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El Shaddai

Date: May. 13, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 17:1-27

Key Verse: Genesis 17:1

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.”

Has anyone ever heard the song “El Shaddai?”  It is a contemporary Christian song that came out in 1981, written by Michael Card.  It has one of the most beautiful melodies and lyrics I have ever heard.  Half of the lyrics of the chorus are in Hebrew, which is not common for a contemporary Christian song.  Does anyone know how the chorus goes?  It goes, “El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El-el-yon na Adonai, Age to age you’re still the same, By the power of the name.  El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na Adonai, We will praise and lift you high, El Shaddai.” In the Hebrew, El Shaddai means “God Almighty.”  El-el-yon na Adonai means “God Most High, please, my Lord,” and Erkamka na Adonai means “I love you my Lord.”  In this chapter, God returns and appears to Abram, introducing himself for the first time as “El Shaddai,” or “God Almighty.”  Have you ever thought about what that meant, God Almighty?  Is God all mighty to you?  And why is it important to know and believe that God is all mighty?  We will consider this more in today’s passage.

Look at v.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.”  Abram is now 99 years old.  He was 75 when God called him out of his father’s house to go to the land of Canaan.  He has lived here, still as a foreigner, now for 24 years.  His son Ishmael, who we heard about last week, is now 13 years old. 13 years have passed since Abram and Sarai tried to take matters into their own hands to fulfill the promise of God.

It was at this time God appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty.”  Let’s pause there.  Notice that “Lord” is in all-caps, meaning this is the proper name of God, which we will say is Jehovah for now.  If you put this together, the first verse begins like this: “Jehovah appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am El Shaddai.’”  While this is the first time it appears here, this name appears in the Bible 48 times.  6 of those times are in Genesis.  The next time you will see this name is in Ch.28, and after that in Ch. 35.  The name “El Shaddai” appears in the book of Job 31 times. So this is an important aspect of God that he wants us to know about him.  What does it mean that “God is Almighty?”  What does “Almighty” mean?  It means completely mighty.  It means absolutely powerful.  The definition in Hebrew is quite literally “most powerful.”  God most powerful.  How powerful? Powerful enough to compel nature to do what is contrary to itself, power to subdue nature and make it serve his will. It means that God has the power to realize his promises.  Do you believe this about God most powerful?  Do you believe this about El Shaddai?  This is the same faith Abram had, as it says in Rom 4:21, he “being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.”  El Shaddai means God has the power to do what he promises.

God Almighty says to Abram, “walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”  This is what the most powerful God requires.  But look at what he promises in v.2, “Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Now we see the purpose of his coming. He has come to put into motion that great promise he made to Abram in Ch. 12, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  God made this promise 24 years ago, and he has come today to set it into motion.  God does not forget the promises he makes, and he will fulfill them in his own time. The Almighty has come, and has told Abram what to do.  Look at v.3, “Abram fell facedown.”  He accepted the Lord’s offer.  He bowed down reverently to Jehovah God, ready to listen to what God has to say. What will be your attitude when God Almighty comes before you?  God responded to Abram’s humble reverence, and proceeds to describe his covenant with Abram.  We will look at this in three parts.  Notice v.4, v.9 and v.15.  Verse 4 says “As for me.”  God describes his part in the covenant he is about to make.  Verse 9 says, “As for you.”  And verse 15 says, “As for Sarai your wife.”  We will take a look at God’s covenant in terms of “As for me,” “As for you,” and “As for Sarai,” to see what God has in store for each.

Look again at v.4, God says to Abram, “As for me, this is my covenant with you.”  God Almighty, the El Shaddai, is about to reveal to Abram what he is going to do.  Here is his first promise, in v.4-6, “You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.”  What a blessing!  Look at it from the point of view of Abram.  He is 99 years old, as good as dead.  He is an old old man.  But what does God say?  You will be the father of many nations, kings will come from you.  You will be the father of kings, many of them!  Some of you may have met Sam’s grandfather yesterday at the graduation party.  His grandfather is 86 years old, but he can drive down here from Milwaukee. Mentally, he is very sharp.  Would you believe that God could say to a man like that, “Your descendants will be kings of many nations.”  Amazing!  Can El Shaddai do it?  God’s covenant was to multiply Abraham’s descendants abundantly, so here, God changed Abram’s name to the one we all know: Abraham.  Finally, the messengers, Bob, Dan and I can simply say “Abraham.” “Abraham” means “father of many,” which reflects the covenant God is making.  This is God’s way of saying, you are a part of my covenant.

God continues in v.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.”  We see another aspect of this covenant and the power of the Almighty God.  The covenant is everlasting; it is eternal, without end.  And here is a very great promise: to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  Who is your God?  Is your god Buddha?  Or is your god Allah?  Or is your god money?  Is your god science?  What will they do for you?  At this time of Abraham nobody was righteous, nobody sought after God.  God had to call Abraham out to walk before him.  Nobody could say Jehovah was their God.  But now we can identify the one true God.  He is Jehovah, he is El Shaddai, he is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.  Only one God in the whole world has this name.  Is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who can establish eternal covenants of blessings, the one and only God who saves, is He your God? Part of his covenant to Abraham says, “to be your God, and the God of your descendants.”  And notice who will establish this covenant?  God will establish it.

Look at v.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.”  The land of Canaan is where Abraham is now.  Right now it doesn’t belong to him, but God promises: “I will give it to you as an everlasting possession.”  Imagine God saying to you, “this house that you own in Bridgeport, this house that you own in Rogers Park, this house that you are renting in Lincoln Park, I will give to you forever.”  While it’s great to own a piece of Chicagoland, God promises something even better.  He promises you, if you are a descendant of Abraham, a piece of prime real estate in the land of Canaan, in what is today the modern nation of Israel.  You might say, “What good is Canaan?”  Well, in Abraham’s time it was a fertile land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  But when Jesus comes again, a city of gold and precious stone, with trees for healing and a crystal clear river flowing with the water of life.  A city whose builder and architect is God.  This, God promises, will be given to you.  This is the glory of the covenant, whose father is Abraham.  Do you believe that El Shaddai can do it?

Now look at v.9, “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you.’”  “As for you.”  Uh oh, El Shaddai speaks, and he is directing it to Abraham.  God says, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for generations to come.”  Ok, fair enough, I suppose.  So what is this covenant that Abraham must keep?  Look at v.10, “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”  You can probably imagine Abraham’s eyes growing wide.  “What?”  He must be wondering how in the world…  Maybe Abraham thought, well, at least it’s not me.  But wait, not so fast.  Look at v.11, “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”  Circumcision was to be a sign of the covenant that was being made.  Covenants today are typed up and written on official documents, and signed by the parties involved.  Covenants in Abraham’s time may have been written in stone, or other formal documents like papyrus.  These were visible proofs of the covenants that were made.  The proof, or the sign of the covenant made between God and Abraham was circumcision.

Please keep in mind that we are looking at what God is saying to Abraham specifically.  God is establishing a foundation for a nation of his children to be created, and a cornerstone of that is circumcision.  But you may know today, physical circumcision is not required of you, and we will get into more of that later.  God did require physical circumcision in the distant past, but there was a deeper reason for that, which we talk about near the end.  For now, we will focus on Abraham’s situation.  God specified that male babies, even male babies born to foreign slaves must be circumcised when they are 8 days old.  God’s covenant extended to Abraham’s entire household – and all would be blessed because of their relation to Abraham.  Perhaps it was God’s wisdom to require babies be circumcised so young, so when they grow older they will have forgotten the pain.  They might also be more reluctant when they are older, so this may be God’s way of keeping as many as possible, who belong to Abraham’s household, within the blessed covenant.  Notice also that babies of foreigners were also required to be circumcised.  This is kind of a prelude to the scope of God’s covenant.  Ultimately, God’s covenant would include all nations, languages and people.

We have seen how God’s covenant applies to Abraham and the males in his household, but how about the women?  How might they be included in the covenant?  But also, in this next section, we see how God’s abundant grace extended to his beloved wife and son.  Look at v.15, “God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai, her name will be Sarah.  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.’”  Wooooow, twice God says “I will bless her.”  The blessings for Sarah parallel the covenant blessings to Abraham. God told Abraham nations and kings will come from him.  God now says that nations and kings will come from Sarah too.  She will be the mother of nations.  Indeed, by faith, Sarah is our mother just as Abraham is our father, so today, we can also say “Happy Mother’s Day” to Sarah.  God also changed her name to reflect her part in the covenant. Sarai meant “princely.”  It was kind of descriptive.  But Sarah means “princess,” which she has become through the gracious covenant of God.

Abraham fell facedown.  Think about how he felt when he heard this.  Here was his dear wife.  I don’t know when they married, but let’s say even if he married her when he was 30, typically it could be younger, he has still been married to her for 70 years. This was his most precious, beautiful, beloved wife, his first and greatest love, and even up until now, she was barren.  But God said, I will surely give you a son by her.  I can only imagine, overwhelmed with joy, he fell face down.  He fell face down, reverently, and there was this strange mixture of intense joy, happiness and amazement.  He could not help but laugh.  This was not a laugh of unbelief, because God did not rebuke him. This was a laugh, like how people say, “No….get out of here!”  Abraham said to himself, notice, he did not say this out loud, but God knows our thoughts – Abraham said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”  No way!! Which means, way!!!   Why is this so amazing?  So unbelievable?  Because it was not natural, by the laws of nature, for these two to have a child together at their age.  But God is El Shaddai.

Abraham also thought about Ishmael.  Keep in mind, at this point, God had not said anything about Ishmael and the covenant. He just said Sarah would have a son. And while true, this would be a miracle boy, but Ishmael is the first born.  I’m not sure if Abraham at this point might think Sarah’s son is the son of the covenant.  He could have.  But at the moment God did not clarify that.  So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Perhaps he wanted God to pronounce certain blessings on Ishmael too, like he did with Sarah.  Maybe he thought Ishmael could be a recipient of the covenant promises.  We can see that Ishmael was very dear to the heart of Abraham.

God understands this too, but clarifies to Abraham his will.  He responds graciously to Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael, “Yes,” what a gracious answer, “but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”  God clarifies that Sarah’s son is the child of the covenant, with the same blessings given to Abraham.  God also names him Isaac, one year before he is born.  Isaac means laughter, perhaps referencing Abraham’s laughter, but also might allude to the joy he brings.  God then speaks about Ishmael, in v.20, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.” Ishmael’s name, as you may have learned last week, means “God hears.”  And God heard Abraham’s prayer for him.  While Ishmael turns out not to be the covenant son, still, God gives him great blessing.  God says “I will surely bless him.”  God reassures Abraham that he will surely bless Ishmael abundantly, but with respect to the covenant, Isaac is the child of the promise.  Isaac is the child through which the everlasting promises and everlasting possessions will be fulfilled.  So God says to Abraham, “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”  There we have it.  God gave a date!  After 24 years, God gives a definite timeline.  Isaac will arrive this time next year.  When God had finished speaking with Abraham, he went up from him. God came down from heaven to give Abraham this message.  When he was done, he ascended back up into heaven.  Abraham had spoken to God most powerful, God Almighty, El Shaddai.

Look at v.23, “On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.”  There’s a lot of repetition in v.23-27, which underscores the point that Abraham obeyed immediately and he obeyed completely.  Think about the difficulty of this task.  He could have waited a couple days, or he could have skipped a few people – but Abraham set right out to do what God had commanded that very day, and did just as God had told him.  Maybe Abraham did not fully understand the reason behind why God told him to do this, but he trusted that God had a good reason.  Believing that God is El Shaddai not only means to believe he can do what he promised, but also to obey and do what he says.

But what about us sitting here today?  How come the males do not have to go through circumcision to be a part of God’s covenant blessings?  How come Paul wrote in so many places in the New Testament against forced circumcision? What Abraham may not have fully understood, we can understand a little bit more because we have the completed Word of God.  The reality is that God does not require circumcision for men only, but for everyone to be circumcised.  And the circumcision that he truly requires is a circumcision not of the flesh, but of the heart.

What was the point of Abraham’s circumcision?  It was at this stage in history that God was building a people for himself.  They were to be separate from the world, a special people called out by God and identified by his covenant.  Abraham’s descendants were to be holy, and that’s what circumcision represented.  It was a cutting off of the corrupt and sinful flesh.  So why did God require the physical circumcision?  It was to set apart a people who would receive his Word, know his law, and pave the way for the Messiah to come.  Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, came through this set apart lineage directly descended from Abraham, and he is the One who will circumcise our hearts.  Therefore, when the Messiah came, physical circumcision is no longer required, but spiritual circumcision: being holy, dying to sin, cutting off the sinful nature of the flesh, consecrating yourself to God, and walking before him blamelessly is of paramount importance.

But how can we do so? Our flesh is sinful and weak, that is why even physical circumcision falls short.  But God knew this too.  He knew it even before the New Testament.  So he says in Deut 30:6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  He fulfilled this by putting to death our sins in the flesh through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Who else can put our sins in the flesh to death except for El Shaddai!  Through Christ shed blood on the cross, all our sins have been forgiven, and we have been made holy.  He has given us the right to become children of God, and the covenant blessings given to Abraham – to live in the restored garden of Eden with El Shaddai forever, shall be our possession.  What is the purpose of the Lord circumcising our hearts?  So that we may love him with all our heart and all our soul, and live.  And live. He can do it.  He has done it.  He is God Almighty.  El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na Adonai, I love you my Lord.

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