The stretch of faith that sees beyond

Readings this week focus on Sunday, February 25 (Second Sunday in Lent)

MONDAY – Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

TUESDAY – Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

WEDNESDAY – Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption is difficult for people to understand

THURSDAY – Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

FRIDAY – The Emerging Message

Abram receives the second part of the promise and a new identity

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16

God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me faithfully and be blameless. 1  Hebrew El Shaddai. The exact meaning of Shaddai is debated. It amounts to ‘El’, Lord, ‘Sha’, who and ‘ddai’, ‘boundless sufficiency’. The ‘ddai’ part of the word has some connotations with ‘mountain’ or ‘great size’. It is a way of ascribing extraordinary power – hence Almighty.
2 Then I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

2  This comes 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, and Sarai is now 89 years old.

Why did God need to make what appears to be second covenant? Better to see this as two aspects of God’s covenant with Abram in which God gives him the promise of the land, Genesis 15:18-21, and here in part 2 is the promise of an abundance of descendants.

2  Unlike the Genesis 15 covenant, this part of the promise is conditional on Abram’s commitment to God.  Abram has to “walk before God and be blameless”.

3    Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,

4  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

5  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

3-5  This “father of many nations” statement is part of a threefold promise, unmistakable and memorable. This is an enduring covenant between God and Abram, whose name changes to reflect his new relationship with God, and who he is to become, according to that covenant. God changes his name to ‘Ab’, father, ‘ram’, high, ‘hamon’ (contracted to ham), nations. So from ‘Great Father’ to ‘Great Father of Nations, or Father of a great many Nations. See Romans 4:17.
6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 6  Not, as might be thought, one tribe or nation, the tribe of Abraham – but ‘nations’ and each nation has to have a king. So “kings will come forth from you” reinforces this part of the promise.
7  I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 7  The repetition around “everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you” emphasises that this covenant will have the same meaning and the same force for the descendants many generations down the line, as for Abraham himself. It is in effect a generational blessing as expressed later to Moses, Exodus 20:6.
8  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

8  “To be your God” is reinforced by the first person direct statement “I will be their God” in verse 8. This is a much-repeated saying in the prophets, and Jeremiah repeats it in his ‘turning point’ prophecy of the New Covenant written on hearts, Jer. 31:33. It is also quoted three times in the NT.

8  For God to say “I will be their God” and for Abraham and his descendants to repeat what God has said in the way of celebrating it, is more important than the detail of lands or offspring. Spiritually a covenant is established personally, God to man and man to God, in these words, rather like the “I wills” of the covenant made between bride and groom in the marriage ceremony.

15  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 15  This name change is from “my princess” to the more regal and enduring “princess”.
16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 16  The language does not state but implies “princess of nations” meaning “mother of nations” as the translators’ render it, parallel to “father of… nations”, verse 5.

 

Application

There is a controversial issue which comes out of this passage, and that concerns the present nation of Israel, and the land of Israel which is the cause of tension and even wars.

This goes with another controversial point, the nations which come from Abraham and the story that precedes this passage, of Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16:10-12. The angel’s prophecy to the fleeing Hagar is that she, too, will have many descendants, and strife is forecast in the prophecy!

The Bible gives us reasons for the present-day tension, but it doesn’t give us black and white answers of how to resolve that tension. How does that covenant play out today, in different people groups, many thousands of years later, with many different views of how instructive it is?

The teaching that we gain from this is about the nature of God’s covenants, which can be in the form of a unilateral decree that He will do (or in the case of Noah and the rainbow) not do something. Or it can be a statement that has conditions. Then we have to enter into what is said, and keep on demonstrating our commitment to the proposer of the covenant.

Our idea of commitments and even legal contracts can be quite situational. There is the concept in law of a “voidable contract”. As is often the case, our worldview and the worldview of heaven are rather different. God’s purposes and intentions are eternal, while ours tend to be more selfish and short-term.

For reflection and discussion

To what extent are we, as non-Jews, descendants of Abraham? As Christians living in the benefit of a new and better covenant established by Jesus, founded on better promises, how do we understand this original promise of one of the covenants: “I will be their God”?


Also published on Medium.

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