Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8)

Abraham – the father of many nations


God comes to a 99 year old Abram and commands him to be blameless.  God expects faithfulness.  Our righteous God demands righteousness.  In chapter 15 we saw that Abram was regarded as righteous by God because Abram believed God.  In other words, Abram’s status before God was that of “righteous.”  He “earned” that status by putting his faith in God’s words to him.  But here we see God is commanding Abram to practice righteousness in the way he lives.  Notice the order:  through faith first Abram gained a righteous position, and then we see how he lived out that faith by practicing righteousness.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  See the order there too?  First we are “created in Christ Jesus” referring to our salvation which comes by faith, not works, as the verses right before that stated.  Then we are to live this saved life by doing the good works God got ready for us before we were even saved!  First we are given a righteous status before God through faith, then through faith we live righteously.  Think of it:  on the one hand we are said as believers to be “pure” by faith in God’s word, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying [believing] the truth..”.  Yet on the other hand we are told to purify ourselves, 1 John 3:3 says “All who have this hope purify themselves, just as Jesus is pure.”  

You should key in on something important there too in God’s command:  before God commands Abram how to live He declares to Abram who he is.  “I am God Almighty.”  Do not miss this:  Obedience to God is born out of knowing God.  As you read the rest of Scripture you will see this pattern everywhere:  God declares His identity to man and the result is that that man, now having come to see and know who this God is, obeys Him.  It is so foundational to a relationship with God:  Knowing God is to obey God.  First John 2:4 doesnt’ pull any punches:  “Whoever says ‘I know God’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.”  Turn to Leviticus with me.  As God was forming His relationship with Israel He demanded obedience to His laws but it is always coupled with declaring to them that He is God.  In 11:45 notice the pattern:  “…”  “I am” is declared first followed by command.  I am then command.  I am then command.  

On the one hand God is pressing onto their minds the fact of His power and His authority and their obligation to submit to Him.  He delivered them from Egypt by His mighty power.  They ought to be afraid of Him after all they saw Him do.  They ought to revere Him after everything they’ve seen.  They ought to do everything He says after all they’ve witnessed of His majesty.  

The same is true of Abram.  When God began with “I am God Almighty” the effect was to make him go rigid with fear and attention as he was now in the presence of the very Creator of the universe.  The name God identifies Himself with is important too:  God Almighty.  He could have used any of the dozens of names we find in Scripture.  In Genesis alone we’ve already seen “God Most High,” (14:19) “The God Who Sees Me,” (16:13) and “Creator of Heaven and Earth” (14:19).  Later we’ll see “The Judge of All the Earth,” (18:25) “The Eternal God,” (21:33) “The LORD will provide,” (22:14) and one of my favorites, “The Fear of Isaac” (31:42).

Here however God calls Himself “God Almighty.”  In Hebrew it is “El Shaddai” (think of Amy Grant here), and it means the power of God, specifically the power of God to supply.  How appropriate here then when God is promising to supply by His majestic power everything He has promised to Abram.  

If you ever want to bless yourself, get to know your God by all His different names.  A study in Scripture of God’s names will do you so much good.  Even if you just did the book of Genesis you will find a richness added to your faith. 

A NEW NAME (3-8)

Nehemiah 9:7 says, “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.  Abram gets a new name.  Abram meant “exalted father.”  Abraham means “father of many.”  In verse 5 He says, “your name will be Abraham [father of many] for I have made you the father of many nations.”  

God renames people based on identifying markers about those people.  This chapter could be dubbed the “names” chapter since God gives 3 names to people.  He renames Abram to Abraham.  He renames Sarai to Sarah.  God commanded them to name their child Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed when God said he would have a child at 100 years old and Sarah 90 years.  Isaac would have a son named Jacob and God renamed him Israel on that famous night when they wrestled all night.  Israel means “he struggles with God.”  Jesus renamed Simon to Peter.  He said to the church of Pergamum “I will give to him who overcomes a white stone with a new name on it.”  He told the Church of Sardis, “Whoever overcomes I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” (Rev. 2:17; 3:5).  Names are important!  A fascinating study in Scripture is “names.”  Names of God, of people, names of places


Now we have the very first time God is promising to Abraham that many nations will come from him.  Up until this point it has been one nation.  Genesis 12:2 said, “I will make you into a great nation [singular].”  It became clear from then on God was talking about the nation of Israel.  Now, God tells Abraham, ‘Yeah, by the way, I actually am planning on making not just one, but MANY nations come from you.”  Many nations other than Israel.  Lets look at this closer. 

Now there are 2 ways in which Abraham is going to be the father of many nations.  One is physical and one is spiritual.  One is actual physical nations from his body in earth’s history.  The other is righteous nations in the future kingdom of God.  Lets look at both.

First, actual physical descendents from his body in earth’s history.  

  • One way this is fulfilled is in verse 20, “….”  In a closer parallel to the nation of Israel we see Ishmael will be greatly blessed by God too.  
  • Turn over to 25:1-6, “….”  Here we see the other sons born to Abraham late in life who would go on and form into nations.  

Secondly though we read in the NT that there is another way in which Abraham is “father of many nations.”  He is the father of righteous nations in the coming kingdom of God on earth.   

  • Turn to Romans 4:16-17 with me, “….”  Here we see that “father of many nations” refers to believers – those who have faith like Abraham.  How does that make sense?  Well, because it refers to believers FROM ALL nations.  Read verses 16 and 17 again with me, “…”  See how he connects that Abrahamic promise to believers in his day?  
  • This is what the Great Commission that began the Church is all about:  “Go therefore into all nations….” (Mt 28:18-20).  This is what Revelation 7:9 is referring to as the final picture at the end of time, “there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation…” 
  • Now think about the title of Jesus Christ from Revelation 20:15, “King of KINGS and Lord of LORDS.”  Who are these other “kings” and “lords” that Jesus will be “King” and “Lord” over?  They are the kingdoms on the earth that will make up the global kingdom of Jesus Christ on the earth when He returns and sets up His worldwide Kingdom for 1,000 years.  Turn with me to Psalm 2:6-8 and follow along, “….”  The Son of God is established as King in Jerusalem over the whole earth with all the nations in submission to him.

Those right now on this side of history from “all nations” who believe like Abraham – they will be citizens in that coming kingdom of Christ on earth.  Jesus declared in Matthew 8, “I say to you that many will come the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  In that kingdom feast Abraham will look around at the sea of faces and they will be from every nation throughout history.  They will be his children, his offspring, the redeemed from all history because like him they believed God and it was credited to them as righteousness.  

Remember Paul said “For the Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Col. 1:13).  “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless He is born again” (Jn 3:3).  

ISRAEL (7-9)

Then verses 6-8 switch from many nations to one nation specifically:  the nation of Israel.   This becomes evident that Israel is in view when we see that once again God mentions Abraham’s descendents would possess the land forever.  This land is not for “many nations” but one nation:  Israel.  We know its not through Ishmael but through Isaac.  Follow me:

  • Verse 21 confirms it will be through Isaac, not Ishmael
  • Turn to 26:3-4 God confirms to Isaac personally the same covenant has passed on to him
  • In 35:11-13 God confirms to Isaac’s son, Jacob, the same covenant has passed on to him

So God has promised Abraham that his descendents through Isaac would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore and they would possess forever the land of Canaan.  Then God promised Isaac that very same promise through Jacob.  Then God promised Jacob the very same thing.  

When they were in exile in Babylon God spoke to the Israelites, promising he would still fulfill his promise to Abraham.  Turn to Ezekiel 36:28….37:25-28.. 39:25-29

CONCLUSION:  One Nation of Believers

So Abraham is going to be the father of many nations. He is also going to be the father of one particular nation, Israel.  But did you know that he is also the father of another nation?  He is the father of the “nation” of believers.  First Peter 2:9 says believers are “a holy nation.”  But as believers we are also children of Abraham.  Turn to Galatians 3:26-29…

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