Genesis 17:1-12 – God’s Covenant with Abraham Part I

Calvary Chapel Leesville, SC Worship Service – Wednesday, July 8, 2020

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NOTE – Message audio begins at 13:05. Audio intermittently broken in video source.


Review

I our study of Genesis 15, we saw that God promised Abram an heir who would be born to him by his wife Sarai. God also promised that Abram’s descendants are to inherit the land of Canaan, and all the lands from the River of Egypt (the Nile) to the River Euphrates. We saw that Abram believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness. At the end of chapter 15 God provided Abram with a sign of reassurance that He would fulfill these promises. After commanding Abram to prepare an animal sacrifice in accordance with the ancient Middle Eastern tradition of “cutting” covenant, God caused a trance-like sleep to come over Abram, and passed through the pieces of the covenant sacrifice in the form of a smoking oven and a burning torch.

Then in Genesis 16, we saw that Abram and Sarai became impatient for God to fulfill the promises of that covenant, and took matters into their own hands when Abram took Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant – Hagar – as a wife. Hagar then bore a son – Ishmael (יִשְׁמָעֵאל Yishma`e’l – “God will hear”) to Abram when he was eighty-six years old, eleven years after God called him to leave Haran and journey to the land of Canaan.

A New Covenant and a New Name

Now in Genesis 17, we read that thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God once more appeared to Abram to renew His promises to him and establish a new covenant with him.

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty [שַׁדַּי Shadday] God; [אֵל ‘el] walk [הָלַךְ halak] before [פָּנִים paniym] Me and be blameless. [תָּמִים tamiym]

Genesis 17:1 – NKJV

The Hebrew verb הָלַךְ halak literally means “walk” as it is translated in many English translations. Figuratively, though, it may also be used to mean “live,” particularly in a specific way of life. The Hebrew word פָּנִים paniym translated as “before” here usually means in a position ahead of something. It is derived from the Hebrew noun meaning “face” as in a person’s face. Figuratively, the word can also mean “presence.” Finally, the Hebrew word תָּמִים tamiym translated “blameless” here can mean “innocent” or “blameless,” but it can also mean “perfect,” “complete,” or “whole.” So, taken together, the phrase הָלַךְ halak פָּנִים paniym תָּמִים tamiym might be better translated “live in My presence and be complete.”

All of us who have been born again in the Spirit of the living God can truly testify that before we came to know the LORD there was always a longing for something that we sensed was missing in ourselves and in our lives. There was a nagging, painful void in the depths of our hearts – a missing piece of our being that only God could provide. By God’s grace and mercy, we came to believe the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus’ – that God came to live among men in the flesh of the “man” Jesus of Nazareth, lived the perfectly sinless life that we could not, died on the cross as the perfectly sinless sacrifice required for our redemption out of sin and death, rose again to life on the third day, and has now ascended back to Heaven, but is coming again to establish His kingdom forever. Having believed that Gospel in our hearts, we called upon the Name of Jesus for salvation, and committed ourselves to live our lives in His presence, and serve Him as our LORD. When God heard our cry for salvation in Christ, His Spirit indwelt our hearts, filling that place of emptiness, and made us truly whole and complete for the first time in our lives, and for eternity to come in His glorious presence.


2And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3Then 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. 5No longer shall your name be called Abram, [אַבְרָם ‘Abram] but your name shall be Abraham; [אַבְרָהָם ‘Abraham] for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7And 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.

Genesis 17:2-7 – NKJV

Notice the Abram’s response to the presence of God was wholehearted worship. We find many such instances in God’s Word where those to whom God appeared fell flat on their face in worship. We ourselves are often brought to sudden recognition of the pureness and holiness of God’s Spirit within and around us. In those moments we too fall to our knees in worship. This is proper and right. In fact, God created us for the very purpose of worshiping Him in this way.

Recall that the name אַבְרָם ‘Abram means “exalted father” which is quite ironic, since as we know Abram and Sarai had no children before Ishmael. In renaming Abram as אַבְרָהָם ‘Abraham meaning “father of a multitude,” God punctuated the promise He first made to Abram in Genesis 12, and reiterated in Genesis 13 and 15 that Abraham’s descendants would be as innumerable as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore.

NOTE – Whenever a new name is introduced in God’s Word it is usually an illuminating practice to research the meaning of the name. This is particularly true of Hebrew names of both people and places. By learning the meanings of the names in the original language, we often gain a more profound insight into the passage under consideration. The same is true of other words in the text, as we saw in Genesis 17:1. Most of us aren’t Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic linguists, so we rely heavily on the expertise of those who have translated the ancient texts into our own native language. Nevertheless, we can benefit greatly from the extra effort of delving into the original languages in our desire to draw closer to God, and develop a deeper understanding of His Word. Praise God that we Bible students in today’s world have been blessed with a vast array of tools to aid us in this quest that are available free of charge via the Internet.

Recall that the purpose of God’s Word is to reveal and clarify to us His plan of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the role of the book of Genesis within that overall scope is to progressively narrow the lineage of God’s Messiah (Jesus) from Eve down to Noah’s son Shem, and now through Abraham to one chosen people – the children of Israel (Jacob) who were descended from Abraham’s promised heir Isaac. Here in Genesis 17:6, God proclaims that He will bring forth kings from Abraham’s descendants – earthly kings like David, Solomon, and Hezekiah certainly, but more importantly Jesus, the eternal King of all the universe.


8Also I give to you and your descendants after you [זֶרַע zera`] the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Genesis 17:8 – NKJV

Once more, God reiterates His promise to the children of Israel that He has given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. Notice that God emphasizes that this bequest is eternal. In fact as we have learned, God’s people have yet to fully realize this inheritance. The present-day state of Israel is only a small portion of the area God promised them. Thus, we must assume that God’s fulfillment of this promise remains for the future – perhaps following the coming war against them prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. Recall also that in Genesis 15, God had already told Abram that he would not inherit the land himself, but rather his seed זֶרַע zera` would. In fact, here in Genesis 17:8, the Hebrew text doesn’t actually say “you and your descendants,” but only mentions Abraham’s seed. Of course, a little later in Genesis, God also proclaimed that all the world would be blessed by Abraham’s Seed – the coming LORD Jesus.


9And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

Genesis 17:9-12 – NKJV

Remember from our study of Genesis 15 that God had already established a covenant with Abram. In that covenant, Abram himself was not committed to any agreed upon actions. Abram had believed in God’s promise of a coming heir, and the gift of the land of Canaan as an inheritance for his descendants (Genesis 15:6). Abram’s faith in God’s promises was credited to him for righteousness, thus fulfilling Abram’s part of the “bargain.” God symbolized this by passing the through the pieces of the covenant sacrifice alone while Abram was in a deep sleep.

But here in this new covenant with Abraham, God levied a specific requirement upon Abraham for the covenant’s fulfillment – the circumcision of all Jewish males. Notice particularly that the requirement was not only for those who were born as Jews, but also for non-Jews living in Jewish society either voluntarily or as slaves who had been bought from non-Jews. Notice that there is nothing in this text either condoning or decrying slavery among Abraham’s people. It is merely noted as a fact of life, and special mention is made of the requirement that male slaves be circumcised.


Christianity and Slavery – What Does God’s Word Say?

At this point, it is appropriate – needful, in fact – that we delve into what God’s Word has to say on the subject of slavery. We need to do this to prepare ourselves to defend our faith against attacks from unbelievers as the apostle Peter advised us to do.

14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” [Isaiah 8:12] 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

1 Peter 3:14-15 – NKJV

Before we move on, note that Peter also quotes from the prophet Isaiah. In this discussion, that prophecy is also quite apropos.

​​12“Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ ​​Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, ​​Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. 13The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; ​​Let Him be your fear, ​​And let Him be your dread. 14He will be as a sanctuary, ​​But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense ​​To both the houses of Israel, ​​As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15And many among them shall stumble; ​​They shall fall and be broken, ​​Be snared and taken.” ​ 16Bind up the testimony, ​​Seal the law among my disciples.

Isaiah 8:12-16 – NKJV

What Isaiah is saying here is that our political positions, and our social behaviors should be based not on our own emotions, or our educational background, or the prejudices ingrained in us by our upbringing, but solely on God’s Word. Our own church’s statement of faith reflects this.

We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired without error and the infallible rule of faith and practice. The Word of God is the foundation upon which the church operates and is the basis for which the church is governed. We believe that the Word of God supersedes any earthly law that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. (Isaiah 28:13, Nehemiah 8:8, John 17:17, II Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12, I Peter 1:23-25, II Peter 1:3-4 and II Peter 1:21).

Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC Statement of Faith (my emphasis) – Downloaded July 4, 2020 from http://www.ccleesville.org/statement-of-faith/

Understanding, believing, and practicing this principle is vital to Christian believers – now more than ever – in the face of intimidation. Our faith in God and trust in the Truth of His Word is being challenged on many fronts. The Biblical doctrine of marriage between one (biological) man and one (biological) woman, the Biblical guidance regarding the roles of husband and wife within the home, and the Bible’s condemnation of sexual sin outside the boundaries of such “traditional” marriage are deemed by so-called “activists” as repressive and outmoded. Christian business owners who refuse to condone and support clearly ungodly so-called “lifestyles” with their services have been sued, jailed, fined, and run out of business for standing on Biblical principles. The rightful Christian opposition to the wholesale legal murder of pre-born children is called a violation of women’s rights, and Christian refusal to financially underwrite this so-called “women’s health care” has been deemed illegal in the courts.

Even before these recent attacks though, the cry went up that the Judeo/Christian scriptures and worldview are racist – written and promulgated by white Europeans to subjugate non-whites, and steal their possessions. Sadly, most professing Christians in the west – particularly in the USA – have left these lies unanswered and have even adapted the governing principles of our local fellowships to condone and even promote the behaviors that God clearly proclaims in His Word as sin that he abhors. The Christian unwillingness to stand for the principles we believe in arises largely from our own woeful ignorance of what God’s Word actually says on various subjects and our fear of being singled out by the mob for vengeance. Nowhere is this more evident than in the deafening Christian silence in the face of the current violent racial strife in the USA. So with a clear understanding of the issue at hand, we need to ask exactly what God’s Word has to say about slavery in particular.

ASIDE – Ignorant people at the forefront of the current racial strife in the USA have said that slavery of West Africans was invented by white Americans who brought the idea of slavery to these shores. Certainly, enslavement of Africans and the descendants African slaves was rampant in colonial America for centuries, and continued in the USA from its founding until the latter half of the nineteenth century. But the European settlers of America didn’t bring slavery here. Slavery has been a blight on all human cultures since the serpent lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden. By the time of God’s covenant with Abraham, it was a mundane fact of life in every society on Earth.

Clearly, Abraham held slaves by the time God established the covenant of circumcision. Otherwise, why would God have needed to explicitly include them in establishing the covenant. Abram had possibly been a slave holder since before he left Haran some twenty-four years before.

Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:5 – NKJV

In fact there is no mention of slaves in God’s Word prior to this. Later on, when God gave His law to Moses He gave specific commandments concerning slaves.

Exodus 21:1-11 – This passage of the law provides for a Hebrew man to buy another Hebrew man as a servant. The servant is allowed to serve his master for six years, but is to be released in the seventh year along with his entire family. There is also a provision in this law that the man may remain in the service of his master voluntarily. In such cases, the servant was voluntarily bound to his master in perpetuity along with his family. This passage also makes a clear distinction between male Hebrew bond servants and daughters of Hebrew men sold for a bride price in marriage to other Hebrew men. Such forced arranged marriages were perpetual – not limited to seven years. Specific provision is also made for the redemption of daughters sold in marriage in case the marriage arrangement is dissolved.

Leviticus 25:39-55 – God makes a clear distinction in this passage between Hebrews and Gentiles. In this law God forbade Hebrews from holding other Hebrews as slaves, although He did allow Hebrews to voluntarily sell themselves into servitude for a maximum of forty-nine years until the next year of Jubilee, at which time they were to be released from their servitude and given a portion of their masters’ possessions as payment for their service. However, this passage makes specific allowance for the Israelites to own slaves taken from the Gentile nations around them. God specifically allowed the buying and selling of such slaves and their descendants who were considered property. Holding of Gentile slaves was perpetual with no provision for emancipation or manumission. Slaves could also be inherited from generation to generation of slave holders. This form of slavery was staggeringly similar to the form of slavery practiced in the USA.

NOTE – There is a clear discrepancy between Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25 regarding the maximum time of service for Hebrew bond servants. In Exodus it is given as a maximum of six years, while in Leviticus it is forty-nine. Also, Leviticus mentions no provision for a Hebrew bond servant to voluntarily remain in service perpetually as Exodus does.

Interestingly, there is a single verse in Deuteronomy that specifically forbids returning escaped slaves to their masters.

“You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you.

Deuteronomy 23:15 – NKJV

In His own ministry, Jesus said nothing on the subject of slaves except figuratively, proclaiming to the Pharisees in the temple, for example, that “…whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34) In the New Testament, it was the apostle Paul who wrote the most about slaves and slavery. In fact, his letter to his friend Philemon was entirely dedicated to the subject of Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus whom Paul urged Philemon to free. Throughout his epistles, Paul stresses that all people are equals in the eyes of God. Most famously, perhaps in his letter to the Galatians.

26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave [δοῦλος doulos] nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29 – NKJV

NOTE – The Greek word δοῦλος doulos translated “slave” here is also translated as “bondservant” in many English language translations. The apostles often used this word in their epistles to describe themselves and their fellow Gospel missionaries (c.f. Romans 1:1). Perhaps most significantly, Paul used the word to describe the LORD Jesus.

4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, [δοῦλος doulos] and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:4-11 – NKJV

Paul did not command or even suggest that slavery in the church should be abolished, but rather that we as Christians newborns in the Spirit of God should remain in whatever station in life we found ourselves at the time of our calling until God leads us somewhere else.

20Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:20-24 – NKJV

Of course, we are all fully aware that slavery among mankind still thrives even to the present day, and with slavery the abuse and exploitation of those who have nothing by those who are in power. Indeed, John’s vision of the Revelation of Jesus Christ makes it clear that slavery among men will continue even until the very end of creation.

17Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”

Revelation 19:17-18 – NKJV

Certainly no one’s position in earthly affairs will have any bearing whatsoever on the terrible day when God metes out His final judgement upon sin. In that Day, all of us will stand alone before the throne of God to face His eternal judgement. Our fate in that judgment will depend solely on our acceptance or rejection of the Gospel of Jesus in the hour He called us to Him and wrote our names forever in the Lamb’s Book of Life, whereupon nothing else at all will matter.


So Now What?

We have now thoroughly explored what God’s Word has to say on the subject of slavery. As we have seen, God clearly condoned the holding of non-Hebrew slaves by Hebrews in the Old Testament law, and nothing in the New Testament countermands that. Throughout the history of the church, wicked professing Christians have used these passages to justify the perpetuation of enslavement of others and cruelty toward them. As we shall soon see this is blatant disobedience of one of Jesus’ last commandments before He went to the cross – that we love one another. Sadly, the wickedness of evil people who have twisted God’s Word to justify their despicable conduct has caused multitudes of people to reject the Gospel of Jesus to their own demise. We must be ever vigilant never to interject our own sinful prejudices and rationalizations into God’s Word – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of others who might otherwise have believed the unvarnished Truth of the Gospel and been saved.

In fact, God’s Word clearly acknowledges the existence of slavery among people until the coming final judgement of God foretold in the book of Revelation. Perhaps most importantly, we know that the eternal judgement to be passed upon everyone including both slaves and slave holders will be based solely upon whether or not their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and that in turn is dependent solely on whether or not we have believed in our hearts the Gospel of Jesus and confessed with our mouths His lordship over us.

NOTE – Nothing whatsoever in God’s Word associates slavery with race. In fact, God’s Word overall is virtually silent on the subject of race. In fact, skin color is only mentioned once in the entire Bible in Jeremiah13:23, which mentions skin color simply an immutable circumstance of birth. Despite that, wicked men throughout history have sought to use God’s Word to rationalize all manner of abusive, sinful behaviors (including slavery) on the basis of race. This is a lesson for all of us. We must all continually guard against the temptation to abuse the Word of God to promote and defend a sinful agenda of our own. We must strive instead by the power of God’s Spirit to hear from His Word what He would teach us, regardless of how His lessons might clash with our own preconceived notions.

So with the full knowledge or what God’s Word says about slavery, and most importantly the guidance and conviction of God’s Spirit dwelling within us, how should we now respond to the issue of slavery in the present time, and live out our lives as God’s witnesses of His plan for salvation in Christ in a lost and sinful world? First, we must certainly seek after the will of God continually in prayer and remain obedient to His leading. In our effort to follow Him, it is essential to remember the commandment our LORD Jesus gave to His disciples on the night He was betrayed.

34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 – NKJV

So how do we demonstrate love for one another? The answer to this question is found in the so-called Golden Rule taught by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 – NKJV

With that simple rule in mind, let us ask in our hearts whether we ourselves would want to be someone’s slave. I’m virtually certain that no one would. Therefore, in obedience to the Golden Rule, we would never hold slaves ourselves. But the painful extension to that principle is that we should also not condone slave holding by others, nor should we support them in any way. Of course we should not!

Yet here in America, we buy clothing and other goods produced in factories that employ virtual slave labor by companies that pay less than a living wage, and lock their employees into such employment by only providing sustenance to their employees through an internal system of company stores, housing, and transportation. We buy petroleum products from countries in which domestic servants (e.g. Filipino nannies and housemaids) are held as de facto prisoners in private homes. Although these servants are not expressly bought and sold, their “sponsorships” (i.e. their legal right to live and work in these countries) are traded like stock shares among the wealthy “sponsors” (i.e. their owners). These women are often required to provide “special” services for the men who own their “sponsorships,” and some have committed suicide or died trying to escape. Although these practices are not being called slavery by name, they amount to de facto slavery nevertheless. And although we ourselves in America do not directly partake of this scourge, we do surely support and perpetuate the practice every time we fill our vehicles with fuel.


Invitation/Prayer

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