never be broken thus establishing fellowship between God and man forever. Abraham may not have been able to grasp the “how” of it God assures him of the “purposes” of it “I will be their God.”
- Vs. 8 God promises two things that will never end:
- “All the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession”: The land will always be theirs as long as they have Him as their God.
- “And I will be their God”: He promises that He will never stop being their God. The break of fellowship which would mean the loss of the land would be their doing not His.
The Giver is always greater than the gift He gives. When the gift becomes greater than the One Who gave it, we shall not enjoy either. But when God is greater that His gifts than we shall have all of Him and all of what He has for us.
Vs. 9-10 God will require from Abraham what He had already told him in verse 1. In 15:8 Abram had asked, “How shall I know that I will inherit it?” The literal Hebrew translation of this verse is “This is My covenant sign which you shall keep”, circumcision was already known was going to carry a fourfold spiritual significance.
- Separation unto God Vs. 10-11 “Every male child among you shall be …circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins”. It would serve as a reminder to Abram and his descendants of the need to “cut away the flesh”. It would forever serve as a reminder to not trust in the energy of the flesh. In light of the last chapter they could not have been any more appropriate appendage to cut away then the organ used for procreation. They had tried to obtain the promises of God in the energy of the flesh thus the flesh needed to be cut away.
- Belonged to God Vs. 11 “It shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Circumcision is only a badge and not the covenant it’s self. Abraham and his descendants were to do this because they already had a covenant with God, not in order to get one. The thing that put them under the covenant was not circumcision, circumcision was just an outward sign that they were under it.
- Purity for God Vs. 10, 12 “Every male child… who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised”. This is the first time that we see children as being part of God’s covenant of grace. Parents are given the responsibility to train up their children in the way they should go. It was to be done the 8th day and medical science has shown something very interesting about this as it takes eight days for a baby’s immune system to be at its optimum level. A newborn’s blood clotting agent or vitamin K production is not at its normal levels until the 8th day of life. The parents were given the responsibility to raise their children in purity and holiness staring at birth.
- Possession by God: Vs. 13-14 Circumcision was to include all those joined to Abraham whether they were born into his house or brought into his house. The sign was all-inclusive, all who like Abraham believed by faith could become a part of God’s family. The sign, like the covenant, is of grace not national or ethnic all are one in Christ; to show that they were in fellowship with God and separate from the world. Thus those who did not want to die to their flesh and live for God were too not to be a part of fellowship.
Dr. Mc Millen in his book called “None of these Diseases” studied various universities that the rate for cervical cancer among Jewish women is far lower than the rate of women where their husbands are not circumcised, it appears that were medical benefits to this procedure as well.
III. Vs. 15-27 True holy laughter
Vs. 15 Sarai is taken into the covenant as she is specifically mentioned as being the mother of the child of promise. Thirteen years and all that she did in the energy of the flesh to inherit what was hers already by faith. Why do we find it so difficult to simply trust the One who spoke and the worlds leaped into existence?
Vs. 16 There is a mystery in this verse that is uncovered only when the read the NT. We are told that God said to Abraham, “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.” The mystery is that Sarah had only one child and from Isaac came only one nation, Israel. Yet clearly God prophetically proclaims that Sarah was to “be a mother of nations”, how is that possible?
- Matt. 1:1 We read, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:” Abram looked to his son Isaac to be the fulfillment of the promise of God, from him there would come a nation which would be the instrument of blessing to all nations (12:3). Yet the truth is Isaac was not this child, he was week through the flesh, and the nation that sprang from him never has fulfilled becoming a blessing to all other nations. In Isa. 49:6 the Lord says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” The nation thought that this was to be fulfilled when they would put all the nations under their feet, yet Isaiah wrote of this light being singular not the nation. The Psalmist declared in 8:4-6 “What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” In Heb. 2:9 the person the psalmist spoke about is revealed as we are told, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
- In Eph. 1:20-22 we read, “He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church”. Then in Gal. 4:30-31 we are told that “the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.”
The mystery of this verse is understood only in light of the incarnation of the only Son of God the divine son of Abraham and Sarah. That means you and I are mentioned right here in the Bible! Paul said in Gal. 3:7-9 “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
Vs. 17 Abraham’s response is to laugh, not of unbelief, but rather of joy. What God had just told him was so incredible all he could do was respond with joyous laughter. He was so overwhelmed at God’s goodness towards him that he worship Him with joyous laughter. While Abraham is still on his face before the Lord he begins to ponder the truth that God has just revealed and tries to comprehend with his mind what his heart had already rejoiced in. We will never be able in this body to comprehend the “HOW’S” of God’s grace!
Vs. 18 Abraham asks that Ishmael might also live in God’s favor. This is not a plea for a substitute for what God has just spoken but rather a plea of a father that loves his son. He recognized that God’s promise bypassed Ishmael and desires that God would direct him into a life of communion as well.
Vs. 19 The response rendered “NO” is actually “most assuredly” by which the Lord goes on to confirm the fact that they will give birth to the child of promise, as verse 20 confirms. Four things are mentioned in this verse that confirms Isaac as the child to whom the godly line will come:
- “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son”: The child would be of faith and not the energy of the flesh.
- “You shall call his name Isaac”: His name will be “he laughs or laughter” which is what is always produced in the hearts of those who enter into by faith the covenant of grace. It’s what is behind the words of Jesus in Matt. 5:2-12 “oh how happy”, laughter!
- “I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant”: The fact that the covenant with him was to be everlasting meant that as to Abraham and Sarah that their son would be the heir of the promise.
- “With his descendants after him”: The use of these words “descendants” is connected to God’s promises to Abraham over 10 times starting in chapter 12. Abram was assured that the blessing of this child was the same blessing spoken to him 25 years earlier.
Vs. 20 God heard a father’s heart for a son who would not inherit the promises intended by faith. God’s fourfold blessing upon Ishmael won’t be because he deserves it or earns it. No it bestowed based upon grace and only by receiving it this way will it be enjoyed.
- God affirms that He will make him fruitful.
- The results of his fruitfulness will that his descendants will become exceedingly numerous.
- God also predicts what we will see fulfilled in 25:12-16 that there will be 12 princes from him.
- Finally together they will become a great nation.
Vs. 21-22 Even though the above blessings upon Ishmael are true they will have no effect upon the truth that Isaac is the child of promise who will be born in a year. Ishmael was the offspring of their attempt to inherit the promises of God by the work of the flesh but Isaac was to be received and brought forth in trusting God’s grace. Abram has no words as the conversation has ended just a smile upon his face as God has once again overwhelmed him.
Vs. 23-27 Abraham’s response to God’s word, obedience. Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised, spiritually he was 29, and he was ready to allow God to rule over his life as he knew that nothing produced in the energy of the flesh could ever replace that which is given by grace. Ishmael was 13 as he too was circumcised which tells us that even though he was not the child of promise he was not excluded from being a part of the covenant of grace by faith. Even though Ishmael was not the one in whom the promise was to be carried out he could none the less share in the blessings from the one in whom God would use.
We learn three things about faith’s response to grace:
- Vs. 23, 27 Abraham’s obedience was complete, as it included not only he and his son Ishmael but also all in his house.
- Vs. 23, 26 Abraham’s obedience was prompt as he acted immediately upon the word of the Lord. The commandment was a painful one, it meant cutting of the flesh in a very tender area yet there was no hesitation.
- Vs. 26, 27 Abraham’s faithful obedience was daring as it left all of the men in his house incapacitated. His obedience risked what others would not have done.