God made two covenants with Abraham. The first is what we call the Abrahamic Covenant and the second is the Covenant of Circumcision. Many people seemed confused about the relationship and meaning of these two covenants. Today we begin a series on “Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham”
Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV)
12 that you do not become sluggish (lazy), but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For the fourth time, God appears to Abram. And the occasion for the visitation is similar to the previous three visits by God to Abram: God’s covenant with Abram. But now, God is ready to bring Abram the full revelation of His covenant. Including a sign, that Abram will carry in his body to show that God has made this promise to him and his family.
Genesis 17:1 (NKJV)
The Sign of the Covenant
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless
Abram is now 99 years old now. And that tells us something about where this moment falls in the story of Abram generally. By that count, it has now been 24 years since God called Abram out of Ur originally and sent to the promised land, what will be the promised land. And it’s been 13 years since his son Ishmael came along by his union with Hagar. It turns out that Ishmael’s age comes to explain God’s timing for His fourth appearance, as we will see later in this chapter. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
Chapter 17 of Genesis is 27 verses long, and all but 8 verses are quotes of God talking. This is the longest speech by God in all of Genesis. This chapter is almost entirely God talking to Abram. It’s the zenith (high point) of God’s revelation to Abram, concerning His promises. God will begin to speak less and less to Abram after this point. In fact, generally speaking, God speaks less and less throughout the Book of Genesis after this point. And apart from giving the Law to Moses, He speaks less and less and less in this direct form. This becomes somewhat a high point in God’s appearing before men.
For now, let’s look at what God says to Abram as He appears in this chapter, which marks His fourth appearance to Abram. He begins by identifying Himself as El Shaddai. That’s what the words are in Hebrew behind “Almighty God.” This is the first time God has used this term in the Bible. Eventually, we’ll see it used 48 times in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, it comes from a root word which means strength or power. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
But the word Shaddai actually doesn’t originate in the Hebrew language it originates in an ancient language from the region. It’s an Akkadian word, The word is “shaddu” in Akkadian and it literally means “breast.” Like a woman who would breastfeed a child. When you take the original meaning of the word and you move it now to Hebrew with this connotation of power, taken together, El Shaddai means the God Who provides strength to His children. A strength that nourishes. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
Since God’s last appearance to Hagar in the desert, thirteen years have gone by. In those thirteen years, God has said, we assume, nothing to Abram. But now He appears what must have seemed like it was out of the blue again to Abram, He calls Himself El Shaddai. A name that emphasizes two things. First, God provides strength. The source of strength that God’s children rest in is God. And He does so in keeping with His promises. If He promises something He provides it. Anyone called or has any desire to enter the ministry, in any form, the one whom God calls He also equips. There is no such thing as the calling of God apart from an equipping by grace. He doesn’t call you to do something and then stand to the side and watch you fail at it because you didn’t have the power, skill, or knowledge to do it. Quite the opposite. He’ll call people who don’t have the power, the skill, or the knowledge to do something, so when He equips them and they meet that call, it is evidently God at work. They don’t get the credit, He does. So the first thing He is saying to Abram as He makes this initial appearance is, I’m the God with the strength you need. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
The second thing God seems to be saying, it seems to be a bit of chastisement to Abram. He was misguided in his attempt to find strength in his own body to deliver the promises God made earlier. When he went to Hagar and tried to form a child that way, he was relying on whose strength? Well, not God, but his own.When God appears and says I am the God who provides and nourishes by My strength. He is telling Abram you tried in the wrong way. Here I am now, after thirteen years to reveal to you how the real work is to be done. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
Now He tells Abram at the end of verse 1 to walk before me and be blameless. But in Hebrew, the words are much more personal. They mean to come before me, in Hebrew it is literally, before My face. In God’s case, we know this doesn’t literally mean Abram would stand before God’s face because to see God’s face is to die in our sinful state. Its meaning is more symbolically, metaphorically. It means, present yourself before me in a way a servant is presenting himself before a master. That’s the inclination of it in Hebrew. A servant would be called before their master, but then that implies something further doesn’t it? It implies he is waiting for instruction. He’s come to serve, he’s come to be told what to do. Abram is now being called by God this way, El Shaddai says stand before Me ready for My next instruction. Stand before Me to serve Me.
Then God says be blameless. What a wonderful Biblical word, blameless. This is the same word Moses wrote when he described Noah in Genesis chapter 6 at the beginning of the flood story. He said, Noah, found favor with God and he was a blameless man. In Genesis 6, we said that “favor” meant grace in Hebrew. Noah found grace. And so he was blameless which was a reflection of Noah’s righteousness before God on the basis of faith. Here as well, God tells Abram, be blameless. We need to remember this is the first time God has spoken to Abram since he married Hagar. In light of that, these words must have been powerful for Abram. Try to think what Abram was thinking? It is not out of reason knowing human nature to assume some things about what he must have felt.
In those intervening 13 years, can we not imagine Abram wondering at times along the way as his thoughts turn to Hagar and to his decision to marry Hagar? And now to have this son Ishmael? Did his thoughts ever turn to, I wonder if God is happy about this? I wonder if this is what He wanted? Maybe I shouldn’t have done this? Did he feel guilt along the way? Did he wonder if God was upset? Did he worry that God’s silence over the past 13 years was a sign He was displeased with Abram? Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
And what must Abram have felt when he heard God come before him, declaring you are My servant come before Me and serve Me. You’re still My servant and I’m still your Master. And be blameless. Look at that word carefully. He didn’t say be perfect, He didn’t say be sinless. It’s not that God doesn’t wish for those things, but He didn’t command those things because He knows they are out of our reach in this life. He said to be blameless, not sinless, not perfect, just blameless.
We serve our Master, Christ by the same terms under a similar covenant based on the same promises that God gave Abram. We know God has made promises to provide for us now and to give us something in eternity. We have these same understandings as Abram did. Yet, like Abram, don’t we all at times go off on our own? Doing things without God. Sometimes convincing ourselves it’s helping God. But yet, it is sin. Leaving Him behind in other words. And we may go weeks or months or, should I dare say, even years feeling like we are not hearing from God like He is not with us or like He’s not talking to us anymore. And in those dark seasons, we might even begin to question, are You just so unhappy with me are You are bringing up all these bad things and You are not talking me through them and You are not helping me understand them because You are mad at me? Is that it?
Then we read these lines, and we are being reminded that God is number 1, faithful to His promise and number 2, willing to call us blameless because Someone else took the blame, Christ. We are not sinless, but we do not carry the blame and therefore, we are still His servant even we go off and do things without Him. From that perspective, God now appears and says to Abram, you are still My servant, be blameless, I have a new command for you. Like Paul says, not looking at what came behind but pressing onward. Understanding the Two Covenants God made with Abraham
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
Join our mailing list
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.