Walk Before God Blamelessly (Gen 17:1-27)

I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless (Gen 17:1).

"Walk before (God) faithfully and blamelessly." Bible verses like this scare the living daylights out of people. They think that the Bible demands too much of them, that the Christian life is a straight-jacket, and too restrictive, and that there is no freedom and no fun at all in the Christian life. I once trembled at the thought of being a full time Christian minister, thinking that I can't watch any more movies for the rest of my life. So I completely gave up the thought of ever being a full time pastor! Let's look at this verse in the context of Abram's life.

Intro: Genesis 17 is arguably the hinge pin of all ministry, for it is quoted 10 times in Hebrews, 8 times in Galatians, and 8 times in Romans.

In Gen 17:1, God reveals himself in a new way as "God Almighty" (Hebrew El-Shaddai)--the 3rd name for God so far in Genesis. God's names so far are:

  1. "El" or "Elohim," which describes God as Creator.
  2. "Yahweh" (LORD God), which is God's redemptive/covenant name.
  3. "El-Shaddai" fits between the 2: "El" is "powerful creator," and "Shaddai" is "to overpower." (A traditional analysis/translation is "sufficient.") God will overpower nature to fulfill his promise. Even an old barren woman can bear a child (Gen 17:16).
 Gen 17:1-27 teaches us at least 3 things about God:
  1. What God requires (Gen 17:1): Walk blamelessly.
  2. What God does (Gen 17:2-8): God establishes his covenant.
  3. What God commands (Gen 17:9-27): Circumcision.
I. Walk Blamelessly (Gen 17:1): What God Requires

The context for Gen 17:1-27 is set by Gen 15:1-16:16. In Gen 15:1-22, God confirmed His covenant with Abram which He first made in Gen 12:1-3. In the most striking way, God Himself takes walks between the pieces of the slain animals (Gen 15:17),  saying in effect to Abram, "Abram, if I am unfaithful in my fulfilling of the promises of My covenant to you, be it done to Me as we have done to these animals." But soon after this glorious display, Abram stumbled along with his wife in their own schemes in Gen 16:1-16. As a result, Ishmael was born (Gen 16:15-16). After 13 years, God shows up (Gen 16:16-17:1). What was Abram's life like?

His name means "exalted father." Yet for over 80 years, he had no children. How might he have felt all those years? Finally, at age 86, he has a son Ishmael. Neighbors might still expect an "exalted father" to have more than just 1 son. Nonetheless, Abram must have been contented and satisfied with his 1 son.
How about Sarai? Finally having a son relived Abram. But Sarai is now exposed as the "problem," while Abram can rest content. Calvin said, "Abram being contented with his only son, Ishmael, ceased to desire any other seed" (Gen 17:18). This is the condition, the context, the situation Abram is in, of this visitation of God. What can we learn from God's visitation?

1) God can do anything. He is El-Shaddai. The letterhead of the Chinese evangelist Leland Wong had 3 Scripture verses in order to bear testimony to what he thought of his God.
  1. The 1st scripture verse says: "The sun stood still." Josh 10:13.
  2. The 2nd scripture verse was, "The iron did swim." 2 Ki 6:6.
  3. The 3rd Scripture verse is Ps 48:14: "This God is our God."
By the juxtaposition of these verses, Leland Wong affirms that his God does the impossible. "The sun stood still." "The iron did swim." "This God is our God." That was his God. And that is precisely what God is saying to Abram: "Abram, I can do anything."

2) Coram deo: Live under the gaze of God. The Latin phrase coram deo means that we are to live "before" the face of God, under the eyes of God, under the gaze of God. It means relationship. It means to be in God's presence, to be near him where you can converse with him and relate to him. The metaphor of walking evokes the idea of pilgrimage and journey and process, not just a 1 time decision to follow God. Thus, "walking before God" is a call to 3 things:

  1. personal knowing
  2. obedience
  3. continual growth in grace
That is exactly what God is saying to Abram: "Walk before Me. Live before My eyes. With integrity and wholeheartedness serve Me. Don’t be double-minded, half-hearted, hypocritical. Serve me with all your heart." To walk before God blamelessly does not mean so much perfection of performance as wholehearted dedication and devotion. He is to be a man of integrity, a man who is wholehearted in his commitment to God and to others-nations, descendents, offspring (Gen 17:6-8). He’s not to be a hypocrite. He is to truly love God, trust God, worship God from the inside out and his outward actions are to flow from that inward trust in God.

Why should Abram or anyone do this: walk faithfully and blamelessly before God?
J. I. Packer, in one of his books, says that the secret to soul-fatting Bible study is to first ask the question, "What does this passage teach me about my God?" So often in Bible study the first question is, "How does this apply to me?" But Packer points out that the prime blessing that we derive in the study of the Scripture is learning about our God. We walk before God blamelessly because God is El-Shaddai. He made a covenant with us that He promises that He will never break, and that He is so powerful that He will keep his covenant promises to us.

II. I Will Establish My Covenant (Gen 17:2-8): What God Does

God says, "I will" 7 times in 7 verses from Gen 17:2-8, and implies it several other times. God says, "I will...":
  • confirm my covenant (Gen 17:2)
  • greatly increase your numbers (Gen 17:2)
  • (change) your name (to) Abraham (Gen 17:5)
  • make you a father of many nations (Gen 17:5)
  • make you very fruitful (Gen 17:6)
  • make nations of you (Gen 17:6)
  • establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7)
  • give (the whole land of Canaan) as an everlasting possession to you (Gen 17:8)
  • be their God (Gen 17:8). This is the essence of the covenant.
In these verses, God reiterates, emphasizes and expands on his promises, at least 6 of them (through his change):
  1. confirm his promises to Abraham (Gen 17:2). God will do something beyond Abraham's thinking.
  2. make him a father of many nations (Gen 17:5).
  3. make him the father of kings (Gen 17:6).
  4. include his descendants in the covenant (Gen 17:7).
  5. give the land to him and his descendants (Gen 17:8).
  6. promises to be the God of his descendants (Gen 17:8). This is a marriage pledge from God to Abraham--God's own "I will." "I do."
Abram and Sarai's name change (Gen 17:5,15) means/implies:
  1. A change of ownership. It is promising uncompromising obedience to God, saying, "I am yours."
  2. A change of identify. A covenant relationship with God is the dominant force in a person's life. This leads to us discovering our true "name." Otherwise, idolatry predominates (Rom 1:25) as our replacement-gods and salvations. Such idol-covenants (success, performance) leads to a distortion of self-image, leading either to too low or too high a self-esteem (depending on our perception of our own performance), or to an over-blown superiority or a hopeless inferiority..
III. Circumcision (Gen 17:9-27): What God Commands

The mark of circumcision was the physical symbol of the spiritual commitments God required. The rite of circumcision was a way of being brought into a relationship with God and with all those also in a covenant relationship with God. Every believer shared the same oath-sign.

No one enters into a covenant relationship with God individualistically. It automatically brings you into a believing, covenant-community. The main way we are held accountable to walk before God obediently is by entering a community of others who have taken the same oath. Together we discipline and encourage and stimulate each other (Heb 10:24). Thus, circumcision was a way to create a new community, both of slaves and free, Jew and Gentile (Gen 17:23,27). All are included (Gal 3:28). Class distinction and race distinctions are swallowed up in the covenant relationship we all have with God.

The gist of the covenant was "You will be my people, and I will be your God" (Gen 17:7-8; Lev 26:12). The essence of the promise is a personal relationship with God. The essence of the requirement is a personal commitment to God, given with the whole heart. No one can keep this up by their own strength and will power. It is absolutely crucial to remember that God has already committed himself to us first (Gen 15:9-17; 1 Jn 4:19).

Col 2:11-12 likens the crucifixion of Christ to circumcision: "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." Paul is saying that our circumcision was not performed by human hands but by Christ, relating our circumcision to Jesus' baptism of death--a bloody, violent act, where Jesus was "cut off" from God and his people and from life itself.

Abraham was warned to walk blamelessly before God or be cut off (Gen 17:1,14)--physically, socially, and spiritually. Of course, no man has ever "walked blamelessly before God" (Rom 3:9-11,23). So, how does God stay in covenant with his people? Jesus took the curse of the covenant for us (Gal 3:13). He was circumcised as a child (Lk 2:21). He entered the covenant. Though he was the only man who walked blamelessly before God and truly earning the blessing and promises of the covenant, at the end of his life he took the curse of the covenant. He was cut off (Isa 53:8). He went under the knife (Gen 3:24). He was cursed. We can be blessed.

Ref: Faith Assured (Gen 17:1-8), sermon by Ligon Duncan
Our Covenant with God (Gen 17:1-27); What Were We Put in the World to Do? Leaders Guide 127-135. (Tim Keller)

  1. Why does God reveal himself as "God Almighty" (Gen 17:1)? What does this suggest about how we should live (1 Chron 28:9)? Explain coram deo (Gen 3:8). How can we not be cut off when we are not able to walk blamelessly (Isa 53:8; Lk 2:21; Gal 3:13)? What do the new names of Abram and Sarai signify (Gen 17:3-6, 15-16)? Why was this hard for Abram (Gen 17:17-22)? What did he do (Gen 17:23-27)?
  2. How is the covenant of Gen 17:1-16 similar/different from the covenant in Gen 15:9-19? Why is it significant that God's oath came first before Abram's oath (Rom 4:9-11)? How is the gospel different from religion (Ex 12:13, 20:2-17)?
  3. How is circumcision the sign of being God's covenant people (Gen 17:9-11; Dt 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4)? Why is community crucial (Gen 17:12-13,23,27; Heb 10:24; Gal 3:28)? How does Jesus' cross shed light on circumcision (Col 2:11-12; Rom 2:29)?
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