Genesis 17 “Introduction and El Shaddai”

Posted on February 7, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 17 “Introduction and El Shaddai”

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 17

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;  walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,  but your name shall be Abraham,  for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah  shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give  you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

22 When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.



Introduction: In many ways ch.17 of Genesis is the key chapter in the Abraham narrative because the covenant is given its most explicit form and the rite of circumcision, critical for Israel, is now instituted, and Abram and Sarai get new names. Wenham writes, (p.16), “This chapter is a watershed in the Abraham story.” In this chapter we see the first use of El Shaddai as a name for the LORD, and the LORD explicitly promises the birth of Isaac in a year. For the New Testament believer, this chapter points us forward to Christ, faith, obedience and baptism. The overall idea is that because we are recipients of God’s gracious, eternal covenant, we are to walk in obedience before him, trusting that He will keep his promises to us in Christ.

As usual, I will begin with a literary analysis of this chapter so that we can better understand how Moses put it together and how it relates to other passages.

Literary Analysis

Outlines- There are a variety of ways to outline this chapter, all of which bring out the highly structured and artistic intent of Moses.

The most simple of outlines is:

  1. vss.1-22 The LORD gives a Covenant to Abram
  2. vss. 23-27 Abraham accepting the covenant and performing circumcision


A slightly more detailed outline is in an AB/A1B1 structure:

A vss.1-8 Abram’s name changed to Abraham and God promises him to be the father of many nations and kings.

            B vss.9-14 Circumcision as the sign of the covenant.

A1 vss.15-22 Sarai’s name changed to Sarah and God promises her to be the mother of many nations and kings.

            B1 vss.23-27 Circumcision is carried out.

A more complex outline here:

A vss.1a Abram is 99

    B v. 1ba YHWH appears to Abram

        C v. 1bb God speaks

            D vss. 1bc-2 First speech, God will multiply Abram greatly

                E v.3a Abram falls on his face in worship

                    F vss.4-8 second speech, changes Abram’s name, promises nations and kings

                        G. vss.9-14 Third Speech- circumcision commanded

                    F1 vss.15-16 Fourth speech, changes Sarai’s name, promises nations & kings

                E1 v.17 Abram falls on his face in laughter

            D1 vss.19-21 Fifth speech, God will multiply descendants of Ishmael and Isaac

        C1 v. 22a God ceases speaking

    B1 v.22b God went up from Abraham

A1 vss.23-27 Abraham is 99 and Ishmael is 13

There are other ways to break this passage down but they are similar. Which exact way did Moses intend? I am not sure but I am sure that these patterns are not by accident and that they reveal an intentional structure that makes the point and adds to the beauty and ease of memorization of the story for retelling.


Covenant- Hebrew berit– appears over a dozen times. The concept first appears, pertaining to the land, in 12:1-3 when God promises Abram land, descendants and a name, and that all nations would be blessed in him. 12:7 gets more specific with “To your offspring I will give this land”. In 13:15 it becomes “all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” indicating the eternal nature of the covenant. In 15:18 the land is given legal specificity with geographical boundaries. In 17:8 the whole land of Canaan is promised.

In 12:2 Abram is promised that he will become a “great nation”. 13:16 his descendants will be as dust of the earth and in 15:5 that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. In 16:15  he does have a son, Ishmael, whose offspring will be an uncounted multitude. Now in 17 he is to father a multitude of nations through Sarai’s son.

The nature of the covenant relationship begins in 12:3 with a vague guarantee of blessings and curses on his enemies. This is borne out in Egypt in 12:10-20 and in the war in ch. 14. Now in 17:7 an eternal covenant is promised.

Grace- Grace permeates the covenant from first to last. Beginning in 12:1-3, Abram does nothing to merit God’s favor, he is chosen by God unconditionally. Abram responds to the grace of God by moving to Canaan and calling on the name of the LORD. In 15:6 we see that Abram believes God and is considered righteous. Notice that Abram’s Calling and Justification are both prior to his obedience in circumcision. Circumcision is the sign of the Covenant, not the cause of the covenant.

Baldwin writes, (pp.62-63) “though the covenant had already been sealed by sacrifice (chapter 15), one more preparatory stage remained to be fulfilled before the birth of the promised son. Whereas in chapter 15 the covenant made with Abram was private and personal to him alone, now the time had come for the matter to be made public. Society had to be aware of this new development, just as, centuries later, the private anointing of Saul (1Sam. 10:1) would eventually be recognized by public acclaim (1 Sam 10:20-24) and proved in experience (1Sam11). The covenant sacrifice established that the covenant was an unconditional act of God in which Abram had no part to play, and to which he could make no contribution. Now his response is stipulated, albeit in one all-embracing command. In Exodus the Passover sacrifice established the Lord’s provision of the way of escape from death: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.’ (Ex.12:13). Subsequently at Sinai the fuller response of obedience to the law’s stipulations was spelt out. In both cases the initiative was God’s; he pronounced what he would do, and established the certainty of his purpose in a sacrifice. Only afterwards was the command given, in obedience to which the full blessings of the covenant could be enjoyed.”  

The apostle Paul uses the Abraham stories extensively in Romans and Galatians. In Romans 4:1-25 he uses the chronological sequence of events from Genesis 12-17 to place God’s grace and Abram’s faith before circumcision, the sign of the covenant. In Galatians he is arguing for the Gentile believers to imitate Abraham’s faith, but he does not bring up chapter 17 of Genesis at all, emphasizing chapters 12, 15, 16, 18, 21 and 22. Mathews writes, p.197, “By the way the apostle treats chap.17 in both passages, that is, the chronological  argument in Romans and its omission in Galatians, he viewed chap.17’s circumcision as secondary to the promissory essence of the covenant.”

Naming- Just as in chapter 16, the use of names and the right to give a name, are very important for chapter 17. The first verse has Abram and the LORD. LORD is YHWH and is the covenant name for God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3, but in Ex. 6:3 he tells Moses that he did not reveal his name YHWH to the patriarchs. Now, in Gen. 17 we see that the LORD reveals another name to Abram, El Shaddai, God Almighty. In vs. 3 Elohim is used, for God. In three verses then, three names for God are used, YHWH, El Shaddai and Elohim. The covenant making and keeping God of Israel at Sinai is the same God as El Shaddai, God Almighty, and he is the same as Elohim, the supreme God over the nations. Abram, exalted father, is re-named Abraham, father of a multitude. Sarai and Sarah both mean princess, but the former is more archaic. God tells Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son and they will call his name Isaac, laughter.

Bookends- just as ch.16 ended with Abram was 86 yrs old, so now ch. 17 begins and ends with Abram/Abraham was 99 yrs old.

Theological Analysis, Exposition and Application

  1. I.                   Vss.1-8 God’s Promises to Abram
    1. A.      Vss.1-2 God’s first speech to Abram.
      1. 1.        Vs.1a When Abram was 99 years old- ch.16 had left off with Abram at 86, so 13 years had passed by with Ishmael as the only son. Can we fault Abram for thinking that Ishmael was the promised child? We can probably assume that there was no further communication from the LORD during these years, but that is conjecture. Think of poor Sarai, childless, defeated by Hagar.
      2. 2.        Thirteen years is a long time to be thinking that what you accomplished through using the ways of the world was what God wanted and what God had promised. Can we sometimes fool ourselves for a long time that our works of the flesh are spiritual and praiseworthy?
      3. 3.        This mention of Abram’s age sets the stage dramatically for the miraculous promise of God that is coming in just a few verses. Hebrews 11:12 says Abram was as good as dead, referring to his advanced age. God is the miracle working El Shaddai, God Almighty, who can take somebody as good as dead and still see his promises through to the end.
      4. 4.        Vs. 1b the LORD appeared to Abram and said,- The LORD appears in his timing, sovereignly. Abram is not seen begging, pleading, bargaining or bribing the LORD to appear, He appears when he deems fit. His appearing is all of grace.
      5. 5.        Vs. 1c “I am God Almighty” Hebrew- El Shaddai- One of the things we are studying in Genesis is the names of God and so far we have examined Elohim- the plural form of God the powerful One of creation and El the singular form of God the powerful One. The first name of God we encounter in the Bible is Elohim in the creation account. In this name we see the foreshadowing of the Trinity, God exists as a plural, God is both diversity and unity, He is Three in One. We looked at El Elyon- God Most High. This is a superlative that says God is the highest possible, he is the highest by nature, he cannot even be compared with the other so-called gods. El Elyon is in a class by himself. Last week we examined El Roi, the God who sees me. Today we shall study El Shaddai- God Almighty and we shall see that El Shaddai can supply our every need, he supplies what is neccessary.
      6. 6.                The standard translation going back to the Septuagint is God Almighty, from Job 15:25, as picked up by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate. The basic problem is that this name for God is so ancient that its true meaning has been lost to the translators. Going from the context in which the name appears, we can stick with God Almighty because the name appears when miracles are needed it seems, thus the Powerful, Strong One or the One Who Suffices.
      7. 7.        Have you ever been in a needy situation but you thought that you could, on your own, provide what was necessary, but were sorely disappointed? Have you ever had a need for something and were supplied with an abundance of things that were close or related, but were not the essential item and were therefore useless? Did you ever place an order or have a need that someone else promised they could and would supply by a certain date- but they could not keep their promise due to circumstances beyond their control and you were left in the lurch? The goal of this part of our study today is to know God as God Almighty so that we can worship him properly as the one who provides and that we could trust in him alone for all we need and desire.
      8. 8.        Abram and Sarai concocted a scheme to have a child through Hagar, Sarai’s handmaiden, as was the custom of that day. But this fleshly effort was not done in faith, it was done in man’s power, man’s resources being used to try to fulfill a promise that God had made. Now, several years later, God is promising Abram again that he will have a son through Sarah and he will have nations and kings as his descendents. It is in these trying circumstances that God chooses to reveal himself to Abram as El Shaddai.
      9. 9.        Notice that it is not man naming God, but God revealing his name to man. This name El Shaddai combines the generic name for God, El- meaning the strong or mighty One with Shaddai meaning God Almighty whose power is all sustaining and providing. In the context of Abram’s life, his only real son, Ishmael is now 13 and Abram is 99. In the dialogue with God Abram says in v.17-18… God chose to reveal himself to Abram when he knew that Abram was not going to easily believe in God’s promise.
      10. 10.    This name for God is related to God’s will, plan and promises, his Word. God is not going to promise something that he cannot fulfill, God is able to do all that he desires, all that he promises. God had promised Abram a son, and now the whole situation looks impossible to Abram and God Almighty shows up with more promises to reassure him.
      11. 11.    Dr. Herbert Lockyer tells us, p.12-13, that El Shaddai appears only 8X in scripture but Shaddai-Almighty appears another 60 times and always in reference to God, only God is the Almighty. The root of Shaddai is Shad perhaps meaning mountain or a mother’s breast from which her child takes his nourishment. All that the child needs or wants is provided intimately. The child draws his life source from his mother’s breast. So in this name we may see the tender, supernatural and abundant provision of God for his people, supplying all their nourishment. God Almighty has an exhaustless bounty from which to supply our every need. He is the all-bountiful one. He is powerful to provide, Almighty.
      12. 12.    In Elohim we see the powerful God who creates the universe. In El Shaddai we see the Almighty who bends the natural world to suit his purposes and meet the needs of an old pilgrim family like Abram and Sarah. God created man and woman with the capacity for sexual relations and reproduction. Abe and Sarah were at the least past their prime! But Elohim is also El Shaddai and their age was no barrier to his plan and will!
      13. 13.    Since God is uncreated and eternal, he is totally self sufficient and is the only self sufficient being in the universe. All the rest is created and dependent on the all sufficient One. If we rely on anyone else we are relying on someone who is not all sufficient by nature.
      14. 14.    Look at Gen.43:14 and see Jacob/Israel proclaim this name for God in a difficult and trying situation. Famine was intensifying and his sons had to make another trip into Egypt but this time they had to bring Jacob’s youngest and favorite son, Benjamin. Notice that God Almighty is invoked here for supplying needed mercy.
      15. 15.    Look at Psalm 91:1 for the use of El Elyon and Shaddai together. In a hot and dry desert we need the sheltering shade of El Shaddai. Look at Isaiah 66:10-13. This passage gives a feminine characteristic to God Almighty and we should not feel weird about that. Women also are created in the image of God and that nurturing, nursing, caring aspect to femininity is seen in this passage about El Shaddai.
      16. 16.    Dr. Hemphill writes, p.57, “Many of the idols of the pagans depict a multibreasted woman. The Egyptian goddess Isis was clustered with breasts. These idols were believed to be responsible for the rain that gave the earth its bounty, yet these stone carvings with their many breasts could supply nothing. In stark contrast, God, who revealed himself as El Shaddai, is the Almighty One who could bring fruit to an empty womb. He is the living God who could supply in abundance every need. He is the God of comfort who tenderly meets the needs of His people.” Look at Gen. 49:24-25, El is closely linked to arms and strength but Shaddai is linked closely to the blessings of breast and womb.
      17. 17.    In the NT we see Christ fulfilling the role of El Shaddai in numerous ways. In John 4 we see Jesus tell the woman at the well “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” after feeding the 5000. In Eph.1:3,18-19 he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Look at 3:20-21. In John 14:16ff we see the Holy Spirit as the Comforter/Counselor. Phil 4:13; 2Cor 6:18; Rev.1:8; 4:8; 16:14; 19:6.
      18. 18.    Salvation is all we need and we need it desperately. God alone can give us the new life we need in salvation. He gives it to us by grace, through the completed work of his Son and through the Holy Spirit who gently but powerfully nourishes us back to life. There was nothing that Abram and Sarah could do to heal themselves. El Shaddai powerfully supplied their intimate needs and wrought a miracle called Isaac.
      19. 19.    For the Christian, we can do all things through Christ, but in the flesh we can do nothing except what ends up wood hay and stubble, fit to be burned up. We must operate through faith in the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of Christ alone. If we are to experience the blesings of El Shaddai we must trust in him and not in our programs or selves.
      20. 20.     We get to worship El Shaddai who will always be there to nourish us and tenderly comfort us in this world of pain. All we need he has provided.



Baldwin, Joyce G. The Message of Genesis 12-50, From Abraham to Joseph, The Bible Speaks Today commentaries, InterVarsity Press: Leicester, England, 1986 (pp. 61-68).

Currid, John D. Genesis, Volume 1, Genesis 1:1-25:18 Evangelical Press: Darlington, England 2003 (pp.310-322).

Hemphill, Ken. The Names of God. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN 2001 (pp.49-62).

Kidner, Derek. Genesis, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. InterVarsity Press: London, England, 1967 (pp.128-131).

Lockyer, Herbert. All the Divine Names and Titles in the Bible. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1988.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26, Volume 1B in The New American Commentary. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN. 2005 (pp. 192-208).

Stone, Nathan. Names of God. Moody Press: Chicago,Il. 1944 (pp.30-42).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001 (pp.257-265).

Wenham, Gordon. Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, vol.2. Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1994 (pp. 13-32).


A Prayer Focusing on God as El Shaddai

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Bryan E. Walker

Heavenly Father, we come to you this morning praising you as our Creator, Sustainer, Provider and Saviour; you have created us, and it is by your sustaining power that we continue to exist by your grace and we acknowledge that everything we have comes from you. In your son,  Jesus, we have every imaginable blessing and countless others besides.

We come to you as sinners, Lord, guilty of transgressing your Law in every way. We humbly confess that our hearts are desperately wicked and we don’t even know the extent of our own wickedness. But you do, and you still love us and forgive us. We thank you for the salvation we have in Christ. We thank you for the presence of your Holy Spirit who never leaves us and is always faithful to convict us of our sin, correct us, and lead us into your Word and into obedience.

As we study this text today Lord, we pray that we would get to know you as El Shaddai, God Almighty, who provides supernaturally, abundantly and tenderly above and beyond our resources and wildest imaginations. Thank you Lord for nourishing us in our need, even after we have tried in the flesh to fill our needs ourselves. Lord grant us the patience and longsuffering that we need as we wait upon your provision.

Lord, we pray for America, that you would send another great awakening, a true revival of repentance, genuine faith, that would lead us back to you as our source of provision.

Lord we lift our brother, our Pastor, Tim, who is still struggling with illness that is just sapping the strength out of him. Lord we pray for healing and encouragement, we pray for the grace to endure suffering. And we pray for Tim’s family as they watch their husband and father struggle, Lord strengthen them and sustain them in this difficult time.

Lord we always pray for our men and women in uniform, in far away places, bearing the price of our liberty; Lord grant them courage and strength, give us victory against those who are waging war against us. Be with those who have been wounded and injured, those soldiers who are longing for home. We ask your comfort upon the ones who are grieving and mourning their losses in this war.

Now Lord, guide us in our study, open our eyes in faith so that we might understand your word, believe you, and apply it diligently to our daily lives.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!


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