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Genesis 17:1-5 - The Great I WILL God’s Covenant Promise Restated - Part 3

Read part one here and part two here.

In the last couple weeks we took a look at Abram’s name change and the promises of God. This week we delve more into covenants.

Covenants are important and doubly so because they are God’s promises which He has NEVER faltered on. As where we cannot depend or trust anyone around us, God can ALWAYS be trusted to keep his word.

So, let’s get into a little more detail about what is meant by a “covenant.”

People back in those days were familiar with covenants, but not so familiar to us today. Basically, a covenant is a relationship based on the surrender of control. A covenant could have been made between a big, powerful nation and its weaker neighbor, offering protection in return for loyalty and obedience. That neighbor had a choice: either surrender, enter a covenant, and receive the benefits of it, or try to remain independent and face the possibility of being destroyed.

This is the relationship between God and Abram that is on the plate in Gen. 17. God Almighty appeared to Abram and declared His sovereign willingness to be Abram’s covenant overlord.

What kind of practical application can we take from this? In the first place, it means that God is sovereign over who is offered that relationship. God didn’t just appear to everyone in Canaan and offer a similar covenant relationship, and then sit back and wait to see who chose to take Him up on it. He sovereignly chose Abram out of all the people alive at that time and called him to have a unique relationship with him.

It’s wild that 9 out of the 13 times that this chapter uses the word “covenant” that the Lord calls it HIS covenant: He initiates the relationship, HE initiates the terms. He even dictates who will be the heir of the covenant in the next generation! Ishmael will be blessed in many ways and will receive the sign of the covenant in circumcision, but the promise rests with Isaac, not Ishmael.

Why is that? Is it because Isaac responds to God’s invitation and Ishmael doesn’t?? NO!! Isaac isn’t even born yet, and Ishmael is only a small boy. BUT GOD had chosen Isaac to be the heir of the promise, not Ishmael. That’s His right since it’s His covenant. This is why Abram falls on his face when he hears God’s words. He understands that the only right response is total submission to God!

And it’s the same way today. Many people in our culture approach Christianity as if they were interviewing God for a job or something. They think they are considering an application by God for the vacant position of “personal deity in my life.” If God measures up to their standards - that is, so long as He loves them and has a wonderful “plan” for their lives - then they might choose to “let Him into their hearts.”

Here’s a reality check! Biblical Christianity is NOT about finding a religious philosophy that works for you. The God who created the universe chooses and calls those who will be His people, and He ONLY offers 2 choices: Surrender TOTALLY on HIS terms - or face the consequences.

Imagine how this would work out when a lesser king in an ancient covenant says to the great king: “I would be happy to be in a covenant with you, but I want to be in charge of this relationship. I will tell you what you can and can’t do and what you can be like - but don’t come making demands of me. I won’t stand for it!!”

Sound absurd, doesn’t it! What do ya think would happen to that lesser king? Yet this is how so many people think they can strike their own private bargains with God. They say: “I like to think of God as...” as if they get to decide what God will be like. They want to pick and choose what they will believe and what they will do - and they certainly don’t want a God who makes too many demands on them! “My God isn’t like that,” they will tell you. In other words, they don’t want a god who is God!

The real question is NOT what you would like for God to be like, but what He really IS like. And He has revealed Himself as the God who has made a covenant with His people. When the great King comes and offers to establish a covenant with you, you really only have 2 choices: you can accept the covenant relationship in HIS terms and receive its benefits, or you can refuse it and face the consequences.

Of course this reality is also a daily challenge that we all face as Christians. No matter what we may confess officially, our functional belief is that we are the captains of the ships of our lives. Isn’t that why we are angry with God so much of the time? Many times we are quietly resentful of the fact that God is steering our lives in ways we don’t expect and we certainly don’t want.

If we were steering, our lives would navigate around pain and suffering, broken relationships, frustrating friendships, sins, and so on. We’d cruise smoothly from triumph to triumph, from one situation that showcases our gifts and graces to another.

Instead, God sets the GPS to bring us from one crisis to another, through hard financial stresses, through agonizing physical pain, through humiliating relationships, until, as with the disciples on the lake, we cry out, “Lord, don’t you care that I’m perishing?” Sometimes he does still the storms for us, but other times the storms get worse. We suffer trauma, our marriage breaks down and ends in divorce, our little sin becomes an addiction and ruins our life. Where’s God in all this??

I’ll tell ya where He is - He remains sovereign as always, but His sovereign plan involves showing us that His grace is sufficient for us, not just in our strength and our successes, but in our weakness, our brokenness and our sin.

Join us for the conclusion next week when we talk about the benefits of God’s covenant. Blessings to you all.


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