Genesis 15 - God Confirms the Covenant with Abram
A. God speaks to Abram’s fears and doubts with a promise.
1. (1) The word of the Lord comes to Abram in a vision.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
a. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram: The word of the Lord came to people in the Bible in many different ways. It might come by a personal appearance of God, by an audible voice, by visions or dreams, by the ministry of angels, by the working of the Spirit of God upon the mind, by the making alive of a passage of Scripture to the heart, or by the ministry of a prophet or preacher.
b. Do not be afraid…I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward: There was a good reason why God said this; Abram had just defeated a much larger army from a confederation of five kings. He had reason to be afraid because an attack of retribution was to be expected.
c. Your shield…your reward: Abram needed a shield because he expected to be attacked. He needed reward because he had denied himself great reward offered from the king of Sodom.
i. God told Abram that though he had sacrificed for His sake, he would not be the loser for it. God would more than make up what Abram gave unto the Lord.
ii. God knows how to become the answer to our need. When we need a shield or a reward, He becomes those things for us.
d. Do not be afraid: God told Abram this because he was afraid, and afraid for good reasons. Yet God also gave him a reason to put away his fear. God never tells us do not be afraid without giving us a reason to put away our fear.
2. (2-3) Abram honestly expresses his doubts.
But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
a. Lord God, what will You give me: Though certainly Abram appreciated the promise from God, at the same time, there was perhaps a sense in which it sounded empty to Abram. It was as if Abram said, “What good is it that You are my shield and reward? The only thing I’ve ever wanted with any passion in my life is a son! Where are the descendants You promised me?”
i. It is almost as if Abram meant, “Lord, You’ve given me lots of stuff, and now promise to give me more, and to protect me. But what good is it if I don’t have a descendant to give it to? I want the son You promised me!”
ii. Eliezer of Damascus was Abram’s chief assistant, his right-hand man. He was a good man, but not a son to Abram.
b. Look, You have given me no offspring: Abram’s bold honesty before the Lord is a wonderful example. Instead of holding in his frustration, he brought it before God with an honest heart.
c. No offspring: To some degree, this question doubted God. Yet we can discern the difference between a doubt that denies God’s promise and a doubt that desires God’s promise. Abram wanted to believe and looked to God to strengthen his faith.
3. (4-5) God speaks to Abram’s doubts with a promise.
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
a. This one shall not be your heir: God reminded Abram of the promise originally recorded in Genesis 12:2 and 13:15-16. God did this because He knows how much we need to be reminded.
b. One who will come from your own body shall be your heir: God often states a promise with such certainty that we believe it will be fulfilled right away, but the fulfillment of this promise was still 15 years away.
i. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews says: And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)
c. From your own body: God explained exactly what He meant in His promise to Abram. He meant that it wasn’t a spiritual descendant who would inherit the promise (such as Eliezer), but an actual flesh-and-blood descendant. This was necessary, because we sometimes misunderstand God’s promises.
d. Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them: God not only told Abram the promise again, but He confirmed it with an illustration: the stars in the sky showed how vast the number of Abram’s descendants would be.
i. One of those descendants – the greatest of his descendants – would be the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).
4. (6) Abram’s response of faith to God’s promise.
And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
a. And he believed in the Lord: When Abram put his trust in God, specifically in God’s promise to him (descendants leading to the Messiah), God credited this belief to Abram’s account as righteousness.
i. There are essentially two types of righteousness: righteousness we accomplish by our own efforts, and righteousness accounted to us by the work of God when we believe.
ii. Since none of us can be good enough to accomplish perfect righteousness, we must have God’s righteousness accounted to us by doing just what Abram did: he believed in the Lord.
iii. God’s accounting is not pretending. God does not account to us a pretended righteousness, but a real one in Jesus Christ.
b. And He accounted it to him for righteousness: This is one of the clearest expressions in the Bible of the truth of salvation by grace, through faith. This is the first time believe is used in the Bible and the first time righteousness is used in the Bible. This is the gospel in the Old Testament, quoted four times in the New Testament.
i. What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3)
ii. Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. (Romans 4:9-10)
iii. And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:19-24).
iv. Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?; just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:5-7)
c. He accounted it to him for righteousness: Romans 4:9-10 makes much of the fact this righteousness was accounted to Abram before he was circumcised (Genesis 17). No one could say Abram was made righteous because of his obedience or fulfillment of religious law or ritual. It was faith and faith alone that caused God to account Abram as righteous.
i. “When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen...This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed...It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” (Luther, cited in Boice)
d. He believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness: The faith that made Abram righteous wasn’t so much believing in God (as we usually speak of believing in God), as it was believing God. Those who only believe in God (in the sense of believing He exists) are merely on the same level as demons (James 2:19).
B. God speaks to Abram’s doubt with a covenant.
1. (7-8) Abram’s doubts surface again.
Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
a. Then He said to him: We don’t know if the events beginning with Genesis 15:7 followed close upon what happened in Genesis 15:1-6; the flow of the text seems to indicate they did.
b. I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it: This was a dramatic, clear promise from God. The power and clarity of it make us somewhat surprised by the answer of Abram: Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it? Abram boldly asked God for proof of the promise.
i. Though God had just account Abram as righteous, Abram could still demonstrate some degree of doubt, as indicated by his question, “How shall I know that I will inherit it?” Abram experienced what many of those who are accounted righteous do. It was as if he said, “I believe when I hear God say it, but five minutes later, I’m not sure – please prove it to me.”
ii. Remember, Abram had no title deed to the land, nothing to make anyone else believe he actually owned the land. All he had was the promise of God.
2. (9-11) Abram prepares to make a covenant with God.
So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
a. A three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon: This reads more like a shopping list for a witch doctor than something the Lord would ask for. Yet Abram understood perfectly what God asked him to prepare for.
b. Cut them in two ... and placed each piece opposite the other: Abram knew exactly what to do with these animals; he understood that according to the custom of his day, God told him to get a contract ready for signing.
i. In those days, contracts were made by the sacrificial cutting of animals, with the split carcasses of the animals lying on the ground. Then both parties to the covenant walked through the animal parts together, repeating the terms of the covenant. The Lord made a covenant in Genesis 15:18 is literally, “the Lord cut a covenant.”
ii. Jeremiah 34:18-20 makes reference to this same practice of a covenant made by cutting animals and repeating the oath of the covenant as one walks through the animal parts.
iii. The symbolism was plain. First, this is a covenant so serious it is sealed with blood. Second, if I break this covenant, let this same bloodshed be poured out on my animals and me.
iv. When Abram had his doubts and wanted assurance from the Lord, God said to him plainly, “Let’s sign a contract and settle this once for all.”
c. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away: As Abram waited for the Lord to appear and walk through the carcasses with him (to sign the covenant), God didn’t come right away. He had to wait and fight off the vultures until God did something with this covenant ceremony.
i. Abram had reason to expect that God would come down and walk through the animal parts with him, because God had previously appeared to him (Genesis 12:7).
3. (12-16) Prologue to the covenant.
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
a. Now when the sun was going down: At the end of the day, God had not yet come to walk through the animal parts with Abram. Instead, God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Abram. Apparently, at least part of what followed came to Abram in a dream while he was under this deep sleep.
b. Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them: Abram wanted concrete proof from God, and God would soon sign the covenant. Yet, Abram needed to know he would have land and descendants, but all would not go well with them in the future. This was a dreadful aspect to an amazing promise.
i. After God told him some of the hardship that would befall his descendants, Abram might have said, “If that is what is going to happen, I don’t want any children.” This was a complicated blessing.
c. They will afflict them four hundred years: Specifically, God told Abram of the slavery and hardship Israel would endure in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-14). Yet they would, after four generations, come back into the Promised Land, and come with great possessions.
4. (17-21) The covenant is made.
And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates; the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
a. When the sun went down and it was dark: As Abram was either asleep or perhaps still groggy from the deep sleep, he saw God do an amazing thing - pass through the animal parts all by Himself, while Abram watched on the sidelines.
b. A smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces: In the walking through the sacrificed animals in the covenant ceremony, God represented Himself by two emblems - a smoking oven and a burning torch.
i. The smoking oven reminds us of the pillar of cloud representing the presence of God (Exodus 13:21-22), the smoke on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18), and the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory (1 Kings 8:10-12).
ii. The burning torch reminds us of the pillar of fire representing the presence of God (Exodus 13:21-22), of the burning bush displaying the presence of God before Moses (Exodus 3:4), and of the fire from heaven that sometimes consumed sacrifices God was well pleased with (1 Kings 18:38, 1 Chronicles 21:26, 2 Chronicles 7:1).
c. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: God, represented by the smoking oven and the burning torch, passed through the animal parts by Himself; as Abram watched, God showed this was a unilateral covenant. Abram never signed the covenant, because passively watched while God signed it for both of them in the ritual.
i. Therefore, the certainty of the covenant God made with Abram is based on who God is, not on who Abram is or what Abram would do. This covenant could not fail, because God cannot fail.
ii. In a sense, the Father walked through the broken and bloody body of Jesus to establish His covenant with us, and God signed it for both of us. We merely enter into the covenant by faith; we don’t make the covenant with God.
d. The Lord made a covenant with Abram: By entering into this contract, there is a sense in which God said, “If I don’t keep My word, let Me be put asunder.” God put His Deity on the line as a confirmation of His oath to Abram.
i. This covenant God signed alone; Abram did not haggle with God over the terms. God established and Abram accepted. Abram could not break a contract he has never signed!
ii. “A Divine covenant is not a mutual agreement on equal terms between two parties, but a Divine promise assured.” (Maclaren)
e. I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates: By quoting the specific lands Abram’s descendants would inherit, God made it plain this is not a figurative spiritual promise. It was real, and through this promise, Israel would inherit real land.
i. “For a very brief time, under Solomon (1 Kings 8:65) and possibly again under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25), the children of Israel ruled all this territory, as a token of the final and permanent possession they will have in the future.” (Morris)
Genesis 16 - Hagar and the Birth of Ishmael
A. Sarai gives her servant girl Hagar to Abram.
1. (1-2) Sari proposes a child for Abram through Hagar.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.
a. She had an Egyptian maidservant: Hagar was almost certainly part of what Abram received during his time in Egypt (Genesis 12:16).
b. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her: Sarai encouraged Abram to take part in what was essentially a surrogate mother arrangement in that day. According to custom, the child would be considered to be the child of Abram and Sarai, not Abram and Hagar.
c. And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai: Sarai did something that goes against the nature of wives - to give another woman to her husband. She probably did this because she knew the promise of God (that Abram would be the father of many nations), yet she thought she was the problem with God’s promise being fulfilled. So in an effort to help God fulfill His own promise she allowed her husband make the servant girl pregnant.
i. Ginzberg quotes a Jewish tradition saying that before they came to live in the Promised Land, Abram and Sarai regarded their childlessness as punishment for not living in the land. But now they were in the land for ten years, and they still had no children. Sarai probably felt it was time to do something. Perhaps she though along the lines of old (unbiblical) proverb, “God helps those who help themselves.”
ii. Even though this early form of surrogate motherhood was common and accepted in that day, it doesn’t mean it was right. God was clearly not leading Abram and Sarai.
2. (3-4) Abram agrees with Sarai’s suggestion.
Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
a. After Abram dwelt ten years in the land: It had been more than ten years since the promise was made regarding Abram’s descendants. By most accounts, ten years seems like a long time to wait for the promise of God.
i. The long waiting for the promise discouraged them and made them vulnerable to acting in the flesh. Yet, even after this, it would still be more than 13 years until the child of promise came.
ii. When we impatiently try to fulfill God’s promises in our own effort, it accomplishes nothing and may even prolong the time until the promise is fulfilled. Jacob had to live as an exile for 25 years because he thought he had to arrange the fulfillment of God’s promise to get his father’s blessing. Moses had to tend sheep for 40 years in the desert after he tried to arrange the fulfillment of God’s promise by murdering an Egyptian.
iii. It is much better to receive God’s help than to try and help Him with our own wisdom and even unbelief. “Those who are truly zealous for God frequently reach for fruit without first dying. Unfortunately much Christian work is done in this way, and while there is conception, the child that is born can never be the heir. Christian work that is done merely through the zeal of human effort without counting the body as dead, and Sarai as good as dead, may produce great revival campaigns with but a few genuinely saved, large church memberships with many tares among the wheat.” (Barnhouse)
b. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived: Abram certainly acted according to his own power and wisdom when he agreed to inseminate Hagar and did not trust in God’s ability to provide an heir through Sarai. But this wasn’t a matter of a sensual romance. According to some of the custom of the day, Hagar would actually sit on the lap of Sarai as Abram inseminated her, to show that the child would legally belong to Sarai, as Hagar was merely a substitute for Sarai.
i. We understand this from the similar occassion of using a servant as a surrogate mother in the case of Rachel’s giving of Bilhah to Jacob when Rachel was barren. In that context, Genesis 30:3 reads: So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.”
ii. The phrase “bear a child on my knees” refers to the ancient practice of surrogate-adoption. Some believe that the phrase refers only to a symbolic placement of the child on the knees of one who adopts it. Others believe that it refers to the surrogate sitting on the lap of the adoptive mother during both insemination and birth. For example, referring to Genesis 30:3 the Twentieth Century Bible Commentary says: “These words are probably intended literally, and not merely as figurative adoption.”
iii. We should not regard the idea that Hagar was inseminated and gave birth “on the knees” of Sarai as a certainty - we don’t know enough about the ancient practice, and even if it were an ancient custom it doesn’t mean that it was followed in every case. But it certainly is a reasonable possibility.
c. And she conceived: Then the worst thing from Sarai’s perspective happened - Abram succeeded in inseminating Hagar. This proved beyond all doubt the problem was in Sarai, not in Abram, and it also could cause others to think Hagar was more of a woman and more blessed than Sarai.
3. (5-6a) Sarai’s anger towards Hagar.
Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.” So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.”
a. I became despised in her eyes: Hagar’s contempt for Sarai started the problem. She couldn’t resist displaying an inappropriate haughtiness, thinking her pregnancy somehow showed her to be better than Sarai.
b. My wrong be upon you! Sarai blamed the whole situation on Abram, and for good cause. He should have acted as the spiritual leader and told his wife God was able to perform what He promised, and they didn’t need to try to perform God’s promise in man’s strength and wisdom.
c. Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please: Abram seemed to make a bad situation worse by turning the situation over to Sarai and not taking care of the child he is father to. Yet, in this, he also put his relationship with Sarai first, and that was good.
i. These terribly complicated and difficult situations often arise out of our sin. All in all, it is much easier to live life trusting in and obedient unto the Lord. God wants to spare us from these difficulties.
B. Hagar flees from Abram and Sarai.
1. (6b-9) The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and instructs her.
And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence. Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”
a. She fled from her presence: As Hagar escaped this difficult situation the Angel of the Lord (here, the pre-incarnate presence of Jesus) met her by a spring of water in the wilderness.
i. We can assume that this was God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem. We assume this because of God the Father it says: No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and no man has ever seen God in the Person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human appearance in the Old Testament (and no one has seen God the Father) it makes sense the appearance is of the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
b. Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand: God told Hagar to do something very difficult; to go back to her terrible situation and to submit herself to Sarai. We can suppose that Hagar might get very different counseling from many counselors today.
2. (10-12) The promise of the Angel of the Lord to Hagar.
Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her: “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
a. I will multiply your descendants exceedingly: God had great plans for Hagar’s child. He would become a great nation. Indeed, Ishmael would become the father of all the Arabic peoples.
i. Today’s battle between Jew and Arab is nothing new. Both Jews and Arabs are descended from Abram by two half-brothers: Ishmael, and the son to come later from Abram and Sarai, to be named Isaac.
ii. The entire conflict can be traced back to Abram’s decision to fulfill God’s promise in man’s wisdom and strength, both when he agreed to inseminate Hagar, and when he went to Egypt to begin with. The effects of our sin may reach far beyond what we ever imagined.
b. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him: Her child’s life will not be easy, but God would still bless and sustain him. God’s dealing with Hagar gives us hope. God sees our suffering and desires to touch our life when we suffer.
3. (13-16) God’s blessing and protection of Hagar and Ishmael.
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
a. You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees: Hagar knew this was no mere angel who appeared to her. The Angel of the Lord was also the-God-Who-Sees, the same One watching over Hagar and Ishmael.
i. Ishmael was the first man in the Bible to receive his name before he was born – setting him in the same company as John the Baptist and Jesus.
b. So Hagar bore Abram a son: Apparently, Hagar did return with a submitted heart. She told the whole story to Abram and Sarai, and Abram named the child Ishmael, just as instructed in the meeting with the Angel of the Lord Hagar described.
i. Hagar might have returned and said, “I fled from you all because I was so miserable and thought I could not continue here. But the Lord met me and told me He would see me through. He told me to come back and submit to you, so that is why I’m here.” After meeting with El Roi, (You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees), Hagar knew that if God could be with her in the wilderness, He would be with her in having to submit to Sarai also.
ii. “If we seek to change our circumstances, we will jump from the frying pan into the fire. We must be triumphant exactly where we are. It is not a change of climate we need, but a change of heart. The flesh wants to run away, but God wants to demonstrate His power exactly where we have known our greatest chagrin.” (Barnhouse)
Genesis 17 - God Reaffirms the Covenant
A. An appearance from God, a change of name for Abram.
1. (1-2) God appears to Abram when he is 99 years old.
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. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
a. The Lord appeared to Abram: Undoubtedly, this is another appearance of God in the person of Jesus, who took on a temporary human appearance before His incarnation on earth.
b. I am Almighty God: First, God told Abram who He is. By this name El Shaddai, He revealed His Person and character to Abram. However, there is some debate as to what exactly the name El Shaddai means.
i. Kidner: “A traditional analysis of the name is ‘God (el) who (sa) is sufficient (day).”
ii. Clarke: “El shaddai, I am God all-sufficient; from shadah, to shed, to pour out. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.”
iii. Barnhouse: the Hebrew word shad means “chest” or “breast.” It may have in mind the strength of a man’s chest (God Almighty) or the comfort and nourishment of a woman’s breast (God of Tender Care).
iv. Leupold: Shaddai comes from the root shadad, which means “to display power.”
v. We do know the Septuagint translates the word with the Greek pantokrator “Almighty,” the “One who has His hand on everything.”
c. Walk before Me and be blameless: Then God told Abram what was expected of him. We can only do what God expects of us when we know who He is and know it in a full, personal, real way.
i. The word blameless literally means “whole.” God wanted all of Abram, wanting a total commitment.
d. I will make My covenant between Me and you: God also reminded Abram He has not forgotten the covenant. Though it had been some 25 years since the promise was first made, and though it maybe seemed to Abram God forgot, God didn’t forget anything.
i. The last time we are told the Lord communicated with Abram directly was more than 13 years before. Seemingly, Abram had 13 years of “normal” fellowship with God, waiting for the promise all the time. Surely, at times during those years, Abram felt God forgot.
ii. Abram was becoming a great man of faith, but you don’t make a great man of faith overnight. It takes years of God’s work in them, years of almost mundane trusting in God, interspersed with a few spectacular encounters with the Lord.
2. (3-8) God refers to specific terms of the covenant He has not forgotten.
Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 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. 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.”
a. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham: To encourage Abram’s faith in the promise of descendants, God changed Abram’s name from Abram (father of many) to Abraham (father of many nations).
i. There was, no doubt, a sense in which Abram - “father of many” - was a hard name to bear for a man who was the father of none, especially in a culture where inquiry about one’s personal life was a courteous practice. Now God went a step further and made his name “father of many nations.” It is almost preposterous for a childless man to have such a name.
ii. Think of when Abraham announced his name change to others. They must have thought he wanted to escape the burden of his name. Instead he increased the burden.
iii. There are many wonderful name changes in the Bible, such as when God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28), and when He changed Simon’s name to Peter (Mark 3:16). God promises a wonderful new name to every overcomer in Him (Revelation 2:17).
iv. God gives us many names in faith (saint, righteous, chosen, royal priesthood, sons of God, and so forth), and He knows He will accomplish the meaning of the name in us - even it if seems preposterous.
b. As an everlasting possession: To encourage Abraham’s faith in the promise of the land, God repeated the promise again, reminding Abraham it is an everlasting possession given by an everlasting covenant.
3. (9-14) God institutes a sign of the covenant for Abraham and his descendants.
And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
a. Every male child among you shall be circumcised: For the first time, God gave Abraham something to do in regard to the covenant. He told them to take upon themselves a sign of the covenant, showing they received the covenant by faith.
b. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins: The sign was circumcision, the cutting away of the male foreskin. God chose this sign for many important reasons.
i. Circumcision was not unknown in the world at that time. It was a ritual practice among various peoples.
ii. There were undoubtedly hygienic reasons, especially making sense in the ancient world. “There is some medical evidence that this practice has indeed contributed to the long-lasting vigor of the Jewish race.” (Morris) McMillen, in None of These Diseases, noted studies in 1949 and 1954 showing an incredibly low rate of cervical cancer for Jewish women, because they mostly have husbands who are circumcised.
iii. But more importantly, circumcision is a cutting away of the flesh and an appropriate sign of the covenant for those who should put no trust in the flesh.
iv. Also, because circumcision deals with the organ of procreation, it was a reminder of the special seed of Abraham, which would ultimately bring the Messiah.
c. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised: God probably commanded the circumcision of children to take place on the eighth day because this is the day when an infant’s immune system is at the optimum level for such a procedure.
i. McMillen also notes newborn children have a peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life. It seems an important blood-clotting agent, vitamin K, is not formed in the normal amount until the fifth to seventh day of life. Another blood clotting agent, prothrombin, is at its highest levels in infants on precisely the eighth day of life, making the eighth day the safest, earliest day to circumcise an infant.
d. The uncircumcised male child ... he has broken My covenant:
Those who rejected circumcision rejected the sign of the covenant. They were no friends of the covenant God made with Abraham. It wasn’t that circumcision made them a part of the covenant (faith did), but rejection of circumcision was a rejection of the covenant.
i. Unfortunately, through the centuries, the Jews began to trust more in the sign of the covenant (circumcision) than in the God of the covenant, believing that circumcision by itself was sufficient and necessary to save. Paul refutes this idea extensively, especially in light of the finished work of Jesus (Galatians 5:1-15).
ii. Therefore, Christians are free to either circumcise or not. One may do so for social or hygienic reasons but it doesn’t get us any closer to God: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
iii. The closest Christian parallel we have to circumcision is baptism. Paul relates the two ideas together in Colossians 2:11-12. However, baptism is also a “sign” of the covenant; it does not save us, but is a sign of the covenant that does. Being baptized does not save us, but no Christian should refuse baptism.
B. The promise of a son to both Abraham and Sarah.
1. (15-16) The promise is stated: a son will come through Sarah, whose name is changed from Sarai.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And 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.”
a. As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name: There is only a subtle difference between Sarai and Sarah, but it is an important difference. “Sarai signifies my lady, or my princess, which confines her dominion to one family; but Sarah signifies either a lady or princess, simply and absolutely without restriction, or the princess of a multitude” (Poole).
b. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her: God made it plain that this son will not come about by another surrogate-mother situation (as with Hagar and Ishmael). Sarah herself will give birth, even though it is past her time in life to do so (Sarah was about 90 years old at this time).
2. (17-18) Abraham’s response to the promise.
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”
a. Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed: Abraham’s laugh didn’t seem to be one of cynical doubt, but of rejoicing in something he knew was impossible by all outward appearance, but that God could perform.
b. Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? He knew both he and Sarah were well past the time people normally have children. Yet, 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; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. (Romans 4:17-21)
c. Oh, that Ishmael might live before You! At the same time, Abraham didn’t really understand God’s promise completely. He perhaps thought God simply meant Ishmael would be Sarah’s “spiritual son.” Abraham - like all of us - found it hard to trust God for more than what he can conceive of.
3. (19-22) God repeats the promise and names the child who will come forth from Abraham and Sarah.
Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
a. Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac: The son will be named Isaac (“laughter”) because he will be such a joy to his parents, but also to always remind Abraham he laughed at God’s promise to give him a son through Sarah at this late age.
b. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him: Ishmael will be blessed (because Abraham prayed he would), but the covenant and its promises will pass only through the son to come, the son of promise.
4. (23-27) Abraham carries out God’s command of circumcision.
So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
a. And circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him: Abraham’s belief in the covenant was proved by his obedience to the command. What we really believe will show in our actions.
b. That very same day Abraham was circumcised: Abraham’s obedience was complete (every male among the men of Abraham’s house), prompt (that very same day), and daring (to virtually incapacitate all his fighting men at the same time).
i. Abraham didn’t need to pray about this. He didn’t need to grow or transition into this. God said it, and he did it. This is a wonderful example of obedience from a great man of faith.
Genesis 18 - The Promise of Isaac Confirmed
A. Abraham meets some very important visitors.
1. (1-5) Abraham invites the Lord and two others to a meal.
Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.”
a. Then the Lord appeared: Apparently, this happened a short time later. In Genesis 17:21, God said Sarah would give birth one year later, and at this time, she is not yet pregnant. So this couldn’t be more than three months after the events in Genesis 17.
b. Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees: Here again, the Lord came to Abraham in human appearance. This is another presentation of Jesus in human form before His incarnation.
i. We can assume that this was God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem. We assume this because of God the Father it says, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and no man has ever seen God in the Person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human appearance in the Old Testament (and no one has seen God the Father) it makes sense the appearance is of the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
c. Behold, three men were standing by him: We don’t know if Abraham immediately recognized who these visitors were. Though the Lord (in the Person of Jesus Christ) appeared to Abraham twice before (Genesis 12:7, 17:1), we don’t know if Jesus looked the same each time, or if Abraham could just know who this was.
d. He ran from the tent door to meet them: According to his godliness and the customs of that culture, Abraham offered the hospitality of his house to these travelers.
2. (6-8) Sarah and Abraham prepare a meal for their visitors.
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
a. Abraham hurried into the tent: Again, to us this may seem to be overdoing it, but ancient culture had an extremely strong sense of hospitality to visitors. And it is also likely Abraham knew it was the Lord visiting him.
3. (9-10) God reconfirms His promise of a son.
Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.)
a. I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son: We may wonder why God repeated the promise again, so close to the time when He said it previously. After all, it seems God was silent about the promise for more than 13 years. Now He came personally to repeat it twice in three months.
b. Sarah your wife shall have a son: We need to hear God’s promises over and over again. It is a way God uses to encourage and develop our faith: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
i. Perhaps also, Abraham and Sarah needed this visit to be an encouragement for them to do what they needed to do in bringing God’s promise to pass - to have sexual relations.
4. (11-12) Sarah’s reaction to God’s promise.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
a. After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure? Sarah laughed within herself at this promise. She could not believe God would literally grant this child as the result of normal sexual relations.
i. Leupold translates Genesis 18:12, “After I have become worn out, have I enjoyed sexual delight and my lord too is an old man?” Leupold the observes, “The matter is not put very delicately by Sarah.”
ii. It may be, even after the dramatic promises of Genesis 17, Abraham and Sarah had a way of “spiritualizing” God’s promise, making it mean something other than what God intended. Here, God made it plain: Abraham and Sarah will have normal sexual relations and produce a baby.
iii. It is strangely characteristic of us to believe God’s promise for a long, long, time, and endure through much discouragement along the way, until the promise is almost there, and then we find doubt. We are grateful that He is greater than our doubts.
b. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing: By all outward circumstance, there was good reason for Sarah to “spiritualize” the promise and laugh at its literal meaning. She had passed the age of childbearing, which literally seems to mean, “the manner of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” She had stopped menstruating and had gone through menopause.
i. Even accounting for their long lives (Abraham lived to be 175 and Sarah 127), they were both well past middle age. It would take a miracle of God for them to have literal children through normal means.
c. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself: Significantly, this is what Sarah (and Abraham) most wanted all their lives. Yet, they find it so hard to believe God’s promise when He says He will grant it to them.
5. (13-15) God answers Sarah’s laugh.
And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”
a. Why did Sarah laugh: God heard Sarah’s laugh even though she laughed within herself. There was nothing hidden before the Lord.
i. We might live very differently if we remembered that God hears and knows everything we think and say.
b. At the appointed time I will return to you: We might think God would say, “I gave you this promise twice and twice you laughed at it. That’s it! No more promise. I’ll take it to someone who will appreciate it.” Instead, God responded by dealing with her sin of unbelief, but not by taking away the promise.
i. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
c. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? Thankfully not, and God can also triumph even over our weak faith.
i. Hard is the same word for wonderful in Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given ... And His name will be called Wonderful. Jesus is our “wonderful” One, and He isn’t to hard or wonderful for God to give unto us.
d. The Lord said to Abraham: Significantly, God dealt with Abraham about this, not Sarah herself, because Abraham was the head of his home.
B. Abraham intercedes for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
1. (16-19) God decides to reveal to Abraham the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
a. Abraham went with them to send them on the way: As would be customary for a hospitable host in that day, Abraham will accompany his guests on their journey for a while as they depart.
b. Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing: Because of what God would bring from Abraham (a great and mighty nation), and because Abraham had to be a great leader (that he may command his children and his household after him), God will reveal to Abraham what He will do with Sodom and Gomorrah.
i. This point is vital; God’s purpose in this is not “gossip” with Abraham about what He will do, nor is it to satisfy Abraham’s curiosity. God wanted to do something in Abraham’s life through what He will reveal to him.
2. (20-21) God tells Abraham He will see if Sodom and Gomorrah are worthy of judgment.
And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
3. (22-26) Abraham asks an important question: will God destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
a. The men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord: We see the two men are actually the angels who visited Sodom in Genesis 19. The third “man” in the party is actually the Lord Himself.
b. And Abraham came near: Abraham came near to the Lord. Effective intercession is a matter of drawing near to God so we can pray with His heart.
c. Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? In discussing this question, Abraham “reminded” the Lord of His own nature and principles (shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?) Abraham thought that God, as a righteous Judge could not punish the innocent the same way as the guilty.
i. Prayer is effective because it prays knowing who God is, and how God works in a particular situation. Effective prayer doesn’t see itself as a passive spectator in what God does, but acts as if it must “remind” God in prayer.
ii. We might find it remarkable Abraham even cared about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He might have just prayed “Lord, get my nephew Lot out of there first,” but he didn’t. Abraham’s heart was full of sorrow and compassion, even for the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah.
d. If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes: God said this because Abraham asked. When Abraham drew near to the Lord and prayed according to God’s revealed nature and will, God agreed. The Lord said that He would spare the city if there were 50 righteous there.
4. (27-33) Abraham bargains with God for Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.” And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?” So He said, “I will not do it for the sake of forty.” Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” And he said, “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.” Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” So the Lord went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.
a. Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous: Now the principle is established - God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked - now it is just a matter of numbers. How many righteous peole will God spare the city for?
i. Abraham’s intercession was effective because it was specific. He talked about specific numbers with God, not in broad, general terms. Often our prayers are ineffective because we really don’t ask the Lord to do anything. Instead we often just toss wishes up to heaven.
b. Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Abraham continued his intercession with a “bold humility.” He was not proud or arrogant before the Lord, but he still continued to ask.
i. Abraham’s humility was demonstrated in that nowhere in his prayer did he ask “Why?” or did he demand that God explain Himself and His actions.
c. Suppose ten should be found there? Abraham was a skilled negotiator and he prevailed upon God to lower the number of righteous required to spare the city. First by units of five, then by units of ten, until the number settled at ten.
i. It is impossible to miss the persistence of Abraham in intercession. Why didn’t he give it up at 40 or 50 and say simply “it’s in the Lord’s hands” or “the Lord will do what the Lord will do”? Because an intercessor must feel, at the moment of prayer, that the eternal destiny of men depends on his prayer.
ii. This is the kind of heart God wanted to draw out of Abraham - a heart that cared so much for people made in the image of God that he worked hard to intercede on behalf of a city that deserved judgment. This was the heart a great leader of a great and mighty nation needed to have.
iii. Remember, there is a sense in which all this negotiation was fruitless. There were not ten righteous people in the city, only four. The cities were destroyed. Yet God specifically revealed the fate of these cities to Abraham to draw out of him an intercessor’s heart of love, so even before the time of Jesus Abraham could be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29) who is Himself an intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).
d. Abraham returned to his place: We wonder if Abraham should not have contined the negotiations because there were only four righteous in the city. Would God have spared the city for four if Abraham had asked? Perhaps Abraham felt Lot would surely have brought six people beyond his own family to God in his time in Sodom.
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