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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:God's covenant is not just with Abram but also with his descendants
Text:Genesis 17:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016-09-04
Added:2016-09-19
Updated:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  First of two sermons on Genesis 17:7.  Sermons can be used independently of each other.

2014 Book of Praise

NKJV

Psalm 111:1,2

Psalm 86:2

Psalm 115:1,5,6

Psalm 103:7

Psalm 111:4,5

 

Read:  Genesis 17

Text:  Genesis 17:7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“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.” 

  That’s Genesis 17:1, the opening words of the Bible chapter we have before us this morning.  What I want you to notice here is that when the LORD appeared to Abram, He spoke to him with authority saying, “This is who I am and this is what you must do.”  I want you to think about that for a moment.  I want you to recognize God’s claim on Abram.  Abram was not free to live and do what he wished but the LORD commanded him: “Walk before Me and be blameless.”

  It is not very popular to think about God in these terms nowadays.  It is not popular to think that God tells us who He is, nor that He tells us how we should live.  In these post-modern times it is more popular to think you can decide for yourself who God is, whether or not you choose to serve Him and just how you will do that.  

  And even more, many people will tell you that while you may choose to be a Christian if you wish, you have no right to make that decision for your children.  In the Old Testament book of Joshua, Joshua might have said “As for me and my house we will serve the LORD” but you can not say that anymore.  “Your children should be free to choose for themselves” people will tell you.  “There is no way that you can force them to go to church and to send them to a Christian school where religion is rammed down their throats, well that is the last thing you should do!  Oh, by all means let them be exposed to a bit of Christianity but make sure that they also learn about the Baha’i faith, perhaps even Buddhism or Islam and most certainly the teaching that there is no God and then let them decide for themselves who they will serve.”

But in Genesis 17:1 the LORD came to Abram and He said,

“I am Almighty God [or: El Shaddai in the original Hebrew]; walk before Me and be blameless.”

And then He said this in verse 7.

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

The LORD made a covenant with Abram, He declared Himself to be Abram’s God, and He declared Himself to be the God of Abram’s children also.  It is God who did this and He did not give Abram a choice.  Verse 9,

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.’”

And that is what I wish to preach to you about this morning.  I preach to you that:

God’s covenant was not just with Abram but also with his descendants.

  1. Covenant promises. 
  2. Covenant demands.

1. Covenant promises.

It had been a long time since the LORD had called Abram.  He had called him in Ur of the Chaldeans already, when Abram lived with his family beyond the River Euphrates in what is now a part of Iraq.  It was then that the LORD had told him to leave his country and his family to go to a land that God would show him.  And the LORD had promised to make Abram a great nation, He’d promised to bless him and said that in Abram all the families of the earth would be blessed.  And Abram went.  He first went with Terah his father and the rest of his family to the city of Haran and then, after his father died, he, along with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, departed, “as the LORD had spoken to him” to Canaan.  And Genesis 12:4 says that Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

  Now in Genesis 17 it was almost 25 years later and Abram had reached the grand old age of ninety-nine years.  Much had happened since Abram had moved to Canaan and the LORD had blessed him richly.  Except for one thing: Abram had still not received the son of promise.  And God’s promises to Abram, promises that included land, protection, descendants and that he be a blessing to the nations all depended on the promise of a son, the promise of a special “seed” that Abram and Sarai had not received.

That must have been hard for Abram, and it must have been hard for Sarai, too.  And what would have been even harder for them were the names that Abram and Sarai had received from their parents when they were born.  Because Abram means “exalted father” and Sarai has the meaning of a person of royal descent.  But Abram was not an exalted father: in fact, he was not a father at all!  (At least not before Ishmael was born.)  And that must have been hard!  You can imagine what it would have been like.  Abram was a wealthy man and, having wells of water and food to sell, many merchants and travellers would have come to his tent.  And as they came to pay their respects they would have asked him, “Who are you?  Where have you come from?  How is it that you are living here in Canaan?  And what is your name?”  And Abram would have told them.  “My name is Abram, and God, the creator of heaven and earth has sent Me here.  He has promised me this land, He has promised to make my name great and He has promised to make me a great nation.”  But if Abram said these things, can you imagine the response?  They may not have said it to his face, but you can imagine what they may have been thinking.  “So your name is Abram, is it?  The exalted father – but really one who is not a father at all!  And you have been promised this land, have you?  And how much of it do you – a sojourner – really own?  How much can you claim to be yours?  Get real, Abram!  You are not a landowner: you are a guest here, a passenger while others are in the drivers’ seat.  This is the land of the Canaanites, not yours!  And you say that God promised to make your name great?  Well it is true that you are a wealthy man but where are your sons?  And what was your name again?  Abram?  Exalted Father?  Oh the irony of it to have a name like Abram when you have no son.”

But the LORD had encouraged Abram, promising him again and again that he would receive all that he had promised.  And He had sworn that to him on oath, making a covenant with him in Genesis 15.  And Abram believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

  But now it was about 15 years later.  Abram was 99 years old and he was still waiting.  Abram could see the dust of the earth every day and he could try count the stars every night.  But when it came to counting a child that belonged to him and Sarai he could not even get to one. When it came to receiving a child through Sarai Abram was still waiting.

Or was he still waiting?  In Genesis 16 his wife Sarai had taken matters into her own hands and given Abram her maidservant, Hagar, through whom he had a son: Ishmael.  And although Hagar’s pregnancy caused much trouble in Abram’s household and ultimately the child would not be counted as Sarai’s, Ishmael was still Abram’s son and at least when it came to Ishmael Abram could point and say, “That’s my son.  He is my heir.”

And indeed he was Abram’s son.  But was he Abram’s heir?  And, more importantly, was Ishmael the heir to God’s promises?

This was not God’s plan.  This was not what the LORD had set out to do.  The LORD had said that Abram would have a son, a son who would inherit God’s covenant promises, and that son would be born from Sarai. 

And so we come to Genesis 17.  It was about 15 years since the LORD had made His covenant with Abram and now Abram was 99 years old.  And the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”  And then God said this in Genesis 17:2 –

“I will make my covenant between me and you and will multiply you exceedingly.”

And Abram responded by falling on his face, by bowing down in reverence to Almighty God.  And then God said this in verse 4-6.

“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.  No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.”

And so Abram received a name change from a name that meant “Exalted Father” to the “Father of many nations”.  When Abram was 99 years old God came to him and God said “Abram, when I make My covenant with you, you can be sure that I will keep my promises.  I will be true to the covenant I have made and I am going to make you a father of many nations.  And to underline this and to make it public, I am giving you a new name: Abraham.” 

  But that was not all, for Sarai would receive a new name also.  For Sarai, Abram’s old wife – his barren wife – would give birth to a son. And so she too would receive a new name, Sarah which means “Princess”.  Genesis 17:15-16,

“Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’”

But when Abraham heard this, it was all too much.  Genesis 17:17,

“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Abraham laughed.  No, we should not see this as the laugh of a mocker, nor the sniggering laugh of one who scoffs at God’s promises but rather as the laugh of one who could not really comprehend what the LORD was saying.  It was all too much.  Abraham had Ishmael: let him be enough.  And so Abram said to the LORD in verse 18,

“Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!”

But the LORD said “No.”  Ishmael would be blessed, he would become a great nation and twelve princes would be born from him.  But the covenant line would not go through Ishmael.  The LORD would give a son to old Abraham and barren Sarah and this son, Isaac, would inherit the promise.  Verse 19,

“No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.”

And there we see what is called the unilateral nature of God’s covenant.  That is, the one-sided nature in which God makes His covenant.  Not only did God choose to make His covenant with Abraham, but He also chose to make it with Isaac and with Isaac’s descendants.  Abraham said “Let Ishmael live before You” but God said “No.  Not Ishmael but Isaac.”  That is not to say that Ishmael would be forgotten: his descendants would become nations in their own right.  Further, Ishmael, as a member of Abraham’s household, would be circumcised also.  Although the Deliverer, the Christ, would not come from Ishmael but through Isaac, Ishmael’s circumcision was still God’s call on his life and God’s promise of life should he cling to God in faith.  But God’s covenant promises and His covenant line would go through Isaac and through Isaac’s descendants.  And God’s covenant would continue in their generations for an everlasting covenant.

And that is the promise that the LORD underlined in the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 17.  Not only would Abraham become the father of many nations (indeed, the time would come when people from all tribes and tongues would call Abraham their father – Galatians 3 talks about that), not only would Abraham become the father of many nations and not only would God give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants, but the LORD would be God to Abraham’s descendants also.  And therefore God’s covenant to Abraham would be an everlasting covenant.  Genesis 17:7,

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

And see how this is repeated in verse 8,

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

And verse 19,

“I will establish My covenant with him [that is Isaac] for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

God’s covenant, therefore, is not just with Abraham but also with his descendants.  The LORD would be God to Abraham and to his son and to his son’s son, and to his son and so on, throughout the generations.  And it was God who decreed it to be so.

And because it was God who established the covenant, when Isaac was born he was born into that covenant.  He was born as a child of God, an heir to His promises.  It is not as though when Isaac was born that he grew up as he liked, believing what he liked and doing what he liked, nor was he really given the choice as to whether or not he wanted the LORD to be his God.  But from the time he was born God placed His mark on him and said, “Isaac, you are Mine!  The covenant I made with Abraham your father I make with you too.  Therefore walk before Me and be blameless.”  And the same applies to us and to our children.  God’s covenant is an everlasting covenant and to us also He says, “I will be God to you and to your descendants after you.”  And that is why our children also are not to be left to decide for themselves who to serve.  Instead we tell them:  God has claimed you!  He has made His covenant with you!  You are not free to decide for yourself if you want to follow God or Buddha or the ways of your own sin-filled heart.  The LORD commands you: “Follow Me!  I am Your God and You are My child.”

And to underline the truth that the LORD made His covenant not just with Abraham but also with his descendants, God gave the sign of His covenant, circumcision.  We will see this further in our second point.

2. Covenant demands.

In every covenant there are two parties and so it is with the covenant the Lord made with Abraham.  You can see this in Genesis 17:9.  In Genesis 17:2 the LORD had said,

“And I will make My covenant between Me and You”

but now in verse 9 He said to Abraham,

“As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”

And this is how they were to keep it.  Verse 10,11.

“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

Every male child who was eight days old or older, whether born in Abraham’s house or bought with his money was to be circumcised as a sign and seal of God’s covenant.  And everyone who received the sign would also receive the promise, “I am your God and You are My people” and the command, “Walk before Me and be blameless.”

  Of course it would not just be the males who would be included in the covenant: so would the females in Abraham’s house.  It was not just with Abraham that God was concerned but also Sarah.  That is why the LORD not only gave Sarah a son but also changed her name from Sarai to Sarah saying that she would be a mother of nations.  Yes, she would be the mother of Israel and from her descendants would come another mother, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  And not only would Abraham’s family be included in the covenant: so would his servants.   That is why every male of his house was to be circumcised.  You see, circumcision was never intended to be the sign of one’s nationality, the sign of being Jewish.  Rather it was the sign of being counted in the family of God, and of one who shared in the promises of God.  And all those who belonged to Abraham shared in the covenant promises with Abraham.  And for that reason they had to be circumcised.

But with the command to circumcise also came a warning.  Genesis 17:14.

“And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

A refusal to accept the sign of the covenant meant a refusal to accept the promises of the covenant.  And therefore any such person was to be cut off: he and his descendants would not be counted among the people of God.  There is a strong link, therefore, between the covenant and the sign of the covenant, between what God has promised and what He has commanded, that is, circumcision.  That does not mean, however, that circumcision saved anyone: to be a part of God’s covenant was never a guarantee that one would necessarily be saved.  Think about the many people of Israel who went out of Egypt but perished in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Think about the warnings in the book of Deuteronomy of what would happen to those who rejected God’s covenant and think about what happened to those who ultimately did turn their backs on the LORD.  But the outward sign of circumcision came with the inward command to serve the Lord with a new obedience.  That is why Moses commanded the people in Deuteronomy 10:12,13 saying,

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?”

And Deuteronomy 10:16,

“Therefore circumcise the foreskins of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.”

And as the LORD had already said to Abram in Genesis 17:1,

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”

But there we have a problem.  Although it was God, and God alone who established the covenant, He now commands His people to keep that covenant.  But for Old Testament Israel the command to keep the covenant was always more than the physical act of circumcision: it also meant that all God’s people – male and female – were to live in God’s covenant, live as one holy to the Lord.  And since we too partake of that same covenant – not by circumcision but by baptism – we are called and obliged to a new obedience.  Our Form for Baptism instructs us that “We are to cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to trust Him, and to love Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and with all our strength.  We must not love the world but put off our old nature and lead a God-fearing life.”  But we fail to do that!  And so although it was God who established His covenant with us, if it was up to us to remain in the covenant we would be lost, we would be cut off from God’s people.  But the good news is that it does not depend on us for the God who made His covenant with us is also the One who keep us in that covenant.  And He has done that through the Great Descendants of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Lord Jesus was born, He too would be counted among the sons of Abraham, He too would be circumcised.  But only He would truly walk before God and be blameless.  Only He would uphold the demands of God’s covenant.  But this Jesus took the covenant curse upon Himself, He took God’s anger for our sin upon Himself.  And for this reason, Isaiah 53:8 says, He was cut off from the land of the living, for the sins of God’s people He was stricken.  And because He was cut off, we who trust in Him will never be cut off from God’s presence. 

The Covenant of Grace, therefore, the Covenant into which we have been included – not by circumcision which involved the shedding of blood, but baptism which has now replaced circumcision – the Covenant of Grace calls us to turn to the One who fulfilled the covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Covenant which God has sealed to you in your baptism is an invitation to receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus Christ.  But even more than an invitation, it comes with the command: repent and believe!

When the LORD finished talking with Abraham, He went up and departed.  And that very same day Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all his male servants including those born in his house, 8 days old and older, and he circumcised them.  It would not been easy to do and no doubt there were more than a few squeamish men who recoiled at the thought of being circumcised.  But God had given them a choice: be circumcised along with Abraham or be cut off from the people of Abraham, be cut off from the promises of God.

But now what about you?  And what about your children?  The LORD has made His covenant with you, He has placed his claim upon you and upon your families. To you He says “I am your God and you are My people.” Galatians 3:26-29 says,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed [Abraham’s descendants], and heirs according to the promise.

Therefore turn to God and turn to His Son Jesus Christ.  Believe the promises given to you in your baptism and in the power of the Holy Spirit who has been promised to you, live as children of God’s covenant and you will receive what is promised.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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