The Pastor's Class

Abram and Ishmael

Genesis 17

God's covenant promise to Abraham was to give him a son. Abraham and his wife, not fully understanding how God would accomplish this task decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarah offered to Abraham her Hagar, her servant. Hagar bore to Abraham a son named Ishmael. Almost immediately there was trouble between Hagar and Sarah. Abraham refused to intervene and gave Sarah permission to handle the situation any way she saw fit. Sarah mistreated Hagar and Hagar fled from her presence. An Angel of the Lord found Hagar and instructed her to return to Sarah and be submissive. The Angel also named the child and foretold of his future.

Genesis 17:1

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

Between chapters 16 and 17 there is a time span of 13 years. As far as we know God did not speak to Abraham for 13 years. Was God mad at Abraham? Not necessarily, God understands our humanness. He understands our limitations. The misdeed of Abraham and Sarah was not one done out of defiance or disobedience. It was a sin borne of an imperfect faith.

If you think back upon your own experience with God you too may be able to recall a time when you did the wrong thing for the right reason. These are usually "growth experiences" where we gain greater a greater knowledge both about ourselves and about God.

Remember, God will always forgive us for our mistakes however, mistakes oftentimes leave scars that we must bear for the rest of our lives.

1. Chapter 17 begins with God appearing to Abraham. Do you remember what these appearances are called?

These experiences are called "Theophanies." A Theophany is from two Greek words which mean literally "to see God."

We know that God is a spirit and we cannot see spirits. However, God can manifest himself in visible ways. One example is at the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit of God descended as a dove.

2. In verse 1 God identifies himself as "God Almighty." What does this name reveal about God?

The Hebrew name used here is "El-Shaddai." It means "God who is all sufficient."

Abraham and Sarah lived in the midst of many pagan nations. These nations poly-theistic. In other words they served many different Gods. They served many gods because no one god was all sufficient.

When God revealed himself to Abraham as the almighty, all powerful, all sufficient God this must have been a "WOW" experience for him.

It is as if God was saying. "I understand what you and Sarah were trying to do but I do not need any help." To quote little Jimmy Dickens "I can do this job all by myself."

Much later the great prophet Jeremiah would say; Jeremiah 32:17 (NKJV) “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.”

Because we are humans with great limitations, we by nature want to place limitations on God.

Some people have not trouble accepting that God created the universe, yet they have trouble believing that a virgin could bear a child.

Today, we readily accept the fact that doctors can bring back to life people who have died. However, be have trouble believing that God could have done it two thousand years ago.

God would soon demonstrate his power to Abraham and Sarah in an undeniable way.

Today God still performs miracles. He is after all El-Shaddai, God Almighty. The fact that we may understand the manner in which God works does not mean that his actions are any less miraculous.

Genesis 17: 3-5

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

3. Why did Abraham fall facedown before God?

This was the gesture of a servant before a master. It was a gesture of total submission. This vision of God was so powerful, so overwhelming it was the only thing Abraham could do. This, by the way is also called worship.)

The primary Hebrew word for worship.

a. Shachah - "to depress, i.e. prostrate (in homage to royalty or God): bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."

Today there are many people who stand in defiance of God. Some even argue his existence. However, there will come a day when God will put an end to all doubt and all argument. (Read Isaiah 2: 18)

4. In verse 5 God changes Abram's name to Abraham. As I have stated before Hebrew names always revealed something about the person. What do the names Abram and Abraham mean?

The name Abram means "exalted father" and the name Abraham means "Father of many nations.

5. Why did God say, "I have made you a Father of many nations."

God, because of his might and power, can speak of something in the future as if it were already accomplished. When God spoke this to Abraham he was the father of only one teenage boy Ishmael. However, God, covenant was that the seed of Abraham would be as the sand of the sea and the stars of the sky. In the state of eternity the past present and future are all present tense.

We speak of God as being omnipresent. He is everywhere at once. That means that He is in the future. The future already exists and God is there.

There is a song that says, "When He was on the cross I was on his mind."

Genesis 17: 6 - 8

6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 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. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

6. God promised Abraham and his descendants a parcel of land in Canaan. According to God's promise how long would they occupy that land?

The English translation states that it will be an everlasting possession. There is no Hebrew word for everlasting. The word used is "olam" it comes from a root word which means to be hidden. The literal meaning is "as far as one can see, or unto the dim unknown."

Genesis 17: 9 - 14

9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 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. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

7. The rainbow was the sign of the Noahic covenant. What was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant?

The sign of the Noahic covenant was wholly dependant upon God. He placed the rainbow in the sky. However, circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant required obedience upon the part of Abraham. He was called upon to take God at his word; he must initiate the rite of circumcision. God confirmed the covenant while Abraham seals it by his act of obedience.


Circumcision was common among Israel's neighbors--the Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites. The philistines did not practice it (2 Sam. 1:20), nor was it observed in Mesopotamia. Only Israel, however, performed the rite upon infants. The other peoples observed it as the males approached puberty. The observation that Ishmael was 13 when he was circumcised may refer also to the common practice of the Ishmaelites in later history. The Hebrew males were circumcised as infants to emphasize their entrance into the community at birth.

The Broadman Bible Commentary volume 1 pp 169

Genesis 17: 15 - 18

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 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.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and 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?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

8. How did Abraham react to the news that Sarah would bear him a son?

Even though God had revealed himself as El-Shaddai it appears that Abraham still has some doubts. The bible says that he laughed at the notion. That word laughed may also mean rejoice. Some have suggested that Abraham was rejoicing over the news. However, the text suggests that Abraham had doubts.

Genesis 17: 19 - 22

19 Then God said, “Yes, 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. 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. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

9. How does verse 22 relate to verse 1?

Verse 1 states that the Lord appeared to Abraham. Verse 22 states that when he was finished he went up from him. Everything from verse 1 to 22 was a dialogue between God and Abraham.

10. It is God who names the child that is yet to be. God said you shall call his name Isaac. What does the name Isaac mean?

Isaac means "He Laughs".

Genesis 17: 23 - 27

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. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

11. What does Abraham's obedience to God say about his character as a man?

Abraham had an awesome experience in the presence of God. There was no question in his mind as to the reality of the experience. Abraham was not acting on a hunch or and emotion. He had seen and heard God. Even though he had only the promise of God he acted in obedience to Gods command.

12. God called Abraham to walk blameless before him. Do you believe that God calls all people to do the same? List some ways that you can improve your walk before God.

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