Gleanings In Genesis

22. Abraham The Ninety And Nine

Genesis 17

We have reached another of the important crises in the history of our patriarch and are to behold again the matchless grace of Jehovah in His dealings with the father of all them that believe. Thirteen years had elapsed (see Genesis 17:25) since Abram, in his impatient unbelief had "hearkened to the voice of Sarah." Significant number this! In Scripture thirteen is invariably found in an evil connection signifying, as it does in the language of numerics, unbelief, rebellion, apostasy. The first time this numeral is met with in the Word is Genesis 14:4, where we read, "Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled." How closely Abram's own experience resembled this! Abram was seventy-five years of age when God's call had come to leave home and kindred and to tread the highway of faith, and for practically twelve years he had endured as seeing Him who is invisible. But at the age of eighty-six (Gen. 17:1, ninety-nine, less the thirteen years for the age of Ishmael, Genesis 17:25) Abram turned aside from the path of faith and resorted to the devices of the flesh, hearkening to the suggestion of Sarah to obtain a son by Hagar her Egyptian maid. And now another thirteen years pass, during which time there is no mention of any appearing of the Lord unto him. This interval is passed over in silence; it is a blank, a period of spiritual barrenness; apparently a season which brought forth nothing but wood, hay and stubble. Thus we find that the first two mentionings of this numeral thirteen are associated, respectively, with rebellion and impatient unbelief in resorting to carnal efforts instead of waiting upon God. And it will be found that thirteen is an evil number right through the Scriptures (see 1 Kings 7:1 and contrast Genesis 6:38; Esther 3:12, 13, etc.). The same is true of instances where the numeral is not specifically mentioned as, for example, the marching of Israel thirteen times around the defiant Jericho; also the thirteen "judges" enumerated in Judges, which is the book of apostasy (see Gen. 21:25); so, too, of Mark 7:21-23, where the Lord specifies just thirteen of the evil characteristics and products of the depraved heart of man; other exam-pies might be added such as the fact that the term "Dragon" is found exactly thirteen times in the apocalypse. Again, the same uniform evil significance of this numeral is discovered in eases where multiples of thirteen occur in Scripture: thus Jacob says to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years (13 x 10): few and evil have the days of the years of my life been" (Gen. 47:9). In Numbers 16, which records the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and the visitation of God's wrath upon them and their followers, we find there perished 250 (Num. 16:35) plus 14,700 (Num. 16:49) or 14,950 in all, which is 13 x 1,150. In Deuteronomy 14 there is a list of the unclean animals and birds which the Israelites were forbidden to eat, and a careful count shows there were just 26 or 13 x 2, which were prohibited (see verses 7-19). At the hands of his unbelieving countrymen the Apostle Paul received "forty stripes save one" (2 Cor. 11:24), or 39, that is 13 x 3. The Epistle of Jude which treats of the apostasy of Christendom is the twenty-sixth book of the New Testament. And so on. In the light of these examples it is surely not without deep meaning that we learn there was an interval of just thirteen years between the incident mentioned in Genesis 16 and that recorded in Genesis 17, between Abram hearkening to the voice of Sarah and the Lord's appearing to him anew, and that this interval is one of spiritual barrenness and is passed over in silence. Ere we turn and consider the gracious revelation which the Lord made to Abram at the close of this interval let us first ask and ponder an important question:

Why had Abram to wait all this while before the Lord appeared to him again? Why must so many years drag their weary course before Jehovah reveals Himself once more and makes promise of giving him Isaac? Is not the answer to be found in Romans 4:19? "And being not weak in faith; he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." God was about to act in grace, but ere grace can be displayed the creature has first to come to the end of himself: ere divine power is put forth man must learn his own impotency. Not till Israel were driven to desperation and despair at the Red Sea did the word come, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." So here. Not till Abram's body was "dead" would God fulfill His word and give him a son. God's opportunity does not come until man's extremity is reached. This is a lesson we sorely need to take to heart, for it is of great practical importance. It might be tersely expressed thus: the Lord has a reason for all His delays. God not only does that which is right and best but He always acts at the right and best time. Mark, it was not until "the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). Is not this the explanation of what is a sore problem to many hearts? We mean, God's delay in sending back His Son the second time. Like one of old, we are often tempted to ask, "Why is His chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of His chariots?" (Judges 5:28). Ah! here is the answer- the "fulness of time" has not yet arrived. God has a wise and good reason for the delay. What that is we learn from 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise (to send back His Son- see verse 4), as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." God's delay in sending back His Son is due to His long-sufferance, not willing that any should perish.

Let us repeat what we have said above and apply it to another perplexing problem. God has a reason for His delays. Not until man comes to the end of himself will God put forth His power. Not until man's extremity is reached does God's opportunity arrive. Not until our own powers are "dead" will God act in grace. What is the great lesson of Psalm 107 but this? "They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in: Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. . . . Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. . . . They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses" (Ps. 107:4-6, 12, 13, 23-28). Ah! it is when we are at our "wit's end," when all our own devices have failed and all our own efforts come to nought, that we "cry unto the Lord in our trouble," and "then" He bringeth us out of our distresses.

Beloved reader, apply now this principle to your own individual life. Are you anxiously exercised over God's delay? He has some wise purpose for it. He had with Abram, and He has with you. From seventy-five- his age when he left Haran- to one hundred- when Isaac was born- was a long time to wait, but the sequel evidenced the Lord's wisdom. God has more than one reason for His delays. Often it is to test the faith of His children, to develop their patience, to bring them to the end of themselves. His delays are in order that when He does act His delivering power may be more plainly evident, that what He does may be more deeply appreciated, and that in consequence He may be more illustriously glorified.

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1). These words are to be regarded first as a reproof. It was as though the Lord had said, "Have recourse no more to unbelieving expedients; keep now to the path of uprightness, and leave Me to fulfill My promise in My own good time and way." This opening verse of Genesis 17 needs to be read in the light of God's original promise to Abram to give him a "seed" (Gen. 13:15, 16) and the attempt made by our patriarch to obtain fulfillment by his own efforts. What Abram needed to be reminded of was God's Almightiness. It was for want of considering this that he had had recourse to crooked devices. Another lesson this which we do well to mark- never to employ unlawful means in seeking to promote the cause of God. How much the Lord's servants need to heed this truth! Like Abram, they are longing for seed, spiritual seed, but it comes not; and only too often they resort to unworthy methods to produce seed of themselves, arguing that the end justifies the means. Here is the effectual cure for all inpatient Anxiety- to reckon on One who is all-gracious, all-powerful, all-sufficient.

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1). But again. These words must be regarded as a blessed exhibition of Divine Love. It is written that "Love suffereth long, and is kind." How this was exemplified in God's dealings with the patriarchs of old! How they tried that love! How often they grieved it! How often they acted unworthily of it! Yet, notwithstanding, as it was with the apostles so it was with the patriarchs- "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). How patiently God bore with Abram! It was love that "suffered long" with Abram's failings! It was love that persisted with him in spite of every check and drawback. It was love that now met him and promised to grant the desire of his heart, and in old age give him a son. And, Christian readers, is it not Divine Love that still "suffers long" with each of us! Would we not have perished long ago were it not that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Ah, note the last three words. It is the love of God in Christ Jesus. That love is a righteous love and not a sickly sentimentality at the expense of holiness. In the epistle which tells us that God is Love, we first read that "God is Light" (see 1 John 1:5; 4:8). But to return to Genesis 17:1.

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram and said unto him, I am the Almighty God." The revelation which God here made of Himself was well suited to the occasion. This was the first time that He revealed Himself as "the Almighty." None but One who possessed all power could meet Abram's need at this time. Ninety and nine years of age, his body dead; Sarah barren and long past the age of child-bearing- how could they hope to have a son? But with God all things are possible. And why? Because He is El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One. The "Almighty" is a title which strikes terror into the hearts of the wicked, but to the righteous it is a haven of rest. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Prov. 18:10).

The second time that the Lord revealed Himself as El Shaddai was under circumstances very similar to those found in Genesis 17:1 and context. "And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padam aram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name; and He called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins" (Gen. 35:9-11). It will be noted that when God revealed Himself as the Almighty to Abram, He changed his name from Abram to Abraham; so here, He changes the name of his grandson from Jacob to Israel. To Abram God said, "And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. . . . and thou shalt be a father of many nations" (Gen. 17:2, 4); to Jacob He said, "Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee" (Gen. 35:11). Again, we are told that God "appeared" to Abram (Gen. 17:1), literally "was seen to Abram," and here in Genesis 35:9 the same word is used- this is the more striking for, excepting Genesis 12:7, these are the only occasions in Genesis where we read of God "appearing" to the patriarchs, as though to emphasize the importance of this Divine title. Finally, in noting the parallelisms between Genesis 17 and 35, we may observe that at the close of this Divine interview we read "And He left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham" (Gen. 17:22) and in Genesis 35:13 we are told, "And God went up from him in the place where He talked with him."

It is blessed to remember that this same divine title is found in the Church epistles: "Wherefore come out from among them (as Abram did from Chaldea), and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing (as Abram did with Hagar); and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17, 18). It is because our God and Father is the "Almighty" that "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him"- Christ (Heb. 7:25). It is because our God and Father is the "Almighty" that "He is able to succor them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). It is because our God and Father is the "Almighty" that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39). It is because our Savior is "Almighty" that He shall "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (Phil. 3:21). It is because our God is the "Almighty" that He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:20). It is because our Lord is "Almighty" that He "is able to keep us from failing, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24).

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1). We would call attention to four passages which refer to the walk of the Lord's people in which a different preposition is used. Here in Genesis 17:1 Abram is bidden to "walk before" Almighty God. The children of Israel were exhorted to "walk after" the Lord: "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear Him, and keep His commandments" (Deut. 13:4). Of Enoch and Noah it is witnessed that they "walked with God" (Gen. 5:24; 6:9). But of those who are members of the Body of Christ the word is, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Col. 2:6). To walk before is suggestive of a child running ahead and playing in the presence of his father, conscious of his perfect security because he is just behind. To walk after becomes a servant following his master. To walk with indicates fellowship and friendship. To walk in denotes union. As to how we are to walk in Christ, the Holy Spirit tells us in the words which immediately follow the exhortation: "Rooted and built up in Him" (Col. 2:7). We might summarize these varied aspects of the believer's walk as intimated by the four different prepositions thus: we walk "before" God as children; we walk "after" Him as servants; we walk "with" Him as His friends; we walk "in" Him as members of His body.

"Be thou perfect." The careful reader will notice that the words "upright" and "sincere" are supplied in the margin as alternatives for "perfect," but it seems to us there is no need for this, that the word in the text is a legitimate rendering of the Hebrew "tamin." The same word occurs in Psalm 19:7: "The Law (Word) of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." It is the same word which is translated forty-four times "without blemish." Then, did God really say to Abram, "Be thou perfect?' He certainly did. And how could He say anything less? What lower standard than that of perfection can the Perfect One set before His creatures? Only too often men whittle down the Word to make it square with their own conceptions. All through the Scriptures, the standard of perfection is set before us. The law required that Israel should love the Lord their God with all their hearts. The Lord Jesus bade His disciples, "Be ye therefore perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). And the teaching of the Epistles is all summed up in that Word, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). Is not that the standard of perfection? Brethren, such is the standard set before us. This is that which we are constantly to strive after. With nothing short may we be satisfied. It is because such is the standard that none in the flesh have ever realized it, that each and all must say with the apostle, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14). Yet, nevertheless, the Word to us today is the same as that to Abram of old: "Be thou perfect." Does some one murmur, "An impossible standard!" Then remember that it was El Shaddai who gave it. Who dares to talk of "impossibilities" when the Almighty is our God? Has He not said "My grace is sufficient for thee"? Then, do not charge Him with setting before us an unattainable standard: rather let us charge ourselves with failure to rest upon His Almighty arm, and confess with shame that the blame is ours through not appropriating His all-sufficient grace.

"And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him" (Gen. 17:3). It seems to us that this act of Abram in prostrating himself before the Lord must be looked at in the light of his ways as recorded in the previous chapter- his taking of matters into his own hands instead of leaving them with God; his resorting to fleshly expediences instead of patiently waiting for Him to act. And now that Jehovah condescends to reveal Himself again to Abram, he is overwhelmed at such grace. Thus we regard Abram's falling on his face not so much due to confusion as to wonderment at the divine favor shown him notwithstanding his unbelief.

We cannot now comment upon the remaining verses of the chapter, but in closing would call attention to one other feature. It is to be noted that in connection with the revelation of Himself as the "Almighty" the Lord God made Abram a composite promise in which seven times He said "I will"- "And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. . . . And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed: and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. . . . But My covenant will I establish with Isaac" (verses 6, 7, 8, 19, 21). The relationship between this compound promise and the title of Deity used on the occasion of its utterance is the pledge of its fulfillment. It is because all power is at His disposal, it is because He is sufficient in Himself, that the performing of all He has said is sure. What God says He will do. So sure is the fulfillment that in verse 5 the Lord says, "for a father of many nations have I made thee" (not "will I make thee"), just as in Romans 8:30 it is "whom He justified them He also glorified," and yet in experience the glorification is yet future.

With the above seven "I wills" of God should be compared the seven "I wills" of Exodus 6:6-8, "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to be a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did sware to give it to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the Lord." Our purpose in calling attention to this latter passage is that in Genesis 16 the Lord revealed Himself to Abram as the Almighty and followed the revelation with a sevenfold promise, and here in Exodus 6 He reveals Himself as Jehovah (v. 3) and follows this revelation with another sevenfold promise. Perfect are the ways and perfect is the Word of Him with whom we have to do.

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