The Promise Affirmed


VERSES 1-8  “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
“And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
“And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
“As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
“Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
“And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
“And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

According to the Marginal Translation, God’s statement to Abram that he should be ‘perfect’, more properly should read ‘upright’ or ‘sincere’. Abram was a member of the fallen and dying race, and perfection of conduct was quite beyond his ability. But he could be upright and sincere before the Lord. This is possible for all of God’s people, and nothing short of this is acceptable to the Lord.

God’s reference in this chapter to the making of a covenant with Abram was a reiteration of the covenant he had already made, and an enlarging on some of its features.

In keeping with the importance of meanings attached to names in connection with the unfolding of the Divine plan, the Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning the ‘father of many nations’. The original statement of the covenant assured blessings to all nations through the promised seed, but here the Lord amplifies that thought by promising that Abraham would be the father of the nations who thus would be blessed. The term father means life-giver, and this would seem to be God’s way of explaining that the “blessing” the nations would receive through Abraham’s seed was to be that of life.

The Apostle Paul quotes this promise (Rom. 4:16-18) and indicates that all who exercise the faith of Abraham in the promises God made to him, thereby qualify to be his ‘seed’. Some of this seed will be earthly, and some spiritual, but the important truth which Paul stresses is that one does not have to be a natural descendant of Abraham in order to be part of his seed.

“Kings shall come out of thee,” God promised Abraham. The principal fulfillment of this promise is in connection with the spiritual seed of Abraham—Jesus the Head and the church, his body. (Gal. 3:16,27-29) Jesus will be the King of kings, and his church will reign with him as kings for a thousand years.—Rev. 5:10; 20:4

Abraham, although living in Canaan at this time, was a stranger in the land, or as the Marginal Translation expresses it, ‘a sojourner’. Abraham died without possessing the land which God promised to him—as did Isaac and Jacob. But they will, nevertheless, possess the land when they are restored to life in the resurrection. It is most important to keep God’s viewpoint in mind in our study of his Word lest we fall into serious error in our endeavors to determine how some of his promises are fulfilled.

VERSES 9-14  “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
“And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
“And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
“He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
“And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

Circumcision was a ‘token’ of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul speaks of it as a ‘sign’ of the faith which Abraham already exercised toward God and his promises. God stressed the importance of this token of the covenant by decreeing that any of the household of Abraham thenceforth who did not comply with it were to be destroyed.

In passing, it is well to note that the importance God attached to this token of the covenant rules out all possibility that any of the natural descendants of Abraham who have strayed away from the Lord, and have ceased to observe the sign of circumcision, could be especially used or honored by him.

When the Lord said that any soul that was not circumcised should ‘be cut off from his people’, the least we could understand from it is that such a one would cease to be considered by God as a child of Abraham, or in any sense of the word an heir to the rich promises made to him.

In the New Testament, circumcision is used to symbolize singleness of heart and purity of purpose. It is much the same thought as is contained in the Lord’s statement to Abraham that he should be ‘upright and sincere’. While the spiritual seed of Abraham are not called upon to practice the literal rite of circumcision, they are admonished to circumcise their hearts, and to put away all filthiness of the flesh.

It is appropriate that the token of the all-comprehensive Abrahamic Covenant should be circumcision, for when we take into consideration the New Testament explanation of what circumcision signifies, it means that none will receive the blessings promised under the Abrahamic Covenant except upon the basis of purity of heart and motive before the Lord and an abiding faith in his promises and the righteousness of his laws.

VERSES 15, 16  “And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
“And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.”

Here the Lord reveals to Abraham that Sarai’s name was to be changed to Sarah—signifying ‘princess’—inasmuch as she was to be the mother of kings. The apostle explains the manner in which Sarah is considered by the Lord as being the mother of kings, stating that it is because she symbolizes the covenant by which the spiritual seed of Abraham is developed. Thus Sarah is the mother of the same kings of whom Abraham is the typical father, that is, the kings who are to reign for a thousand years for the blessing of all the families of the earth.—Gal. 4:22-31

VERSES 17-22  “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
“And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
“And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
“But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
“And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.”

Abraham had great faith in the promises of God, but it was not a perfect faith. At times it wavered, and one of those times is recorded in this passage. Despite Sarah’s barrenness, Abraham had faith to believe, when God first made the promise to him, that she would bear him a son, because she was then much younger. But now, in addition to her barrenness, she was ninety years old; so when the Lord told him this time that Sarah would bear a son, Abraham fell down on his face and laughed.

In his heart, the passage indicates, Abraham doubted that such a thing could come to pass, and arising from the ground, he pleaded before the Lord, “O that Ishmael might live before thee?”—to be the seed of promise, seems to be the thought of this petition. God assured Abraham that Ishmael would live, and would become the father of a great nation, but as far as the promised seed was concerned, Sarah was to have a child, his name was to be Isaac, and Isaac would be heir to the promise.

‘At this set time in the next year’—here was a time prophecy of considerable importance to Abraham. He had waited many long years for God to fulfill his promise, yet during all that time, no indication had been given as to how long that wait would need to continue. God has tested the faith of most of his people along this same line of waiting. The disciples asked Jesus, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” and Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”—Acts 1:6,7

Often when the time nears for expected events to occur, the Lord reveals the secret to his servants. Noah labored long years in building the ark, with probably no definite idea of when the Flood would come, but finally the Lord said, “Yet seven days.” (Gen. 7:4) So now with Abraham the Lord said, ‘At this set time in the next year’. In view of what Abraham was thinking in his heart concerning the unlikelihood of Sarah bearing him a son, perhaps the Lord gave him this definite information as a means of strengthening his faith.

VERSES 23-27  “And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.
“And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
“And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
“In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
“And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.”

These verses simply relate the fact that Abraham was quick to obey the instructions of the Lord regarding the token of the covenant. ‘In that selfsame day’, the account reads, he proceeded to have all the males in his household circumcised, including himself and his son, Ishmael. There is much evidence in the Scriptures that the Lord appreciates prompt obedience. In the case of Abraham his promptness would indicate also that his faith in God’s promise concerning Sarah had been fully restored and that he desired to carry out every detail pertaining to his part in the covenant.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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