Do you want to read the text of the Bible first?
- When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord came to him, and said, I am God, Ruler of all; go in my ways and be upright in all things,
- And I will make an agreement between you and me, and your offspring will be greatly increased.
- And Abram went down on his face on the earth, and the Lord God went on talking with him, and said,
- As for me, my agreement is made with you, and you will be the father of nations without end.
- No longer will your name be Abram, but Abraham, for I have made you the father of a number of nations.
- I will make you very fertile, so that nations will come from you and kings will be your offspring.
- And I will make between me and you and your seed after you through all generations, an eternal agreement to be a God to you and to your seed after you.
- And to you and to your seed after you, I will give the land in which you are living, all the land of Canaan for an eternal heritage; and I will be their God.
- And God said, As for Sarai, your wife, from now her name will be not Sarai, but Sarah.
- And I will give her a blessing so that you will have a son by her: truly my blessing will be on her, and she will be the mother of nations: kings of peoples will be her offspring.
- Then Abraham went down on his face, and laughing, said in his heart, May a man a hundred years old have a child? will Sarah, at ninety years old, give birth?
- And Abraham said to God, If only Ishmael's life might be your care!
- And God said, Not so; but Sarah, your wife, will have a son, and you will give him the name Isaac, and I will make my agreement with him for ever and with his seed after him.
- As for Ishmael, I have given ear to your prayer: truly I have given him my blessing and I will make him fertile and give him great increase; he will be the father of twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation.
- But my agreement will be with Isaac, to whom Sarah will give birth a year from this time.
- And having said these words, God went up from Abraham.
Last held on the 17th of November 2002 at Hattem
It's good to be a pastor! You know why? You can't just tell others about God. Others also tell you about Him. What? How He came into their lives. He appeared to them. Sometimes when you visit a congregation member, you feel that you received much more spiritually than you gave. You're enriched by it yourself. You again know it all for yourself: The Lord exists and is near us.
But how did God come into their life, did He appear to them? They tell very different things. One person dreams wonderfully and experiences that as God's message. The other hears a text from the Bible in his head. He doesn't lose the words, and experiences that as God's work on him. A third person feels an inexplicably strong urge to do something or to go somewhere. And afterwards, that gave a decisive turn to his life, and he experiences that as an act of God. In a fourth person, a part of a sermon or song suddenly hits like a bomb. For some people, it was so drastic that they can give precise details of time and place. One person experiences something like this only once, the other often. No, not everyone has such experiences. And it does not mean that whoever has them has better and greater faith. We shouldn't build our faith on it either. But it can still be ways in which the Lord draws us towards Him and keeps us close to Him. Through which He maintains His covenant with us, and renews it.
We also encounter it in Abraham's life. Sometimes years pass without him having special experiences with the Lord. In any case, we don't read about it. But then, suddenly, the Lord appears to him again. And He confirms his covenant with him. He engages him totally in his commandments and promises. Should the motor of Abraham's faith have slowed down over the years, God gives it acceleration and speed again at such moments.
We all sometimes need that. Such a new meeting with the Lord. A renewed acquaintance with Him. A new impetus for our belief. Because we do not always keep speed in it by ourselves. It tends to weaken. Abraham knew that too. We encountered it often in previous sermons about him: Abraham's weak moments and God's moments when He appeared again to Abraham and spoke about the glorious covenant He made with him and the rich promises He gave in it. What a blessing that the Lord does not let us loose, but calls us over and over again and shows that He is with us.
It happened to Abraham again when he was already 99 years old. We cannot compare it with our ages, because he got Isaac at 100 and became 175 years old. But it indicates that it was a concrete time in the life history of Abraham. Like, if all is well, the work of God appears in our book of life. Thus certain days and years are impossible to describe without mentioning the Lord and His work.
And then God introduces himself to Abraham again. "I am God Almighty." Let's assume that what's in Hebrew is reasonably translated with the addition of "the Almighty." Because the scholars don't yet have a unanimous explanation for that word. But it most likely means the high, mighty and exalted God. The God who makes us astonished, who does great wonders, who has and keeps everything in hand, us too. He's the God who leads all nations of the world, ours too. He's the God whom no man can resist. Neither do we. The God to whom every human being can entrust himself, we also. There's a common phrase that appears nearly 50 times in the Old Testament. "I am God-Almighty". It's a pity that in Dutch translation these words became a catchphrase like 'good heavens' or even 'holy hell'. It's misusing God's name. Because it's such a beautiful expression: "I am God Almighty".
It's interesting to include the beginning of Exodus 6 in this. God sends Moses there to bring Israel's people out of Egypt. He also introduces himself: I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but with my name 'Lord' I've not been known to them. Thus we see in the name with which God makes himself known, growth in the contact between God and man. It's a growth in revelation, in the covenant. Just like people who made the covenant of marriage, grow closer and closer, get to know each other better and better. Before the Lord called Abraham, He was God. In His history with the patriarchs, He was God Almighty. And in his history with the people of Israël, He was the Lord. Yahweh. I will be who I will be. I will be there in my love and loyalty. There is growth in it, in the very name with which God introduces Himself to us. And that growth was especially there when God introduced Himself again and renewed His covenant through the Lord Jesus. In the new covenant, God also gives himself a new name in his dealings with us. He henceforth is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And what a wonderful, rich name that is. It's the name that contains all the comfort and support for us. A name to believe in. God's last and definitive name, for He has made Himself fully and adequately known to us through the Lord Jesus, His Son.But when the Lord God again presents Himself to Abraham, He also calls out: 'Walk before me.' That's part of our side of the covenant between God and man. That our entire walk through life is like a walk, we take with God, on all the paths of life on which we end up. That in faith, we always know God close to us, experiencing his proximity. And that our hearts are in conversation with Him regularly. Just as if we're talking to a fellow human being with the only difference that you can see him, but not God. You see Him more in, through and behind other things, as 'seeing the Invisible'. Hebrews 11 tells this especially of Moses, but he's one of the many faith witnesses there. When you believe, you thus see the Invisible near you with the eyes of faith. Time and again. And you communicate with Him as you communicate with a person. And the face plays a major role. For with our faces, we look into each other's eyes. We listen to each other, speak to each other. We look at each other with our faces full of emotions. We look angry, sad, happy, loving. And that's how God wants to deal with us in a very human, familiar way. After all, he's also talking about his face.
'Walk before my face.' Thus literally in Hebrew. That's a central thing in the Old Testament. We constantly encounter it. God's face. The side of God He turned towards us has a human face, which betrays moods and feelings. God's face can be angry and kind. He can hide it from us, but he can also make it shine to us like a bright sun. By His face, He also communicates with us. He speaks to us, for example, through the Bible, through a sermon, through the testimony from someone, and we listen. We speak to Him, for example, in our prayer, our song, and He listens. And that face of God has been given a human face in the New Testament through the glorious saving appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever sees the Son sees the Father in the face. He who has seen me has seen the Father, so he said to Philip (John 14:9). We sometimes say of someone: He looks exactly like his dad. In the Dutch language is that: He is speaking his dad. Jesus is speaking His Heavenly Father. So walking before God is now for us Christians: living with Jesus. 'I walk in the light with Jesus' (a Dutch hymn). It's said about Enoch in the Bible that he walked with God. And about Noah too. Does it also apply to us? Are we looking for it? Do we ask for it? If God's Spirit will give us such a wonderful, faithful fellowship with God? That's part of God's covenant with us.‘And be flawless.’ Flawless? Upright? Impeccable? These words evoke mixed feelings. Someone who is exquisitely and impeccably dressed has our admiration but not our immediate sympathy. It’s so sterile, it creates distance, it also repels. Impeccability? Be careful. Indeed, it’s a great goal. But who will ever achieve that? It, therefore, may not be real. Artificial. Hypocritical. But one also can translate it with: sincere. That sounds different. It’s just the opposite of fake. In Hebrew, the word roughly means: intact, complete, not broken, divided, crumbled, but made of one piece. God asks us as partners of His covenant, that we be one-piece. That means that our whole, complete, entire life is focused on Him, dedicated to Him. So we don’t cut our lives into all kinds of pieces, each with its attitude and lifestyle: the part of our work, of our married and family life, of our free time, our club of friends, our sport, and then a part of the religious life somewhere separate from the other parts with little or no influence on them. No, it just means that we've one life principle in all those areas of life. It’s the principle of living according to God’s covenant. It’s a life in obedience to His commandments and confidence in His promises. It’s a life in following and imitating the Lord Jesus. Often, we are cut to pieces, who always behave differently, who take on the colour of our environment like a chameleon, when we should only have that one colour of Christ. Because believing covers our entire walk in life, if it’s okay. Our faith must be the ground, source, and motive for everything we do and don’t, wherever. And if we fail and sin, we are also men or women of one piece if we honestly confess that and remain so sincere in our attitude to the Lord and don’t become hypocritical. That’s also in the meaning of the word God uses here: being honest, not pretending to be better, but dealing with Lord as you are. After all, you’re always acting in front of him. That's an incentive to live well, but also to live honestly. If you’re not living well, it’s right to confess it and improve your life.
It may sound a bit moralistic as if the covenant is primarily a matter for us, something we have to stick to. But then we must read further. For what does God say to Abraham afterwards? ‘I will make my covenant between Me and you. It says: I give my covenant. With which two things are said. First of all, it’s God’s initiative. He's the first to undertake anything towards us. And secondly, it’s God’s gracious initiative. He gives his covenant unconditionally. Sometimes two persons are at odds, man and woman, friends. There was an unpleasant incident. How does it get good again? That happens if one has the courage and self-denial to take the initiative and step up to the other to talk it out, hoping for a favourable response, even though one may not feel guilty at all. And it’s even better if the person who takes the initiative does not set any conditions. ‘We are only good buddies again if you first ...’. But if it’s said immediately and unconditionally: As far as I’m concerned, forget about the past. Well, the holy innocent God is the first. He comes to us in his love and loyalty and establishes His covenant with us. He says: as far as I’m concerned, despite your life far from Me and all your sins, we become friends again. And I’ll do everything I can to make you happy. And the Lord has no ifs and buts. I will make my covenant. It is not a non-binding covenant. The Lord also expects a positive response from us. We already talked about that. Walk before Me and be blameless. But it’s a covenant of grace: I give my covenant. Here you already have my saving and conciliatory hand. How beautiful.
And it’s also very personal. ‘I give My covenant between Me and you’, says God. And a little further: 'As for Me, behold my covenant is with you.' It’s a hand He extends to us personally. That’s why he is the Lord. He enters into an exceptional relationship with each of us. It’s as unique as we were the only ones with whom He does, although we are not. Abraham didn’t stay alone, either. God also makes his covenant with the offspring of Abraham. He will make Abraham exceedingly numerous. The patriarch will be the father of many nations. But that doesn’t make God’s covenant any less personal. It’s something between Me and you, He says.
Baptism also points to that, the sign of the covenant. God’s Name is then associated with our name. And when the Lord comes to us in sermons, even now, He also focuses on each of us personally. Are you listening like that? God himself is talking to you yourself?
And what does the Lord promise Abraham then? Many offspring and the land of Canaan. Time and space. That’s where we’re living in. Philosophically speaking, these are the dimensions in which we exist. We now live here and later there, somewhere else. Now in the church building, soon on the road and then at home. And thus the Lord gives time and space to his people. He gives his people a lot of time. A future, something that stays, continues, through the generations. And so He gives them a purpose to live for. And I see eternity as an extension of the numerous generations, from child to child, through all the times. After all, God ultimately meant an eternal covenant. A time of salvation and blessing that will never stop.
The Lord also gives his people plenty of space, a beautiful space, Canaan, to be their God. He lends his people space for a resting place and a place to live, a means of livelihood. The ground on which they receive His blessings and serve Him. And in the following line with Canaan, the earthly promised land, I see heaven as the right place of salvation and peace, which the Lord gives to His children. That especially the belief in the Lord Jesus taught me. He talked about an eternal Kingdom in heaven. But in any case, how rich and generous the Lord is to His children! What an enormous amount He gives us in His covenant. In our lifetime and space. Us and our children. How important is that covenant with us! How it changes our whole life if all goes well. The ground of our life. The goal of our life. The program of our life. That also is the meaning of the change name. Abram is now called Abraham. Saraï becomes Sarah. As Jacob will be called Israël and Simon will become Peter. Getting another name is a sign, a symbol of receiving another life: a life occupied by God, saved and carried by God, a life under the umbrella of God’s faithfulness and love, a life where the Lord turns into the true God for us.
But will we, in fact, be a true people to Him? What do we give in return for His rich gifts? How do we answer his love and loyalty? We read quite different reactions from Abraham in our chapter. Positive and negative. The positive is stated in verse 3: 'Then, Abraham prostrated.' He fell on his face. It’s as if Abraham did not do it himself, but it came over him under the power of this glorious appearance of the Lord. In any case, Abraham thus shows his deep respect for the Lord, his sense of his own nothingness and sinfulness in the face of the greatness and holiness of God. He shows his submission to the Lord, and his surrender to the Lord, faith in the Lord. He says his “Amen” to God’s promises. Words are not enough, but they are not necessary either. This gesture, this attitude, says enough. Are we still standing up to the Lord? Or have we already made our prostration before Him spiritually and perhaps quite literally? And do we keep doing that? Wonderful, if we can surrender and entrust ourselves to God in this way.But unfortunately, Abraham’s attitude doesn’t stay that way. It’s difficult to ascertain how much time elapsed. But when God at some point makes his promise of a numerous posterity concrete and says that He will give Abraham a son from Sarah, the patriarch throws himself on his face again, but now with laughter. What a joke. He, a hundred-year-old man, will beget a child? And his wife, a ninety-year-old woman, will give birth to one? Impossible. Because it’s unnatural, it cannot be biologically. Don’t make me laugh. And didn’t he already have a son? Ishmael, from Sara’s slave girl Hagar. O Lord, let him continue Your covenant with me. Why we’ll make it difficult, even hope for the impossible, when there’s already the right solution? After all, I took care of it myself with Sara.
We can understand Abraham’s response so well. Aren’t we inclined to it too? It’s okay to believe in God, but to believe in miracles? To think that God can act against the natural order? No, that’s to laugh, so silly. Even then, but certainly nowadays when the natural sciences have authority. In that case, for safety’s sake, we prefer to believe in what’s feasible from a human and scientific point of view. And it also gives some satisfaction if we can contribute our part. Even though we’re orthodoxy and don’t delete the Bible’s miracles, it’s not easy for us to believe that the Lord can still do them. And we quickly settle for what we can achieve ourselves in this world. A little bit of peace, justice, freedom and love. A little bit of prosperity, reasonable health care. These are beautiful things. They’re also blessings from God like He promised and gave to Ishmael and his progeny.
But what God meant with His particular covenant of grace with Abraham is quite another story. That’s the covenant He continued with Isaac. That's the covenant He renewed especially in Jesus Christ. We also belong to it through our faith in Jesus. In that, He promises nothing less than absolute bliss and eternal salvation for body and soul. That’s impossible for us. But He will give that, as a gracious miracle from Him, to which we contribute nothing. A miracle He does in our utter powerlessness and barrenness. Like He gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, when it biologically was not possible. The world laughs about it. And we do it in our cynical moments too, just like Abraham. But the Lord is capable of it and will do it.
He has already made a great start of its fulfilment by sending Jesus Christ to earth as His Son, born from Maria. A virgin birth? The world laughs about it. Just as, if not more impossible than the birth of Isaac. He also started his salvation by raising Jesus Christ out of the utter powerlessness and fruitlessness of death into the new glorious life. A dead person who is going to live again? The world laughs about it. Impossible. But it says that with God all things are possible. Let’s stick to that anyway. Let’s put our hopes on that, believe in that. There are no limits to God’s power and Jesus’ power, to whom God has given all his power in heaven and on earth to establish his kingdom. It’s not without reason that the Father of Jesus Christ, the Lord, said to Abraham: 'I am God-Almighty.' God is almighty. To that, we say in faith, what we always say when this great God came to us in preaching: Amen. It is true and certain. Amen.
- In: Genesis