El Shaddai Appears to Abram

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis17:1-6).

God reveals Himself to Abraham by a new name, El Shaddai, translated as God Almighty in the New International Version. This is the first use of this name of God in the Scriptures. El Shaddai describes the God who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might. El signifies strong one, and Shaddai literally means the Breasted One. We should not understand that to mean that He has female body parts, it is a word picture of God as the Strong-Nourisher, the Strength-Giver, Satisfier, and All Bountiful, the Supplier of all the needs of His people. Yes, He is the one who can restore life and fruitfulness to Abraham and Sarah and cause them to have a child, and to fulfill every one of His promises to them and us.

There is a condition though. Abraham must walk before the Lord and be Tamiym, translated into English with the word “blameless” (verse 1). Tamiym means to be complete, without defect, faultless, blameless, and having integrity. God has been watching the character of this man evolve over time as the Lord has been working in his life, transforming his character to one whose heart is blameless toward Him. He requires the same of us. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Further, God tells him that he will be a father of many nations and that kings will come from him (verses 5-6). What amazing promises God gave to Abraham and to us also as His children. Each of us that have entered into covenant with God on the basis of the blood covenant of the Messiah has been called to walk before the Lord in purity and blamelessness. Do not let this world conform you into its image of godlessness and evil. Walking blamelessly before the Lord sounds difficult, almost as difficult as Jesus’ command to “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” How can we fulfill this command? We see elsewhere in scripture where Micah the prophet also revealed what God requires of man:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

We need God’s help—the One called El Shaddai. By faith we must cast ourselves on Him, being vulnerable and crying out to Him to empower and enable us. He will do it. He does not ask us to rely on what resources we have, but on His resources. What do you need El Shaddai to do for you—what prayer do you need to ask God about today? He is listening and waiting for your cry. Keith Thomas

The Patience Test

We are continuing to think on the testing of Abraham’s faith, and how it relates to all believers being tested in similar ways. In the time of waiting God takes us through a patience test. This test happens to a man or woman of God when their expectations in God are not fulfilled “on schedule.” (Of course, we think in terms of our schedule, not God’s!) Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:2). This word comes from a Latin word which means, “to suffer.” To pass the patience test a person has to yield to the Lord for His will to be accomplished His way and in His timing. Men and women of God down through the centuries have been given visions of what God wants them to do, but almost always they have had to wait for God to act. Why is this? God does not want His people to short circuit the process by jumping in and trying to fulfill the vision with their own strength and natural talents. He uses talents and abilities, which He has given to us, but it must be in God’s timing and not ours. Waiting on God’s timing is the hard part.

The testing time is different and unique to each of God’s servants. After all, The Lord knows each one of His children intimately. He knows what we need to experience in order for our character to be shaped so that we are ready for the task. For instance, Joseph was given a vision of his brother’s sheaves bowing down to him (Genesis 37:7). The interpretation was that his brothers would literally bow down before him, but the fulfilling of the vision would be many years in the future. In the waiting period, Joseph’s character had to be changed and made ready for his future as the vice president of the nation of Egypt. He had to endure years as a slave in Potiphar’s house, before being falsely accused and thrown into prison. While in prison, the dreams of two men of pharaoh’s staff were correctly interpreted, but Joseph short-circuited God’s work by pleading with the cupbearer to get him out of jail. God made him wait another two years before Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered Joseph’s unique talent of dream interpretation to Pharaoh (Genesis 40:23 and 41:1). Sometimes God deliberately makes a man or woman of God wait until things are humanly impossible before He moves in our situation. This is what He did to Abram and Sarai. Fourteen years had gone by and it was now many years since it had ever been naturally possible for Sarai to conceive and bear a child.

Why The Wait?

We know that God was teaching Abram and Sarai valuable lessons in this waiting period. Why did it go on so long? Do we have a part to play and can we delay God’s promise by obedience or disobedience? It is impossible for us to know how long Abram and Sarai would have waited if they had never taken matters into their own hands and used Hagar to bring forth Ishmael. The “waiting time” is also a time of testing. We need to be alert and aware of the part we play in the waiting time.

The Lord shows up after a fourteen year wait, twenty-three years from the initial promise, and tells Abram that from now on he shall no longer be called Abram, which means exalted father, but his name from now is changed to Abraham, which means father of a multitude. The interesting thing about God’s word to Abraham was that the Lord spoke in the present tense and not the future tense. He said, “I have made you a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Abraham was asked to believe God’s Word about himself before it became a reality. Imagine what that was like going over to Mamre to see his friends, Eshcol and Aner, his allies in the war against the kings of the north (Genesis 14:13). How does a man tell his friends that his name has changed at ninety-nine years of age into father of a multitude? Do you think that Abraham corrected people every time they called him Abram? I wonder. Don’t you think that Eshcol and Aner would have laughed at him along with many others of his friends? Today we would consider a person like Abraham to be eccentric, but the Bible calls him the Friend of God (James 2:23). My prayer is for you and me to be a Friend of God. Keith Thomas

Waiting for God.

16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis 16:16-17:6).

When we look at the life of Abraham, we see a man who had learned to wait. The end of Genesis chapter sixteen points out to us that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but chapter seventeen tells us that nothing had happened for 14 years until God finally spoke to him again at ninety-nine years of age (Genesis 17:1). What can we learn from what is not written about that time?

Why do you suppose God made Abram wait so long? What work does God do in a person through making him or her wait? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have been in times of waiting. God does His best preparation work in His servants in the waiting times. The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the preparation of a servant of the Lord:

Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (Isaiah 49:1-2).

For every servant of God called to do an important task for the Kingdom of God, there is a preparation time that is compared to the making of an arrow. There is a personal calling, then a preparation of what issues out from his lips, a cleansing of his language. He or she are also drawn close to the Lord, an intimacy under God’s hand before a polishing of his character.  And then, lastly, there is the concealment in the quiver. During this phase of training and preparation, a man or woman of God are not allowed to do anything that is “seen” by the world, at least for a time. He or she is called to be in hidden ministry that has to wait until the right timing to be shot in ministry from the Lord’s bow. Think of Moses and his having to wait forty years while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Midian. God made him wait until he was eighty years of age before the Lord would use him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. He definitely had to endure the hiddenness and waiting of the quiver!  Imagine how hard it would have been for him to be trained in the best schools of Egypt, and then do nothing seemingly of value while he shepherded the sheep in the desert. Why would God do that to a man? The greater the task, the greater the training. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is part of the training. Keith Thomas

“Hagar, Where Are You Going?”

7The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going? “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” 11The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” 13She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:7-13).

It is in the desert place that the Angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar. This angel is One who has been watching and listening to all that was going on in Abraham’s household. He speaks kindly to her and asks two very pertinent questions which is good for all of us to hear, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Verse 8).

Every now and then as we go through life it is good to sit down and assess where you have come from and where you are going. If you are aiming for nothing, you are bound to hit it! Did you ever experience a time in your life when you felt aimless and really did not know which way to go? Was God’s direction sought?

This angel is no normal angel, but most scholars believe this to be an appearance of God in human form. John the apostle in his gospel reminds us that the Lord Jesus preexisted before His taking on human form. He wrote that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and that through Him all things were made, and that without Him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:2-3). This angel does not speak for God, but as God. He says, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Verse 10). This kind of language is not, “this is what the Lord says, but this is what I say!” This is God Himself speaking. Hagar knows who it is that is speaking to her, for she names God, “You are a God of seeing,” and names the well where she encounters the Lord, “Well of the Living One who sees me” (Verse 13). Hagar is given vision and direction for her future. She is told to humble herself and submit herself to her mistress, Sarai, and raise Ishmael in Abram’s home. I’m sure her heart was encouraged to learn that she would be mother to many descendants too numerous to count (Verse 10). These descendants today are the Arabic people.

Hagar was brought into a new revelation of the Lord on that day. First of all, she found out that God (Yehovah, not Allah) hears the cry of distress, and just to remind her, she was told to name her son by the name of Ishmael, which means God hears. She was also given the revelation that the God who was watching over her sees all that is going on in her life—it is a good lesson for each of us.

We all have challenging times of waiting when our faith is tested. Even though Abram had many tests to his faith, and although he did not pass all the tests, he is still referred to as a man of faith in scripture. We do not remember him for his mistakes, but rather for his decision to follow God’s direction and go to a new place he did not know. The legacy he leaves is one of faith. This is a reminder to us of the great grace God has toward us. He does not hold up our mistakes. He takes our damaged lives and leads us home from wherever we find ourselves. Even from a place that is a desert of our own making.

Maybe you can relate to one of the characters in this part of the story. Are you like Abram, being worn down and weary in the waiting process? Are you like Hagar, finding that you are at a point where you need God’s assurance and His direction? Wherever you are in your journey of faith today, and whatever difficulties you are facing, God has a next step for you. Even if that step is to continue to wait. He has a plan and direction for you, to lead you on from the place that you find yourself right now. Keith Thomas

The God Who Sees and Hears Us

4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” 6“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. 7The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.

When Hagar, Sarai’s slave girl, becomes pregnant, there were changes in the household and relationships. Things got messy! Hagar becomes proud and begins to look down upon her mistress. We don’t know what is said or the behavior of Hagar, but whatever the attitude of the younger Hagar to the seventy-five-year-old Sarai, it is one of suffering for Sarai:

5Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me” (Verse 5).

Sarai now blames Abram for his lack of leadership in allowing this shortcut to go ahead, and she is right. Abram was the leader of the home, the one who gets direction from God and leads the family accordingly, yet his leadership is reactionary to go with the flow, rather than seeking God for His direction as to the strife that he has now brought upon his family and into his home. When Sarai brings the situation up with Abram, he should have been the one to sort it out, but instead he throws it all back into Sarai’s lap:

6“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her (Verse 6).

Abram should have dealt kindly to Hagar and counseled Sarai to do the same. After all, they were the ones who came up with the plan in the first place! Unfortunately, Abram does not bear responsibility for Hagar. Notice that in his response to Sarai, he does not even call Hagar by her name, but calls her ‘Sarai’s slave’ (Verse 6). It is as if he is distancing himself from the whole situation, and from Hagar herself, along with the child he is responsible for. It is complete abdication. Hagar is not asked how she feels about all that is going on, and Abram takes little care for her soul. Having been used as a commodity, she is now cast aside. Surely she must be, at this point, a visible reminder of the failure of Abram and Sarai in trying to take a shortcut to God’s purposes. How many unwanted feelings did this situation breed for all three involved? I’m sure Hagar was left feeling that this baby she is carrying will be unwanted by the family she has been a part of. Hagar must have felt very insecure at a time in life that a woman needs even more security with a baby on the way. Can you imagine her grief and state of mind as she ran away from home? We are told that she went to a deserted place where she sat down by a spring. A deserted place tells us that she wanted to be alone. It is possible she did not feel safe, having been badly treated by Sarai and not sure of their intentions toward her and the child she was carrying. She is retreating, licking her emotional wounds, so to speak, and seeking solitude when the Angel of the Lord comes to her. Thank God that whenever we are in a dry and desert place, there is always a well of salvation, and our God is always watching over us.

If you have not yet entrusted your life to the God of all comfort, it is time to cast your soul upon Him, for He cares for you. Keith Thomas