Genesis 17:1-8 (A Father of Many Nations)

Genesis 17:1-8
A Father of Many Nations

Introduction: In the Bible, certain figures are noted, above all, for one or two particular aspects of their demeanor and disposition. Job is the Bible’s best known example of patience in suffering. Solomon is especially noted for his wisdom.

Moses is known for his humility and David for the depth of his emotion and often strong passions and his great heart for God. King Ahab is known for his mixture of weakness and wickedness, Korah for his rebellion, and Aachen for his covetous heart.

The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat the faults of its heroes and it doesn’t hide the evil that men have committed. If you could be remembered in a specific way or for being like one or two people, who or what would you choose? Personally, I’d like to be remembered as a mixture of Abraham and David.

Today, we’re going to continue through the life of Abraham and in the verses ahead, we’ll see where God changes his name from Abram to Abraham in conjunction with the continued unfolding of His promise to the Bible’s great man of faith.

In both Testaments and in many passages, it is faith for which Abraham is noted. Of all of the things God looks for in His wayward creatures, the Bible speaks of those who live by faith as being the epitome of those who please God.

Text Verse: See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give to them and their descendants after them. Deuteronomy 1:8

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness until all the disobedient generation had perished. Then, at Mount Horeb they received the final words of instruction from Moses and proceeded into the land promised them so long before.

The Lord has always kept His promises and He continues to do so even our time, and so … May God Speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. A Blameless Walk Before the Lord

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

In the past chapters, we’ve seen the promise of God on several occasions that Abram and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. The promises came in Chapters 12 and 13 and then in Chapter 14 Abram received Melchizedek’s blessing.

After that, in Genesis 15 the promise was again made to him. When it was, God told him “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

John explains fear for God’s people in his first epistle –

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:18

Abram is now 99 years old and it has been 13 years since his maidservant Hagar bore him Ishmael. For all he knows, this is the son of promise that he had waited so long for and he is raising him in this fashion and without fear.

But now God appears to him again. Instead of “do not be afraid,” He states that He is Almighty God or El Shaddai. This revelation of Himself is one of existence and performance.

He is the eternally lasting, absolute, all powerful God. His nature is unchangeable and yet He causes change in His creation. In the books of Isaiah and Joel, He is the Destructive power which is transcendent over all things. In Isaiah, we read this –

Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand!
It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
7 Therefore all hands will be limp,
Every man’s heart will melt,
8 And they will be afraid.
Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them;
They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth;
They will be amazed at one another;
Their faces will be like flames. Isaiah 13:6-8

In the day of the Lord, the workings of God are as “destruction from Shaddai.” There is both judicial and punitive power and performance in the terrifying name. Because of this, holiness is the hallmark of the name.

When man sins, His holy nature is violated. And so because of this act against His nature, He acts accordingly. And yet, at the same time, El Shaddai is also a reconstructive power, building new that which has been laid waste.

He is therefore the God of providence and abundant supply. All of this is tied up in God’s potency. When it is combined with a promise, such as has been given to Abram, it gives man a basis for faith – “If God be for us, who can stand against us.”

Because of His proclamation of being El Shaddai, he says to Abram “walk before Me and be blameless.” Before, He spoke comfort to Abram – “Do not be afraid…” but now He speaks words of admonition and resolute purpose. This is a command, a rule for the guidance of his life, and a direction for conduct.

During that past 13 years, Abram probably considered the promises as being fulfilled in Ishmael. He is now old and has had his child. He believed the promise of God and has rejoiced in it.

He has no reason doubt about any future promises because the past ones have come to pass. It is as if Abram says, “I have Ishmael and I know that God hears and responds. I am content in this.”

Now the Lord tells him to “walk before Me and be blameless” – hit-ha-lech le-pha-nai v’yieh tammin. To walk before the Lord doesn’t mean just taking literal steps; it’s a metaphor for having a completely detailed accounting for every move one makes.

It includes the thoughts, the words which proceed from one’s lips, the very heart and intent of every action. “Before Me” is another metaphor – le-pha-nai – which translated literally would be “before my face.” El Shaddai doesn’t literally have a face.

He is the power and presence of God working through the Holy Spirit. He is omnipresent and so to walk before Him is an axiom. Every move is before Him and so an explanation is given – “and be blameless.”

“Abram, you are to be always perfect before me. For you this is more than just a sincere and yet imperfect walk. You are to be perfect in your heart and in your actions. Be sincere in both through the upright and holy in the conduct of your life.”

Righteousness was credited to Abram for his faith when the covenant was established and now a blameless walk before God is needed for the continuation and confirmation of the covenant.

At my house is a bee-hive. When we take out the forms where the honey is stored and we have a process we go through to separate the honey from the comb, but there is always a bit of wax floating around in the honey and it will affect the purity if it isn’t removed.

The word “sincere” is believed to have come from two Latin words – sine and cera – “without wax.” To perfectly purify the honey, we take a pair of pantyhose, which have the finest mesh possible, and we pour the honey through it.

The wax we couldn’t even see before this process began accumulates into a pile in the middle of the funnel and what is left is completely pure and without wax. It is sincere. This is the state that Abram is being called to.

I can assure you that along with Abram, the Lord asks each of us to be likewise holy and upright. This isn’t just an arbitrary truth because we have a little angel on our shoulder watching us, but because we – as Christians – bear the name of Jesus Christ.

When we fail to walk in a manner which is holy, then others see and perceive this as well. Abram walked among the Canaanites and Amorites and they could see his conduct and make judgments about God based on his actions. We too walk in the land of the Philistines and live among the pagan people of the world.

Their perception of our God and our Lord is derived from watching each of us. Do we serve a God who doesn’t see? Our words and our actions often don’t square up and therefore we’re termed “hypocritical” by those who watch us.

And of course, there is always the person who would say this simply because they do see upright living and know they should live that way too. But normally it is our failings that others see and make their value judgments against. And so the Lord would ask each of us to walk before Him and be blameless.

Jesus said the same to His disciples in Matthew 5 – “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

And Peter, in both of his epistles reminds us of the same – “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

Yes, fellow Christian, walk before the Lord and be blameless.

2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

A command followed by a promise – “I will make My covenant between Me and you.” Despite what most scholars on the subject say, I’m in complete disagreement about the birth of Ishmael from the union with Hagar. Here is John Wesley’s thought on it –

“Full thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael. So long the promise of Isaac was deferred; Perhaps to correct Abram’s over – hasty marrying of Hagar.”

A promise was made and appeared to be fulfilled in Ishmael. Even what the Lord said to Hagar seemed to reflect it – “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” This is very similar to what is said to Abram now.

When Hagar returned from running away, she would have told him this and it certainly would have seemed to him that Ishmael would be the fulfillment of the promise.

But now he’s told that the covenant would be established. Hearing this, Abram must have even been a bit confused. The promise was given and the covenant was made even before the birth of Ishmael. He must have questioned why it needed to be established when the boy was already born and 13 years old.

It would be like saying to your son, “I’m going to make your birthday great. It will be the best day of your life.” And so you take him out and give him a wonderful day full of fun and gifts. As you’re heading home he’s happy and content with what he has.

It’s late in the afternoon, but you say again, “I’m going to fulfill my promise to you. I’m going to make your birthday great. It’ll be the best day of your life.” He may wonder what you’re talking about. He thinks he’s already been given that. But as you walk through the door, there is a surprise party waiting, keys to a Maserati, and you flew in his girlfriend who’s been off at college.

Abram’s surprise party is coming and God won’t disappoint when He gives it. Today we will look at the set up for the party, but only next week will we be given the details. The promise of a seed comes forward again as the prominent benefit of the covenant.

II. A Father of Many Nations

3 Then Abram fell on his face,…

This is the middle-eastern method of prostration used by many people even day. A person goes to their knees. After this, they lower their head to their knees, and then they touch the earth with their forehead. It’s not a very comfortable posture, but is signifies great humiliation and reverence.

Abram fell on his face in reverence of the majesty of God and in acknowledgment of his unworthiness at the visit and the promise. He was probably completely overwhelmed because all along he had figured that Ishmael was the fulfillment of the promise, but now he’s being told there is more than he realized.

3(con’t) and God talked with him, saying: 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.”

There are two parties in the covenant. God is the first party and says, “As for Me…” “As for Me, My covenant is with you.” The Lord is making a guarantee based on His spoken word to Abram. If you remember, back in Genesis 12, God made this promise –

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God is now giving Him both a restatement of the promise and a refinement of it as well. The term “nations” is normally used when speaking not of the chosen people, but of the other branches of humanity. He is told that he will be the “father of many nations” and it will be fulfilled in an amazing and unsuspected way – both physically and spiritually.

His literal, physical descendants will come from both Ishmael and the son Isaac who is yet to come, but he will also be the spiritual father of people from every nation group on earth. And Paul explains that this is finally realized in what Jesus did –

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, 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 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; Romans 4:16, 17

5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

In verse four, the Lord said, “You shall be the father of many nations.” Now, one verse later, He says, “I have made you the father of many nations.” The change from the future to the present tense came about by a single definitive act – renaming Abram to Abraham.

The giving of this name is a tangible pledge of the fulfillment of the covenant He has spoken. Any name which the Lord gives cannot be merely the sounds of the letters as they’re spoken, but they must be the very expression of something which is actual and tangible or that will be fulfilled in such a way.

The Lord has personally named him, signifying both His authority over him and His completion of the promise in one great act. Any doubts or anxieties about how things would transpire have certainly melted away from Abraham’s thoughts. He has received an inheritance that is as certain as the ground under his feet.

The Lord makes promises and He keeps promises. The Bible is the written testament of those promises and each will be fulfilled exactly as they have been recorded. In a similar mark of surety to each one of us, God has also given every person who has been saved by the blood of Christ a new name as well.

This is recorded in Revelation chapter 2 – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Although we haven’t been told what our new name is, it is already recorded and engraved in stone if we have accepted Jesus as Lord. For those who haven’t, other promises have been made as well and they will be fulfilled, just as the Lord has spoken them.

It is better, by far, to receive the promises which come through accepting Jesus than their alternative, so make sure of your own salvation before this day goes by.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

The promise of being exceedingly fruitful seems to be redundancy, but what I think is being relayed is a promise of actual children. He had Ishmael and now realizes that Ishmael isn’t the only child to come, but with this verse is the promise of many children.

In addition to Ishmael and Isaac, we’ll see in Chapter 25 that Abraham will have many more children in the days to come –

Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.

From his wife Keturah, he would have six sons. He also had sons from his concubines as well and he probably had many daughters. These became even more nations, all with their own kings, just as he was promised. In all, Abraham was exceedingly fruitful.

This verse then is a physical fulfillment – an earthly, temporal blessing. The next verse will include the spiritual fulfillment – a heavenly and eternal blessing.

7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.

The covenant is established and it is what is termed in Hebrew “berit olam” an everlasting covenant. It will never fade away, it will never lessen or diminish, it will never fail. The Lord dealt with Adam, the Lord dealt with Noah, and the Lord is now dealing with Abraham. He will be his God and also of his descendants to come.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse is so exact in its analysis that I’d like to quote it for you. He says this covenant is “Not to be altered or revoked; not with thee only, then it would die with thee but with thy seed after thee; and it is not only thy seed after the flesh, but thy spiritual seed. It is everlasting in the evangelical meaning of it. The covenant of grace is everlasting; it is from everlasting in the counsels of it, and to everlasting in the consequences of it; and the external administration of it is transmitted, with the seal of it, to the seed of believers, and the internal administration of it by the Spirit to Christ’s seed in every age. This is a covenant of exceeding great and precious promises. Here are two which indeed are all-sufficient, that God would be their God. 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: wisdom to guide and counsel them, power to protect and support them, goodness 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.”

III. The Land Promise

We have one more verse to look at today. It is a promise which is misunderstood, misapplied, mishandled, and generally mistaken. All of the words which the Lord has spoken to Abraham have their own circumstances and their own ultimate fulfillment. Each thought needs to be looked at in the context of the rest of Scripture.

Oftentimes misapplications are made simply because God is still in the process of working things out in human history. They’re also made when people knowingly or unknowingly attempt to insert themselves into promises to which they aren’t entitled.

Sometimes, people knowingly twist things in order to personally benefit from others who aren’t willing to check things out for themselves. Understanding the promises of God and how they find their fulfillment can be confusing and even tedious, but when the true intent of a verse is known, it must be applied as God intends.

This is the case with verse 8 of chapter 17. Regardless of what has been said or believed, a careful and thoughtful acceptance of the truth of this verse must be made, regardless of our personal biases, likes, or dislikes. Stand back and accept God’s decisions as given.

8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

This is a land promise and it is speaking specifically about the land in which he is standing and which is known today as Israel. There is no spiritual application here.

We can know this, one hundred percent because in this verse it’s called the land of Canaan. This is the name of the physical land, the same land where Jesus walked and taught. It is given to the physical descendants of Abraham, not to the church or anyone else.

The promise is made by God, the Creator of the Land and the Sovereign Lord over the nations. Therefore, there should be no dispute over whose land it is. He has spoken and ended the discussion. Oh, but dispute we do.

In order to understand whose land it is today, we can’t stop with this verse or we will have a rather large mess on our hands. How many people around the world trace their lineage back to Abraham? Billions is the answer.

So why aren’t all of them included in the promise? The answer is because the promise is restated to only one of his sons – Isaac. Therefore only those who are physical descendants of Isaac are included in the promise. Here is what Genesis 26 says –

2 Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

After Isaac, the promise was again passed down to only one son, Jacob, who is Israel. This was in Genesis chapter 28 –

Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. 12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

I quoted these verses when Abram was first given his promise in Chapter 12, but now the land promise is restated to Abraham. In order to avoid the confusion and misrepresentation of countless people who have gone before, and who exist today, these verses need to be restated and analyzed many times.

Our heads are thick and sometimes the only way to get something ingrained in them is to hear the same thing many times. The Promised Land, the Land of Canaan which is today the Land of Israel, has the same owner as it did in the past – God. And He has chosen to give it to one group of people – Israel.

When we fight against this, we are only bringing God’s wrath down on ourselves. In fact, the judgment of the nations is coming, probably soon, because of the world’s robbery of this very land from its rightful inheritors –

For behold, in those days and at that time,
When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will also gather all nations,
And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
And I will enter into judgment with them there
On account of My people, My heritage Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
They have also divided up My land. Joel 3:1-2

The captives have been brought back and the nations are working to divide God’s land. And judgment is the only end the world will face because of it. Anyone in the church who doesn’t understand this, or who disagrees with it, needs to spend more time studying their Bible and less time listening to bad theology.

Regardless of whether you like the Jewish people or not, God has planted them in Israel and planted they will stay. We are promised this in the very last words of the book of Amos –

I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God. Amos 9:15

Let us remember to pray for Israel – the land and the people – and to pray for God to deliver them from their enemies, both within the church and in the world at large.

Yes, God has been faithful to His unfaithful people and He will be faithful to you as well. Earlier we read that God told Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless. We’re admonished to do the same. God directs all people to be perfect, even as He is perfect.

But there’s a problem in our lives and it’s called sin. Let’s take a moment and see how that problem has separated us from God and yet how we still have the opportunity to make things right and be perfect in the sight of God.

A Father of Many Nations

When Abram was an old man of ninety-nine
The Lord appeared to him and there He said
“I am Almighty God the Creator divine
“I am the one whom Melchizedek blessed over wine and bread

Walk before Me and be blameless
And I will make My covenant between Me and you
I will multiply you exceedingly
This is the thing that I will do

Then Abram fell down upon his face
And God talked with him as he lay prostrate
As for Me, behold my covenant is with you
These words to you I once again restate

You shall be the father of many nations
And you will be remembered for all generations

No longer shall your name be called Abram
But now Abraham shall be your name
For I have made you a father of many nations
You will be great, a man of everlasting fame

I will make you exceedingly fruitful
And I will make nations of you as well
Kings shall come from you by the bowlful
From you, the nations of the earth will swell

I will establish my covenant between me and you
And your descendant in their generations
For an everlasting covenant, one you know is true
To be your God and theirs… eternal expectations

Also I give to you and your descendants after you
The land in which you are a stranger
All the land of Canaan, a promise I will attend to
It will never fail, of this there is no danger

It is an everlasting possession and I will be their God
It is given to Israel, it is their land on which to trod

Let us thank the Lord for His faithfulness
For He keeps every promise He has made
We have the surety of a heavenly promise
Because of Jesus, for our sins He bestowed His righteousness, a wonderful trade

Hallelujah and Amen…

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