God Renews The Covenant With Abraham
Thirteen more years passed before God affirmed the covenant with Abram. During those quiet intervening years, Abram continued to walk with God and serve Him. He did not need constant special revelations to do God’s will, nor do we. God reaffirmed His covenant and then gave Abram the sign of circumcision as the mark of that covenant. How unfortunate that many of the Jews trusted in the sign rather than in the Lord! God wanted an inward change of the heart, not just surgery on the body.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”
Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)
“El” is the name of God that speaks of power; but what does “Shaddai” mean?
Scholars do not agree. Some say it comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to be strong”; others prefer a word meaning “mountain” or “breast.” Metaphorically, a mountain is a “breast” that rises up from the plain; and certainly a mountain is a symbol of strength. If we combine these several ideas, we might say that “El Shaddai” is the name of “the all-powerful and all-sufficient God who can do anything and meet any need.”
But why would God reveal this name to Abraham at this time, at the close of thirteen years of silence?
Because God was going to tell His friend that Sarah would have a son. The Lord wanted Abraham to know that He is the God who is all-sufficient and all-powerful, and that nothing is too hard for Him. God says, “I will” twelve times in this chapter; He is about to do the miraculous.
After Abraham’s battle with the four kings, God came to him as a warrior and told him He was his “shield.” When Abraham wondered about his refusal of Sodom’s wealth, God told him He was his “exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1). Now when Abraham and Sarah were “as good as dead,” God assured them that He was more than sufficient to bring about the miracle birth. God comes to us in the ways we need Him most.
The phrase “My covenant” is used nine times in this chapter and defines God’s relationship with Abraham. This was not another covenant, different from the one God had already established with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21). It was a reaffirmation of that covenant, with the important addition of circumcision, the sign and seal of the covenant.
God promised once again to multiply Abraham’s family, even though he and his wife did not have any children. His descendants would be “as the dust of the earth” (13:16) and as the stars of the heavens (15:5). These two comparisons—earth and heaven—suggest that Abraham would have a physical family, the Jews (Matt. 3:9), and a spiritual family made up of all who believe in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-29).
At this, Abram fell face down on the ground. Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.
Genesis 17:3-5 (NLT)
Humbly and reverently Abram fell to the ground to worship. God’s patience had brought the patriarch to the right attitude of heart which would make it possible for him to have his name changed, the covenant renewed, and the promises repeated.
The covenant was to be accomplished in due time. The promised Seed was Christ, and Christians in him. And all who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abram, being partakers of the same covenant blessings. In token of this covenant his name was changed from Abram, “a high father,” to Abraham, “the father of a multitude.” All that the Christian world enjoys, it is indebted for to Abraham and his Seed.
Whether he looked beneath his feet or up into the heavens, or whenever anyone called him by name, Abraham was reminded of God’s gracious promise to give him many descendants.
Keep in mind that Abraham’s descendants include not only the Jewish people, but also the Arab world (through Ishmael) and the nations listed in Genesis 25:1-4. All who trust Jesus Christ as Savior are spiritual children of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9), and that will be a vast multitude (Rev. 7:9).
Your descendants will be exceedingly fruitful. Nations and kings will descend from you. I hereby make this covenant—this sacred bond—between Me and you and all of your children and their children’s children throughout the coming generations. It will be an eternal covenant. I will be your God and the God to all who come after you!
Genesis 17:6-7 (VOICE)
In being fruitful for God, we have nothing in ourselves that will accomplish the task. Abraham and Sarah had tried their own plan, and it failed miserably. Jesus said, “Without Me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). “We say that we depend on the Holy Spirit,” wrote Vance Havner, “but actually we are so wired up with our own devices that if the fire does not fall from heaven, we can turn on a switch and produce false fire of our own.”
I will fulfill My promise to give you and your descendants the land of Canaan, where you now live as foreigners. I will place all of Canaan into your hands to be yours forever. I will be your God and their God forever.
(Continuing to Abraham) As for your part in the agreement, you and your descendants must keep My covenant throughout the generations.
Genesis 17:8-9 (VOICE)
God’s everlasting covenant also included an everlasting possession: the land of Canaan. This land is a battleground today and always will be until the Lord returns to reign. But as far as God’s covenant is concerned, the land belongs to Israel.
The Jews’ ownership of the land depends solely on God’s gracious covenant with Abraham: God gave them the land. But their possession and enjoyment of the land depends on their faithfulness to obey the Lord. This was the theme of Moses’ messages in Deuteronomy. More than sixty times in that book, Moses told the people they would inherit or possess the land; and at least twenty-five times, Moses reminded them that the land was a gift from the Lord. God’s name was there (Deut. 12:5, 11, 21), and He would watch over the land to bless it, if His people walked in His ways.
The only piece of ground all the patriarchs possessed was the cave Abraham purchased from Ephron, the son of Zohar, to become a family burial place (Gen. 23; 49:29-31). Jacob and his family had to leave the land and go to Egypt (Gen. 46), but God had promised that they would return to Canaan at the appointed time (15:13-17).
Joshua led them into their land where they conquered the inhabitants and claimed their inheritance. But the people did not stay true to the covenant, so God had to discipline them in the land (Judges 2:10-23). He rose up enemy nations to defeat Israel and put her in bondage. Israel was in the land, but she did not control it or enjoy it (Deut. 28:15).
During the reigns of David and Solomon, the people enjoyed their inheritance and served the Lord faithfully. But after the kingdom divided, Israel and Judah both decayed spiritually (except for occasional interludes of revival) and ended up in bondage: Assyria defeated Israel, and Babylon conquered Judah. It was then that God disciplined His people outside their land. It was as though He were saying, “You have polluted My land with your idols, so I will put you in a land that is addicted to idols. Get your fill of it! After you have been away from your land for seventy years, maybe you will learn to appreciate what I gave you.”
God permitted a remnant to return to the land, rebuild the city and the temple, and restore the nation; but it never became a great power again. However, whether Israel is faithful or faithless, the land belongs to her; and one day she will inherit it and enjoy it to the glory of God. Israel’s title deed to the land is a vital part of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
I live my life blamelessly before God. I give Him my whole heart and He makes me complete. He has sworn to me on His oath, our covenant of love, to increase me in His prosperity and multiply me in His abundance.
God has firmly established His covenant with me. He makes my children and I to be great in the earth. He gives us the land where we are strangers. He is our God and we will keep our covenant with Him.
I pray this declaration of faith in Jesus’ name. Amen.