Today, we are continuing our series in Genesis called Abraham – Hearing God’s Call. God called Abram to carry out God’s plan for his life. The plan had a number of important steps of obedience for Abram to make. God began to reveal His plan to Abram in
Genesis 12:1-2 (ESV) Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
God called Abram to a radical step of obedience, to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and journey to a new land that God would reveal to him. Abram obeyed and in the new land of Canaan, God revealed further details of His plan in
Genesis 15:5, 18a (ESV) And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” … On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram …
God now show Abram that he will have uncountable descendants and that God would provide the land of Canaan for them to live in. God called His promise and agreement with Abram a covenant. Last Sunday in our message “Going It Alone” we learned about a disastrous disobedience of Sarai and Abram as they fell into temptation to follow their own plans.
Today, our message from Genesis 17 is called “Promise Confirmed.” Despite Abram and Sarai’s attempt to carry out God’s plan through Ishmael, God will make it clear that His plan will succeed through a son from Sarai named Isaac. So, we see from Genesis 12 to 15 to 17, God reveals more and more of his plan for Abraham throughout his life. Bible scholars refer to this characteristic of God as progressive revelation. God reveals more details of His plan to Abram as Abram believes and obeys God.
The concept of progressive revelation applies to the entire Bible well. Although the concept of a coming Messiah is alluded to in Genesis 3:15, we learn more and more about the Messiah to come throughout the Old Testament. Yet, it is not until Jesus comes in the New Testament that we learn He is the promised Messiah. So, the concept of progressive revelation explains many things in the Bible.
The concept of progressive revelation applies to our lives as well. Just as God did not reveal His entire plan to Abram at the beginning, so He doesn’t with us either. God always will show you enough for you to take the next step of obedience in His plan. As you obey in faith, God will show you the next step to take. As you follow God’s plan for your life, God will fill in more and more of the details. So, we must learn, like Abram, to follow God’s plan one step at a time. So, let’s follow the story of Abram as God reveals more details of His covenant plan.
Genesis 17:1-2 (ESV) 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, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
Ishmael was born when Abram was 86 years old, so our story now continues 13 years later when the Lord appeared to Abram again. God commands Abram to walk before or serve God as his King. He must be blameless, which simply means that Abram must be obedient to God Almighty. Those are the conditions for covenant or promise that God was making with Abram. God intended to multiply Abram’s descendants greatly. In order for that to happen, Abram need to …
Genesis 17:4-5 (ESV) “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
As God continues to give Abram details, God now reveals that Abram will not just be father of many, but he will be the father of a multitude of nations. Abram’s name up to this point meant in the Hebrew, exalted father. Now, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means father of a multitude. In the Bible, names have great meaning. God desired for Abram to not just think of himself as a father, but to think of himself as a father of a multitude of nations. That was God’s plan for Abraham and Abraham needed to begin thinking of himself in terms of that plan. He need to …
Genesis 17:6-7 (ESV) I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
God continues to give Abraham new details of His plan or covenant promise. Not only would Abraham be the father of a multitude of nations, but kings would come from him. As we go through the Old Testament, we see that the great King David came from Abraham’s offspring. When we get to the New Testament, we see that Jesus, the King of Kings, came from Abraham. This covenant that God was making with Abraham would be an everlasting covenant. God was progressively revealing His plans for Abraham.
Why does God use progressive revelation? Why not just tell Abram or us everything right up front? Simply because we wouldn’t be able to handle it. As we follow God’s plan, one step at a time, God helps our faith to grow to handle the next more difficult step. In order for Abraham to grow in faith to embrace God’s plan for his life, he needed to start thinking of himself as not just a father, but a father of a multitude of nations.
In the same way, we need to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Many people think negatively about themselves, they have trouble believing that God has great plans for their lives. God wants you to believe what He believes about you and how the Word of God describes you as a believer. You are a child of God, the creator of the universe. You are an overcomer in life, you are more than a conqueror, you are strong and courageous. You are loved by God with a love that never quits. God’s Word is filled with God’s descriptions of you as His child. As you embrace who God calls you, your faith will grow to embrace God’s marvelous plan for your life. As God reveals His plans, you have a responsibility to …
Genesis 17:9 (ESV) And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
The covenant or promise that was God’s plan for Abraham, was also intended to be passed down to Abraham’s offspring. God here commanded Abraham to keep God’s covenant and teach his children to keep it as well. On order to keep the covenant, they would have to …
Genesis 17:10-11 (ESV) This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
God then gave Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision for every male in his household, down through the generations. This external action would then be a sign of covenant or promise that God had made with Abraham and his offspring.
Genesis 17:14 (ESV) Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
If anyone of Abraham’s offspring was not circumcised, they would have broken the covenant and would be cut off from his people. Those who did not accept God’s covenant sign would not share in the covenant blessing that God had promised to Abraham. So, we are seeing multiple conditions for Abraham with regard to the covenant. He needed to serve God blamelessly and to accept God’s covenant sign of circumcision.
As we read the New Testament, remembering the principle of progressive revelation, we find that circumcision is not required as a covenant sign for believers in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus brought a new covenant through His death and resurrection. The outward sign of the new covenant in a believer’s life is baptism by immersion in water, as a sign of their new birth in Christ. Colossians 2 teaches that water baptism is a sign of an inward circumcision of the heart, in which God’s Spirit cuts away our sinful flesh as we surrender to Him. Just as Abraham, we are commanded to serve God blamelessly as we follow Him.
Water baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is baptism by immersion of believers. Thus it is to be different than the circumcision of infants in the Old Testament. If you have not yet been water baptized by immersion since you have become a believer in Jesus Christ, I encourage you to be water baptized, as commanded by Jesus. You can sign up on your Connect Card and we will notify you of the next baptism. It is vitally important to follow God’s directions carefully.
Genesis 17:15-16 (ESV) And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Not only was Abram’s name changed by God to Abraham, but Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah. The name Sarah most closely corresponds in the Hebrew to the word for princess. God’s covenant promise for Sarah was for blessing. God makes clear that the son of promise would not come from Hagar, Sarah’s servant, but from Sarah herself. Through that son, Sarah would become the mother of nations and kings would come from her. God’s covenant promise was not just to Abraham, but to Abraham and Sarah, united as one flesh in marriage. Yet, they together would need to …
Genesis 17:17-18 (ESV) Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
In the natural, both Abraham and Sarah were far past the age in which they could be expected to bear a child. As God spoke His plans and promises to Abraham, Abraham did a curious thing. He fell on his face in worship of God and yet he laughed to himself. He asked the question of whether it was truly possible for he and his wife in their old age to bear a child. God did not rebuke Abraham for his laughter. I think his laughter was laughter of wonder at what God said was going to happen, mixed in with some doubt as to how it could possibly happen. That doubt led to Abraham’s next statement. He said “Oh that Ishmael might live before you.” Last Sunday, we talked about how Ishmael was born to Sarah’s servant Hagar, through Abraham. It was a result of Abraham and Sarah devising their own plan for offspring, rather than waiting for God. Abraham just needed to …
Genesis 17:19-20 (ESV) God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.
God says, Abraham, you’re not listening very carefully. The son of promise will be born to Sarah, so it is not Ishmael. God then tells Abraham to name his yet conceived son Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Not only did Abraham laugh in disbelief of the prophesied miracle, but Isaac would bring laughter into a stressed out household. Ishmael would be blessed, as we learned the angel prophesied in the previous chapter. In fact, Ishmael would be the father of 12 princes, which is what happened. Abraham needed to let go of his plan and fully embrace God’s plan by faith. God’s plan would bring great blessing to Abraham’s life and to our world.
What about God’s plan for your life? No matter what age you are, God has a plan for the remainder of your life. And it’s a good plan, the very best way that you could live your life. God’s plan for your life is always bigger than anything you could imagine. God’s plan for your life is something that you can never follow in your own strength. Yet, God will progressively reveal his plan to you, one day at a time, one year at a time. Don’t give up on God’s plan for your life, even if you get off track for a while. Don’t try to fall back on your plan for your life, because it’s easier to achieve. God’s plan for your life will impact eternity, you will leave a legacy that will last forever. There is nothing greater that you can do with your life than to follow that plan. The New Testament clearly teaches that you and I, as believers, are part of Abraham’s spiritual offspring. He saw us when he looked at the stars and believed God for the impossible. And Abraham and Sarah followed God’s plan. He was greatly blessed and became a blessing to the entire world.
God’s Word always demands a response from us. Sometimes we’re just tempted to have learned the details of a biblical story. But God’s Word is meant to change your life, to change the way you think, to change the way you believe God. Wherever you are at in your spiritual journey in life, God wants you to believe in His plan and follow it. God’s plans for people’s lives are as unique as the people He created are. For some of you, God has a next step for you to take in His plan. For others, you’re doing what God has called you to do and you need to keep on where you’re at until He reveals the next step. I don’t know the next step in God’s plan for your life, but God does. And He already has or He desires to show you that next step when the timing is right. Today, God wants each person here to submit their wills and plans to Him. To say, God, whatever your plan for my life is, I want to embrace it. I want to believe you for everything that you have planned for me to do. As you submit your life and plans to God, He will guide and bless you.