By Derek Westmoreland
Senior Pastor, Hopewell Baptist Church, Savannah
God made His covenant with Abram for the first time in chapter 12. In chapter 15, the Lord reminded Abram that He would keep His covenant and now we learn in chapter 17, that God again confirms His covenant with Abram.
According to verse 1, Abram was 99 years old. That confirms that Abram is 14 years older than he was when the Lord spoke to him in chapter 15 and 24 years older than when he arrived in the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4). Now, Abram has a 13-year-old son named Ishmael (16:16).
Who God is. In 17:1, God refers to Himself as God Almighty (El-Shaddai). El-Shaddai is translated as “God Almighty” 48 times in the Old Testament but this is the first time. The phrase is used in 17:1 for God is about to demonstrate His power in bringing forth the son of promise.
God’s intent for Abram. The Lord commanded Abram to walk blamelessly before Him. Enoch and Noah had walked with God (Genesis 5:22; 6:8–9), but Abram was to walk before God. He was to walk with knowledge that the eyes of the Lord were always on him. God says “I will” 12 times in chapter 17.
The phrase “My covenant” is used nine times in chapter 17. The Lord is not referring to another covenant with Abram, but to the one already established (Genesis 12:1–3; 15:1–21). God had clear and specific plans for Abram.
Abram’s response. Abram responded to God’s glorious presence by falling on his face (17:3). This was Abram’s appropriate submissive response to the holiness and power of God.
God’s confirmation regarding descendants. In verse 4, God clarifies that His covenant is specifically with Abram and that Abram’s legacy will be profound for he will be the father of many nations. Today, Abram’s well-known descendants are the Israelites for they are the center of biblical history and the lineage through which the Messiah comes but Abram is the father to multiple nations (vv. 5b-7). He is the father to the Arab people through Ishmael (Genesis 16) as well as a number of other people groups that descended from Keturah (Genesis 25:1–6). In addition to the physical descendants, all who believe in the Lord are spiritual descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:6–9). Today, we have evidence that God’s promise to Abram has come true.
Abram’s name change. In verse 5, the Lord gives Abram a name change. From that point on he is referred to as Abraham. Abraham means “father of a multitude.” The name change no doubt drew the attention of others that lived among Abraham for he had only one son and was almost 100 years old. When he received the name change there was nothing for others to see to convince them that he would indeed be the father of multitudes; yet it came to pass.
God’s confirmation regarding land. God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham involved not only people, but also land: the land of Canaan (17:8). The land is a battleground today and will continue to be until the Lord returns; nevertheless, the land belongs to Israel.
God confirms His convenant with Sarai. In verse 15, Sarai, the wife of Abraham, receives a name change. Her name became Sarah which means “princess.” In verse 16, the Lord reveals that the son of blessing will come from Sarah. Sarah, a woman passed childbearing years was without child; yet the Lord revealed that she would become the mother of nations. How did Abraham who was expected to walk blamelessly respond to this revelation? Verse 17 says, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man 100 years old? And will Sarah, 90 years old, bear a child?” Abraham’s initial response is not one he would like to be remembered for. Abraham initially laughed and ironically the name of his son born to Sarah was Isaac which means “he laughs.”
God establishes His covenant through Isaac. Abraham laughed but he also promoted Ishmael to receive the blessing (v. 18). The Lord realized the concern Abraham had for his firstborn son and therefore clarified that Ishmael would also be blessed with many descendants (v. 20). God however reiterated that Sarah would indeed bear the son of promise.
The covenant would be an everlasting covenant through Isaac (v. 19). God concluded His response by revealing that Sarah would deliver Isaac in one years’ time (v. 21). Abraham had waited for over 24 years for the son of promise and now the son was one year away.