I Will Be Their God
On May 30th, 2020, I held the hands of my beautiful bride to be, Emily Reimer, as we made binding promises to one another in a covenant of marriage. Looking back, I wish one of Emily’s promises was to massage Josh every night—but nonetheless, we sealed those binding promises with our wedding rings and it was an unforgettable day, of an unforgettable month of an even more unforgettable year!
Exactly one year later (which I didn’t know at the time), it was a Sunday morning and we were talking with people after the service when someone in our church came up to Emily and I and said “Happy Anniversary guys!” Then I looked at Emily and said, “Happy anniversary babe…” (to which she responded, “yep, I’ve been waiting all morning). Am I ever glad that one of those promises we made was for better or for worse—tis’ the beauty of a covenant!
If you’ve been with us for the past month or so, you know we’ve been going through the book of Genesis where God makes binding promises to a man named Abram starting in chapter 12. We see this covenant unfolding in chapter 15 all the way to our chapter this morning, chapter 17—which is all about the same covenant that God made with Abram!
This will be a 3-part sermon that tackles God’s Part, Abraham’s Part, and Our Part in this covenant. Starting with God’s part, the first big idea is that God confirms his covenant with Abram, and the first evidence that God confirms his covenant is God’s timing.
God’s Part: God Confirms His Covenant
I. God’s Timing
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old.” In the verse prior, we are told that "Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to [him]” (16:16)—which tells us that there was a thirteen year gap in between here. This is really important because of what we’ve been told in the last few chapters: After God promised Abram his offspring through his very own son (15:4-5) as well as land to possess (13:15), Sarah had still borne Abram no children (16:1) so they took matters into their own hands instead of waiting on God (16:2-16), as we heard about last week. While Ishmael is technically Abram’s son, God makes it clear that Abram still has to wait on Him to bring the promised son—in His way and in His time.
So, thirteen years later when Abram was ninety-nine years old, “the Lord appeared to Abram.” Last time this happened was back in chapter 12 when Abram “was seventy-five years old” (12:4b) and God promised him nationhood, offspring, and land—which is quite important because God didn’t speak to him everyday, and Abram likely waited years in between to hear from God the next time.
Here, we see how God is confirming his covenant with Abram by reappearing to him after 23 years, and the second evidence for God confirming his covenant is God’s name: “I am God Almighty.”
II. God’s Name
Again, this is an important stop because in chapter 16, we hear about Hagar giving a name to the Lord (16:13). Here, God gives a divinely appointed name for himself: ’El Shadday—I am God Almighty. This emphasizes the power of God, specifically in bringing about His promise to give Abram his very own son through his childless and barren wife.
After giving his powerful name, the third evidence that God confirms His covenant with Abram is God’s command.
III. God’s Command
“Walk before me, and be blameless.” I hope these words sounds familiar to us because we heard a similar statement like this back in Genesis 6: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (6:9). Unlike Noah, however, much of what we’ve heard about Abraham’s walk hasn’t been blameless—so why is God giving Abram a command that he can’t follow? Look at the reason in verse 2: “That I may make my covenant between me and you” (17:2).
Do you remember when the Lord made/cut a covenant with Abram in chapter 15, and how He passed between the cut-up animal pieces to signify what would happen if either party broke the covenant? Well, God knew that Abram couldn’t walk blamelessly—which is why He himself walked between those animal pieces alone to take the curse upon himself when (not if, but when) Abram breaks the covenant. God is, and will be, a faithful covenant partner even if Abram can't be faithful in return.
In fact, the word “make” here in 17:2 is the the clearest evidence of God confirming his covenant with Abram since it literally means to reaffirm/confirm, which is different from the Hebrew word “cut” in Genesis 15:18. Scholars Gentry and Wellum suggest that verse 2 can be read as “that I may [set in motion] my covenant between me and you.” In short, the emphasis here is that God is confirming the covenant that He initiated with Abram in Genesis 15.
Yet, notice how the verse ends with “and may multiply you greatly.” We’ve already seen some parallel language with Noah, and here we see some more. Back in chapter 9, God told Noah to “be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth” (9:7). But who else did God say these words to? Adam and Eve (1:28). What’s the connection? The command to Adam in chapter 1 to "be fruitful and multiply” is passed down to Noah in chapter 9 and becomes for Abram a promise in chapter 17.
As soon as Abram heard these powerful words, he “fell on his face” (17:3a)—which is an appropriate response to the Lord God Almighty. This is why we sung together in worship this morning about how God is faithful, from beginning to end—even when we are not, like Abram.
So we’ve seen how God confirms his covenant with Abram, evidenced by his timing, his name, and his command. The fourth evidence that God confirms his covenant with Abram is Abram’s name change.
IV. A Big Name Change
“And God said to him, ‘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’” (17:3b-5).
Notice how God reassures and reaffirms Abram in verse 4 (read). Then, he confirms it by changing his name from Abram (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.
Allow me a side note here that emphasizes the authority of God Almighty through this name change. Think back to Genesis 3 when Adam changed his wife’s name to “Eve” (3:20) after originally deciding that “she shall be called Woman” (2:23) through his God-given authority to give names (2:19-20)—this has many implications for the roles of men and women in the home and church today.
Here, in Genesis 17, God Almighty demonstrates full authority by confirming his covenant with Abram in Genesis 12 to indeed make him an “exalted father” of a great nation (singular)—and making a big name change that makes this an even bigger promise: Abraham is now, and will be, the “father of a multitude” of nations (plural), which is the emphasis in chapter 17.
Yet, this was already set in motion since chapter 12. In Genesis 12:3, God told Abram that all the families of the earth will be blessed in him. Despite Ishmael being the wrong offspring in chapter 16, he is still Abram’s offspring through Hagar—and the angel of the Lord promised Hagar that he “will surely multiply [her] offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (16:10).
This is why God uses such decisive language in verse 5 after changing Abram’s name: “I have made you the father of a multitude.” It’s already a done deal, and God confirms it through his new name—though it’s not yet fully complete, as verse 6 implies: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you’” (17:6).
That word “exceedingly” is what separates the commands to Adam and Noah and the promise to Abraham about his offspring becoming a multitude of nations and kings ruling these multitudes of nations. This is a big name change with big promises that was given by an even bigger God, the God Almighty. And it’s only about to get bigger because our next observation is about how God confirms his covenant with Abraham through an everlasting relationship, our fifth evidence.
. An Everlasting Relationship
“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. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (17:7-8).
Now, this “everlasting” language isn’t necessarily new because in chapter 13, God told Abram: “For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (13:15). So God is simply confirming his covenant relationship with Abraham here by establishing it as an everlasting covenant with an everlasting possession.
What makes this a big deal is that God now establishes this everlasting covenant relationship, not just with Abram—but also with his offspring! Up to this point, God has made promises between him and Abraham alone as his covenant partner because of their covenant relationship. But now, for the first time, God extends this everlasting covenant relationship with Abraham—and his offspring after him—in verses 7 to 8. With this in mind, let’s re-read these words from God to Abraham:
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you (there’s the extension) throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant—to be God to you and to them. And I will give to you and to them the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.
Those are such strong covenantal words there, which is why I couldn’t title this sermon any other way. At the heart of this covenant is God’s desire to be in an everlasting covenant relationship with his covenant people, so that He will be their God.
This is what makes it a bigger covenant, and this is what makes it an everlasting covenant! These promises will be in place even after Abraham’s death, through his line of descendants. Not only does God confirm his covenant with Abraham through his name change, but also by extending his everlasting covenant relationship with Abraham’s offspring.
Verses 9-14 make up a new section, which talks about Abraham’s part in this covenant relationship (which now includes his offspring). And the first observation here is the keeping of the covenant.
I. Keeping of the Covenant
“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations’” (17:9).
Throughout Abraham and his offspring’s generations, they are to keep this everlasting covenant. In the heart of this is the command to Abram in verse 1, which is to walk before God blamelessly. But if Abraham’s part of the covenant is to keep it by walking blamelessly before God (and as we established earlier, his walk was far from blameless), how can his offspring keep the covenant by walking blamelessly before God themselves?
Well, by extending this covenant relationship with Abraham to his offspring, God knew that both Abraham and his offspring could never walk blamelessly—which is why God walked alone between those cut-up animal pieces in Genesis 15 to take the curse upon himself when Abraham and his offspring after him throughout their generations fail to keep the covenant.
Regardless, God doesn’t lower the standard for Abraham and his offspring—but rather, He gives them a specific way to walk blamelessly and keep his covenant in verse 10: “‘This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised’” (17:10).
Now, before we inject our own thoughts into this, we need to know that this is the first time the word “circumcise” appears in Scripture. However, many Bible scholars have affirmed that circumcision wasn’t new at this point—rather, it was an old tradition practiced in the Ancient Near East, specifically in Egypt where Hagar was from. Regardless, God commands Abraham and his male offspring to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant—which is our second observation on Abraham’s part.
II. Sign of the Covenant
“You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (17:11).
Much like chapter 9 when God made the bow in the clouds as a sign of His covenant with Noah (9:12-17), God commands Abraham and his offspring as covenant partners to seal the covenant through circumcision.
This begs the question: why did God pick circumcision as a sign of the covenant? Well, we are not clearly told “why”—however, here are three suggestions in my attempt to explain why, based on some clues in the immediate text.
First, the most basic explanation is found in verse 11: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins.” Since God made this everlasting covenant between Him and Abraham and his offspring, it logically follows for the sign of the covenant to be symbolized on the male’s reproductive organ.
Second, this covenant-keeping act is connected to the original command in verse 1 to walk before God blamelessly. Since circumcision is tied to the idea of being set apart physically (Exodus 12:48; Joshua 5:4-7), being circumcised is a physical and literal sign of walking before God blamelessly, in keeping with his covenant.
However, this still begs the question (which I’ve been asked multiple times this week and before): how is circumcision an outward, visible sign if it’s not publicly seen?
Well, here’s my third suggestion as to why circumcision is a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring: I just said it—it’s a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring—that is, the offspring being circumcised at the time.
God knew that they weren’t just going to walk around naked and not ashamed like Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:25) since He clothed mankind after they sinned (3:21)—rather, the parties present in the signing of the covenant through circumcision are the partners of the covenant sign, in the same way that we baptize believers today in front of God and a gathered body of believers as partners of the covenant sign.
But how does Abraham keep this covenant with his offspring? God continues to give directions in verse 12: “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised” (17:12-13a).
It’s debated as to why babies are circumcised at eight days old, but what’s clear is that God requires every male that is born in Abraham’s house or bought with his money to receive the sign of circumcision.
Notice how this covenant keeps getting bigger though: slaves bought from a “foreigner” are included in this sign, which confirms that Abraham will indeed be the father of a multitude of nations (clearly evidenced by Ishmael as Abraham’s offspring through an Egyptian woman). But wasn’t this covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring only?
Exactly. God knew that this covenant would include Abraham’s national offspring (born in your house) and international offspring (bought with your money from any foreigner who is not your offspring—that is, not your physical offspring). And this is why God can say, “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant” (17:12-13).
Even when Abraham and his offspring die, this covenant will still be in place for the remaining offspring to keep. And if this wasn’t the case for any male offspring in Abraham’s household, they will be guilty of our third and final point of observation—the breaking of the covenant.
III. Breaking of the Covenant
“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” (17:14).
Since God has commanded Abraham and his offspring to keep this covenant through circumcision, the uncircumcised male is counted as a disobedient offspring and is to be cut off from his people—that is, God’s covenant people. In the same way that circumcision depicts the cutting off of flesh, uncircumcision will lead to the cutting off of that person from God’s covenant people.
So we’ve seen how God’s part in this covenant, and how he confirms his covenant with Abram through his timing, his name, his command for Abram to walk before him blamelessly, by changing Abram’s name, and extending the covenant relationship to Abraham’s offspring to establish an everlasting relationship with them so that He will be their God.
Then we saw Abraham’s part in the covenant, which includes his offspring: they are to keep God’s covenant, walking before him blamelessly with each male offspring being circumcised as a sign of the covenant, whether national or international. Without the sign, deathly consequences of being cut off from God’s covenant people await the uncircumcised and disobedient male offspring.
So the question for us today is: what is our part in this? Now, before we start singing Father Abraham had many sons—you are one of them and so am I, we need to understand that we are so small in comparison to this big covenant that God made with Abraham over 4000 years ago.
Have you noticed how God’s promises here just got bigger and bigger from chapters 12 and 15? It doesn’t stop becoming bigger—Abraham receives his offspring in Isaac, then Jacob/Israel who becomes a nation whom Joshua leads into the promised land (circumcising them on the way) and they’re eventually led by kings like King David.
Throughout their generations, God remained faithful—while Abraham’s offspring, God’s people, remained unfaithful. Far from blameless, they kept breaking the covenant instead of keeping it. And how does God respond? By being faithful and sending the offspring of Abraham as the start of the New Testament tells us: “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Thus, the covenant is confirmed by Christ’s coming.
Covenant Confirmed by Christ’s Coming
Jesus, the offspring of Abraham who blessed the nations with the gospel in turning them from their wickedness (Acts 3:26; Galatians 3:8) by becoming a curse for them, fulfilling Genesis 15 when God walked between those cut-up animal pieces alone to take the curse upon himself when his people break his covenant.
Jesus, the offspring of Abraham who was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), the one who put off the body of the flesh through his death and enabled human hearts to be truly circumcised (Colossians 2:11) and be brought into a covenant relationship with God.
Jesus, the faithful covenant partner who was tempted in every way to break the covenant but never did (Hebrews 4:15) and walked before his Father blamelessly as he walked up that mountain to die for those who have broken God’s covenant—sinners like you and I.
So what is our part in all of this? Well, I suggest that we respond like Zechariah did when he prophesied about God confirming His covenant with Abraham’s offspring by Christ’s coming in Luke 1:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant [King] David…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:68-69, 72-75).
II. In Holiness and Righteousness Before Him
So when we walk out of this building to go home today, we need to remember from Genesis 15 that we are commanded to keep God’s covenant as offspring of Abraham to walk before God blamelessly—but now, in Christ Jesus, sealed by baptism as the sign of the covenant between God and us as his people.
So let’s do that and “serve him without fear, [walking] in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”—until that day when we are truly home and truly walking before God blamelessly, with “a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:3).
As God promised to Abraham and his offspring 4000 years ago: I will be their God. So now we can think of how Father Abraham had many sons, you are one of them and so am I, so let’s just praise the Lord! That’s why we’re going to respond here today by singing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” (as God names himself in Genesis 17). We’re going to come now with praises before him and let the amen sound from his people again, and let’s go from here today walking before God blamelessly in Christ, as his people.