The context of the command in Genesis 17:1—“Walk before me and be blameless”—is quite remarkable. In the previous chapter, Abram gave in to Sarai’s unwise plan of using Hagar to conceive the child that God promised Sarai would bear for Abram. Sarai’s faith had weakened over time; waiting on God had turned to attempting to “help God along,” and the entire plan backfired. And yes, Abram went along with it, foolish though it was. Thirteen years had passed. Abram was ninety-nine years old and Sarai was still barren. It is in this vulnerable, frustrated, desperate context that God appeared to Abram. God’s timing is perfect, though rarely is it according to our schedule.
As we find throughout the Bible, God’s command to Abram to walk before Him and be blameless is anchored in God’s giving of Himself in the covenant. This is communicated by the new name by which God identifies Himself to Abram: El Shaddai (God Almighty). This name is used by God twice more in Genesis (28:3; 35:11), referring to His power over the womb and His ability to perpetuate the covenant line. It is connected to the idea of being fruitful and multiplying. It is also used at the beginning of Exodus when God promises to deliver and preserve the people of Israel on the basis of the promises made to Abram (Ex. 6:4). Our God is all-powerful. He rules over all things in this world, He rules His people by His word and Spirit, and He rules over the barren womb.
In response to God’s person and promise, Abram is to walk before God and be blameless. We should note carefully that this obedience of Abram is not something he must do in order to earn God’s favor; rather, it is the appropriate response to God’s grace that has sought Abram out and chosen to bless him. Abram’s obedience is to be a heartfelt response to God’s grace, not a means by which he earns it. God has been teaching Abram and Sarai that “the flesh profits nothing.” They cannot bring about the promise by the flesh. Only God’s power can fulfill it. God’s people must learn to trust God, to walk with him through times of uncertainty, even as the flesh proves weak and “things of this world grow strangely dim.” They must learn to die to themselves and walk by faith instead of by sight.
It is in this context that God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, signaling a profound change in identity and course—a virtual resurrection. This event anticipates the work of Jesus Christ, who secures the blessings of the covenant for us and draws us into communion with Himself. Through Jesus Christ, God both calls and enables us to “walk before Him and be blameless.” It is a resurrection command, not one by which we earn God’s grace, but one by which we exhibit the resurrection power of God in us—our source of grace and life.