A woman and her husband made absolutely no difference this past week. Recently, this couple felt led to meet a need in their church. This couple felt led to spend the school year ministering to teenagers. So, they planned a weekly Bible study, periodical service projects and outreach activities. And it is all – the Bible study, the service projects and the outreach – centered around a mystery. It is Colossians 1:27. “…how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The first Bible study was this past Wednesday. When it was over this couple discovered that they had made absolutely no difference; none whatsoever. It is because at the conclusion a fourteen-year-old girl told the couple, “I am really excited.” The next day, the wife would share what her and her husband were feeling. “For the first time, in a really long time, I am greatly encouraged.” This woman is sixty-four years old. Her husband is sixty-two years old.
When Abram Was Ninety-Nine
Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty.” Pay close attention to Abram’s age. As Genesis 17 begins, he is ninety-nine years old. As Genesis 17 concludes we are again reminded of Abram’s age. He is still ninety-nine years old (17:24). This means that Genesis 17 has something to do with Abram being ninety-nine years old!
What is significant about Abram being ninety-nine years old? Well, at ninety-nine he got a new name. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham” (17:5). And at ninety-nine his wife got a new name too. “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name” (17:15). Now when Sarah got this new name Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He was not laughing at her name. He laughed instead at the thought that Sarah would be a first-time mom at ninety – a sweet symbol of faith’s struggle. So, God says, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (17:19). Isaac means “he laughs.”
What is significant about Abraham being ninety-nine years old? I am pretty sure that this qualifies as a year to remember. But it is not the new names Abraham or Sarah that are significant. Nor is it the promise of their son Isaac. Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.’”
Last Wednesday a couple made absolutely no difference. But something did make the difference…in the life of a fourteen-year old…and in the life of a sixty-four-year old…and in the life of a sixty-two-year old. What absolutely makes the difference? It is what made the difference in the life of a ninety-nine-year old. “I am God Almighty.”
God Almighty is the Hebrew name El Shaddai. And it is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. In Exodus 6:3, God said that he was very intentional in telling this name to Abraham and not just to Abraham, but to his son Isaac and not just to Isaac, but to his grandson Jacob.
Does it help to know that this name appears thirty-one times in the book of Job – a book about suffering? What then does this name mean and how does it make the difference?
Walk Before Me and Be Blameless
Listen carefully to Genesis 17:1. “When 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.’” What does God intend in revealing this name to Abraham at ninety-nine years old? Pay attention to the next few words – walk before me and be blameless. This is actually two commands. Walk is another way of saying, “live out your life.” But notice the word blameless. It is the same word that was used to describe the way Noah lived out his life (Genesis 6:9). And it does mean to be perfect or sound or complete. However, it is used here the same way it was used of Noah. Be unimpaired. Do not be made weaker. Put together, the two commands are: live out your life unimpaired. This last command, be blameless or be unimpaired is in connection to living out your life. Do not get weak in living out your life. What is it that will strengthen Abraham to not get weak in living out his life? First, how is Abram to live out his life? Walk before me. Live out your life before me or live out your life in my presence. Whose presence exactly? God Almighty. Live out your life in light of who I am. Who is he? I am God Almighty. And do this unimpaired. So, what is it that will strengthen Abraham to be unimpaired? It is the fact that God is God Almighty. This makes the difference.
This is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. God is very intentional in revealing this name to Abraham. It appears thirty-one times in a book about suffering. So, what does it mean? This name means that God is the God who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.
Listen to verse three. “Then Abram fell on his face.” When Abraham heard this, he fell to the ground in awe. The question before us is, what difference does this make for me?
I Will Be Their God
This chapter is about Abraham knowing that God is God Almighty. Listen to verse two. “…that I may make my covenant between me and you.” We need to highlight the word covenant. What does this covenant have to do with who God is? Notice that God calls it “my covenant.” All throughout Genesis 17 God refers to this covenant as “my covenant.” God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. This is the same covenant. There are two distinct aspects of God’s covenant with Abraham. The first is a particular land called Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21; 17:8). And the second is offspring. Offspring is what concerns the covenant in Genesis 17. The English word make is worth noting. The word make here just means to put or set. God is setting not just the covenant, but a particular aspect – offspring – before Abraham at ninety-nine years old. It is for Abraham to see that God makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.
God has much to say regarding this offspring. Regarding this offspring, God calls Abraham a father of a multitude of nations. He does so three times (17:4, 5, 6)! Regarding this offspring, God says that he will make Abraham exceedingly fruitful (17:6). Regarding this offspring, God says that kings shall come from Abraham (17:6). It will all happen by means of God’s majestic power and might. But most importantly, regarding this offspring, God says that he will be their God (17:7-8). This too will happen by means of God’s majestic power and might.
The Sign of God’s Covenant
In Genesis, when God has given a covenant he has also given a sign of the covenant that does serve as a reminder. In the flood account, God made a covenant with Noah and set the rainbow as the sign of the covenant. The same is true here, minus the rainbow. Instead, circumcision is the sign of this particular covenant. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (17:10). Why circumcision?
Abraham believed that God would give him a son. Sarah believed it too. In Genesis 16, these two sought to help God by means of their own power and might. In so doing, Abraham treated Hagar as his wife and she bore him a son. This is not the son of promise. So, part of the point of circumcision is to serve as a reminder that God accomplishes his promises by means of his majestic power and might. Couple this with the ages of both Abraham and Sarah and it is to be seen that God alone possesses the power to realize his promises even when the order of nature presents no prospect of fulfillment and the powers of nature are insufficient to secure it.
Circumcision was also about being in fellowship with God. Even those who were not Abraham’s offspring could be brought into fellowship with God in this covenant (17:8, 12-14). It gets even better.
What About Ishmael?
Remember, Abraham has a son at this time, a teenage son. His name means “God hears,” Ishmael. When Abraham hears that in his old age that he will be a father again, this time with his wife Sarah in her old age, he laughs. Then God tells Abraham what his soon-to-be son’s name will be: he laughs or Isaac. Isaac is the son of promise. Isaac is the son through whom the covenant, the kings, the nation, the abundant offspring will be realized. And all of sudden, Abraham brings up Ishmael. He is very concerned about Ishmael. Will Ishmael be just cast aside (v.18)? Then God says something awesome. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you” (17:20). God will abundantly provide for Ishmael. Then Abraham does something awesome.
Listen to verse twenty-two. “When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” After talking, God left and Abraham obeyed. He gathered his entire household including the foreigners and had them circumcised. He did not just gather his entire household or the foreigners. He gathered his son. And together, father and son, joined in fellowship with God in his covenant. I love this. Even though Ishmael was not the son of promise, he was not the son through whom the promise would be realized, he could still come and enjoy the God of the covenant…with his dad.
And Kings Shall Come From You
There is something about this covenant that I cannot ignore. It is when God says that kings shall come from Abraham; kings! I want us to quickly notice something from the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew. It is Matthew 1:1. These are the first words of this gospel account. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” David was a king. And then there is Jesus. He, too, is called the son of Abraham. Genesis 17:6 says that from Abraham will come kings. The one who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might said Genesis 17:6. On the day Jesus was crucified, it was ordered that a sign be put on his cross which read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). And by his majestic power and might at the cross where a sign which read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” all who share the faith of Abraham were made alive. All who share the faith of Abraham were made alive when God Almighty “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). He nailed it all by his majestic power and might.
The Bible speaks of those who share the faith of Abraham as those who belong to Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 4:16; 1:6). And that this is how it could be said in Genesis 17 that Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations (Romans 4:17)! It is all rooted here, in Genesis 17, in the difference made in the life of a man who was ninety-nine! The difference was for this old man to see that all his life, all his future lies in this: I am God Almighty! The difference was to live this life in the light of who God is and to be strengthened by the fact that God accomplishes all he does by means of his majestic power and might.
This makes the difference when you are 99 or 64 or 62 or 14. I heard an old man say last Wednesday, “God, it is such a comfort to know that you are all-powerful.” That is an old man who is being strengthened by who God is. So, what difference does it make? What difference does it make of what I think of God; that he is able and mighty and sufficient?
1. It makes the difference for obedience.
2. It makes the difference when the bank account looks too low.
3. It makes the difference when the pressure seems too much.
4. It makes the difference when the disappointments keep mounting.
5. It makes the difference when I think, again, it all depends on me.
6. It makes the difference for faithfulness.
7. It makes the difference for year after year after year when there seems like there is nothing to show for faithfulness.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 246.