Sermon delivered June 8, 2002 by Pastor Kent Crutcher

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Abraham: Pronouncing a Covenant

Genesis 17

The silence was deafening. Have you ever heard silence? It can be pretty loud when that's all there is. Have you ever been in a cave where you just longed the hear that drip of water, the only sound? But, for thirteen years, God had been silent. For thirteen years, Abram had endured the silent treatment. Have you ever been on the receiving end of "the silent treatment?" Ladies, that's a sin. Don't do that. No silent treatments. I think that is one of the commandments. It's not fun, I'm sure. I knew an older couple in a church where I worked in Michigan. The pastor told me that they had not said one word to each other in well over twenty years. He was serious. I knew them for one year. They lived in the same house. They rode in the same car to church. They sat in the same pew. And I never saw them speak to each other. That's been going on for over twenty years. Twenty years of silence. You know, in our bulletin these flowers are in dedication of Don and Florence West. Actually that should say June 10, 1943. They've been married fifty-nine years. I saw them. They're still talking. Isn't that neat?

Abram had been 86 years old when Ishmael had been born. Now he was 99. Thirteen years of silence from God. Thirteen years of wondering if he had done right or wrong by taking Hagar as a wife. Thirteen years of wondering if this son of his was the child of promise or not. Thirteen years of praying that he was. Thirteen years of living with two women who hated each other. I'll bet he longed for the silent treatment there. Thirteen years of no progress. Thirteen years of nothing of significance happening in his life to be recorded in Scripture. Thirteen years of no fruit. Thirteen years between Genesis chapter 16 and Genesis chapter 17.

What was this silence like to a man who had actually spoken with God? David says it very well in Psalm 28:1, To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. So Abram's life was in the pits! That is also where our lives are without God.

Turn to Genesis 17. Back in February and March, we had a seven part series on Abram. It followed his story from the time he left Ur to the time of Ishmael's birth. Today, we begin another seven part series on this same man, who's name is about to be changed to Abraham. Look at Genesis 17:1.

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

Wow! What an exciting verse of Scripture! One verse right here says so much. We could have a seven-part series on this one verse. We could spend all day just unpacking the meaning that dwells here. Don't pass up the fact that God actually appeared to Abram. But look at the name that He uses for Himself: "El- Shaddai," "God Almighty." In fact the only other place this word is in Job. "El-Shaddai" means "God Almighty." This is the first time God uses this name for Himself. And He uses it fora purpose because what He's about to tell Abram what He is going to do, it was going to take "God-Almighty" to do. And what He's about to tell Abram what is required of him is going to take God- Almighty, "El-Shaddai" to back him up. What does "El-Shaddai" ask Abram to do? "Walk before me and be perfect."

What does it mean to walk before God? You say, "perfect." That's what it says. In some translations it says,"Blameless." The same thing. "Walk before Me and be perfect.

What does it mean "to walk before God?" We often speak of the "Christian Walk." What does that mean? Actually, it means several different things. God instructed the Children of Israel to "walk after" the Lord. This denotes a position of servitude. He instructs Abram to walk "before" Him. This denotes a position of safety and trust. It is said of Noah and Enoch that they "walked with" God, showing a close friendship. It is said of Christians in the New Testament that they are to "walk in" Christ, the most intimate of relationships.

It may help to compare these walks with parents and children. When your child is an infant, they don't walk at all. They just go where you take them. In fact, you can look in the catalog and you can see all manner of child-carriers. I always liked a back- pack for the hikes. The babies slept there and off you go. The baby has no choice. The baby is following you. No "ifs" "ands or "buts." There may be drying and screaming back there but the baby still has to go with you. That's a position of safety. That's what happened. That's why God told the children of Israel to "Walk after Me when I take you out of Egypt. Because you have no spiritual life yet. You don't have a spiritual walk at all. I've got to take you with Me. And as long as you don't scream and fuss and as long as you don't rebel against it, I'm going to be happy."

But then the child gets a little bigger. Right around one year of age, the child starts trying to walk on his own. Where is the parent when the child is learning to walk? Is the parent out in front, saying,"Follow me? Lt's go." No! The parents is behind the child. He says, "Oops. Don't fall. Here we go. Okay. Hold them up. Be steady." Be there so that when the child does fall he can catch him. Then encourage again.

This is where Abram was in his grand spiritual journey. It took him 99 years to get there! But God said, "I am all powerful, walk in front of me and don't fall. You have been trying to take steps in your own direction and you keep on falling. Stay in front of me so that I can guide you and keep you from falling. That would be just perfect." That is also where David was. That is why he is called a "man after God's own heart," because he allowed God to pick him up when he fell. He allowed God to forgive him and to set him on the right track again.

When a child is even more mature, they actually become a help to the parent. They are more companions. They can walk with the parent in companionship and help to accomplish goals and do neat things along with the parents. God greatly desires our companionship. When Enoch stepped into this relationship with God, God brought him home to be with Him forever.

This leads us to the next walk we find which is even more intimate. It is where we become one with Christ, the bridegroom. "Walk in the Lord."

All of these can be perfect walks with God if we remember that the perfection belongs to Him and not to us, and that He is El- Shaddai, all powerful, strong enough to help us through any situation. Large enough to cover us with His righteousness. When we start believing that the perfection belongs to us, and I know people like that, we become the most miserably stressed out people on the planet. It's not a good way to go.

In this verse, God is telling Abram to "quit trying to do God's will on his own." He wants Abram to walk openly before Him, trusting in God and not himself. God does no more to condemn his past then this. His adultery with Hagar has been forgiven, but the results of this sin will live on. God is a God of new starts, new beginnings. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. How old was Abram here? He was ninety-nine. God is giving him a fresh start. "It's time to start over, Abram. Walk before Me."

Look at verse 2. "I will confirm my covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers."

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him: Let's stop there. He fell facedown. What must Abram have been thinking at this point? What was he feeling? It must have been a series of emotions that were conflicting with each other. First off: excitement. "God is talking tome again! It's been thirteen years." And then the wonderful promise of offspring is restated. "Oh, that's exciting! Oh, but I'm so old. What about my son, Ishmael? You know, I love him. How does he fit in with what God is saying now? Am I not too old for this?" No wonder he fell on his face. This encounter was more than he could take; too many things going on.

Something interesting here. Within these first three verses, we find three different names for God. Some have suspected that the Trinity is represented in this encounter with Abram. I don't know if that is true or not. But listen, this text could be read this way, "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Jehovah appeared to him and said, 'I am El-Shaddai; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.' Abram fell facedown, and Elohim said to him..." Do you catch it? Three different Hebrew names for God. The thought is that Jehovah is the Son, El-Shaddai is the Holy Spirit, and Elohim is the Father. Thus the whole Trinity would have been present in this expression of the covenant. This is the homework for you Hebrew scholars. Let me know if this theory has any validity. I'd like to know.

Look at verse 4. Hear begins a wonderful explosion of words from God; the very lips of the One who spoke and created the universe! So, I'm going to read Genesis 17:4-16 without stopping just as God spoke them.

"As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be you God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan , where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God."

Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is My covenant with you and your descendants after your, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."

What a discourse from God! Did you notice how often the words "I will" appeared in this covenant? Things God promised, "I will do." I counted seven times that God tells Abraham what He will do! That's a perfect Biblical number. That may be just a coincidence, but I also noticed that in Exodus 6 when He is talking to Moses and He is proclaiming what He is going to do for the children of Israel to bring them out of Egypt, He says, "I will" seven times. You know, God's will for His people is perfect! Let's don't mess with it.

Within this covenant are two name changes that reflect what the covenant is all about. They reflect the change that needs to take place in the hearts of Abram and Sarai. Abram's name, which means "my father is exalted," is changed to Abraham which means "father of a great number." Sarai, which means "my princess," is changed to Sarah, which means "a princess." She is no longer just Abram's princess, she is, in truth, royalty in God's eyes. They did nothing do deserve these changes in names except allow themselves to be chosen by God.

In Revelation 2:17, we hear about some more name changes that are going to take place: our name change. Those who overcome will get a new name on a white stone. And that's not going to be because we overcame, but we overcome with the power of El- Shaddai, the blood of the Lamb.

Here's where it's a little bazaar. The symbol of the acceptance of this covenant is a bit interesting. It's often puzzled me as to why God would choose something like circumcision. I imagine when Abraham announced it to the camp there may have been a little grumbling going on. What does this have to do with anything? I've read all kinds of theories trying to explain why this would take place, but then it just dawned on me. It's simple and how symbolic. After all, what could better represent to Abraham and his descendants the decision to follow God than circumcision? What a reminder of Abram's sin when he tried to do things his way with Hagar! Now, when the promise is to be fulfilled with Sarah, the reminder is there that God's way is best. It's different. Man's way leads to destruction. Every time a circumcision took place, it was a reminder of Father Abraham's sin and of God's forgiveness and faithfulness in covenant keeping. I also noticed that anyone not of the bloodline of Abraham that had been purchased were also circumcised. This should have told the decedents of Abraham that all were welcome into the family of God because they were bought with a price. I am surely glad of that! Because we are bought with a price, we are spiritual decedents of God's chosen ones. The symbol used now is baptism which still means death to our way of doing things and life in God's way. And like circumcision, baptism only has meaning if it represents a change of heart.

Look at verse 17. (He must have stood up again somewhere. Abraham fell facedown, he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under Your blessing!"

I've wondered about this laugh of Abraham. It evidently was not a laugh of disbelief like Sarah's would be in the next chapter because God does not question it. I believe that Abraham's laugh was at the humor of the situation. Here's a hundred year-old man and a ninety year-old woman are going to give birth. They're going to be changing diapers. Wow! Laughing at the power of E;- Shaddai. An old man and woman, who could not possibly produce a child, changing diapers. A laugh of joy at the power of El-Shaddai. Wow, He can do anything.

But then, Abraham's laugh turns to longing for his only son, Ishmael. What about him? Wouldn't it be easier for all concerned if he would be the son of promise? Can't you bless him? Yes, God is going to bless him.

Genesis 17:19-22 Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. He will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." When He had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Yes, God even promised to bless Ishmael, the son of adultery. God loves us so much. Yes, Abraham was forgiven of this sin but the results of it are profound even today. I had a young person come up to me. He was having trouble with an issue in his life, something that he wanted to do that was not right. And he said, "It only affects me." And I told him this story. I said, "You remember Abraham and Hagar?" "It only affects me!" Well, here centuries later the World Trade Center falls as the one night of sin. Our lives don't just affect us. They affect everyone. They affect God.

Paul has some very profound things to say about Abraham. Turn to Romans 4:13-25. You could read this whole chapter actually. It's all about Abraham being justified by faith. Actually, let's start with verse 16. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in Whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall you offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. "This is why it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-- for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the Dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

You know, God loves impossible things, because that's when El- Shaddai can shine through doing the impossible because He has all power. What a God we serve. To trust in His plan for us and have it credited to us a righteousness! But to trust in God's plan may not be easy. Patience is often involved.

A naturalist once took a cocoon of an emperor moth and kept it in his study for months, waiting for it to come forth. And then the day came and he watched the moth struggling to get out the tiny hole at the end of the cocoon. It struggled and struggled. It got to the point where it just couldn't go any more and would draw back. And then it would struggle again and draw back. What the naturalist didn't understand was that coming through that tiny hole would be what it would take to press the fluids from the moth into it's new wings to give them life and strength. But the naturalist lost patience. He didn't know this so with some tiny scissors he carefully cut the opening just a little bit larger and the moth came out easily. He waited for the wings to fill but they never did. The moth was ruined. His impatience and false kindness did not work. It was never able to fly as its Creator had intended.

God is always faithful. We need only to trust in His Word. We need not despair at His seeming delays. We need not grow weary of waiting, even for His return! His time is right. His time is best. His time is worth waiting for. His silent treatment can even be a learning experience, drawing us away from ourselves and closer to Him, searching for His will.

When you are on a spiritual walk, whether it be following God, before God, with God or even more intimate than that: in God, His silence need not be deafening. When there is nothing between you and your God, silence can be golden.

Sources:
Exploring Genesis by John Phillips
Gleanings in Genesis by Arthur W. Pink
Abraham by F.B. Meyer
The New International Commentary on the OT: Genesis by Victor P.
Hamilton

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Hymn of Praise: #423, Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
Scripture: Genesis 17:3-8
Hymn of Response: #322, Nothing Between 



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