Series on Genesis,II God's Family, E The Promise of the Family. Text:16:1-18:15, Title: The Heart of the Covenant


We come in this study to the heart of God's covenant with Abraham. This is a covenant of promise. The apostle Paul emphasizes this in the New Testament in Galatians 3:13-18, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. Not only does the administration of God's covenant through Moses, here called the law, not change the promise, but we see here that the fulfillment of the promise is Christ and that this was God's intention from the beginning. The law of Moses, the moral law, and the laws regarding the worship of Israel, the ceremonial law, was all added to the covenant with Abraham, Galatians 3:19, What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. This is very important because it was added and did not replace God's original covenant with Abraham. Therefore it did not change the substance of that covenant. But, what was the substance of that covenant? Paul tells us in Galatians 3, in Abraham’s seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed and that seed is Christ. so the substance of the covenant with Abraham was the same as God's original promise to Adam and Eve when he said the seed of the woman will bruise the serpent's head, but the serpent will bruise his heel. How do we see that in this section of Genesis? The answer is, very clearly if we allow Paul to be our commentator through his letter to the Galatians. Observe then, three things about Abraham rejection,regenerated and resurrected.

I Rejection

The whole story of chap 16 is about barren Sarah telling Abraham that he should take her handmaid, Hagar and produce an heir. Abraham foolishly does this and the resulting pregnancy becomes a source of tension and jealousy between Sarah and Hagar. The reason for Abraham's effort to provide an heir is that God has not yet fulfilled his promise, and this is analyzed by Paul in Galatians 4:21-23, and 28-31, Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. The false teachers in Galatia, called Judaizers, were insisting that one needed to keep the law  perfectly in order to be saved although their idea of perfection and ours are different. They meant outward compliance with the regulations  and requirements of the Mosaic law. Thus they were bringing Christians into bondage. Faith in Christ in their minds was insufficient. According to J. I. Packer, the message of Paul in Galatians is that they were bewitched, having lost their senses and their reason had vanished. And since the opposite of wisdom is folly, the meaning is that their short-term self-indulgence which marks out the person who doesn’t think about long-term priorities and goals but lives on a day-to-day basis would destroy them. It has been said “living in a fool’s paradise is great fun until the rent comes due. when you justify yourself the rent always comes due. So Paul proceeds to show in Galatians how the teaching of the Old Testament is that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by the works of the law. Therefore he concludes in 5:1 that they should stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made them free. This is not freedom from the law but from the necessity to justify yourself by keeping the law. It is the freedom to fail-the freedom of forgiveness. In other words they needed to see the father loves them. This is where Abraham is at in chap. 16, rejecting and not fully trusting God's grace and power.

II Regeneration

Now in chapter 17 God's promise comes to the foreground and is renewed and reinforced. Notice in 17:15-19, God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.  If only Ishmael could share my blessing says Abraham and God says I will bless him but my covenant will be with a child who is yet to be born Isaac. Because God is about to miraculously produce the heir who will receive the promise of Abraham he now gives Abraham the sign of regeneration. Regeneration is essential. This Scripture is not saying that Abraham was unregenerate. It is there to teach us what Jesus speaks about in John 3, the absolute necessity of regeneration. You must be born again. Human nature is too bad to be improved, too dilapidated to be repaired. Here is a cracked bell. How again to restore it? by one of two methods: the first is to repair the bell, to encompass it with hoops, to surround it with bands. Nevertheless, you can easily discern the crack of the bell in the crack of the sound. The only effectual way is to re-melt the bell, recast it, and make it all new. Then it will ring clear, and sound sonorous. Human nature is a bell suspended high up in the steeple of creation to ring forth the praises of the creator. The fall in Eden cracked the bell. How again to restore it? By one of two ways: one is to surround it with outward laws and regulations as with steel hoops. nevertheless, the crack in the metal shows itself in the crack of the tone. The best way is to re-melt it, recast it, remold it. This is God's method in the Gospel. God teaches both Abraham and us that truth here by a sign. Although he was a child of God, Abraham had no sign to demonstrate that he belonged to God. There was no sign of cleansing of the sinful seed. Now he is given the sign and commanded to put it upon his male children, through whom in the Old Testament times the promise is ordinarily conveyed. It is a sign that God's grace has regenerated Abraham. We're accustomed to regarding baptism as a sign of regeneration or being born anew. It symbolizes our being washed from our sins once and for all through the blood of Jesus. But circumcision meant the same thing. It meant cleansing because it is a rite associated with reproduction, and it is through natural generation that sin is conveyed. It speaks therefore of the cleansing of our sins. It stands for justification as Paul notes in Romans 4:9-13,  Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Circumcision is the Old Testament equivalent of baptism as Paul indicates in Colossians 2:10-12, And you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Thus in Genesis 17 it points to the gracious forgiveness and cleansing of the seed of promise from whom the Christ will descend, and of course Christ is the ultimate seed. The sign teaches us that it is the grace of God that saves and not our works which makes it very ironical when the Judaizers in Galatia try to get the Christians to believe that circumcision is necessary for salvation. but now we move to chap.18.

III Resurrection

In this chapter we find the promise of the seed, Isaac, amplified, and Abraham and Sarah are told in verses 10-12 that about the same time next year the child of promise will be born, Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”  Why does Sarah laugh? A big deal is made over this laugh. It isn't just that they're old. Sarah has passed the time of childbearing. Menopause has come and gone. Now I promised you earlier though perhaps you've forgotten that we would return to another theme in the book of Genesis. It is those strange occurrences, in Chapters 12 and 20, where Abraham, first in Egypt with Pharoah and then in Gerar in the south end of Palestine with Abimilech lies about Sarah being his wife. He says she is his sister and the foreign kings take her into their harems and then discover the truth. Note that in the first instance in Egypt in Genesis 12:14, it is Sarah's extraordinary beauty that motivates Pharoah to want her in his harem. In chapter 20 Abimilech does the same thing. Now wait a minute. Abraham was now 99 and Sarah was 89  and unable to conceive. How is it that anybody would want her in his harem? The key to understanding these strange occurrences is that Abraham and Sarah were first dead with respect to the ability to have a child, but God resurrected them, He rejuvenated them and they became young again. Resurrection is much more than resuscitation. Someone resuscitated returns to life basically unchanged, but resurrection is a true renewal. Sarah lived to 127 and Abraham lived to 175 and married again and begot several children. Moreover the same thing happened to Abimilech. Those who bless you, God said to Abraham, Iwill bless. Not only did Abraham lie to Abimilech, but in Chapter 26 Isaac does the same thing with respect to Rebekah, his wife. The story indicates that 76 years later both Abimilech and his general Phicol are still alive though old. They were blessed with renewed youth as well because they blessed Abraham. Look at what Hebrews 11 says about Abraham in verse 12, One as good as dead becomes the father of as many as the stars in the sky. No wonder he believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead in Hebrews 11:17.19, By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Even the prophet Isaiah uses Abraham and Sarah as an example of renewal in Isaiah 51:2,3 Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. The lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. This theme of resurrection, of restoration, of rejuvenation is not here by accident. It is a reminder to us of what God taught Abraham, He raises the dead. It is a foretaste of our eternal expectations.


And so we have the beautiful encoded picture of our salvation. Not the foolish and irrational effort to save ourselves, but the grace of God which cleanses, and raises us from the dead. Its just as Paul puts it in Titus 3:5, He saved us not because of righteous things we had done but because of his mercy (Chapter 16), through the washing of rebirth (Chapter 17), and the the renewal of the holy spirit  (Chapter 18).