… Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.” And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 16:15-17:2, NKJ)
God spoke to Abram for the fifth time after Hargar, Sarai’s servant, bore him a son. If you don’t consider Abram’s age each time God spoke to him, it appears as if God conversed with him often. But let’s review what we’ve learned before we continue.
The first time God spoke to Abram was sometime within the first 60 years of Abram’s life, while he was living in Ur. We don’t know exactly when, Abram may have been a child, like Samuel, a teenager, like Joseph, or a man like Paul. We do know that Abram did not immediately obey God. When he was 60, his family relocated to Haran. Fifteen years later, when Abram was 75, he finally obeyed God and moved to a land where God would “see” him.
So as far as we know, God spoke to Abram once in 75 years. He didn’t speak to him again until Abram obeyed him. When God saw Abram had obeyed him, he spoke to Abram a second time, revealing that the land would be given to Abram’s son, though at the time Abram had no son. Abram was 75, maybe 76 years old by then.
Long periods of time separated God’s dealings with Abram. He would not speak to Abram again for three years. God waited until Abram learned the truth about himself and became a man of peace. After Abram returned to Canaan from his foray into Egypt around the age of 78 and separated from Lot, God spoke to him a third time, “I will give the land to you and to your seed.” Prior to this God had only promised to give the land to Abram’s seed. The Apostle Paul identifies this “seed” as one seed, meaning Jesus.
Abram didn’t hear from God again for seven years. When he was 85 God spoke to him a fourth time in a vision, covenanting to give the land, not to Abram, but to Abram’s sinless “seed.” Jesus would bear humanities flesh, but only from his mother. God would be his father. This proved the only way to guarantee Abram and everyone who walked in his steps would receive and retain an inheritance. Abram did not receive the inheritance in his lifetime, and neither will we. Corruptible flesh and blood people subject to death cannot inherit the incorruptible, eternal kingdom of God.
If you think the people of Israel are God’s children entitled to all God desires to give us simply because the blood of Abram flows through their veins, listen to Jesus words:
I know that you are Abraham’s descendants but you seek to kill Me because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father. They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:37-39, NKJ)
By Jesus definition, the only people God counts as children of Abraham are those who do the works of Abraham, those who possess the same kind of faith Abraham did.
Israel responded to Jesus saying,
“We were not born of fornication; we have one Father-God.” (John 8:41, NKJ)
Again listen to Jesus words:
“…If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil…”(John 8:42-44, NKJ)
Jesus’ words may not have been very diplomatic, but he spoke the truth: Abraham’s flesh descendants are not God’s children. The people, Jews or Gentiles, who possess the faith of Abraham and love Jesus, are God’s children. The descendants of Abraham through Isaac who became the nation of Israel were given the first opportunity to receive Jesus. Those who rejected him were broken off the “tree,” (the nation of Israel that God planted). Then Jesus sent his disciples to the ends of the earth looking for “replacement branches” (Romans 11).
Except for the angel’s message to Hagar regarding the descendants of Ishmael, Abram did not hear from God for at least 14 years before God spoke to him for a fifth time when Abram was 99 years of age. It’d been a long time since Abram last heard from God. Things had changed. Abram had a 13-year-old son by then, but a son merely from his own body, which wasn’t what God had promised — God had promised a son from Abram’s own body that Sarai would give birth to. Desperate to receive the things God promised, Abram and Sarai now have a 13-year-old child. But was this child God’s plan or man’s? God appeared to Abram and said,
“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you and will multiply you exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1-2, NKJ).
The covenant between “Me and you” is the covenant to give the land not to Abram but to one son of Abram. God did not need Abram to produce the son thus God’s declaration, “I am Almighty God,” was a rebuke to Abram. Why do I say this? Let me explain it, in my own words.
When God said, “I am Almighty God,” he was rebuking Abram’s efforts to make God’s plan work. Sarai’s plan, that Abram should have a son by her handmaid, Hagar, and Abram’s compliance with that plan were proud acts. Did they imagine that God would start something he couldn’t finish? Abram knew and no doubt explained to Sarai, “We won’t get anything from God unless we have a son, because God’s covenant gives the land to my son, and from my son I will inherit the land. We’re getting old, and I don’t have a son, Sarai…”
Let’s look at their predicament more closely. Abram and Sarah are getting worried. When you desperately want what God has promised, it’s hard to trust God for it. Even though Sarai is 10 years younger than Abram at this time, at 75 she has already gone through menopause and is beyond any hope of ever bearing a child. While we might raise our eyebrows at Sarai’s solution, it’s a perfectly legal one according to the customs and laws of her day. Even the law God gave to Moses hundreds of year’s later states that any children born to a servant belong to the servant’s master. So if Hagar gives birth to a child, even if Abram isn’t the father, the child belonged to Abram because Hagar belonged to Abram. Abram’s already pointed out to God that he has an heir, Eliezer of Damascus, that hasn’t come from his own body to give his wealth to and complained to God about it. But God only assured Abram that he would have an heir that will come from his own body.
By now, Sarai is riddled with guilt that it’s her fault Abram won’t have a son to inherit the promises of God from. So she’s come up with the only reasonable solution. She is an old woman who probably doesn’t care about the “hows” anymore. She decided, “If I can’t give Abram a son, why should I stop someone else from giving him a son?” She brings her servant girl, Hagar, to the bedroom and leaves. Nine months later Abram rejoices to have a son at last. But God isn’t impressed, nor is he concerned.
Thirteen years after Ishmael is born, when Abram is 99, God communicated to Abram that God is all mighty, or all sufficient. He doesn’t need man’s help to fulfill his plan. As Jesus later declared God could raise up children to Abraham from the stones (Luke 3:8). It’s not the children we produce that fulfill God’s purposes; it’s the children God produces.
At this visitation God clearly communicated the only way Abram can be blameless or perfect is to walk in God’s ways. Walk before me,” God says, “and be blameless” God’s ways are true justice, and only justice makes you infallible. Justice makes you perfect. Justice makes you blameless. God is infallible because he always does what is right. He has never wronged anybody. He has never broken one of his own laws to obtain what he desires. God’s people can only be infallible or perfect when no one can prove a claim of wrongdoing against us!
Abram and Sarai’s solution to God’s plan was Ishmael, the son they produced. But God couldn’t fulfill the plan through Ishmael any more than he could ultimately fulfill the plan through Isaac. Isaac didn’t possess the land in his lifetime, either. In God’s eyes, Ishmael and Isaac had equal standing: Both were sinners who could not save themselves from death. We are all sinners who break laws. God cannot justly give the blessings of the covenant to those who break covenants. Abram was thinking “immediate son”; God had his mind on a son who would be born hundreds of years after the flesh descendants of Abram failed to keep their end of the covenant of law. Abram would not fully understand the faith God was teaching him until he was 133 years old.
Now let me explain why telling Abram, “I am God Almighty,” was a rebuke for Abram’s and Sarai’s production of Ishmael. “Almighty” in the Hebrew is the word shadday. Most Bible reference works say it means “almighty.” But that doesn’t give us full understanding of the word. Vine’s Expository Dictionary helps even less. Vine’s says, “The earliest Old Testament appearance of the appellation as a title of deity (God almighty) is in Gen 17:1 where God identifies himself in this way to Abraham.” Unfortunately the name is not explained in any manner, and even the directions “walk before me” and “be thou perfect” throw no light on the meaning of shadday. Scholars have attempted to understand the word relating it to the Akkadian Shadu (mountain) as though God had either revealed his mighty power in association with mountain phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or that he was regarded strong and immutable like the everlasting hills of the blessing of Jacob. Certainly the associating of deity with mountains was an important part of Mesopotamian religion.”
But we’re not dealing with some Mesopotamian religion. Nor do I believe shadday has much if anything to do with any mountain. Several other commentators said shadday means, “I am God all-sufficient.” But what exactly did shadday mean to Abram? How did Abram understand the words, “I am God Almighty” or “I am God all-sufficient”?
First of all, I must respectfully disagree with Vines that in it’s context shadday (or Almighty) is not explained in any way and that “walk before me” and “be perfect” shed no light on its meaning. “Almighty” is used about 60 times in Scripture, and each time applied to God only. Altogether El Shaddai, which means God Almighty, occurs eight times in the Old Testament. Equivalent expressions appear about 10 times in the New Testament. If you look at how the name “God Almighty” is invoked — before God revealed himself by a new name to Moses – you will find that Abram understood what Almighty meant… at least what it meant to him personally.
Before God spoke to Moses, saying, “…I am the Lord, I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord (or Jehovah) I was not known to them (Exodus 6:2-3), God Almighty is used six times, and always in the same context – that of having many children, being fruitful and multiplying, or becoming a vast multitude.
After God revealed himself to Abram as God Almighty, Abram’s son Isaac was the next to use the name God Almighty, saying,
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may be an assembly (or multitude) of peoples… (Genesis 28:3, NKJ)
The third time we see God Almighty used, God is speaking to Jacob, Isaac’s son, saying,
…I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you and kings shall come from your body (Genesis 35:11, NKJ).
The fourth time the name God Almighty is invoked is by Jacob, to comfort himself. As far as Jacob knows, Joseph is dead. In the midst of a famine, Jacob’s sons go to Egypt for food, and Simeon is not allowed to return. Jacob does not know if he will never see his son, Simeon, again. If Jacob’s other sons don’t return to Egypt, the entire family will die for lack of food. But they can’t return without Benjamin!
Jacob can’t bear the thought of losing Benjamin, too. His world is crashing down around him. Where is God’s promise in all this? God promised Abram and personally promised Jacob that they would become a company of nations, a vast multitude. Why is the opposite happening now? Why does Jacob keep losing his children? He may have wondered how God would make them a great multitude of people when he was losing his sons. Joseph was no more, Simeon was gone, and now Jacob was at risk of losing Benjamin, too. Ah, but then Jacob remembered what Daddy taught him and what God himself confirmed. “God is Almighty,” Jacob declares when he sends his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt:
And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!” (Genesis 43:14, NKJ)
Jacob finally understood what his father and grandfather understood. It’s not the children we produce that fulfill God’s plan. It’s the children God produces. He says, “If I am bereaved of all my children, it does not matter, because God is Almighty!” When Jacob lets go of the fear that he will lose the promised blessing of becoming a great multitude, he finds out he hasn’t lost any of his children. They’re all safe and doing well. In fact, the son he thought died years ago is ruling the nation of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
The next time the name God Almighty was invoked, Jacob was speaking to his son, Joseph: “God Almighty appeared to me and said he will make us a multitude of people and give the land to our descendants/seed.” (Genesis 48) Then Jacob claims Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own. Any children Joseph has after Ephraim and Manasseh will belong to Joseph; but these two children, a mix of Hebrew and Gentile blood, will become recognized tribes in Israel.
Jacob gave the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim rather than Manasseh. When Joseph objects Jacob said, “I know what I’m doing. Manasseh will be great, but Ephraim will be greater. His descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”
The sixth and last time we see God Almighty used is when Jacob speaks prophetically about each of his sons. When he comes to Joseph he says:
“By the God of your father who will help you and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors” (Genesis 49:25-26, NKJ).
Jacob was speaking prophetically that more sons will come into the kingdom of God through Joseph and Ephraim than will come through himself and his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac.
Do you see it now? When God said to Abram, “I am Almighty God,” he made it clear to Abram, “I, God, will do the multiplying!” God knew what Sarai and Abram had done, but their plan didn’t cancel or change his plan. It doesn’t matter what we do; God’s plan will not fail. God made it clear that the only way for Abram to be blameless and receive anything from God was through the son God would give him — a son born by the will of God, not the will of man. Ishmael was born of the flesh, not the Spirit, and through his descendants, the Arab nations, he has remained a problem to the children of Abram descended through Isaac from that day to this.
God didn’t curse Ishmael because he was Abram’s and Sarai’s idea. God doesn’t want to curse or exclude anyone. God blessed Ishmael by giving him the same thing he gave Isaac and Jacob: Ishmael had 12 sons who became 12 princes of nations, just as Jacob’s 12 sons became 12 princes of a great nation. It didn’t matter how many sons Abram had, because God’s mind was on his son, Jesus, a spiritual son, from the very beginning of God’s dealings with Abram.
It didn’t matter how many children Abram produced. He had more sons than Ishmael and Isaac before he died. After Sarai died, Abram married Keturah, and she bore him six more sons, not to mention the unnamed sons by concubines that Abram had and gave gifts to before he sent them to the east country. Abram had many children before he died, in payment for the many years he’d lived without a son of his own in order to teach all men how to have faith in God.
Abram couldn’t produce a blameless child; only God can do that, by a work of the Spirit. Jesus told Abram’s flesh descendants who did not believe in him, “Your father is the devil.” Why? Because it’s not the children we produce that are blessed; it’s the children God produces.
Is there a lesson for us? Yes! If we want to see our churches full, we must abandon our own plans and submit to God’s way of doing things, because all of our human efforts to produce children for God will not produce children of God. Jesus, speaking to the religious leaders of his day, said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15, NKJ).
All man’s efforts at producing children for God are worthless. Only the Spirit of God can multiply us into a vast multitude, because only God is Almighty!