Genesis 17:7 is an important iteration of God's promise in Genesis 12:2-3 that Abraham "shall be a blessing." God promises to establish an eternal covenant not only with Abraham but also with his descendants. Those descendents are going to be very precious to God. In fact, so close to God are those descendents that the prophet Zechariah refers to them as the apple of God's eye (Zechariah 2:8). Historically, God and Israel are never very far apart.
Searching for Israel (Part One): The Promises to the Faithful
Critics assert that Israel's history demonstrates the weakness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in that their God could not keep His promises. Is that so? We need to set the record straight.
The Old Testament is a chronicle of Israel's repeated failure to obey God, of its refusal to keep His commandments and statutes. In Psalm 78:10-11, 40-42, 56-57, the psalmist mentions that Ephraim (meaning Israel at large)
did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. . . . How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power. . . . Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God, and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers.
II Kings 17:7-8 speaks of the sins of the Kingdom of Israel, up north:
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, . . . and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel.
The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 32:30, quotes God's scathing indictment of the people of both Kingdoms: "[T]he children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth."
Because of their sins, as II Kings 17:18-20 indicates, God
was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight. . . . Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunders, until He had cast them from His sight.
In Psalm 78:59-62, the psalmist Asaph relates that God, when He became aware of the idols of Israel,
was furious, and greatly abhorred Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, . . . and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand. He also gave His people over to the sword, and was furious with His inheritance.
As early as the days of the founder of the Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam I, God understood the direction Israel was taking. In I Kings 14:15, God warns that He will ultimately
strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the LORD to anger.
Much later, Amos warned Israel, "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8).
The patriarchs were, as God attests again and again, faithful. However, the people of Israel failed to observe the terms of God's conditional promises to them. Israel exhibited again and again its refusal to obey God. As a result, it has yet to enter into the peace, prosperity, and eternal possession of the land He promised the patriarchs. Hebrews 3:8-11 summarizes the matter: "In the day of trial in the wilderness, [the children of Israel] . . . tested Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation. . . . So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"
Because of the peoples' recalcitrance, God withheld His blessings, ultimately separating Himself from them by casting them out of the land He had promised the patriarchs. God punished Israel for its disobedience by deferring the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs. This deferment did not make Him unfaithful to the people, because His promises to them were conditional, based on their obedience to His revelation.
In fact, it is not perverse to assert that God was completely faithful to the children of Israel, doing to them exactly what He promised He would do if they persistently sinned against Him. At the right time and for the right people, God will honor His unconditional promises to the patriarchs. Israel's sad history is the consequence of peoples' faithlessness, not of their God's weakness.
Searching for Israel (Part Eight): The Scattering of Ten-Tribed Israel
In chapter 17, God more formally makes an agreement—a covenant—with Abraham, presenting its terms in a general way.
Abraham was to be perfect. Other Bibles translate this term as "upright," "blameless," or "sincere." Do not be misled by the word "sincere," because its meaning has changed over the years. To us, it simply means that we have good intentions, but that is not really what the word means. It actually means "without flaw," that is, no imperfections.
Under the covenant, Abraham had to meet some conditions. He had to live a life of obedience. He had to submit to God. God raised the standard so high for him, that one would almost think that he had to be without sin.
Perhaps this begins to bring something else to mind, say, Jesus' command in the Sermon on the Mount to be "perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." "Perfect" can also be translated "mature" or "complete." It is very similar to what God said to Abraham. What is Jesus doing? He is beginning to introduce concepts that are part of both the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant.
Abraham is very plainly called "the father of the faithful," as if he were the head of the family of all who have ever lived, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who is the model after which we are to mold ourselves. Jesus was not human in quite the same way as Abraham was and the rest of us are. He was "God in the flesh" while we are just "flesh" who have the gift of God's Spirit. He had the Spirit without measure, but we have to grow in it. He had to grow too, but there is a qualitative difference. Nevertheless, according to Galatians 3, if we are Christ's, we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 27)
God made a twofold promise to Abraham. The first was a material promise that he would be the father of many nations and that kings would descend from him. God promised him that his progeny would inherit the land of Canaan, an expanse that He defined as stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates rivers. The second, but more important, promise was spiritual. God promised Abraham that in his Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise encompasses the life and work of Abraham's best known and most revered descendant, Jesus Christ.
This promise was later extended to include the inheritance of the whole world (Romans 4:13). Abraham's physical descendants, the nation of Israel, inherited the land of Canaan. This was a type of Abraham's spiritual descendants inheriting the earth.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: The Reward of the Saved
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 17:7:
1 Samuel 8:7-9