“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” Genesis 17:1, 2
God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and later out of Haran to go to the land that He would show to him, which land God would give to him and to his seed (12:17). God had promised Abram, “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth” (13:16). Later God renewed this promise, telling him, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall they seed be” (15:5).
While we do not know how long Abram and Sarai were married prior to their arrival in Canaan, we do know that they had no children. And ten years after Abram was promised a great seed, there still were no children. It was then that “Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing” (16:2). In a sinful effort to help the Lord, Abram gave in to Sarai’s suggestion that he take Hagar, her handmaid, which resulted in the birth of Ishmael. Ishmael is 13 years old (17:25) when God appears to Abram at the time of this text.
With the words of this text, God is preparing Abram. He is preparing him for an explanation of what it means that God will establish His covenant with him (2a). The knowledge that God is the Almighty God also prepares him to believe that God will keep His promise to multiply his seed exceedingly (2b). The knowledge that God is the Almighty God prepares Abram to hold for truth the unbelievable, namely, that he and Sarai would have a child, even though he was almost 100 years old (17:16, 19). And this knowledge prepares him to keep God’s covenant, rendering obedience to God’s demand that he, Ishmael, and all the males in his household be circumcised (17:9ff).
God calls Abram and us to know Him. This is where life begins—covenant life, eternal live—and this is where it ends. To know God in Jesus Christ. To know God for who He is. To know Him who establishes with us such a wonderful relationship!
He is “the almighty God,” El Shaddai in the original Hebrew. El is the most common name of Jehovah. It is translated “God.” The word “God” identifies Him as the Being who is (not “has”) every perfection; and He is every perfection infinitely (immeasurably) and eternally. As God He is all in all, incomprehensibly majestic in greatness and in glory. He is good and He is good in everything. He is independent, without a need for anything other than Himself. He is God!
Shaddai means “almighty,” with an emphasis, not on strength or might, but on sufficiency. He is the all-sufficient God. There is no want or lack in Him. He is the only One who blesses, who is sufficient to meet every need, both for Himself and for His people. His all-sufficiency means that He provides all things necessary for His people and that He triumphs over every apparent obstacle to meet these needs.
He who identified Himself as Abram’s shield (exceeding great reward, 15:1) now identifies Himself as the All-sufficient One. He is able to keep every promise He gave to Abram. Twenty-four years after first receiving God’s promise to make of him a great nation (12:2a), Abram is told this again. The reason this promise is sure is that the One giving this promise is El Shaddai, the All-sufficient One! “Abram, know the sufficiency and power of your God! Know that His promises are forever sure. Know that He is able to fulfill all His promises.”
In chapter 15:18 we read that God “made a covenant with Abram,” and did so in a powerful and graphic picture-form when He alone passed between the two rows of slain animals (15:17). Now El Shaddai repeats the promises—that He “will make his covenant between me and thee” and that He “will multiply thee exceedingly.” The assurance that these divine promises would be fulfilled is found in who this covenant God is. He is El Shaddai, the All-sufficient One! That is the heart of all that Abram needs to know. Know God!
This makes abundantly clear that the blessed relationship of the covenant is what God establishes and maintains. He alone establishes it and He alone maintains it. He is able to maintain it and every promise He gives within it. He is El Shaddai!
This covenant-keeping God immediately sets before Abram the demand: “Walk before Me.” The Allsufficient God declares to Abram that this blessed covenant gives to him the responsibility to walk before Him. The beautiful Baptism Form speaks of this: “Therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience.” “I am El Shaddai; walk before Me.”
Abram walks. He is a living, rational-moral creature; he is not a stock and a block. As such he is able to “walk.” Humans walk; they always walk. The specific admonition the All-sufficient God sets before Abram in our text is that he walk “before Me.” Not every living, rational-moral human is able to walk before God. Those outside of God’s covenant also walk, but they are able only to walk before themselves. That is all. But those with whom God establishes the covenant are given in His saving work of regeneration, justification, and sanctification the ability to walk before God by doing His will and obeying Him. God graciously, without any merit of theirs, grants and imputes the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Jesus to them. He renews them in the image of His Son and enables them to walk in all good works.
God calls Abram and us to “walk before Me.” Abram needs to be told to do so because, still having his old man of sin, he is inclined to walk before himself and not before God. Abram had shown that he did not always walk before God. So it is with every Christian on this earth. While we are still in this life, we can also walk before ourselves. In Christ, we are a new man, but we still have the old man. The old man wants to walk only before self. The presence of our new man means that we are able to walk before God. Hence, we constantly need the commandment, “Walk before Me!” It is an on-going battle between our old man and our new man.
According to the previous chapter, Abram did not walk before God but before himself. He was convinced that God’s promise to give him a great seed required him to take Hagar. Hence the appropriateness—even necessity—that God powerfully declare to Abram that He is the All-sufficient One and that Abram was to walk before Him!
To walk before God means that we walk before His face. It is to live in the consciousness of God being with us. It is to know that we are in His tender care, and that He will not let us go or ever depart from us. It is to know that El Shaddai, the All-sufficient One, is able to give a great seed, even if presently Abram is without any child.
Further, to walk before God is to be in awe of Him as we are irresistibly drawn back by His grace. When by faith we know that God sees us as if we had accomplished all that righteousness which Christ accomplished for us, then we walk in the new obedience. We cleave to Him, trust Him, love Him with our all, forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. To walk before God is to live with our focus on Him, rendering grateful returns of ardent love to Him who manifested so great a love to us.
God adds, “Be thou perfect.” The Hebrew word translated “perfect” does not mean to be sinless, but to be sincere or whole-hearted. This admonition is necessary because those with whom God establishes and maintains His covenant are still sinners—they are sinning saints. So God calls Abram and us to walk before Him with sincerity. Every child of God knows that he can easily perform an activity of worship merely out of custom or habit. We can sing the songs of Zion and not realize the truths we sang. We can give offerings without a thought of gratitude. For this reason, God calls us to walk before Him with a genuine, undivided heart. We are called to be constantly aware that God is worthy to receive only dedicated devotion.
It is the conscious knowledge of El Shaddai that stimulates us to conscious obedience. The ungodly, when faced with Almighty God, consciously refuse to obey; they cannot obey for they cannot know the things of the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:14). Those with whom God establishes and maintains His covenant are able to obey, though their old man constantly wants to disobey. Therefore, we must consciously know the All-sufficient God, as the One able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. When we live in this knowledge of Him as we walk the difficult pilgrim path through the valley of the shadow of death, then we are assured that He is able to keep us until the day of Jesus Christ.
The only knowledge that frees the believer’s soul from the life-long fear of death (Heb. 2:15) is the knowledge that I stand before the Almighty God, forgiven and righteous in Jesus Christ. My obedience to His command to walk before Him is not to win His approval (I already have it), but to render grateful returns of ardent love.
When Abram and Sarai were conscious of El Shaddai, then they were able to believe that they would have a son, even in their old age. They depended on Him who is the All-sufficient One!
Know El Shaddai. It is because we know Him (who and what He is) that we walk before Him in awed fellowship. It is because we know Him that we walk before Him in this evil world, constantly doing battle with our old man. Then our thoughts, words, and actions are done sincerely as before His face.