Question: How many of you tonight are 99 years of age? Could you raise your hand? You just lied. Anybody else? I didn't think so. So I'm going to be safe making some remarks tonight. Abraham was 99 years of age we're told here, and I'm calling this message "A New Start for an Old Soldier."
The word new isn't usually associated with the age 99, because when you're 99 there's not much that's new. Maybe a new perspective, maybe a new will, maybe a new hearing aid, new dentures, perhaps, but not things like a new car. Certainly not a new son.
It's interesting how we monitor age, isn't it, when we're very young or we should say when your children are very young we measure age in months. She's 17 months old, 17 months and 4 days, 3 hours. As they get a little passed that we start monitoring their age in half years. Kids do this when they're young, "I'm 5 ½," and it's important that you recognize that half. And then we go into the full years. And then you reach a point where you don't want to tell your full age. People might guess, but you don't want them to guess. So you measure it in decades now. "I'm in my 30's." "I'm in my 40's." Then you reach an age where you just don't ask.
But we're told exactly how old Abraham is in the very first verse of chapter 17, "When Abram was 99 years old." I found something called "The Perks of Being Over Fifty", but I think in order to be nice we ought to just retool it a little bit and say "The Perks of Being 99" for Abram's sake.
Number one, kidnappers are not very interested in you. Number two, in hostage situations you're likely to be released first. Number three, people call at 9:00 p.m. and ask, "Did I wake you?" Number four, there's nothing left to learn the hard way. Number five, you can eat dinner at 4:00 p.m. Six, you enjoy hearing about other people's operations. Number seven, you have a party and the neighbors don't even realize it. Number eight, you quit trying to hold you stomach in no matter who walks into the room. Number 9, you sing along with elevator music. Ten, your (some of you do that. I heard the...) Number ten, your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.
Well, you know, somebody said, "The great thing about being 99 is you don't have peer pressure, because you don't have many peers."
But Chapter 17, honestly, marks a brand new beginning for the man Abraham. He has not heard from God until this time for 13 years since the Hagar incident in the previous chapter. Since that time it has been a long silent period of some 156 quiet months. God has not spoken to him. Abram has not heard from God.
Just a remark about that. I think that's something we should think about. Thirteen years God has not spoken to him. And I got to tell you something. The Christian life is not an ongoing spectacular array of the eventful and the miraculous. Some people expect a heavenly visitation every day or so. If that's you, you're going to be very disappointed. The typical Christian life, whether we don't like to admit it or not, has its routine and even mundane silences as we walk by faith and not by sight.
This next period of Abram's life is a new start as I mentioned, and I'm going to give you tonight four new experiences for this 99, almost 100 year old man.
I heard a story. It's a true story. A man was 60 years of age. Now when you turn 60 what do you usually do? Most people retire, or they'd like to. They throw a big party. Not one airline pilot from Florida. This guy decided, he had a mandatory retirement at age 60, so to mark his 60th birthday this retiring pilot by the name of Larry Elmore decided to parachute from an airplane 60 times in one day to mark his 60th birthday.
Well, Abraham, Abram will have his name changed in this chapter. Well, Abram is 99. It's the time to take up lawn bowling perhaps; but no, he's going to mark his 100th birthday by having a son.
Let's look at the first few verses and look at these four new experiences. Number one, a new revelation of God. "When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God. Walk before me and be blameless."
The term "Almighty God" is significant. It is El Shaddai, a very important designation of God in the Scripture. It's the first time it's used, but it will be used in the Old Testament 48 times. 47 after this. "I am El Shaddai," translated here, "Almighty God."
The origin of that term is a bit uncertain. I did a little research. It seems that the original term came from an Acadian word that meant "mountain" or "breast", the idea of a chest muscle. Their thinking was this. When you look in the horizon and you see a mountain coming up from the earth, it's like a strong chest muscle flexing in strength. That was the appearance to them.
God calling himself this word "El Shaddai", "I am Almighty God." The idea is that I am the most sufficient one. I am the divinely buff one. I can do anything. That's how God introduces himself, and the emphasis is on God in this chapter. In fact, notice verse 4. God says, "As for me, behold my covenant is with you."
You see the term "As for me"? That is in the Hebrew emphatic self reference, and the emphatic self reference is to draw all the attention of ability upon the speaker. "I am El Shaddai." "As for me." Now why would God after 13 years introduce himself to Abram using this kind of terminology?
It's pretty easy to figure out when you read the rest of the chapter, because he's about to let Abram know that his geriatric wife, who's not a whole lot younger than he is is going to have a son within a year. She is going to have a son within a year. And so he calls himself this.
God says, by the way, 12 times, you might notice it as you go through, the term "I will." "I will." "I will." God says 12 times in this chapter what he will do. Do you think he has a point? When you repeat something 12 times he's making it very emphatic that he's going to do something.
In Ephesians Chapter four, the 30th verse, Paul writes, "Now unto him who is able to exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think." Folks, God is not a weakling. God does not operate in reserve mode with his power. He operates at full power at all times. Job said, "I know you can do everything, that no purpose of yours can be restrained. There is no resisting your might, and there is no purpose you cannot carry out."
James Smith, who wrote a great set of books called Handfuls of Purpose, Outline Studies on the Old Testament, said, "This promise of God, this is the divine plaster large enough to cover an human sore." I like that, "a divine plaster large enough to cover every human sore." Whatever it is you might be facing, whatever it is you might be carrying, God is almighty, all-sufficient. I think there's another reason that God came to him at this point in his life. He's 99, which would make his son age 13. And I think Abram is sort of settling into the whole MO of this is my son. God promised me a son. This is him. I'm satisfied. This is as far as it goes. He was getting used to the fact that Ishmael was the promise. In fact, I'll show that to him.
I'm skipping ahead, but look down at verse 15. "Then God said the Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her; also give you a son by her. And I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations. Kings of people shall be from here. Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, 'Shall a child be born to a man who's 100 years old, and shall Sarah who's 90 years old bear a child?' And Abraham said to God, 'O that Ishmael might live before you.'" God, this is enough. You promised this long enough. I got Ishmael. He's settling into that fact, that mode.
Maybe he was out taking a walk one evening. This is just so like God. I don't know. The text doesn't say. I'm speculating. Maybe he's having a walk with his son. He's looking at him. He realizes that this child is going to be it for him, and he's maybe thinking back, oh those years ago when God used to speak to him. How sweet that was, and that promise that he made. Well, here's the fulfillment of that promise I suppose. And then at that moment perhaps God spoke, "I'm El Shaddai. I'm going to make my covenant with you, and," he goes as we read, "with Sarah."
Proverbs 5 says, "The ways of the Lord" or "The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all of his goings."
There was a minister one evening listening to his CB radio. It was on in the background, and he heard a trucker pulling through town trying on his CB to contact a call girl, a prostitute, in town. There was no response from her. He tried again. No response. Finally he said, "Well, sorry I missed you. I'll try to contact you next time I go through town." The minister picked up the CB and said, "She may not have heard you, but God did." And there was a long pause, and finally that trucker said, "You know, I knew this CB had good range, but I didn't know it was that good."
There is no thought that you think, there is no device in your mind but that God doesn't se, and know, hear, and in some way respond to. So this marks a new revelation of God to Abram. "I am El Shaddai." That new revelation is followed by something else- a new commission.
Look at verse 1, "I am Almighty God. Walk before me and be blameless." This is the first time that God has said that to him. "Walk before me and be blameless." Now what doe he mean? What is that mean to walk before somebody? The idea of walking before is to walk in plain view of someone, but it means more than walking in plain view. It means knowing while you're doing it that you are walking in plain view of someone else.
Parents, you've noticed how your kids act when they know you're in the room. Sometimes they look to see if you've left the room, and maybe they think you have and you act, or they act a little bit differently thinking that. "Walk before me, Abram." Walk, live your life, conduct your business, make your choices realizing you're doing it before my sight. Don't walking before the world. Don't walk before your family. Walk before me first.
He also says, "and be blameless." Now some of your translations if they're older say, "Be perfect." How many have that? "Be perfect." That does not mean moral perfection because frankly that's impossible, which should take a load off your shoulders. It's not moral perfection. The idea is a wholehearted undivided devotion. That's what it means, wholehearted undivided devotion. "Walk before me. Live your life knowing my presence. Don't try to bounce around the eyes of anybody else. Just me. And I want a wholehearted devotion."
That's what King Hezekiah said in II Kings when he uttered, "I've walked before you faithfully with wholehearted devotion." Question: Why at age 99 with this old guy would God give this command at this time? You know what I think? Because if you look back over Abram's life, his life has been sporadic spiritually speaking. It hasn't been blameless. Has it? Can you think back to some of those episodes in the past? He wasn't walking before God blamelessly when he stopped in Haran for 15 years in Chapter 11 and didn't go into Canaan. He wasn't walking before Go when he went down to Egypt because of the famine in Chapter 12. He wasn't walking before God in the same chapter when he lied to Pharaoh and said, "She's my sister." He wasn't walking before God in chapter 16 with the Hagar and Ishmael incident. No. What was happening is Sarah took matters into her own hands, and Abram was walking before Sarah letting her do just whatever. Now God is saying, "Abram, I'm Almighty God. You're 99. It's time for you to grow up. It's time for you to start walking. Be blameless now. New start.
Something I'm impressed with as I read through this and other parts of the Scripture, there's not a mention, God doesn't bring up past failures of Abram. He didn't say, "Abram, walk before me and be blameless because we all know you failed." He doesn't say that. In fact, you know what I'm really impressed with, as I read the New Testament none of the failures of Abram are even mentioned. Rather, he is exonerated as the example of faith, is he not? The father of all them that believe, Paul wrote to the Romans.
I'm going to read a portion of Hebrews chapter 12 to you. This is out of the New Living Translation. Listen how it casts Abram in a New Testament light. "It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as an inheritance." Did he obey? Well, yeah, eventually, but it just says he obeyed. It just leaves the other part out. "He went without knowing where he was going, and even when he reached the land that God promised him, he lived there by faith, for he was like a foreigner living in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob to whom God gave the same promise. Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God."
Now, I'm reading that to you. I'm remarking on that because I want you to know something. God truly is the God of the second chance, and third chance, and 84th chance. Abram failed as we have seen time and time again, but falling down isn't the issue. It's staying down. He kept getting back up each time, started over. You see folks, with God it's not three strikes and you're out. It's, he'll give you a whole new at bat, a whole new start. So God doesn't even mention the failures, not only here, but throughout the Scriptures. That's noteworthy.
1 Corinthians 13 remarks on love. It says, "Love thinks no evil," or a better translation, "Love keeps no record of wrongs." Love keeps no record of wrongs. Oh, God knows. He remembers, but he chooses to just sort of deal with you without that stuff.
A husband and wife went into a counselor's office, and the husband began explaining the problem. He said, "Well, whenever we have an argument, whenever we fight, my wife gets so historical," and the counselor smiled, sort of a condescending I am smart and you just said something dumb kind of a look. He said, "I think you mean she acts hysterical." "Oh, no, sir. I mean she is historical. She is always digging up my past." God won't do that. He won't dig up the past. He always sees you through eyes of love, and that's how he chooses to remark on Abram throughout the Scripture.
The principle, before we move on to the third, the principle is that this you can begin a new start, a fresh beginning, a new walk with God at any age. He's 99. Time to walk before me and be blameless. You mean I get a new start now at this time of my life. Uh-huh. You can begin afresh at any age if you choose.
Someone once said there are four ages of man. Number 1 is when you believe in Santa Claus. Number 2, when you stop believing in Santa Claus. Number 3, when you are Santa Claus. Number 4, when you look like Santa Claus. Abram must've looked like Santa Claus, and he's just learning how to walk.
Don't ever think, "Oh, I'm too old for that." Moses was 80 when he began as the deliver. Caleb was 85 when he wanted a new pioneering episode in Hebron. Goldmier, 71 when she became prime minister of Israel. Ronald Reagan, 77 when he finished office as president of the United States. Benjamin Franklin was a framer of the Constitution at age 81. And Abram's 99. Any age.
The third thing is, not only a new revelation and a new commission, there's a third new thing. A new designation for Abram. He gets a new name. He says in verse 2, "I will make my covenant between me and you and will multiply you exceedingly. Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him saying, "As for me, behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but you shall be called Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations." And then we read in verse 15 when we snuck ahead a few moments ago that Sarai would be changed to Sarah.
New names indicate new directions. Jesus renamed Simon; called him Peter. Moses renamed Hoshea, which means deliverer, into Yahoshua, which means God is my deliverer. Christians in India when they get baptized take on different names, new names, Christian names. The old Puritans used to do the same, and God is renaming Abram into Abraham. Now what does Abram mean? It means exalted father. That was his given name, which must have been embarrassing to a guy who had no kids.
Now imagine a caravan coming through wherever his tent is. "Hi. How are you?" "Oh, fine." "What's your name?" "Exalted Father." "Oh, great. How many do you have?" "Well, none." Oh, can't you hear the jokes. Can't you hear the snickering of people. "His name means exalted father. He has no child." Then, then he had Ishmael, and I'm sure the day Ishmael was born he went, "Whew. Now finally I get some respect---until now. Now God comes to him and says, "Just when you got used to your old name Exalted Father, because you are one now, I'm giving you a new name. It means Father of a Multitude. How's that one?" I bet he said, "God, please. If you love me can I not take that name? I've already put up with the first one for a long time." But now God changes his name to Abraham, which means father of a multitude.
I've discovered that some people have names that fit them. The dentist that I had growing up in southern California was a dentist who did not believe in using pain medication very much. He used the spray stuff instead of the real stuff. Thank you. This is the newest greatest. I felt every bit of that tooth pulling. His name fit him. It was Dr. Steel as in nerves of. Then other people have names that just doesn't fit. A legalistic girl named Grace just doesn't work. A braggart named George Meek. It doesn't fit. Abraham, father of a multitude, doesn't fit this guy.
Now imagine that caravan coming back after doing business in Egypt coming back the other way. It's been years now. Now he's got a son. "Oh, hey. You're Exalted Father. Congratulations, you have a boy." "Yeah, but I'm not called that anymore. No. My new name is Father of a Multitude." Must've been tough for him.
Question: Why the name change? Why now? Why before he has Isaac and the rest of them? Why not after? Well, I think that having Ishmael was Abram and Sarah's way of exalting themselves. I'm Exalted Father. I did this my way. Here's my son. For God to rename him Father of a Multitude puts a goal so out of reach that he could never fulfill that goal of being father of a multitude on his own. God is stretching this man's faith, stretching it to the point where God will declare first his purpose, and then later he will fulfill it.
Look back down in the verses, verse 15 and 16, where there's that name change. Sarai. Do you know what Sarai means? It means contentious. It means dominant or domineering. Now, I don't know if, I don't know what her folks were thinking when they gave her that name, or if it just stuck later on. Maybe it was a nickname that somebody gave her. It would've been interesting to be in that home though with contentious, domineering Sarai.
Proverbs 21 says, "It's better to dwell in the corner of a housetop than share it with a contentious woman. She was glad the day that God changed her name from Contentious to Princess. "Oh, thank you, Lord." No longer domineering now, Sarah, which means princess. The Talmud shares the opinion the name change was symbolic of her barrenness stopping at that point for within the year she's going to have a child. But you should also know that in the New Testament she is never called Sarai; always referred to as the Princess. In fact, used as a model of a godly, submissive woman.
The point I want to make before we go on is this: Your relationship with God, and mine, should always be progressive. Your relationship with the living God should never stagnate. You should always be moving forward spiritually speaking. In fact, I don't think you can really have contact with the living God and stay the same. I think that's kind of an impossibility. If you're making regular contact and walking before a living God who is all powerful and all mighty there has to be progress and change. Remember, he's the one who said, "Behold, I make all things new."
Question: You know how college teams name themselves after ferocious animals? Eagles, Bears, Cougars. It's the name of their football team, or whatever? If God were to give you a nickname, based upon your spiritual characteristics today, you don't have to answer it or write it down or even share it with anyone; I wonder what he would call you? What animal you would most resemble? A bear, an eagle, a turtle, a worm, I mean, there's just a lot of possibilities, aren't' there? What word would he use to describe me?
But then think, what would the word, or the animal, descriptor be of what God wants to do with me? Of what God will bring me into? Abram, Abraham. Sarai, Sarah. What is God making you into? That's something to think about.
Finally, there's something else that's new, and that's a new declaration. In verse 2, we already read, God said, "I will make my covenant between me and you, multiply you exceedingly." Verse 6, "I will make you exceedingly fruitful." We've heard those words before. "I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, your descendants after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you, and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession, and I will be their God."
The term "my covenant" is used 9 times in this chapter. God is declaring, he's making a declaration, a new declaration, not of a new covenant, but of the old covenant. He's just renewing before Abraham. It's been a lot of years since God talked to him, and he probably's walking down the road thinking that covenant thing is done. Here's Ishmael. That's all there is. Oh no. And he renews the covenant. Just like a kid when he goes to camp, or she goes to camp, renews a covenant spiritually to the Lord or couples sometimes renew their wedding vows at a church or at a marriage seminar.
God renews the covenant, says it again. This is called, remember the Abrahamic covenant? It centers on the land and the people. It was already mentioned just so you know how important this covenant is, the land of Israel, it is mentioned in chapter 12, 13, 15, and now 17, and that's just so far. It is reiterated, "Abram, you and your descendants have that land over in the Middle East forever." And by the way, it's ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus Christ because all the nations of the world will be blessed through this covenant, and that can only be true of centering in Jesus.
But here's the point, to this man who has a checkered past and a history of failure, God is promising blessing once again. Even when you are not on your best behavior, and I wonder how often we really are, God promises to stay faithful. Remember 2 Timothy where Paul said, "Even when we are unfaithful, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself." That's right. Even Abram's incomplete obedience and staying in Haran 15 years didn't stop God from blessing him. Even his lapse of faith in going to Egypt because of the famine doesn't negate the blessings and promises of God. Even though he lied to Pharoah doesn't negate the blessings and promises of God. Even though he had a kid with another woman that wasn't the child of promise because he didn't believe does not stop God from blessing him. This is a mighty God you're dealing with.
So those are the four experiences that this man Abraham has, this old soldier, with the living God. There are four, but you could even say that there should be five, because with a new revelation from God, and a new commission of what to do before God, and a new designation of what God is about to do through his life, Abram/Abraham, and a new declaration of this covenant, should come a new submission on Abram's part; and it does. And I want to close with this: verse 3, "And Abram fell on his face," not easy for a 99 year old, "and God talked with him saying..." It had been a long time; and I think he dropped to his knees, and then prostrate on the ground on his face before God in absolute joy. He's back. He's talking to me again. He's not done with me yet. I'm an old guy, but God showed up. And this is, folks, this is true worship.
And I want you to note, true worship is always a response to the true revelation of God. True worship doesn't have to be worked up. True worship isn't a burst of the moment. True worship is a response to the person, character, and the revelation of God.
So, so, growing old is inevitable. Growing up, that's optional. Growing up is optional. What new thing is God stirring, doing in you? Are you, are you growing? Howard Hendricks tells a cool story about when his little girl, Bev, was, second daughter, was growing up, and he was traveling a lot; and he was gone for a two weeks mission trip. Before he left she said, Bev said, "Daddy, while you're gone I promise I'll grow." He said, "Okay, honey, great." Soon as he got off the airplane and returned she was at the airport, and she said first thing, "Daddy, Daddy, quick, come home, and let's see how much I've growed." So they went to the door in the closet where they made the markings. He said, if she grew at all maybe a couple millimeters, but they marked it. It was a happy day. She jumped up and down. "See, I told you I growed! I've growed!" And then they went to the living room, and as they were talking she asked one of those kid questions parents get uncomfortable with. She said, "Daddy, why do big people stop growing?" She didn't really know what she was asking, but it's profound. Why do big people stop growing? And, of course, you can explain to a kid, "Well, they stop growing up, but they grow out." "Like a nice dresser, the middle drawer is left open, but they grow." You're never going to stop growing physically in some manner. Have you stopped growing, stretching, moving spiritually? Oh, I'm too old for that. Well, you know what? For Abram, 99, you've only just begun. It gets better from here.
Heavenly Father, these events, this apparition marked a new start for an old soldier. One who had fought many battles of faith and literal battles with kings in that land that he was in. Lord, I pray just as this old guy's life was marked by some newness, freshness, that our lives would never stop growing, we wouldn't plateau, you'd show us what's next, what you have for us beyond here now. Lord, I pray that just as this man responded to a revelation that we would, too. That our response wouldn't simply be closing the book, fishing for the keys, and grabbing a bite to eat, but this man hit the ground in worship. There was a response to your revelation. We sometimes take that for granted, but we have just heard the words of the living God spoken to humans. May we respond in a way that pleases and glorifies you. We pray, Lord, that you'd get the maximum glory out of our life. In Jesus' name, Amen.