I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.
– Genesis 17:1-2 (NIV)
I’m focusing on this passage today to lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s discussion.
According to the verse we’ll consider tomorrow (Genesis 18:18-19), the covenant God confirms with Abraham in the passage above establishes a community of people who are to do what is just and right. It seems fitting to better understand this covenant before moving on to Genesis 18.
The Abrahamic covenant is God’s promise to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation through which all people on earth will be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3 as well, where God originally initiates the covenant). It is also the Lord’s promise to be the God of Abraham and his descendants – to faithfully live in everlasting relationship with them – saying in verse 8, “I will be their God.”1
In turn, God requires specific actions from Abraham.
If you read Genesis 17 in its entirety, the requirements that stand out are circumcision and name changes. But the very first verse of the chapter seems to present another requirement as well: “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”2
Be blameless – a lofty requirement one can easily overlook in reading the rest of Genesis 17.
At first glance, the requirement to be blameless makes the covenant seem hopelessly conditional. If Abraham walks before God, is blameless, changes his name, and practices circumcision, then God will bless him and all the earth through him.
Whew! Even reading it is overwhelming.
God surely knew that no human could be blameless. Interestingly though, He later affirms Abraham’s blamelessness.
Despite Abraham having lied and slept with a servant to ensure descendants, God says: “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.”3
This affirmation occurs immediately after Abraham obeys God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved and only son through whom God’s promise of descendants will come.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, God keeps Abraham from actually killing Isaac, providing a ram for sacrifice instead.
Nonetheless, Abraham’s willingness to obey demonstrates an immense trust in and acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness. It is this act to which God directly refers when He says, “because you have obeyed Me.”
The language God uses – “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” – recalls the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 as well though. The parallel language intimates that God also refers to the command to “walk blamelessly”4 when He says Abraham has obeyed Him.
This intimation is confirmed in Genesis 26:4-5 when God later renews the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac, saying, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”5
Given these affirmations in light of Abraham’s sins, it seems the word “blameless” in Genesis 17:1 refers to something other than sinlessness.
Perhaps it refers to ultimately following after God, choosing and trusting Him, even when we err along the way.
At the very least, Abraham obeyed God’s command to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”6 Abraham sinned along the way, but he sacrificed every form of comfort and security to go, eventually placing his only son on the altar as well.
As a side note, in struggling to understand the command to be blameless, I just now looked up the Hebrew word translated “blameless” in Genesis 17:1. The word is tamim, which in a literal sense means complete or sound.
Is it possible that rather than being read as a command, the latter part of Genesis 17:1 should be read as a promise? As in, “walk before me” and you will be complete, sound, everything you were originally intended to be.
1. Genesis 17:8 (NIV).
2. Genesis 17:1 (NIV).
3. Genesis 22:18 (NIV). Emphasis is mine.
4. Genesis 17:1 (NIV).
5. Genesis 26:4-5 (NIV).