************ Sermon on Genesis 17:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 14, 1999
"El-Shaddai Confirms the Covenant"
Abram's most valuable possession – what do you think it is? Would it be his prized manservant, Eliezer? Would it be his flocks of sheep and goats, his herds of cattle and camels? Would it be his army of fighting men that made him one of the great men in the land of Canaan? Would it be his silver and gold? None of these are Abram's most valuable possession.
Abram's most valuable possession is his covenant relationship with God. In that covenant relationship God says three things: one, I shall be your God; two, you shall be my people; and, three, I shall dwell in the midst of you. Within that covenant relationship Abram gets to walk with God and to talk with God. Within that covenant relationship Abram receives the promise of a son; and through that son the promise of a land, of numerous descendants and a great nation, of a name. Within that covenant relationship Abram finds purpose in life and a reason for existence. Within that covenant relationship lies Abram's glory, Abram's hope, and Abram's treasure.
In Christ Jesus, the covenant relationship is our greatest treasure as well. Just think, in Christ we can say that God is our God, that we are His people, and that He lives not just in our midst but even within us as individuals.
Abram did not always consider the covenant relationship with God to be the most important thing in his life. There were times when other things or people came first. I think of Abram's desperate attempt to father a child outside of the covenant relationship by taking his wife's servant, Hagar, to bed. I think of Abram in the court of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, placing physical safety over his relationship with God.
Though Scripture does not tell us this, I strongly suspect that the chapter in front of us represents one of those low points in Abram's relationship with God. You see, thirteen years – thirteen long years – separate the events of Genesis 16 from the events of Genesis 17. There is no record of God appearing to Abram during those thirteen years. Abram was now ninety-nine years old, and his wife, Sarai, was not much younger. Abram and Sarai have been wandering in Canaan for twenty-four years. For twenty-four years they have been waiting for God's covenant promises to be realized; for twenty-four years they have been waiting for a son, a child of the promise, to be born. I'm afraid that with every passing year the glory of the promise looked a little less brilliant and a little less sure.
Within this setting God appears and confirms his covenant with Abram. I want you to notice the three new elements introduced by God in this covenant renewal: there is a new name for God, a new name for Abram and Sarai, and a new sign and seal of the covenant.
I A New Name for God
A God appears to Abram and says, "I am God Almighty." In the Hebrew the name is "El-Shaddai."
This divine name appears forty-eight times in the Old Testament, most often in the book of Job. I want you to note what this name reveals to us about God – the God of the covenant. It tells us that God is more than able to fulfill the covenant and keep the covenant promises because He is El-Shaddai, because He is God Almighty.
B How great is our God, El-Shaddai? How mighty is He? What can He all do? In the very next chapter God promises a natural-born child to an elderly Abraham and Sarah. Sarah laughed when she heard this. Listen to the response of El-Shaddai:
(Gen 18:14) "Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."
"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" The correct answer, the only answer, the answer that everyone knows is this: NO, NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR THE LORD. Because He is El-Shaddai. The prophet Jeremiah says:
(Jer 32:17) "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you."
C How great is our God, El-Shaddai? Israel was in the wilderness where God provided them manna and water. They began to crave other food: meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic. So they cried to the Lord and complained to the Lord. God promises the people would eat meat for a month – "until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it" (Num 11:20). This time it was Moses who doubted the word of the Lord. Listen to the response of El-Shaddai:
(Num 11:23) "Is the Lord's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you."
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" What a humorous image! Think of Zacchaeus. Though he was an important and busy official, this short little man had to climb a tree. That was the only way he could see Jesus over the heads of all the people taller than he was. Is God too short like Zacchaeus?
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" Think of a short farmer picking his olives. No matter how he jumps and stretches, he just cannot reach the olives that even young boys can reach. Think of a short herdsman trying to lift a lamb over the wall of the sheep pen. His arms are just too short to push the lamb over. Is the Lord like the short olive farmer or herdsman?
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" Today, of course, we think of someone short behind the steering wheel of a car. You know the image: way forward on the seat, the eyes peering over the top of the steering wheel, the feet barely reaching the gas pedal or brake. Or, think of someone short reaching for a plate on the top shelf of the cupboard. In front of a house full of guests they end up standing on the chair to get a plate almost anyone in middle school grades can reach. Is this what God is like?
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" This is another way of asking whether the Lord's arms do not reach far enough. Whether He is weak and powerless.
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" The correct answer, the only answer, the answer that everyone knows is this: NO, THE LORD'S ARM IS NOT TOO SHORT. Because He is El-Shaddai. As the prophet Daniel says,
(Dan 4:35) All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"
D How great is our God, El-Shaddai? Jesus tells a young man to sell his "possessions and give to the poor" and "then come, follow me" (Mt 19:21). The young man went away sad because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:23-24). The disciples then wondered aloud,"Who then can be saved?" Jesus said in response, "with God all things are possible" (Mt 19:26). Why? Because He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty.
E How great is our God, El-Shaddai? An angel comes to a young woman by the name of Mary and tells her she will be with child and give birth to a son Who is the Messiah, the Son of David. She asks, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34). The angel replies "Nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). Why? Because He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty.
F Do you see what our God, what El-Shaddai, what the Lord Almighty can do? He can do anything, anything at all.
I like to quote for you a children's song I first mentioned a little more than two years ago. This is how the words of the song read:
Hey kids! We have a mighty great God, and you know, I believe God can do anything. Now I'm wondering, do you believe that too?This is how great, how awesome, how mighty, how majestic our covenanting God, El-Shaddai, is.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
Anything He wants to do.
He can paint the sky a bright, bright green
And turn all the trees to blue.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
For everything is in His hands.
For everything is in His hands.
Now did you know, once God made the world?
He formed it with His hands.
He breathed into a lump of clay,
And the clay became a man!
He made every single animal.
(Those yukky bugs and all!)
He made the mountains, the oceans, the Grand Canyon
And even Niagara Falls!
We have a mighty great God. Now, we gotta believe He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
The point is this: El-Shaddai, the Lord Almighty, is more than able to fulfill the covenant and keep the covenant promises because He can do anything, anything He wants to do. If El-Shaddai says Abram and Sarai are going to have a child, then they are going to have a child. If El-Shaddai says Abram will possess the land, will have numerous descendants and a great nation, and will have a name, then this will actually happen.
Sometimes, like Abram and Sarai, we can doubt God and His promises. God promises us so much in Christ. By grace through faith He promises us forgiveness. Sometimes we may think a loved one is so unworthy, and so sinful, and his or her sin so bad, that they are beyond the grace of God. But He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty. He is able to thaw the most frozen of hearts. He is able to turn around the worst of sinners. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
God promises the resurrection of the body on the great day of Christ's return. We think of those millions upon millions of bodies that have crumbled into dust. We think of cells and atoms recycled into other living organisms. We think of those buried in the depths of the sea. How can God possibly bring all these back to life without getting bodies all confused and mixed up in and with each other? But He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
God promises that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him. He promises that nothing shall ever separate us from His love. How is this possible? He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
Sometimes we wonder if God can do anything to help when loved ones are at the brink of a divorce, or fighting addiction to drugs and alcohol, or in the grip of something evil. We despair of God's grace and mercy. But we don't have to because He is El-Shaddai, God Almighty. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
II A New Name for Abram and Sarai
A Not only did God identify Himself to Abram with a new name – a name that shows His power to carry out His covenant promises – but He also assigns a new name to Abram and Sarai. These names, we shall see, express the conviction that God will do precisely as He has said.
Abram was nearly a hundred years old. In a day without Viagra he was virtually incapable of fathering children. Yet God changes his name to Abraham:
(Gen 17:5) No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.The name "Abram" means "exalted father." The name "Abraham" means "father of many."
As for Sarai, her name is changed to Sarah. The name "Sarah" means "princess." Sarai is given this name because she would be the mother of nations, with kings among her descendants.
Think of the irony in these new names. Two old people, childless and beyond their childbearing years, will now call each other by names that indicate they are the parents of a host of heirs. How do you think Hagar and Ishmael and the other servants reacted when they heard Sarai call her husband Abraham, and when they heard him call her Sarah? I am sure they were snickering and smiling and laughing behind their backs! I am sure they thought Abraham and Sarah were old fools in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's.
B God chose an unpromising, aged couple to be the parents of the promised child. He gave them the names Abraham and Sarah. How unexpected. If God would pick anyone to bear the promised child, you would expect Him to pick a vibrant young couple in the peak of good health. But not El-Shaddai. That simply isn't His way. Already we see God making the Gospel sound and look foolish according to human standards. Already we see the truth of Paul's words to the church of Corinth:
(1Cor 1:27-29) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, (29) so that no one may boast before him.El-Shaddai can do anything, anything He wants to do. What He wants to do is show that
(1Cor 1:25) the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.What He wants to do is show that His plan, His covenant, His salvation, comes to fruition only by way of sovereign, divine grace and not by way of human might, human power, and human accomplishment.
III A New Covenant Sign
A Not only did God identify Himself to Abram with a new name, not only did He assign a new name to Abram and Sarai, but He also added a new sign to the covenant – the sign of circumcision.
There was nothing new about circumcision. It was often practiced in ancient cultures as a rite of initiation at the age of puberty. Abram, however, was instructed to circumcise eight-day-old baby boys.
The physical mark of circumcision on the male sex organ would remind Abram and his children of the covenant and the covenant promises. It was a constant reminder that El-Shaddai, as an act of His power and His grace, was going to make of Abram and Sarai a great nation.
B I want you to notice, too, the covenant response demanded of Abram and Sarai in their relationship with El-Shaddai: "walk before me and be blameless." Nothing unholy can live and walk before the presence of the holy God. But because of sin, no man – Abram included – can possibly live up to this demand. Here is another reminder of the power and grace of El-Shaddai. He takes a man conceived and born in sin, a man filled with doubts and fears, and declares him to be righteous because of Christ.
In Christ, we who are sinners receive a circumcision of the heart. The old man of sin is cut off. And we are declared righteous in God's sight. He can do this because He is El-Shaddai. He is God Almighty. He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page