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

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.



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”?

Abram institutes the tithe

Scriptures this week leading up to Sunday, January 21

Genesis 14:17-20
Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram, who in turn treats him as a priest of God the Most High and gives him a tenth of everything.

Psalm 128
Blessing comes from a deep desire to walk closely with the Lord.

John 2:1-11
The first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Galilee.

Revelation 19:6-10
The sound of heaven: the cry of an immense gathering praising God and saying “Hallelujah, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!”

Genesis 14: 17-20

 Monday, January 15

Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram, who in turn treats him as a priest of God the Most High and gives him a tenth of everything

17  After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley)...

  • The back story here is that Abram and his nephew Lot, after friction with their herds and flocks and  stockmen, decided to separate, Lot having first choice and taking the well-watered plain of Jordan towards Zoar, and Abram content to head east to Mamre, near Hebron. However a battle between the wicked kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (their names portray their character) with three others, and an alliance of four kings from Babylon and Mesopotamia led by the Elamite Kedorlaomer in the Valley of Siddim, under the present Dead Sea, results in Lot’s family and flocks being seized. Abram goes into battle to rescue his nephew with a surprisingly small but strategic force, and gets Lot, his women, servants and stock back. Our story begins with a meeting near present-day Jerusalem, between Abram and two very different key players.

18-20  Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying…

  • Salem is a known abbreviation of Jerusalem, Ps 76:2. Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’ but he is also a priest of God Most High – El Elyon – and he blesses Abram in a priestly way. Abram defers to him as his spiritual superior and affirms that the victory belongs to God.
  • The simple explanation of the bread and wine are for entertaining the battle-weary Abram with refreshment – we should not hurry to read a NT meaning into this, over 1,000 years beforehand (but see Application, below).
  • Melchizedek, acting in the role of a priest more than a king, blesses Abram and ascribes the victory Abram has won, to God Most High.

…“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

  • Abram is more concerned to honour God by giving the first part back – in this he institutes the principle of the tithe. The passage continues with him refusing the spoils of war from the king of Sodom. He is not going to take control of Canaan by might, or accept an offer that might have strings attached. Abram’s response, warm and deferential to Melchizedek, cool and objective toward the pagan king, is remarkable in terms of the customs of the time. Abram makes a determination not to seize spoils and power, but to take the route of faith, to honour God and wait on Him to give Him the land as He promised.


Who was Melchizedek? He never appears again, and unusually there are no references to his ancestry, but he is revered in Scripture. Subsequent revelation sees him as a type, or foreshadowing appearance, of Christ whose priesthood cannot end – a priesthood of the order of Melchizedek

For further study: see Ps 110:4, Hebrews 7:17, 21.

Genesis begins with an account of humankind’s God-given authority over the earth and portrays violence as a perversion of this.

Abram, or Abraham as he became, was remarkable as a man who heard from God, trusted God in extreme circumstances – and waited on God. Waited and waited…

Abraham initiates here two life principles of divine providence.

  • He gave God the glory for ‘his’ success and victory.
  • He also instituted the practice of honouring God with the first part of everything, the tithe, the voluntary and willing practice of which endures as part of Christian worship today and is seen as God’s provision for His church.

As we know, Abraham was not impoverished by his act of faith. He went on to be the wealthiest man of his time as well the founder of a nation. A third principle we can draw from this, is that as we give to God, He trusts us with more.

Discussion starter

1.  How will you consider giving God the first part of everything He gives you? Does this only apply to monetary income?