************ Sermon on Genesis 17:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 22, 2012
"El-Shaddai Confirms the Covenant"
Who can you trust to keep their promises? If the financial and banking crisis taught us anything, it is that we cannot trust banks to look after us and our interests. Every election cycle we learn, from the opposition of course, that we cannot trust our elected leaders. Scandals in the church show us we cannot alway trust pastors and elders and fellow church members. We learn, the hard way, that we cannot always trust our friends. The high divorce rate reminds us we cannot even trust our spouses.
So, is there anyone we can count on these days? Is there anyone who remains true and constant to his word? Is there someone who can be trusted absolutely? Is there a single promise keeper? The message of the Bible this morning is that we can always trust God. We can trust Him to keep His Word. We can trust Him to keep His promises. We can trust Him to always be there. We can trust Him to never let us down. Because He has made a covenant with His people.
Today, I want to raise three points about the covenant as we continue our study of Abraham. First, the covenant doubted. Second, the covenant confirmed. Third, the covenant God.
I The Covenant Doubted
A We see the covenant doubted as we do a brief review. God called Abraham to leave his country and people and father's household and go to an unknown land (Gen 12:1). At that time, God gave a series of covenant promises: to make Abraham into a great nation, to make his name great, and to make him a blessing to all peoples on earth (Gen 12:2-3). God said this even though Scripture notes for us that Abraham's wife, Sarah, was barren; she had no children (Gen 11:30). So Abraham and Terah and Lot and their families and servants left Ur of the Chaldees to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there (Gen 11:31).
After Terah died, a 75-year-old Abraham left Haran and made his way to Canaan (Gen 12:4). The Lord appeared to Abraham again and promised to give his offspring "this land" – that is the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7).
Shortly after this, there was severe famine in the Promised Land while there was food in Egypt (Gen 11:31). Do you think Abraham was starting to wonder about God's promises? Some promise if the land of promise is a land of famine! So, Abraham went to Egypt where he almost lost his wife and marriage (Gen 12:11-20). He came back to the Promised Land and separated from his nephew Lot (Gen 13:1-13). At that time God said again His covenant promises about offspring and the land (Gen 13:14-17).
Did the repetition of the covenant promise put Abraham's mind at rest? We know that was not the case because Abraham said to God, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir" (Gen 15:3). Then the word of the Lord came to him, "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir" (Gen 15:4). God took Abraham outside and told him his offspring will be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen 15:5). And, God again made a promise about the land (Gen 15:18). Especially, though, God promised Himself: "I am your shield, your very great reward" (Gen 15:1).
Even then, Abraham and Sarah wondered – even doubted – God and His covenant promises. So, we hear the whole sad story of Abraham having a son, Ishmael, through Hagar. Abraham was now 86 years old (Gen 16:16). God made clear, however, that Ishmael was not the child of the promise and that the covenant was not with him (cf Gen 17:18-21).
Abraham and Sarah were like a little child on a trip. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How much longer? When we will get there?" Do you see and hear the struggle of Abraham and Sarah to believe God and His covenant promises?
B Our Scripture reading begins 13 years later: "When Abram was ninety-nine years old ..." (Gen 17:1). What happened during those 13 years? Nothing important. At least, nothing important as far as Scripture is concerned. But, humanly speaking, a number of things were going on. Sarah remained barren. Abraham was ninety-nine years old, Sarah was eighty-nine years old, and both of them assumed Sarah was permanently barren; that a child was impossible.
"When Abram was ninety-nine years old ..." (Gen 17:1). Think of what this means. More than 25 years have passed since God first called Abraham. More than 25 years have passed since God first made promises to Abraham. More than 25 years of waiting, of waiting, of endless waiting for Abraham and Sarah. More than 25 years and there still was no child. Do you think Abraham was getting tired of waiting? Do you think Abraham and Sarah were doubting God and His covenant promises? Of course they were – as is made clear by the laughter of unbelief of both Abraham (Gen 17:17) and Sarah (Gen 18:12).
"When Abram was ninety-nine years old" (Gen 17:1). This means Ishmael was now a 13-year-old teenager. Abraham and Sarah were now accustomed to having Hagar's son as part of their household. More than that, Scripture tells us that their thoughts and hopes for the future were now focused on Ishmael (cf Gen 17:18). In their minds, at least, Ishmael was the child of the promise and it was through him the covenant would be established.
C Have you ever waited and waited and waited some more for a promise to be kept? I know some wives who have to wait; their husband promises to do something around the house or yard but never gets around to it. Some parents are that way; they wait and wait upon their children. Some children are that way as they wait for their parents to bring them somewhere or do certain things that have been promised.
Sometimes, like Abraham and Sarah, our waiting is upon the Lord. For instance, the family of Barb Visser prayed again and again that her suffering would end. The Lord answered in His own time but it did not happen immediately. Or, consider how we are waiting for the second coming; we pray, again and again, "Your kingdom come," but the return of the Lord is delayed as He is the One waiting because He wants all men to repent and believe (1 Pet 3:9).
II The Covenant Confirmed
A In the midst of all this doubt and struggle comes the Lord. He says to Abraham, "I will confirm my covenant between me and you" (Gen 17:2). Notice that our translation of the Bible uses the word "confirm." The original Hebrew uses the word "give" or "make." I will make my covenant." "I will give my covenant."
We need to realize it is not a new covenant that God is making or giving. It is not a different covenant. It is not a changed covenant. Rather, the covenant first described in Genesis 12 and established in Genesis 15 is now being "confirmed" or restated or given again.
B I am sure you realize that a "covenant" lies at the heart of God's relationship with Abraham.
The first time we saw or heard the word "covenant" was with Noah. At that time God said, "But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark ..." (Gen 6:18). After the flood, God included Noah's descendants and every living creature in the covenant as He promised that never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 9:8-17). Remember how God established the rainbow in the heavens as the sign of the covenant (Gen 9:13)?
Genesis 12 does not use the word "covenant" but as we look at the promises we see that God's covenant with Abraham is described before it is established.
In Genesis 15 we looked at a covenant-making ceremony. We watched as God walked by Himself between the animal carcasses and made a covenant with Abraham.
Now, in Genesis 17 we see the covenant confirmed or renewed. This time, the sign of the covenant is circumcision (Gen 17:10f). The promises, however, are the same though they are explained in greater detail.
C I've been using the word, but what exactly is a covenant? How do we define the word? I have to confess that until this past week I have never heard a totally satisfactory definition until I read this quote: "A covenant is a relationship based on the surrender of control." "A covenant is a relationship based on the surrender of control."
In the Ancient World, a covenant was often made between a big, powerful nation and its weaker neighbor, offering protection in return for loyalty and obedience. Remember the events of Genesis 14 when Lot was taken captive and rescued by Abraham? The entire episode took place because the five cities and kings of the Jordan River Valley broke their covenant with Kedorlaomer, king of Elam; for twelve years they had been under a covenant with Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
When a powerful nation seeks to make a covenant, its weaker neighbor has a choice: either surrender, enter the covenant, and receive the benefits OR try to remain independent and face the prospect of destruction.
In Scripture, God makes a covenant with Abraham. Meaning what, exactly? Meaning God told Abraham He was Abraham's covenant overlord, offering blessings and expecting loyalty.
What is the practical application of this? What does it mean to say our relationship with God is based on a covenant? It means we surrender control. And, it means that we cannot set the terms of our relationship with God. The terms of the covenant are not up for negotiation.
Imagine the king of Sodom saying to the powerful king of Elam, "Fine. Let's make a deal. However, I am the one in charge. I, not you, make the demands." If the king of Sodom took that approach his head would have been rolling in the sand before the day was over. Yet, isn't this how many people approach their relationship with God? They think and act as if they are the one in charge. They are the one making demands. "God, if you ... do this or that ... then I will serve you or go to church more often or ..." Or, they want to pick and choose what they will believe and what they will do and which commandments they will keep. They certainly don't acknowledge a God Who is more than able to make demands of them. Many people approach religion as if they were interviewing God for the job of personal deity in their life. You can interview idols and false religions and philosophies but you cannot interview the one only true God. The God of Noah and Abraham offers you only two choices: surrender on my terms OR face the consequences.
III The Covenant God
A Last week, as we looked at Hagar, we learned that God is "the God who sees me" (Gen 16:13); He is the God Who sees everything. Look at the title used for God today. He introduces Himself as "God Almighty." Many of you will recognize the original Hebrew that we see in a footnote at the bottom of our pew Bibles. The covenanting God introduces Himself to Abraham as "El Shaddai."
"El-Shaddai." This title of the one only true God focuses on His power to complete promises. Remember how I asked if anyone is a promise keeper? El-Shaddai is a Promise Keeper. He keeps all of His promises. All of His promises to Noah He keeps. All of His promises to Abraham He keeps. All of His promises to you and me He keeps. He is El-Shaddai! He is God Almighty. He is the God with the power to keep His promises. As I told the boys and girls, there is nothing He cannot do.
B "El-Shaddai." This title is used 48 times in the Old Testament. I find it significant that most often the title appears in the book of Job. Job is described as "the greatest man among all the people of the East" (Job 1:3). One day Job lost all of his wealth: he lost a large number of servants, 500 donkeys, 500 yoke of oxen, 3000 camels, 7000 sheep, 7 sons, and 3 daughters. Job's friends gathered together to sympathize with him and to comfort him (Job 2:11). Over and over again they say the common refrain: God is Shaddai. That is, He is Almighty. That is, He has the power to keep His promises. "Job, in the midst of your losses, don't forget God is Shaddai. He is ever true to His promises." So, how does the book of Job end? Job now has 14000 sheep, 6000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen, 1000 donkeys, 7 sons, and 3 daughters (Job 42:12-13). Other than the children, God doubled what Job had. No wonder Job can say, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). Do you hear what Job is saying? He is saying God is Almighty. He is saying God is a Promise Keeper. He is saying God is Shaddai.
C God is "El-Shaddai." This name means He is more than able to give an elderly Abraham and Sarah a child – even though they are past the age of bearing children. This name means He is more than able to be with Jacob as he flees from Esau (Gen 28:3; cf 35:11). This name means He is more than able to be with Jacob's children in the land of Egypt (Gen 43:14). This name means He is more than able to give victory to Gideon and his 300 men against a Midianite army that numbered in the thousands. This name means He is more than able to help King Hezekiah against the Assyrian army that surrounded Jerusalem. This name means He is more than able to make a virgin conceive and give birth to the Christ, the Messiah.
Today, in Christ, He continues to be "El-Shaddai." Meaning what? Meaning we can trust His covenant promises: His promise of forgiveness, His promise of life everlasting, His promise of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth, His promise of hearing and answering our prayers, His promise of victory over sin and Satan and death, His promise of never leaving us or forsaking us.
He is "El-Shaddai." Meaning that, in Christ, we can do all things through Him Who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
"I am El-Shaddai ... I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers" (Gen 17:1,2). He is a Promise Keeper. Because His name is power. His name is might. His name breaks every stronghold. He is to be trusted. He is faithful. Therefore, we not only go under His control but we want to be under His control.
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