GOD CALLS ABRAM ABRAHAM

 

Genesis 16-17                

Key Verse: 17:1,5

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.’”

Today, we will see Sarah’s impatience and the birth of Ishmael as a result of his human calculation. God appeared to Abram after 13 years of silence and rebuked him to walk before him and be blameless. Then God changed his name from Abram to Abraham and renewed his covenant as an everlasting covenant. God commanded Abram and all males in his households to be circumcised as the sign of the covenant. Abraham obeyed God’s command immediately. Let’s walk before God Almighty and live as a father of many nations. I pray that we may believe the promise of God and live as his covenant children and inherit the kingdom of God as our everlasting possession. May God bless us to grow in our inner spiritual character through our blameless life of faith before God so that we may keep God’s abundant blessing.

PART I. THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL (16:1-16)

 

In chapter 15 Abram became impatient when there was no sign of a promised son. God confirmed his covenant with Abram to give him a son from his own body with a special ceremony. Look at 15:4b-6, “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir. He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God strengthened Abram’s faith. But in chapter16, it was Sarai’s turn and she became impatient. Look at verses 1 and 2. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar, so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children, Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’” Though ten years had passed, there was no sign of a son. Sarah felt sorry for Abram because she could not produce a son for him. She felt a strong sense of obligation to produce a son by any means. She became fatalistic about herself, and said, “The Lord has kept me from having children.” She could not wait for God’s appointed time. She concluded that God kept her from having children.” In a sense she blamed God for her childless problem. She lost her faith in God’s promise and fell into her human thinking. Her impatience turned into unbelief. Instead of waiting for God’s time, She began to find a way to give a son to Abram. Then a brilliant human idea came to Sarah, “Well, as long as a son comes from the body of Abram, it is okay. Hagar seems to be strong and attractive. Why did I not think about this alternative solution before? Let me have a son for Abram through Hagar.” In addition, it was the custom of that time to solve a no son problem through a concubine. But her idea was against God’s plan of a family-one wife and one husband. One day she told Abram, “Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” It was a hard decision for Sarah to give Abram to Hagar. But she thought that that was her best option to build a family through Hagar. What’s wrong with her decision? Sarah did not inquire of the Lord before she made this decision. She tried to have a covenant son through her human effort. God said, “I will make you a great nation.” (12:2) But Sarah said, “Perhaps I will build family through her.”(2b) “Perhaps” is a word of unbelief. God’s covenant will be fulfilled by God but not by our human means. She ignored God’s plan and allowed Abram to sleep with Hagar. She tried to achieve her human goal by using Hagar’s body. The source of unbelief came from her human calculation and impatience.

Abram agreed to what Sarai said; he slept with Hagar, and she conceived. How could Abram agree with such a decision? Abram listened to Sarah’s suggestion because it was a hard offer to refuse. Sarah’s approval and his heart desire to have a son emboldened Abram to sleep with Hagar. But Abram was a man of faith and Abram should have prayed about this; he should have listened to God’s voice instead of the voice of his wife. Actually, he was listening to the voice of his deep desire. So he did not wait on God, but used human means to solve his problem. We are responsible for our actions, even if someone else gives unwise counsel. It was an easy solution but created a deeper problem.

What was the consequence of their human calculation? Their decision brought chaos to their household. Human mistake brought family strife and jealousy and hatred. After Hagar became pregnant, she became proud and began to despise her mistress, Sarai. She said, “Hey! Sarah! Look at my stomach. You are a barren woman and I am pregnant. Do not tell me what to do. I should be the top wife in this household.” Abram said, “Good morning, Hagar! How’s the baby?” When Sarai complained to Abram, he said, “She’s your servant; do whatever you think best.” Abram became a sandwich man between two powerful women. He became helpless. One day he tried to please Hagar and next day he tried to please Sarah. There was no rest in him. He had many splitting headaches to please both of them at the same time. His longtime sweet love relationship with Sarah was broken. Abram did not try to mediate between two women. He restored spiritual order in his home, and made it clear that his wife Sarai was the mistress of the home. So Sarai seized this opportunity to revenge and treated Hagar harshly, and she said, “You dared to challenge my authority and forgot who you were. Remember that you are nothing but my maidservant though you are pregnant.” Two women’s jealousy flared and Hagar could not bear Sarah’s mistreatment and fled into the desert.

What a tragedy! How sorrowful Abram would have been if Hagar, carrying his unborn child perished in the desert. It was terrible for a pregnant woman wandering in the desert. But God did not abandon Abram though he made a mistake. God fixed his problem. God helped Hagar first. Look at verse 8. “And he said, ’Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’” First, God reminded her of her position as servant of Sarai. No matter what happened to her, she was servant of Sarai. We should not forget who we were before God and submit ourselves to the will of God humbly. God gave her a new direction in verse 9, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” God told her not to run away, but to go back and challenge her situation. He gave her a promise concerning her son, Ishmael. Ishmael could not be the covenant son, but God would bless him. Ishmael, the seed of Abram’s human mistake, became the source of hostility towards the Jews even today. Look at verse 13b, “You are the God who sees me.” How great is our God who sees and cares about one lonely slave woman. Hagar met the God of Abram personally. She believed his promise and obeyed his command, and returned to Sarah. Ishmael was a child of impatience (which is unbelief), compromise and human calculations.  He was a son of the flesh. He could not be the inheritor of God’s eternal covenant. He brought human joy and sorrow to Abram, and tension and unrest to Abram’s household. God did not stop Abram from following his own way. He let him have Hagar, even though it was a sin. At the same time, God did not abandon him, either. He endured Abram’s human mistakes and cared for him and his family and waited on his own time. In our spiritual life we also become impatient and invite many pain and conflict and ruin God’s plan. We have to trust God and wait for his appointed time to the end.

PART II. WALK BEFORE ME AND BE BLAMELESS (17:1)

 

Abram waited God for 10 years but God waited Abram for 13 years. God did not forget Abram and waited for the right time to help. Just as Jesus visited Peter when he was exhausted and miserable due to his failure, so God visited Abram after 13 years of spiritual vacuum. Thirteen years passed between chapters 16 and 17. Abram was 99 years old when God spoke to him again. There was a 13-year gap in his spiritual life. Look at verse 17:1. “When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.’” Why did God appear to Abram when he was a 99 year old man? God waited Abram so long. Timing is everything to God. God waited for the right time. God promised to bless Abram and waited for a long time. Twenty-four years had passed since Abram came to Canaan land and 13 years passed since Ishmael was born. Abram seemed to give up his spiritual life. He said in verse 18, “Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” God appeared to him when he was exhausted and had no spiritual strength. It was the time God waited for so long. God intervened in Abram’s life when he felt he could not do anything. God’s time and our time are different. It is important for us to wait for God’s time because he has plan in our life.

God introduced himself to Abram, “I am God Almighty.” According to the note, it means “El-Shaddai.” It means that God is all-sufficient mighty God. Abram did not know the mighty power of God and he limited God to his childless problem. Now God wanted Abram to learn who he is by appearing to him again. Everything is possible to God because he is the creator of the heavens and the earth.  Next, God told him what to do. “Walk before me and be blameless.” God demanded Abram to get up from his complacent life of sin and walk before him. Since the birth of Ishmael, Abram enjoyed Ishmael and was contented with his own human possessions. Ishmael became a cute boy and Abram took him to PTA meetings. He gave him a piggy-back-ride. Someone might have asked him, “Are you a grandfather of Ishmael?” But Abram was happy when he saw his visible son running around in front of him. He became a family man. He forgot God’s promise and was attracted to his own son. In the past he followed God and now he followed Ishmael. He probably stopped counting stars. In the past Abram had a habit of counting stars in the starry night, ‘One star, one descendant! Tow stars, two descendants! One thousands stars, one thousands descendants!”  His heart was burning with God’s vision. But now that he got one star, he no longer looked up at the heavens and no longer had vision for descendants like the millions twinkling stars in the heavens. He felt, “Now I got a son and did not need God’s promise.” He became complacent and petty. In the past he walked before God and now he walked before Ishmael, his human product. He was walking before the world. He was walking before Hagar and Sarah. He was living a compromised “Christian” life. He did not concern about God’s plan of the world salvation. He was stuck with Ishmael. To God, it was a serious problem because God wanted to save the whole world through him. So God rebuked him severely. It is time for him to walk before God Almighty. God woke him up from his spiritual slumber with his thunderous word. God shook him from his comfortable nest and commanded him to be blameless. We feed sheep with a great expectation but they leave when they have to grow up. They seem not to care about our plan. Patience is important. God blessed Shepherd Bruce’s patience. He was recommended as the teacher of the year in his school. We despair but we must wait on God’s time. There are three spiritual stages in our spiritual life-baby, toddler, and adult. God babysat Abraham for 24 years and it is time for him to grow spiritually and walk before the Almighty God. When we walk before God, we must be blameless. God used Zechariah and Elizabeth to be John the Baptist’s parent because they observed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. (Luke 1:6) Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It does not mean that we have to be perfect in God. But we must imitate God’s holy character and grow in his image in our daily walk. This was a call to Abram to repent of his petty, family-centered life and walk before the Almighty God who had called him and who had a great purpose for his life. When God blesses us and we have a house and children, it is easy to forget God’s promise to make us a great nation and to live as a petty man. We must walk before God. In chapter 22, he walked before God when he sacrificed Isaac his covenant son. His faith grew and he loved God more than the gift of God. I was sad when I did not walk before God and was filled with many human excuses. My life was far from blameless before God. I was sitting too long in the couches and was lying too long in the mat of despair like a paralytic complaining that God is slow in answering my prayers. But God is the Almighty and he wants us to walk before him and be blameless trusting his promises. Are you walking before God today or before the world? May God bless you to walk before the mighty God!

PART III. YOUR NAME WILL BE ABRAHAM (17:2-27)

 

Abram fell face down before God in repentance. Look at verse 5. “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” God changed Abram’s name; he renewed his covenant with Abram; he commanded Abram to seal that covenant with circumcision.

Abram means “noble father”; Abram was living a narrow, family centered life. “Abraham” means “the father of many nations.” God wanted to bless the whole world through Abraham. God had a bigger vision for Abraham. God was looking for the salvation of the whole world through Abraham. Abraham was to be, not only the physical father, but also the spiritual father of many nations.  Abraham’s vessel was too small to be a father of many nations. So God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. It was beyond just changing name. God prepared Abraham to become a father of faith for all nations. God also changed Jacob, a deceiver into Israel when he struggled with God not with man. Jesus changed Simon, a man of emotion, to Peter, a solid rock. After giving Abram a new name, God renewed his covenant with him. Look at verse 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.” God revealed his covenant to be an everlasting one. The Almighty God is an everlasting, eternal God, so God’s covenant with Abraham is an everlasting covenant.

God promised that the land would be an everlasting possession, given to Abraham and his descendants forever. God’s ultimate purpose is to restore Paradise to give us as our everlasting possession. Though we do not possess many things in this world, we have an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of God. Finally, the covenant which God made with Abraham was to be sealed by the rite of circumcision. God wanted Abraham’s acceptance of the covenant and its promises to be very concrete. He commanded him, as a sign and seal of the covenant, to undergo circumcision, and to circumcise every male in his household, including the teenager, Ishmael. This was a painful operation, but by this act, Abraham would cut away from himself a compromising life and commit himself and his family wholly to God.  It would mean that the covenant was sealed in blood. Romans 2:29 says, “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” Through the repentance of our heart and believing Jesus’ death for our sins and his resurrection we are circumcised by heart. Then we can possess eternal life in Jesus.

Then God brought out some surprises for Abraham. Since the birth of Ishmael, Abraham had thought that his “no son” problem was solved. But God told him that Ishmael, the son whom Abraham loved and in whom he had placed his hope was not to be the covenant son. God would give Abraham a son by his wife. Then God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Look at verse 15, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.” Sarah’s character must match with Abraham’s. Wife’s role is important in our mission life.  She would be the mother of nations and of kings. Abraham couldn’t believe it. He laughed to himself. And he prayed for Ishmael. But God was very clear. Look at verse 19b, “You will call him Isaac.” Wow! God’s promise became clearer and clearer. Now Isaac, whose name means “laughter” would be born to Abraham by Sarah. He would be the covenant son. Abraham’s relationship with God rested on God’s promise, which Abraham believed—not on works or ritual, but on faith.

Abraham accepted God’s promise. He accepted God’s mission and God’s covenant. On that very day he was circumcised; and on that day he circumcised Ishmael and all those born in his house.  Abraham’s obedience was incredible. He obeyed immediately though it was painful for the old man to be circumcised. This was an act of obedience that comes from faith. Abraham believed that God is God Almighty. He made a decision to walk before him in complete trust and obedience. God blessed Abraham to become a great nation with his Mighty power. I pray that we all may walk before God not before men and a live a blameless life as his servants. May God bless you to have a vision to be a father of many young college students!

Let’s read the key verse 17:1,5