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Abraham has waited thirteen years. He has watched Ishmael grow. But Ishmael is wild, and as he grows, friction in the family grows with him. But maybe, just maybe, Ishmael is the promised child. And for thirteen years the domestic gloom and growing darkness about God’s promise build. God has made a promise, but Abraham’s faith has faltered. In Genesis 17, God breaks back into the scene and confirms His covenant with Abraham while also calling him to a life of faith and holiness.
God guarantees His promises to His people (Gen. 17:1-8).
We mess up. We fail. I sometimes say I am going to do something then forget or don’t follow through. God doesn’t. His success rate is 100%.
Two things to note in light of God’s promises:
1. God calls His people to be faithful (Gen. 17:1-3).
Just as we can’t take the fulfillment of God’s promises into our own hands, we also can’t allow ourselves to grow complacent in awaiting God’s action. In verse 1, Yahweh reveals Himself to Abraham as “El-Shaddai” or “God Almighty.” This is a name of God that emphasizes God’s power and sovereignty. Nothing can stay His hand or thwart His plan.
This is vitally important to us today! Your view of God is one of the most important things in your life. El Shaddai tells us that He is all powerful. We can rest in that. Based on that, we are given a command. “Walk before me and be blameless.” That is our response. God will take care of His end of the deal regardless. But he doesn’t call us to just sit back and watch. We have a job to do. Walk with Him!
2. God gives a pledge to remind His people of His promises (Gen. 17:3b-8).
God gives Abraham a reminder. He changes Abraham’s name. Every time Abraham hears his name, he will be reminded of God’s promise. God hasn’t given us a new earthly name, but He has radically changed our identity and given us His Word. Those two things alone (and we could think of others) remind us always that God is a God who keeps His Word.
God demands that His people be set apart (Gen. 17:9-14).
God is going to keep His promises. His plan is not contingent on human faithfulness. However, He wants something from His people. He demands that those who are called by His name bear that name in a way that brings glory to Him.
1. We are to be set apart through the implementation of the sign of His covenant (9-11).
A confirmation from Abraham was required here. Circumcision was an intensely personal sign. It was a means of identifying with the covenant. But never mistake this as some ritualistic external sign only. It was meant to be the outward sign of one’s spiritual commitment to God. It signified a whole life commitment. Later, it would serve as a witness against a sinful, unconsecrated heart. As New Testament believers, we too have been given a sign of the new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25).
2. We are to the set apart in our acknowledgement of the consequences of disregarding His covenant (Gen. 17:12-14).
Read verse 14. This is a serious threat of divine punishment for forsaking God’s covenant. We need to understand something here: It is God’s way or nothing. It is not God’s duty to accept someone “as long as they do their best” or “as long as they are sincere.” We don’t get to interview God for the position of “personal deity of my life.” He is the only way, and coming to Him has to be on His terms (John 14:6).
God can fulfill His promises in ways that seem impossible (Gen. 17:15-22).
Can God really make a virgin conceive? Can He really raise the dead? Can He really guarantee He will take care of us? What about providing a place for us in heaven? Here, God assures them His promise will be fulfilled through Sarah, a promise that humanly is impossible. To reassure Abraham, God goes as far as to name Abraham’s future son and again promises an everlasting covenant. He then clarifies by contrasting Ishmael with Isaac. God doesn’t need us to help Him out or bail Him out. He will do what He has said He will do.
God’s pledge of His promises should drive the believer to obey His word (Gen. 17:23-27).
In these verses, Abraham obeys, and he obeys right away. He performs a painful procedure that will leave him and his family vulnerable to attack. But this danger doesn’t cross Abraham’s mind. God says to do something. Abraham does it. When we consider the sure word of God, it should drive us as well to a prompt and complete obedience to His Word.
Big Truth to Think on: God requires a sanctified, believing life from those who walk in anticipation of His promises and keep the rites of His covenant. Really simply put—God will keep His promises, and we must walk in obedience to His Word. I need to remind myself of this truth every day.
Brian Dempsey is the Lead Pastor of Washington Baptist Church in Dillsboro, IN. Brian has degrees from Northland Baptist Bible College (BA), Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and is currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).