A Fresh Encounter with God: Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Abraham was recognized for his great faith
8 September 2005
Most people are familiar with the name Abraham, and they know that he was recognized for his great faith, and God chose him for the father of His chosen people, Israel. But before God chose him, and changed his name, he was called Abram at first. In the passage that we are going to study, there is a definite challenge to Abram to move to a new level of trust and faith. At a time when Abram may have thought that his best years are behind him, God asks him to move up. This call to move higher reached Abram at a point of weakness and inability. It is amazing to consider that when we think it is all over, God may be thinking about beginnings.
Abram is now ninety-nine years old. It has been twenty-four years since he received God’s promise and left the land of Ur. It has been thirteen years since Ishmael was born to Hagar, the handmaid of Abram’s wife Sarai, so Ishmael is Abram’s only son. So far as we can tell God has not spoken since He encountered Hagar on her way to Egypt. There have been thirteen years of silence! Then God appears to Abram and we have His words in Genesis 17:1-8.
“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. (2) And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.” (3) Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: (4) “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. (5) No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. (6) I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. (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. (8) Also, I (will) 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.” Genesis 17:1-8 (NKJV)
Thirteen years earlier Abram had taken a wrong turn and for thirteen years there has been silence from heaven. We have reason to suspect that these were years of unhappiness and unrest in the household of Abram. The presence of Ishmael in the home created contempt and bitterness, envy and strife. God used these thirteen years to teach Abram the cost of acting on his own. This was time used to teach Abram of the consequences of serving God in the flesh and acting thoughtlessly. For thirteen years he has lived with the fruits of his impatience. It could be that you have had some similar experiences; most of us do. A time when God has allowed you to have your own way, and the results have been distressing. You are permitted to go your own head-strong way, so that you might learn the foolishness of acting apart from God. One of the most frightening things in life is that if you insist on having your own way, God may let you have it, until you are sorry you asked for it.! I want to first of all show you that Abram received--
I. A NEW REVELATION OF GOD
“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.” After thirteen years of silence, God appears to Abram and says, “I AM God Almighty.” In Hebrew the name is “El-Shaddai,” which essentially means “the God who is sufficient” and this name is used to emphasize His infinite power. It is the first time that God has been called by this name. How great is our God, El-Shaddai? How mighty is He? What can he do?
In the very next chapter, God again promises Sarah and Abraham a son and fixes the time for his arrival. God sent an angel with a message. The angel said to Sarah and Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” That is an excellent question, “Is anything too hard for God?” The answer is, of course not, He is El-Shaddai, Almighty God. The prophet Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”
The contemporary Christian song puts it well, “El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El El Ya Na, Adonai, age to age you are still the same by the power of the name.”
How great is our God, El-Shaddai? An angel comes to a young woman named Mary and tells her that she is with child and that He shall be the Messiah. She asks, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). The angel responds with, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37) Why is this possible? Because He is El-Shaddai, Almighty God.
With this new light comes a new demand from God, “walk before Me and be blameless.” In the King James Version, this word blameless is translated “perfect.” The root meaning of this word is “wholehearted.” If Abraham wanted to know God’s power, he had to walk, that is, live close to the Lord and be blameless, that is consistently responding to God in repentance and faith. He must be sincere and honest in his devotion and obedience to the Lord. Faith always calls for obedience if it is to be counted as real.
In the passage before us, there are seven promises given by “I will statements.”
1. I will make my covenant with you (v. 2)
2. I will multiply you (v.2)
3. I will make you fruitful (exceedingly) (v.6)
4. I will make of you many nations (v.6)
5. I will establish my covenant with your descendants
6. I will give you (and your descendants) the land of
Canaan (v. 8)
7. I will be their God (v. 8)
These are promises that God made to Abraham and his descendants.
Next, we are told that God has--
II. A NEW NAME FOR ABRAM AND SARAI
God told Abraham, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.” (v. 5) For twenty-four years Abram had been living under the shepherding hand of God. Abram was not the same man in character that he was when God first called him. Throughout the Bible, when one's character changes significantly, God changes the name. Now God challenged Abram to a closer walk with Him by changing his and Sarai’s names.
The name Abram means “high father or father of many.” This must have proven to be an embarrassment many times over the years to Abram. Whenever he met someone new, he was forced to introduce himself, Abram the father of many. It must have happened hundreds of times, each time it was more irritating than the last. “Oh, your name is Abram, father of many! Congratulations! How many sons do you have?” And for years the answer was so humiliating, none. And now he was the father of one, and that by a servant girl. How he must have hated the question.
Donald Barnhouse told of a man he knew that had the last name of Wrench. He told Barnhouse that he divided his friends into two groups (1) those that did not make wisecracks about his name and (2) those that did. “He said that he automatically cringed when anyone would hear his name and begin one of the wisecracks he had heard in every possible variety; was he related to Monkey Wrench, was he the left-handed wrench, and all the others.” Abram would have understood very well how he felt.
In Hebrew God added one letter to Abram’s name, the letter formed by breathing. In Hebrew, the name Jehovah is formed by the five vowels; I, E, O, U, A, with the twice repeated H. The word for spirit, which means breath, is ruach in Hebrew, which is pronounced by expelling air. God was adding His name to Abram. The best explanation is that God took part of his own name and added to Abraham and Sarah’s names.
“Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.” The name Sarai means “contentious” or “argumentative.” This speaks volumes about the home life of Abram and Sarai. Solomon writes, “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Having a thousand wives, Solomon no doubt knew what he was talking about.
Sarai was a problem wife. Yet in the New Testament, Peter says that this woman is a model for all women to follow, but only after her name is changed to Sarah, which means “princess.” She is never referred to as Sarai in the New Testament. God does not set her forth as a pattern for women until she becomes Sarah and loses her contentious spirit. As Sarah, she learned to develop “a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” She was not naturally this way, but she learned by God’s grace to be such. I suspect that Sarai was argumentative, the classic nagging wife. But through the years, by God’s grace, she learned that she did not have to defend herself on every occasion and she became Sarah, a princess, honored among women. Finally, I want you to see that Abraham was given--