Hope Against Hope
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-21
INTRODUCTION Genuine faith is not demonstrated so much by complete absence of doubt as it is by eventual victory over all doubt. So it was in the experience of Abraham, and so it is generally with his spiritual children, which is to say with all true believers in Christ [Romans 4:11]. Let us not be discouraged, therefore, if sometimes like the disciples of old we are foolishly "slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" [Luke 24:25]. Let us rather despite our doubts seek assurance of faith from the abundant truths of God's Word, for "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. 1. Appearance, Genesis 17:1-2. a. God invisible, 1. b. God immutable, 2. 2. Assurance, Genesis 17:3-8. a. Covenant confirmed, 3-5. b. Covenant continued, 6-7. c. Covenant conquest, 8. 3. Affirmation, Genesis 17:15-16. a. Change of name, 15. b. Change of nature, 16. 4. Altercation, Genesis 17:17-18. a. Natural doubt, 17. b. Natural desire, 18. 5. Authority, Genesis 17:19-21. a. Covenant unchanged, 19. b. Covenant unaffected, 20. c. Covenant unfailing, 21.
NOTES ON THE TEXT: APPEARANCE, Genesis 17:1-2. By some means God had appeared to Abraham when he was still in Mesopotamia [Acts 7:2]. Many years later "the word of the Lord came unto Abraham in a vision" [Genesis 15:1]. In Genesis 18 it seems that Jehovah appeared to Abraham in the form of man. Just what was the manner of the appearance mentioned in this lesson is not clear, but God is able to manifest His presence when and how He will. God Invisible, 1. In His divine essence, of course, God is invisible, so that "No man hath seen God at any time" [John 1:18]. Nevertheless by some means and in some form He "appeared to Abram," and identified Himself as the "Almighty God." God Immutable, 2. He changes not. He was the same God in Canaan as in Ur, the same God when Abram was 99 as when Abram was a child, the same God "even from everlasting to everlasting" [Psalms 90:2]. Since God is immutable, so are His purposes; His plans for Abraham were the same as always; it was Abraham who needed further instruction and assurance on the terms of the covenant.
ASSURANCE, Genesis 17:3-8. Years of apparent delay in arrival of the promised seed seem to have weakened Abram's faith, so that on Sarai's suggestion he became the father of Ishmael, born of the slave girl Hagar. But this could hardly be God's way of fulfilling His promise. Abram needed assurance of the power of God to accomplish His purpose without depending on sinful flesh. Covenant Confirmed, 3-5. "Abram fell on his face" before the manifest presence of God. Well may sinful man fall prostate before the perfectly holy God. Yet God condescended to talk with this man of faith and to confirm the covenant previously declared. In anticipation of promised progeny, He changed the name Abram, "father of elevation," to Abraham, "father of a great multitude." Covenant Continued, 6-7. God's covenant was not merely with Abraham personally, but also with the seed after him "in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." How far these promises apply to the natural descendants of Abraham and how far they apply to believers in Christ is a matter of much dispute which perhaps only time and divine fulfillment will clear up [See Galatians 3:16-29.]. Covenant Conquest, 8. By virtue of this promise ancient Israel was more or less successful in the conquest of Canaan, and many Bible students believe that modern Israel will be even more successful in winning and holding the promised land.
AFFIRMATION, Genesis 17:15-16. Not the son of the bondwoman but the son of the freewoman was to be the child of promise to inherit the covenant [Galatians 4:21-31]. God clearly affirmed that Abraham's lawful wife would bear the promised son. Change of Name, 15. Perhaps partly to suggest some change of personality, the name of Abraham's wife was changed from Sarai ("Contentious") to Sarah ("Princess"). The change came rather late in life, but no doubt it was a welcome change. Change of Nature, 16. It is not too hard to change names; changing the course of nature is something else. But this is exactly what God promised to do for Abraham and Sarah. No wonder He had introduced Himself to Abraham as "the Almighty God"!
ALTERCATION, Genesis 17:17-18. Remember that Abraham was the great man of faith. Yet at this point, though indeed again he "fell upon his face," he dared to disbelieve the Word of God and even to argue the matter. Judge him not harshly unless you have never doubted. Natural Doubt, 17. Humility of posture combined with inner disbelief to make a mixed attitude is too often found among God's people. Surely, we think (as it seems Abraham thought), God must be joking when He promises the impossible! We have to learn that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" [Luke 18:27]. Abraham's doubt was natural, but he recognized it as sinful and in time overcame it, so that he became "strong in faith, giving glory to God: and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform" [Romans 4:20-21]. Natural Desire, 18. We may note further that Abraham's desire for Ishmael was natural enough, but natural human desires cannot be allowed to interfere with the purposes of God.
AUTHORITY, Genesis 17:19-21. Let us not misunderstand the word "covenant." The word does mean "agreement," but when the agreement is between God and man all the authority is in God, and dictates the terms of the covenant. We cannot bargain or dicker with Him; our only choice is to accept or reject the divine terms, to believe or disbelieve in His goodness. Covenant Unchanged, 19. God therefore repeated to Abraham the covenant unchanged, though with further details of instruction. Any changes in coming to agreement must be in the creature; the Creator changes not. Covenant Unaffected, 20. Blessings are obtained in answer to prayer, but only such blessings as are in harmony with God's Word. The covenant of spiritual blessings through Isaac was unaffected by the granting of natural blessings to Ishmael. Covenant Unfai1ing, 21. So the divine covenant is unfailing; God has established it, and every detail shall surely come to pass, even though it may seem impossible.
CONCLUSION [Romans 4:18] Contrary to any hope that could be based on "nature," Abraham found a higher and surer hope based on divine promise. He believed God simply because he knew that God is God, "And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" [Romans 4:19-25]. =================
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, October 10, 1975. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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