The Chief End of Man (9)
17 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
Here again, our modern sensibilities attenuate the terrible import of this utterance. To many of us, the state of blamelessness is achieved by denial of any outside standard by which we could be judged. Thus, we are found to be blameless as long as we are “true to ourselves.” This standard, of course, has the wonderful characteristic of being invisible to everyone except the individual to whom it is being applied. Thus, in practice, it becomes “I am blameless as long as I do what I do, think what I think and am who I am.”
Although mere flesh and blood may often be intimidated by such a pose (at least in what we call Western Civilization) we are fools indeed to imagine that God Almighty is so affected. His sovereignty is absolute, as are His standards. Our understanding of them can grow, thus creating the illusion of change, but they themselves are fixed beyond the power of time or events. We should tremble to our very depths at the thought of being ordered to walk blamelessly before the God Almighty.
3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.
7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Abram labored under no such foolhardy illusions. He falls facedown before God, surely in the posture of total subservience, worship and fear.
The first concrete sign of the covenant is the change of name from Abram to Abraham. Each time his name is uttered it will be a reminder of this special pledge.
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 among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
The second concrete sign will be written in the flesh upon the organ of male reproduction.
15And God said to Abraham, “As for Sar’ai your wife, you shall not call her name Sar’ai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
At last, Sarai becomes Sarah, the mother and matriarch.
17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “O that Ish’mael might live in thy sight!”
Can we really fault Abraham for this doubting response? Miracles are after all the stunning exceptions to rules that appear to be so ironclad that they never fail. Stones will fall when dropped on this earth. A person diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer will die. We pray for healing, but we know that the answer will be “no” unless somewhere in the fathomless will of the Almighty there is the act of a miracle that will bring Him glory.
On the other hand, we are not blessed with direct communication with the Almighty, as was Abraham. What was it about His presence that suggested limitation in power? Perhaps in stooping so low so as to communicate with Abraham God set aside His full glory. We do know that were God to reveal Himself to us in His fullness we could not survive the encounter.
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23, NIV)
How often must our LORD God suffer our disdain for having, in His great love and mercy, humbled Himself so that we might meet to be healed?
19God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20As for Ish’mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
At this point there is no ground left to Abraham on which to protest. God has spoken. He has named the son that will be born to him and Sarah. He has graciously provided for Ishmael’s future. He has settled the line by which His covenant will proceed. He has finished speaking, and His word is final.
Abraham’s obedience to circumcise is immediate. On that very day he circumcises himself, Ishmael and all of the males in his household, precisely in accordance with God’s command.
Though Abraham has been found to falter and fail in the details, it must be said that he truly glorifies God when called to the terribly hard tasks of faith. Do we sometimes focus too much on the details while losing sight of that which truly tests our faith?