A. Singing, Exercise, and Doctrine
We used to call them action choruses. Young people of varying ages were encouraged to use
their arms and hands to simulate motions for the fountain that flowed deep and wide, the little light that shined, or the rains that threatened the houses of the wise and foolish builders. The choruses taught spiritual truths, helped the youngsters expend pent-up energy, and enabled youth workers to fill prolonged periods of time.
In recent years another such chorus was very popular with young people. The opening phrase affirms that Abraham had many sons. That is biblically true, for Paul says the same thing—that Abraham is the father of all who believe (Ro-mans 4:11, 16; compare Galatians 3:7). As the lyrics reacts the refrain, the words prompt several physical exercises that require agility, balance, and much energy. Most youngsters love to sing this exhilarating chorus, but it is doubtful that they realize the doctrinal implications of the opening words. That initial affirmation is a part of the lesson today.
Abraham is the great example of faith for all who believe in Christ. Abraham is the first per-son in the Bible of whom it is said that his belief was reckoned for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).He has more verses about him in the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11) than any other Old Testament saint. His name appears more than 200 times in the New Testament. So the next time you hear young people singing the chorus about Abraham having many sons, remember that that really is profound truth (with or without the suggested athletic movements!).
B. Lesson Background
The lesson last week was about the covenant that God made with Noah. Using the Genesis chronology, there are hundreds of years between Noah and Abraham. The Bible is silent about any direct communication from God to humankind during that period of time.
After the flood the sons of Noah and their descendants did well in obeying the command to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1, 7). The “table of nations” in Genesis 10 gives the names of individuals who were the founders of nations or tribal groups. The incident at the tower of Babel (Gene-sis 11:1-9) served to separate people by language, which God devised and assigned to the families of humankind. It is said that language, more than any other difference, serves to divide people yet today.
God’s first message to Abraham occurred while he was still in Ur of the Chaldees. There are several sites named Ur, with the traditional site of Abraham being the one in southern Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2). It was a city with sanitary sewers, schools, and the worship of a noon god and goddess. This was a very modern city in the twenty-first century BC when Abraham left to be-come a sojourner.
Abraham’s obedient response to leave with his family is a positive example of faith, for he did not know where God was leading hint (Hebrews 11:8). The family traveled toward northwestern Mesopotamia, finally stopping in Haran (Genesis11:31).
It is interesting that both Ur and Haran are known as centers of worship for a moon god and goddess. Idolatry eventually was common after the flood, and it was even practiced by Abraham’s father and brother (Joshua 24:2). Some, however, did maintain a genuine faith. (It is often assumed that Job lived during this time, and his faith is highly exemplary.)
When God selected Abraham, He chose a man without children, land, or reputation. To such a person God is ready to promise a son, a land, and greatness!
I. Promises to Abraham(Genesis 17:1-8, 15, 16)
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, patriarchs in the book of Genesis, receive promises by God on different occasions. God gives messages to Abraham several times in Genesis (12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:4, 5, 13-18; 17:1-22; 18:17-33; 22:15-18).
Acts 7:2 indicates an earlier contact before the family leaves Ur.
Similar promises are given twice to Isaac(Genesis 26:4, 24) and Jacob (Genesis 28:14, 15;35:9-12). As we open our lesson, we remember that Abraham’s name originally was Abram(Genesis 17:5, below).
A. Name for God (vv. 1, 2)
1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lox appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be than perfect.
The factor of Abram’s age is of interest. He was75 when he, Lot (his nephew), and others de-parted from Haran to go to the land of Canaan(Genesis 12:4, 5). When Abraham was 85, his wife suggested that perhaps she could have children through Hagar, her handmaid (16:2, 3).Abraham accepted the proposal, which was contemporary practice for a wife who was barren. Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 (16:16).Such statistics interest some people, but the message underneath them is very important: God keeps His promises, but the time of waiting maybe a testing of the patience and faith of those who are the recipients of the promises. In this case Abram and his wife Sarai were “running ahead” of God instead of waiting for His time.
The Lord identifies himself with His first words to Abram. He is not just God, but He is Almighty. (See question #3. page 241 This God is one who can accomplish things that are considered impossible. Over 1,400 years later Jeremiah will echo the same thought when he writes that nothing is too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17).Two imperatives are used by the Lord to ex-press His expectations. First, Abram is to walk before God. Second, his walk must be unblemished; Abram is to do his best in meeting his obligations to God.
“WHAT’S IN A NAME?”
In the early 1960s General Motors tried unsuccessfully to sell its new, economical compact model the Nova in Latin America. The problem, it seems, was that the name Nova means “no go” in Spanish. After GM changed the car’s name to Caribe, sales took off at least so the story goes. Actually, this is one of those urban legends we hear from time to time. For one thing, sales weren’t really that bad, and the Caribe was sold by Volkswagen. However, this story has gained lots of “mileage” (pardon the pun) by being repeated many times in marketing textbooks and business seminars.
Let’s try another one. When Coca-Cola entered the Chinese market, it had to find Mandarin characters that sounded like “Coca-Cola.” The characters they chose could mean “to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice” but could also be translated “bite the wax tadpole.” Hmmm. Whether or not either story is true, in the final analysis their very existence points to the fact that names are important. So it was with the name by which God revealed himself to Abram. Abram’s culture believed in many gods, but the God who spoke to Abram was the Almighty God!
He was significantly different from the fictitious gods that people worshiped. He was and is the God who has power and who makes covenants with those who believe Him.
2. And 1 will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. This is the first of 13 uses of the word covenant in this chapter. It is used only once with Abram prior to this chapter, in Genesis 15:18. In that chapter God specifically promises that Abram will have a son and that his descendants will he as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5).The words will accompany many of God’s blessings as given in this chapter. This construction shows that the fulfillments are in the future, but God will keep His promises.
B. Nations to Result (vv. 3, 4)
3, 4. And Abram tell on his face: and God talked with bins, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
Abram’s immediate response is to fall and assume a position of utmost respect. The implications of what the Lord has just said are racing through his mind, and heir overwhelmed! God’s next words reinforce the thought that Abram is to have many descendants.
An excellent commentary on Abrams thoughts can be found in Romans 4:19, 20. In these verses Paul stales that Abraham was not weak in faith, even as Ire considered his own body and his wife’s womb tube dead. The God who created life in the beginning could do the same again for this elderly couple!
In verse 4 God states that the covenant being made is with Abram, and one outcome is that many notions will result. The factor of notions(plural) is a new concept. The singular form of the word is used in Genesis 12:2, so this adds a dimension to the promises that God is making. Of course, living in the twenty-first century so means that we are aware of the historical fulfillment of this prophecy. But it must be a staggering thought for Abram in the twenty-first century! Some; of the descendants of Abram who will produce marry sons include Ishmael and the six sons that Abraham had by his second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1, 2).
C. New Nattre for Abram (v. 5a)
5a. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham. A new name is given to Abram, and it is very meaningful as a part of this covenant. Whereas Abram means “exalted father,” the name Abraham means “father of a multitude.” This new name itself is a challenging part of this expanded covenant.
The exact nature of this exchange between God and Abraham is not given; it may have been personal, private event. One can only wonder at the responses of others when Abraham tells them that his name is now “father of a multitude.” Abraham has a private army (Genesis14:14); when those men think of Abraham as childless, elderly man, how can they use his new name without a snicker?
D.Nations and the Kings (vv. 5b, 6)5b, 6. For a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
The thought that Abraham will be a father of many nations is repeated from verse 4. This time the concept is amplified: Abraham’s descendants will be exceeding fruitful.
Abraham’s offspring will also include kings. This is a new factor, not mentioned previously. Moses (the author of Genesis) will later record the names of several kings who are descendants of Ahraham’s grandson Esau (Genesis 36:31-39). Stu-dents of biblical history are aware of Saul, David, Solomon, and other kings who trace their lineage In Abraham (Matthew 1:2-11). God’s promises do come to pass!
E.People of the Covenant (v. 7)
7. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed otter thee in their generations, fur an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. This special covenant relationship will continue into the future for the children of Abraham, for it is an everlasting covenant. It must first be noted that the applications of these phrases are restricted: in this same chapter the descendants of Ishmael are excluded, in spite of Abraham’s expressed thought that the covenant could be fulfilled in him (vv. 18-21, below).This verse also allows us to compare the use the word seed in the King James Version with the word descendants in the New International Version. The selection of the word seed seems to begetter, for Paul uses the fact that it is singular to show that the ultimate fulfillment is a spiritual one in Christ, that He is the promised seed (Galatians 3:16; compare Acts 3:25).
The same word occurs again in Genesis 22:18.There the promise takes a phrase from Genesis
12:3 and states that it is through Abraham’s seed that all the families of the earth will be blessed. The beauty of the apostles’ argument is that all people now have access to the spiritual blessings that the redemptive work of the Messiah makes available.
F. Place Assigned (v. 8)
8. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
The land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham previously (Genesis 12:5, 7; 15:18). These words from God provide a further confirmation of that promise. There is a certain irony here: it has been 24 years since Abraham entered Canaan (compare Genesis 12:4, 5; 17:1), and so far Abraham does not possess any of it. God told Abraham previously that his descendants would be oppressed 400 years in another land, and in the fourth generation they would occupy Canaan when the iniquity of the inhabitants was full
(Genesis 15:13, 16)!
G. Position for Sarai (vv. 15, 16)
15, 16. And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
The intervening verses record the establishment of circumcision as a sign of the covenant for Abraham’s male descendants. Now the role of Sarai in the promises is expressed for the first time. God begins by changing her name for the role that she will have in redemptive history: to become the mother of nations and kings. This will have its beginning in her own son, Isaac.
The meanings of the names Sarai and Sarah seem to be the same, but there is the difference in spelling. Both names mean “princess.”
II. Perplexities of Abraham (Genesis 17:17-22)
Abraham finally has an opportunity to express his reactions. Those reactions concern two people: Sarah and Ishmael.
A. Problems Stated (vv. 17, 18)
17. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
Keep this map posted throughout the quarter to help set the geographical context.
Abraham’s emotional response is laughter. The fact that Sarah is to become a mother goes beyond what is humanly reasonable. If God is in it, however, then it becomes reasonable!
Abraham projects the promises a year into the future, the earliest time for a son to be born. Abraham will then be 100 and Sarah will be 90, and he inwardly wonders about what he has just heard. Could it possibly be true?
18. And Abraham said unto God, 0 that Ishmael might live before thee!
At this time Ishmael is 13 years old (compare Abraham’s age in Genesis 16:16 and 17:1). Abraham loves this young teenager and states that he is willing to accept him as the child of promise. In his humility he does not demand that God go to any special trouble.
B. Problems Solved (vv. 19-22)
19. And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
God speaks and assures Abraham that Sarah is the one who will bear the son who will fulfill the promise. In addition, God continues to provide names for the people involved, and He states that the son is to be called Isaac. The name Isaac means “laugh,” and it will ever serve as a reminder of Abraham’s reaction when he heard the prediction.
The I will statements of this section continue. God asserts that it is through Isaac that the everlasting covenant is to be established and that it will continue for generations after him.
20.And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
God assures Abraham that his concerns for Ishmael have been heard and that blessings are included for him. They are similar in nature to the promises of the covenant. But limitations are set concerning the number of future leaders among his descendants (twelve princes). The final promise is that Ishmael’s descendants will become o great nation.
21.But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
The closing words of God in this account re-state the factors that are to have imminent fulfillments: that the covenant is to be continued through Isaac, that Sarah is to be the mother, and that these things will occur the next year. One can only wonder concerning Abraham’s final reflections and actions: will they be outwardly exuberant and joyful, silent and profound contemplation, or overwhelming gratitude? It will take time for the reality of the promises to be grasped fully.
Dossena (1878-1937) was a stonemason from northern Italy. He became skilled at carving reproductions of sculptures from ancient times, and his work was so good that others began selling his carvings as genuine antiques. Despite Dossena’ best efforts to spread the truth of the matter, dealers in antiquities continued the fraud since they were reaping handsome profits. So many pieces of his work were in circulation as genuine that it became impossible to trace the mall. It is said that some of Dossena’s copies are accepted as genuine antiquities yet today.
With the best of motives, Abraham and Sarah also perpetrated an unintentional fraud. They had received God’s promise of a son as a sign of God’s covenant with them. Time went by, and still there was no pregnancy. Their solution was for Abraham to have a son by Sarah’s servant girl, Hagar.
The consequences of their decision were far-reaching. We see the effects today in strife in the Middle East, as some elements of religious extremism claim covenantal blessings through Ishmael. Although the child Ishmael would be blessed by God, he was not the “genuine article” the son of the covenantal promise. We al-ways get into trouble when we try to push God’s timetable!
22. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
God departs from Abraham, and this brings to a conclusion this stage of Abraham’s developing role in the covenant. There are more interactions to follow, but the new factors are overwhelming.
Conclusion A. If It Sounds Too Good.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—unless God is in it. The covenant that God made with Abraham offered promises that another human could not deliver. It is comforting to know that God did not hold the negative reactions of Abraham and Sarah against them. Their reservations did not thwart God’s redemptive plan. It is God’s plan to provide Heaven for all the redeemed. That’s something that sounds just too good to be true, but it is true. It sounds too good to be true that God forgives and forgets the sins of the redeemed, but God does that—even though we tend to burden ourselves with memories of our failures.
God offers Heaven to sinners who believe on His Son and follow His plan of salvation. That sounds too good to be true—but it is true!
Thank You, Lord, for the trials of life that develop patience. Forgive my lack of trust in those times. In the name of Your Son, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Trust God despite your doubts