GENESIS 17 – 18:15
Bible Study Notes Rev. Betsy Perkins
Covenant Confirmed and Another Covenant!
Another 13 years pass by. Ishmael is growing up and STILL no other children. It is unclear if Abram and Sarai are STILL waiting or if they have come to believe that God’s promise has been fulfilled through Ishmael. But God has NOT forgotten Abram or His promises. They are as real as the day that God made them, and God AGAIN makes that evident to Abram.
Names are Important! (17:1-9):
El Shaddai = God Almighty (literally, God of the Mountain?); The Strong God (Msg)
o El Shaddai is the name used for God in Exodus 6:3. It is used 31 times in the book of Job, and 17 times in the rest of the Bible. Why might God have chosen to reveal this name to Abram at this particular time?
o What does God ask of Abram in verse 1? How is it similar to Genesis 5:22 and 6:9? How is it different?
o When God made the covenant earlier, what was required of Abraham (15:6)? What further commitment is needed now (17:1)?
“Genesis 15 was clear that making the covenant did not issue from Abraham’s being a person of integrity. He had not been that when they went down to Egypt. If Abraham made a contribution at all to the making of the covenant, it was simply by trusting in God’s promise. Nor was the making of that covenant conditional on any acts Abraham would do. Yet God’s commitment to Abraham was designed to involve Abraham’s integrity, and if that integrity is not forthcoming, it is not clear that God’s purpose in relating to Abraham can be fulfilled. Abraham’s integrity was not the basis of the covenant, but it was essential to its working. In this sense, God can only go on affirming the covenant commitment if Abraham does the same. Otherwise (as with a marriage relationship) thing will simply not work. It takes two to tango.” John Goldingay
o How does Abram respond?
o Names were important! Abram = Father; Hamon = hordes: Father to a horde of nations or Father to many. God adds an additional promise to the initial promise of simply a multitude of descendants. What will be special about his descendants?
o “As for me…” God reiterates God’s side of the covenant agreement with Abram. What are God’s promises?
o God then confirms the promise of the land of Canaan. How does God describe Abraham’s current status in the land (17:8)? How will that change when the promise is fulfilled?
o Read Ephesians 2:11-13, 19. How does the citizenship of the people of God change under the new covenant in Jesus Christ?
A Sign of Grace, Commitment and Discipline (17:9-14):
o “As for you, …” God now asks Abraham to take some responsibility in the covenant agreement. What is the responsibility? What is the sign of commitment? (seal on the organ of fertility, but at birth not at puberty; cutting of animals moves to a cut on human flesh)
o Besides Abraham and his family, who else is to participate in the covenant sign? What are the implications of these people being included?
o Sarai is also given a new name. Sarai = princess/queen. How is her name going to be fulfilled?
o How does Abraham respond? What emotions are expressed in his laugh? What does Abraham ask of God?
“Ishmael is a teenager by now. Abraham has been loving him as his son for all these years. Perhaps he has been simply assuming that God’s promises to him would be fulfilled through Ishmael; nothing in Genesis 17:1-14 would go against that. It is only when we come to God’s words about Sarah that the bombshell drops for Abraham. Everything had seemed straightforward; suddenly he is again required to believe in the impossible. Couldn’t God work through Ishmael?” John Goldingay
o What is God’s reply?
“So God’s response to Abraham’s prayer contains a yes as well as a no. ‘I have listened,’ God can say. God insists on fulfilling the main covenant promise through Isaac, but Ishmael can live before God, as Abraham asked, and Ishmael receives the covenant sign; he is embraced by the covenant. Perhaps Abraham did not relish the risk of hoping again for Sarah to conceive, a hope he may have felt free to give up once Ishmael was born. Yet he took on the risk of talking to God about it. He did not get all he asked, but he did get something. There are a number of prayers in the Bible like that. In this sense Abraham has indeed been involved in negotiation with God, the kind of negotiation and compromise that can happen between a person praying and the God who is prayed to, like the negotiation and compromise involved in relationships between parents and children.” John Goldingay
o Have you ever taken any risks in prayer with God? Have you ever considered prayer as negotiation and compromise? What does it say about the power of prayer?
Entertaining the LORD and Angels (18:1-15):
o Who is this confirmation of the LORD’s promise intended for? Why is it important?
o How does Sarah respond? What might she have been thinking? What additional emotion does she experience? Do her responses change God’s intentions?
o Have you ever lacked faith in God’s plan? How would you answer Sarah’s question in 18:14?
o How might you encourage someone who is having trouble trusting God?
In light of this passage and our discussion, what one truth about God and about yourself stand out as something to “take to heart” this week?
Are there steps you will take, by God’s grace, to more fully apply it to your life?
Resources: Robert Alter, Genesis, 1996
John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, 2010
Max Lucado, Life Lessons with Max Lucado: Book of Genesis, 1997