Genesis 17:1-2, “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.”
Abram displayed a lack of faith in fathering Ishmael, but he was not cut off from God’s promises (Gen. 16). In Genesis 17, the Lord appears to Abram again in order to confirm the covenant He first described and established in chapters 12 and 15.
Today’s passage tells us God appeared to the patriarch when Abram was “ninety-nine years old” (17:1). Thirteen years have passed since the birth of Ishmael (16:16), affording the chosen family opportunity to focus their hope for the future on Hagar’s son. Sarai’s permanent barrenness would have also been assumed. Yet the Lord demolishes both assumptions by the end of chapter 17.
When the Creator reveals Himself to Abram, He calls Himself “God Almighty” (v. 1). This is a translation of the Hebrew El Shaddai, a name for the Lord that, as the English translation indicates, suggests omnipotence. It is frequently found in Genesis where divine power is necessary to provide descendants (for example, 28:3).
God’s covenants always include obligations that the true people of the Lord must keep. This is made clear when Yahweh commands Abram to walk blamelessly before Him (17:1). Our father in the faith, and all his children, Christian Jews or Gentiles, must live a life devoted to the Lord, otherwise they show that they are not His people (see also James 2:14–26). As Ambrose of Milan writes, our souls “must be in training night and day, ever on the lookout, never indulging in sleep but on perpetual watch, intent on God” (On Abraham 2.10.76).
The blamelessness the Lord demands here is not the perfection required to live forever in His presence. He knows His people are fallen, and so He gave sacrifices (and, finally, Christ Himself) to atone for iniquity and put us in right relation to God. Being “blameless” instead assumes freedom from the tyrannical reign of sin. It means we can find divine grace producing repentance, love for Jesus and neighbor, and grateful obedience in our lives (1 John 1:8–9; 5:1–5). John Calvin tells us the foundation “of the divine calling, is a gratuitous promise; but it follows immediately…that they whom he has chosen as a peculiar people…should devote themselves to the righteousness of God.”
The Lord calls Himself “God Almighty” in Genesis 17 to remind Abram of the power He gives His people to walk before Him. Indeed, as John Calvin says, “There is no other method of living piously and justly, than that of depending upon God.” If you trust in Christ, the omnipotent Lord of all is on your side to help you fight against remaining sin. When you are tempted today, look to His power to resist transgression and love others.
Walk Before Me, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.