This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God determined to redeem mankind from sin by sending a Savior born of a woman to deal with the sin problem. The seed-line was narrowed down to the family of Shem, and finally to the family of Abram. Abram was given a covenant, known as the Abrahamic Covenant, where in God promised to give him a nation (descendants, land, and a King) that would bring blessing upon the earth. This covenant would span the rest of history until the end. However, Abram and his wife, Sarai had no children. The birth of a son would be the first step toward the fulfillment of the covenant.
Thus the child that God promised to Abraham was crucial. And Abram and Sarai had been waiting for many years for the LORD to give them this child. In chapter 16, Sarai had given Abram her maid, Hagar, in order to produce the child through their own shrewdness. However, God rejected that child, Ishmael. Now God will confirm once again to Abram that he will have a son through Sarai whom He would multiply into an exceedingly large nation, who would be given the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance, who would give rise to kings, and who would have the LORD as their God.
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him,
"I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
2 "I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly."
The LORD revealed Himself to Abram as God Almighty. This is what Genesis has adequately proven about God. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is the judge who must be answered to. He is able to control the elements of nature. He is able to send confusion upon people. His will is never thwarted. He is always victorious. As such, the only proper response to God Almighty is to walk before Him blamelessly. He demands perfection, because He Himself is perfect. However, due to the Fall and the curse of sin, no one can walk perfectly before God. The breaking of the curse and the eradication of sin is the goal that God is working toward in the selection of Abram with whom to make an eternal covenant. Through Abram would come a nation, a people unto the LORD, and through that nation, the promised Seed of the woman, the Messiah, who would take away the sins of the world so that all who believe God and walk in His ways will truly and justly be blameless before God.
So God promised to establish His covenant between Abram and Himself. This covenant had been ratified by the ceremony in chapter 15, but now the time of initial fulfillment is on the horizon. The covenant will be established through the birth of a son who will multiply exceedingly. Though the covenant was established through the birth of the son of promise (who was not the Messiah), the fulfillment of all aspects of the Abrahamic covenant is still awaited today.
There is only one response to such a gracious covenant:
3 Abram fell on his face,
But there’s more!
and God talked with him, saying,
4 "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 "No longer shall your name be called Abram,
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
This section contains God’s part of the covenant with Abraham. He made the covenant with Himself in Genesis 15, so it is completely up to Him to bring it about. Since Abram would become the father of many nations, his name was changed from ‘exalted father’ to ‘father of multitudes.’
Next follows five ‘I will’ statements by God:
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.
Abraham was not just going to the father of the Jews, as already shown in Genesis 16. He was going to become the father of many nations, and out of these nations would come kings.
7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
God promised to establish His covenant with Abram and with Abram’s descendants throughout time. The descendants that are in view are the descendants through Isaac, as verses 19 and 21 specify. Of significant note is that part of the covenant is that God would be God to Abram and his descendants through Isaac. This becomes a repeated theme in Exodus.
8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
The promise of the everlasting possession of the land of Canaan is repeated. And when they live in the land, God covenants with them to be their God.
The next section details Abraham’s part in the covenant. Though God made the covenant with Himself, and therefore insured that by His own faithfulness, it would be brought to pass, He still demands covenant faithfulness of Abraham and his descendants. So while the covenant is sure to come to pass, its fulfillment is also tangled up with the obedience of Abraham’s family.
9 God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
It is important to note that this sign of the covenant is an identification with the Abrahamic covenant. But this sign of the covenant must be accompanied by faith in the covenant promises of God.
The third section deals with Sarai’s part in the covenant.
15 Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."
God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. He promised to bless her by giving Abraham a son through her. Through Sarai would come nations and kings, even though she would only have one child.
17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!"
How astonishing it must have been to an old man with an old wife to hear that he would soon have a son! Yet, in faith, Abraham called his wife by her new name, Sarah, for he believed that God would bring it about. Thus Paul’s words in Romans 4:19-20, “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was also able to perform.” But despite God’s current and past insistence of the child of promise coming through Sarai, Abraham still proposed making Ishmael the inheritor of the covenant.
19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
God rejected Ishmael, and assured Abraham that He would a child to Sarah through Abraham, just as He had said. It would be with Isaac that the everlasting covenant would be established.
But God was also gracious to Abraham concerning Ishmael. The last section concerns Ishmael’s blessing from God:
20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year."
Though Ishmael received similar promises to Isaac concerning numerous descendants, the angel of the LORD’s prophecy in Genesis 16 showed that God had different plans for the two sons.
22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
Abraham did not waste time. He obeyed the word of God concerning circumcision.
23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. 24 Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27 All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
Every male in Abraham’s house was circumcised in one day. That means that hundreds of men were circumcised that day (cf. Gen 14).
Abraham’s faith led him to immediate and unquestioning obedience. He trusted God, knowing that God would not break His covenant, but was able to do far beyond what Abraham could even imagine. So it is with us today. We must believe God about His Son, Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham and Isaac according to the flesh. We must trust that God sent Jesus to take away the sins of those in the world who believe (dealing with the sin problem and providing the initial crushing blow to the head of the serpent while receiving a bite on the heel) and put an end to the curse when He returns to reign in righteousness. And that faith must result in obedience to all that Jesus commanded, for believers are called unto good works, walking in a manner worthy of the calling which they have received, behaving in a way that is in keeping with who they are in Christ.