Bible readings for Sunday, June 17 (based on the Revised Common Lectionary)
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 – In God’s order, character trumps appearance
• Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
Mark 4:26-34 – God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
• Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence like seed that sprouts from the soil
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 – New life brings vision of the kingdom of God
• Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 » In God’s order, character trumps appearance
Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
34-35 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
“Ramah… Gibeah” – it was a separation but archaeology has revealed that Ramah and Gibeah were only a few miles apart.
“The Lord regretted…” – echoes 15:11 and God’s regret at the time of the flood, Genesis 6:7. This is not a conflict with 1 Sam. 15:29 where ‘will not regret’ in some versions means will not ‘relent’ or ‘change His mind’. Saul’s call to kingship had started well, 1 Sam. 9-10, but his character was to self-justify and on this test of how he had followed a very specific command he lied twice, 1 Sam. 15:3, 13, 20-22.
For further study, see 2 Sam. 11:27, 12:7-12, Hebrews 13:7
1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, of Bethlehem.
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
Samuel had reason to be cautious – he had told Saul that God had rejected his kingship.
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’
3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
Bringing a sacrifice gave Samuel a pretext for going to Bethlehem and following what the Lord would show him next.
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“The Lord looks at the heart” – a much-quoted verse, which headlines a principle. The Lord is concerned with what is on the inside, i.e. character and spiritual disposition, whereas we are swayed by more evident attributes including appearance. Saul stood out in appearance and height, 1 Sam. 9:2, but in character he turned out to lack stature.
8-11 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
With v. 14 this is the pivotal moment when by this physical anointing there is a transfer of the spiritual anointing of God’s Spirit from Saul to David (which he recalled in worship, Psalm 51:11). It is the beginning of a long process over seven years in which Saul’s hold on the kingship is displaced by David’s growing influence.
It is hard for us to grasp how, with foreknowledge, God can allow something to happen which then turns to failure. This makes a powerful statement about the principle of man’s free will, but also the seriousness with which God regards a failure of leadership through the wrong exercise of free will.
In the O.T. the Holy Spirit comes on a person of God’s choice for a purpose, for them to step up to an anointed role e.g. as prophet or king or leader. In the NT the Spirit was given at Pentecost and all believers can ask and receive, and are later instructed to “be being filled”, Ephesians 5:18, in an ongoing way for an empowered ministry.
The principle of “trust and test” applies to us as it did to Saul and David. Saul’s arrogant and self-justifying personality meant that he lacked the honesty to know his need of God and need to put right with God his mistakes. David made mistakes, but God had his heart – a crucial difference.
We have free will to obey (or to take God at His word) or not. How have you grown through being tested on this?
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
“A shoot… and plant it” – one of David’s line, Isaiah 11:1, Zech. 3:8, made king. A parable of a messianic future in sharp contrast to the destruction foretold in the preceding prophecies.
“High and lofty mountain” – Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:2-4
23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
“Birds of every kind” – people of every nation.
The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth
24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
“Bring down the tall tree” – 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 2:12-18.
Trees represent the royal line. The pride and failure of David’s descendants would not stop God’s purpose for the dynasty of David, which was fulfilled in Jesus.
“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
Ezekiel was a later prophet who became one of the exiles and a contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel and Obadiah. He had seen how king after king, and generation after generation, had rejected God’s ways – with disastrous consequences. He also caught a higher perspective: God’s purpose would be fulfilled by God’s action overruling man’s failure. When all around us appears hopeless, in the higher, heavenly perspective God is already bringing His good purposes about.
Mark 4:26-34 » God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
- Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence, like seed that sprouts from the soil
26-29 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.
The disciples thought the kingdom of God was a righteous political rule – looking back to David. Not so. All of Jesus’ teaching sought to demonstrate and explain how the kingdom of God, God’s rule and purpose, impacts man’s freewill existence. God’s kingdom exists and grows and produces its good effect in ways that are largely unseen and unrecognised – in our hearts, and through us as changed people, bringing God’s order in righteous, beneficial change to our world.
A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
“He also said” – Mark recounts some further seed parables which are about the hidden life of the kingdom of God which will appear. The kingdom of God is hidden, 4:21, but will certainly become established like a crop, and grow.
30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
“Like a mustard seed – the contrast between a very small beginning – the mustard seed was proverbially small – and spectacular growth.
33-34 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.
Mark shows that he is including a compilation of these parables, not a chronological account.
This teaching reminds us that God’s kingdom does come and does grow whether or not we can see the impact of praying ‘Your kingdom come’. The change and growth keeps on happening “all by itself” as God’s will is done with the patchy support and partnership of His people. This teaching emphasises God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purpose, but the witness of the Bible as a whole is on the way God chooses us to be His ‘executive partners’ through our lives and relationships.
Heroes of faith like William Wilberforce and John Wesley whose hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit were passionate in their mission and persevering in setbacks and opposition and lack of progress. Centuries later, we see with more clarity what their prayer and persistence achieved for eternity.
Can you recall something you have prayed for persistently without seeing change at the time – and then, looking back, you could see the shift?
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 » New life brings a vision of the kingdom of God
Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
6-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.
“At home in the body” – spiritual life is constrained by human existence.
This is not an exhortation to be super-spiritual and believing the unbelievable, but rather living one’s whole life with God in a trust relationship which believes His promises and takes an eternal view, not just the immediate one. This looks back to 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1.
8-10 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
“Appear before the judgment seat” – in our courtroom language we speak of being ‘called to appear before the bench’. This was the bēma, where the Roman governor sat to deliver judicial verdicts.
“Receive what is due” – there is judgment in heaven and we will have to give account for what we have done “in the body”, our here-and-now lives. Where we fall short of “living for Him” we should keep short accounts with God and others.
= = = = =
14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.
“Christ’s love compels us” – Paul’s motivation is the strong awareness of the price paid for him by Jesus, and the relationship of love which holds him. The revelation of how Jesus loves us through His sacrificial death compels us to live for Him, not for ourselves.
16-17 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
This is a change of identity, from the old unregenerate person to the new, spiritual person. New creation also brings new perspective – we see things differently and the old, worldly point of view seems narrow and inadequate. The worldly view of Christ as a historical figure and perhaps a model to follow is radically overturned by the experience of the Holy Spirit Christ in us – and a growing understanding of who we are “in Christ”, our heavenly identity.
There’s a tension in living for Christ and in the tension of the world’s ways, in being made a new creation person, but with a lot of old creation habits and attitudes hanging on. The life of the Spirit which is the context of this letter and others written to early church believers demands that we see ourselves as heaven sees us, and live up to this new identity. Too easily we slide back into responding to the world around us as we see it with our eyes rather than as we perceive it, drawing on the spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit. People let us down – that is what humans do. The worldly view will be condemning and judgmental; as those in Christ we are equipped to perceive what is going on in a person that impact us unhelpfully, and as those compelled by Christ’s love, we can choose to return to them the grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.
What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?
Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 29
MONDAY Genesis 22:1-18 – Abraham and Isaac tested on Mount Moriah
TUESDAY Psalm 22:25-31 – Test of believing for unlikely people turning to the Lord
WEDNESDAY John 15:1-8 – Teaching on the test of abiding in Jesus
THURSDAY Acts 8:26-40 – Philip the Evangelist tested with a nudge from God
FRIDAY 1 John 4:7-21 – The test for believers of living out the love they profess
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. The Lord sees and provides, and establishes a covenant principle
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Tested” – the Hebrew verb nissah means to prove the quality, not incite to do wrong as implied by ‘tempted’ in some versions.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Mount Moriah is generally agreed to be the site of Solomon’s temple, 2 Chronicles 3:1, and also Calvary. This sacrifice of Abraham’s precious and only son foreshadows the place of sacrifice which the temple became, and Calvary nearby being the place of the full and final sacrifice of God’s only son.
3-4 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
“Early the next morning” – There is a lot of detail about the preparations and the early start, implying facing up to a very difficult assignment resolutely.
5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
“We will come back to you” – Spoken in faith. Abraham was certain that God’s promise would be fulfilled through Isaac – “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” – and the writer of Hebrews explains that he expected Isaac to be resurrected, Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:17–19.
6-7 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
This brings to mind the hard-to-grasp partnership expressed in Isaiah 53:7, 10. Both foreshadow the Cross and force us to relinquish our perspective, in order to grasp God’s higher purpose.
We can have all the arrangements and means in place for worship – the wood; and the fire of the Holy Spirit is always ready to be invited to ignite the wood. But where is the lamb? Where are our hearts in making the sacrifice? It was Abraham’s heart that was being tested.
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
“God Himself will provide” – Abraham’s life motto and an example for us of the faith principle of speaking out what has been ‘seen’ in faith, not as empty presumption but in the way of agreeing with what is being revealed dimly.
For further study: Does Abraham’s practice follow God, who spoke the Creation into existence? Romans 4:16-18
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
The pace of the story slows right down as it reaches its climax. Abraham is prepared to offer to God in sacrifice what is most dear to his heart, what represents the whole of his life’s purpose and God’s promise, to build a nation.
13-14 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
“The Lord Will Provide” – This translates ‘Yahweh Yi’reh’ or more popularly, Jehovah Jireh (which is easier to say and read and work into a song). The ‘Yi’reh‘ component is from ‘ra’ah‘ which means ‘to see’. It can also have the secondary sense of ‘see to it’, or ‘provide’.
We hardly need reminding that God ‘provided’ His own Son for the ultimate sacrifice that would positionally spell forgiveness for mankind, on this very mountain. Also v.8.
15-18 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
“I swear by Myself” – If we swear, it would be by someone or something greater than ourselves, but who is greater than God? This is explained in Hebrews 6:13-18.
Abraham’s life story was about successive tests of his devotion, loyalty and obedience to God, which are always followed by a new encounter and renewed assurance – as in Genesis 13:14-15 and here in v.17.
There is a principle here, that we cannot out-give God. As we give to Him, He gives back to us.
The test was whether Abraham was prepared to risk all that was most precious to him, prepared to give up Isaac who was not only his precious son but also the living representation of his life’s purpose. Abraham was brought to the point of being prepared to trust God in giving it up.
The sets out a wider principle in how we walk through our lives with God.
It is the test that comes to each of us at the point of deciding to ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives, which by definition involves giving up to Him all that is most precious, and trusting Him in that. The encounter and new life that people recount in their stories of how they found Christ is what follows a difficult step of obedience.
It is the test behind our decision to tithe the first tenth or first part of what the Lord gives us as income or provision, giving it back to Him in faith – typically giving to church and/or other mission representing the Lord’s work. Can we afford it? Of course not. Will the Lord honour it? Again, many testimonies demonstrate how God’s economics seem to overturn the rules of ours.
For reflection and discussion
Abraham had been through some tests with the Lord before – and most likely you have known what it is for whatever faith you had to be stretched. How have you grown through it?
Readings this week
Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith
Psalm 133 – The Test of togetherness
John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing
1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of walking in relationship with God
MONDAY, APRIL 2
Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21
The Israelites are challenged to believe God’s promise at the Red Sea crossing
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
The Egyptians had quickly lost the anxiety of the plagues and the loss of their first-born.
11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
They had cried out to the Lord (v.10) but quickly switched to Moses, a more accessible target for their all-too-human (and humanly wrong) reaction. There is some biting sarcasm here, because Egypt at that time was obsessed with graves and had large areas of burial grounds.
12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
“Say to you” – to say and to ‘think in the heart’ can be the same in Hebrew. This is the accusation made earlier in Exodus 5:21.
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
“Deliverance” – literally ‘salvation’ but this is more in the sense of them being delivered from the threat. There is little distinction in Hebrew between salvation, deliverance and healing.
Moses gives three patient instructions in the turmoil: (1) do not be afraid, (2) stand and expect the Lord’s deliverance, and (3) be still i.e. stop all action.
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
Reminding Moses of the enduring promise to take them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan – the petition is already granted. His responsibility in faith is to keep everyone moving into the promise, expecting a way through.
16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.
“Divide” – cleave, form a valley: As happened in the description of v.21-22 “…the water divided… with a wall… on their right… and left.”
17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.
18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them,
20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.
The angel of God and the evidence of the presence of God, the pillar of cloud moved from ahead of the refugees to behind them and produced darkness with the opposite effect on the pursuing army, to the light and reassuring presence for the Israelites.
Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side, and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,
22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
The strong wind is a natural element, but the effect of the wind to bank up the water as a heap and create dry ground for the crossing, can only be explained by a miraculous event.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.
The exact location is debated, but recent scholarship and archaeological discovery has pointed to the tip of the Gulf of Suez, where divers have photographed unusual coral-encrusted shapes of wheel and spokes, providing evidence for the ”jammed wheels’ of v.25.
24 During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.
The ‘look’ of Yahweh appears to have been more of a blinding flash which caused the charioteers to run into each other. The wording of Psalm 77:16–20 suggests a thunderstorm, or a frightening occurrence resembling a thunderstorm.
The last watch of the night, 2am-6am, is the traditional time to mount an attack when visibility and morale are at their lowest.
25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Chariots with open unprotected wheels would be prone to lock if they touched. Rather than wheel around the Israelites, they were confined to the same narrow channel between the walls of water.
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”
27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.
The action by Moses was necessary to show that the return of the water was an act of God, not just a freak of extraordinary weather.
28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
“Not one of them survived” is qualified by “that had followed the Israelites into the sea” – those that went into the gap, perished in the gap when Moses called down the return of the water.
20 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.
There is a Twentieth Century Fox finality about this scene which made this miracle at the Red Sea the enduring symbol of Israel’s salvation, recounted in verse and song by one generation to another.
20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.
Miriam (the same name as Mary in the NT) was probably a praise leader of the women and is described as a prophetess, an unusual word also applied to Deborah, Judges 4:4. She claimed to bring God’s word just as Moses had, Numbers 12:2. Although she is Moses’ sister, she is described as Aaron’s sister, perhaps making a point about lesser rank.
21 Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”
This was a huge and miraculous deliverance in every aspect. God is loving and God is strong – and God is faithful when His people turn to Him in repentance and prayer. There is also a note of desperation here, but Moses is hearing God in it all. What is God saying in a situation? We need to persist and hear. “Faith comes by hearing”, and then we know how to pray – and act.
For reflection and discussion
What helps us to hear God in the emotional clamour of a crisis situation? See verses 11-15 for what not to do, and what God looks for.
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.
2 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”?