John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible
INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 17
This chapter treats of a covenant made with Abram, sometimes called the covenant of circumcision, the time when God appeared to him, and promised to make it, and did, Genesis 17:1; the particulars of it, both with respect to himself, whose name was now changed, and to his posterity, Genesis 17:4; the token of it, circumcision, the time of its performance, and the persons obliged to it, Genesis 17:9; the change of Sarai's name, and a promise made that she should have a son, to the great surprise of Abraham, Genesis 17:15; a prayer of his for Ishmael, and the answer to it, with a confirmation of Sarah's having a son, whose name should be called Isaac, and the establishment of the covenant with him, Genesis 17:18; and the chapter is closed with an account of the circumcision of Abraham, and all his family of the male sort, agreeably to the command of God, Genesis 17:23.
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine,.... Which was thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael last mentioned; so many years more it was before be is expressly told he should have a son by Sarai, or had the promise of Isaac, which was for the trial of his faith; and his age is here observed, that the power of God might be more manifest in fulfilling his promise, and giving him a son by Sarai:
the Lord appeared to Abram; in a visible manner, in an human form very probably, even the Logos, the Word and Son of God: it seems as if the Lord had not appeared to him since the birth of Ishmael, until this time; and if so, it may be thought to be a correction of him for listening to the voice of his wife in marrying Hagar, without asking counsel of God:
and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; as the Word of God is, as appears by his creation of all things, his in sustaining of them, his government of the church, his redemption of it, and preservation of his people safe to glory, see Revelation 1:8; and this epithet is very appropriate here, when the Lord was about to give out a promise of a son to Abram and Sarai, so much stricken in years. Some render it "all sufficient"
walk before me: not as though Abram had not so walked, or had discontinued his walk before God, but that he would go on to walk by faith in a dependence on him for everything he wanted, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual; and to walk in all his commandments and ordinances, that he either had given, or should give him; and all this as in his presence, and under his watchful eye, that sees and observes all things, and before whom all things are naked and open, as all are to the essential Word of God, Hebrews 4:12,
and be thou perfect: upright and sincere in acts of faith, and in duties of religion, and go on to perfection; which though a sinless one is not attainable in this life, is desirable, and is to be had in Christ, though not in ourselves: but here it chiefly denotes an holy and unblamable life and conversation, which though not entirely free from sin, yet without any notorious ones, which bring dishonour to God, and disgrace upon a man's character and profession, see Genesis 6:9. This respects not perfection in his body or flesh, as the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases it, through circumcision, by which the Jews
And I will make my covenant between me and thee,.... The covenant of circumcision, so called from the token of it, which God is said to make or give
and will multiply thee exceedingly; as he had before promised at several times, and now renews it, lest be should think that Ishmael was the promised seed; for though Hagar's seed is promised to be multiplied, yet here Abram's seed by Sarai is intended, which should be exceeding exceedingly, or in great abundance multiplied; and especially as this may include both his natural seed by her, and his spiritual seed among all nations, who are of the same faith with him, see Genesis 12:2.
And Abram fell on his face,.... At the sight of so glorious a Person that appeared to him, and in reverence of his majesty, and as sensible of his unworthiness of such a visit, and of having such favours bestowed upon him; and not because he was not as yet circumcised, as the Targum of Jonathan expresses it; and so other Jewish
and God talked with him; after he was raised up, and was strengthened and encouraged to stand up before God, and hear what he had to say to him; for after this we read of his falling on his face again, Genesis 17:17; which shows that he had been erect, after he first fell on his face: saying; as follows.
As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee,.... Who was gracious to make it, faithful to keep it, and immutable in it, though Abram was but a man, and sinful:
and thou shalt be a father of many nations: as he was of many Arabian nations, and of the Turks in the line of Ishmael; and of the Midianites, and others, in the line of his sons by Keturah; and of the Israelites in the line of Isaac, as well as of the Edomites in the line of Esau; and in a spiritual sense the father of all that believe, in all the nations of the world, circumcised or uncircumcised, as the apostle explains it, Romans 4:11.
Neither shall thy name be any more called Abram,.... Which signifies an "high father", which name he bore for many years before he was the father of anyone:
but thy name shall be Abraham: with all addition of the letter ה inserted into it, and makes the last syllable two, "raham": which word in the Arabic language, as Hottinger
for a father of many nations have I made thee; not that he was so already in fact, but in the purpose and promise of God, Romans 4:17; Abraham has not only been the father of many nations, in a literal sense, as before observed, but in a mystical sense, of the whole world; that is, of all in it that believe, whether Jews or Gentiles; and so the Rabbins
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful,.... In children, for he had not only a son by Sarai, from whom sprung a numerous offspring, but he had six sons by Keturah, who became the heads of large nations:
and I will make nations of thee; as the nations of Israel and Judah, of the Midianites and Edomites, of the Arabs, Saracens, and Turks:
and kings shall come out of thee; as the twelve princes of Ishmael, the kings of Edom and Midian, of the Arabs, Saracens, and Turks, and of Israel and Judah, and especially, as observed by Grotius, and others, the King Messiah: to which may be added, in a mystical sense, all Christian kings and princes of the same faith with him; nay, all believers, who are all kings and priests unto God.
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee,.... Not only renew it, but confirm it by the following token of circumcision:
and thy seed after thee, in their generation; such blessings in it as belonged to his natural seed, as such he confirmed to them, to be enjoyed by them in successive ages; and such as belonged to his spiritual seed, to them also, as they should be raised up in future times in one place and another:
for an everlasting covenant; to his natural seed, as long as they should continue in the true worship of God; and in their own land; or until the Messiah came, in whom the covenant of circumcision had its accomplishment, and was at an end; and to all his spiritual seed, with respect to the spiritual blessings of it, which are everlasting, and are never taken away, or become void:
to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee; to his natural seed, as the God of nature and providence, communicating the good things of life unto them; protecting, preserving, and continuing them in the land he gave them, and in the possessive of all the good things in it, so long as they were obedient to him as their King and their God; and to his spiritual seed, as the God of all grace, supplying them with grace here, and bestowing upon them glory hereafter.
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,.... To him in right, and to them in possession, and for an inheritance:
the land wherein thou art a stranger; or "the land of sojournings" or "pilgrimages"
all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; this respects only the natural seed of Abraham, and those in the line of Isaac and Jacob, to whom this land was given to hold for ever, in case they were obedient to the will of God; and therefore whenever they were disobedient, they were carried captive from it, as they are at this day; but when they shall be converted, they will return to this land and possess it to the end of the world; and which was a figure of the heavenly inheritance, which is an eternal one, and will be enjoyed by all his spiritual seed to all eternity:
and I will be their God; as he was to all the natural seed of Abraham in a spiritual sense, to whom the adoption belonged, and whom he chose and separated as a peculiar people to himself, and bestowed in providence many peculiar favours upon them, both in a civil and religious way; and as he is to all his spiritual seed in an evangelic sense, to whom he stands in the relation of their covenant God and Father in Christ, in whom he blesses them with all spiritual blessings, and will continue to be so unto death, and to all eternity.
And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore,.... Observe the sign or token of it, circumcision, in the manner after related:
thou, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; in successive ages until the Messiah come, the end of the law for righteousness.
This is my covenant,.... The token of it, for the promise itself was given before, which is more properly the covenant; circumcision is so called in an improper sense, being only the sign of it:
which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee; which was to be observed by Abraham, and the males in his house then with him, as Ishmael, and those that were born in his house, or bought with his money, and by his posterity in succeeding ages, and it is what follows:
every man child among you shall be circumcised; this was the first institution of circumcision, and it was an institution of God, and not of man. Indeed Herodotus says
And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin,.... Or "the foreskin of your flesh"
and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you: of the promise of God to Abraham, that he should be the father of many nations. The apostle explains it, Romans 4:11; to be a seal, or what gave assurance to Abraham, or was a sure token to him, that righteousness would be wrought out by Christ, by his obedience, and the shedding of his blood, which is received by faith; and that this was imputed to him while he was uncircumcised, Genesis 15:6; and that this also would "be in the uncircumcision", or uncircumcised Gentiles that should believe as he did, and be imputed to them, as to him, and so he would appear to be the father of them all. Moreover, this was a sign or token of that part of the promise or covenant, which gave to his seed the land of Canaan: this was a seal of the lease of that land, which was made while Abraham was in it, and which the Israelites were obliged to submit to, upon entrance into it in Joshua's time, as a token of it; and which they were to observe while in it until the Messiah's coming, and by which they were distinguished from other nations, and kept a distinct nation, that it might appear he came of them: and to use the words of Tacitus
And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you,.... A son or infant of eight days old; it might not be circumcised before, but for some reasons might be deferred longer. The reasons why this rite was ordered to be performed in infancy, according to Maimonides
every man child in your generations; in all succeeding ages until the Messiah came, the end of the law; and when the lease of the land of Canaan, of which this was a seal, would be out; and when the righteousness of faith, it was also a seal of, would come upon the uncircumcised Gentiles:
he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger,
which is not of thy seed; concerning which Maimonides
He that is born in thine house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised,.... Or "in circumcising shall be circumcised"
And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant; circumcision was to be seen in their flesh, and no methods were to be taken to draw over the foreskin again, but it was to continue as long as they lived; and so in their posterity, in all succeeding ages, as a sign of the covenant and promise which should remain until the Messiah's coming.
And the uncircumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised,.... Whose circumcision was neglected by his father, or by his mother, or by the civil magistrate, or by himself; for each of these, according to the Jewish canons, were obliged to see this performed;"the commandment lies upon a father to circumcise his son, and upon a master to circumcise his servants born in his house, or bought with money
that soul shall be cut off from his people; which Jarchi interprets of his being childless, and dying before his time; and which, according to some in Aben Ezra, is, when a man dies before he is fifty two years of age; and some erroneous persons, as the same writer calls them, thought that if a child died, and was not circumcised, it had no part in the world to come. The simplest and plainest meaning of the phrase seems to be, that such should be cut off, and deprived of all civil and religious privileges with the Israelites in the land of Canaan, and be reckoned as Heathens. Concerning this matter, Maimonides
he hath broken my covenant; made it null and void, neglecting the token of it, circumcision.
And God said unto Abraham,.... After he had changed his name, and given him the covenant of circumcision:
as for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah her name shall be; her former name Sarai signifies "my princess", or rather "princesses", being to him in the room of many, and better than ten thousand; yet only a princess to him, and in his family, being sole mistress there: but Sarah signifies, as Jarchi observes, "princess" absolutely, because she was princess over all the princes and people that should come of her, as well as be the mother and princess of all female believers, who are called her daughters, 1 Peter 3:6.
And I will bless her,.... The Targum of Jonathan adds, "in her body", with fruitfulness, who before was barren, and in her soul with spiritual blessings, and in both with the blessing of eternal life:
and give thee a son also of her; as he had given him one of Hagar: God had before promised Abraham a son that should be his heir, but he had not till now told him that he should be born of Sarah his wife:
yea, I will bless her; which is repeated for the confirmation of it, and for the greater strengthening Abraham's faith in it:
and she shall be a mother of nations; of the twelve tribes of Israel; of the two nations of Israel and Judah:
kings of people shall be of her; as David, Solomon, and others, and especially the King Messiah.
Then Abraham fell upon his face,.... In reverence of the divine Being, and as amazed at what was told him:
and laughed; not through distrust and diffidence of the promise, as Sarah did, for he staggered not at that through unbelief, but for joy at such good news; and so Onkelos renders it, "and he rejoiced", with the joy of faith; it may be our Lord refers to this in John 8:56; he saw Christ in the promise of Isaac, and rejoiced that he should spring from his seed: the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem paraphrase it, "and he wondered"; he was amazed at the grace of God that gave him such a promise, and he was astonished at the power of God that must be exerted in the fulfilment of it: and therefore it follows:
and said in his heart; within himself, without expressing anything as to be heard and understood by any creature; but the omniscient God knew what he said, and the language of it, whether of unbelief or not:
shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? not that he was now a full an hundred years old, he was ninety nine, and going in his hundredth year; but then he would be, as he was, an hundred years old when this child was born to him, Genesis 21:5. It had been no unusual thing for a child to be born to a man when an hundred, and even many hundred years old, but it was so in Abraham's time; though indeed after this we read that Abraham himself had six sons by Keturah, when, his natural strength was afresh invigorated, and his youth was renewed like the eagle's; and besides Abraham said this, not so much with respect to himself, though his age was a circumstance that served to heighten the wonder, as with respect to Sarah, and the circumstances in which she was, who was to bear this son to him:
and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? and with whom it had ceased to be after the manner of women, which made it more difficult of belief how it could be. Some think that Abraham said this, as somewhat doubting of it, until he was more strongly assured by the Lord that so it would be indeed, as is expressed in Genesis 17:19; but meeting with no reproof for what he said and did, as Sarah, it seems to show the contrary.
And Abraham said unto God,.... Being told he should have a son by Sarah, that should be his heir, he is concerned for Ishmael what would become of him; and who, being grown up, had doubtless a large share in his affections, and it is highly probable he began to think he was the promised seed, since he had lived to such an age, and had no other son, and Sarah was past bearing children: but now perceiving it would be otherwise, he puts up a petition for Ishmael, whom he did not neglect upon the promise of another, and to show his love to him, and regard for his welfare:
O that Ishmael might live before thee; he prays that his life might be preserved, and that it might be spent in the fear, worship, and service of God; so the Targum of Jonathan,"O that Ishmael might live and worship before thee,'and to the same sense Jarchi also; that he might enjoy the favour of God, his gracious presence and communion with him; that he might live a holy spiritual life here, acceptable and well pleasing to God, and possess eternal life hereafter: for we must take this prayer in as large a sense as we can suppose the heart of a father to be drawn forth in it for the good of his child; though it may greatly respect his sharing with the promised son in his blessings, and particularly regards the propagation of his offspring, or his living in his posterity at least; this was what the Lord took notice of, and answered him in.
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed,.... This is repeated for the confirmation of it, and thus expressed to remove all doubt about it, if any there were, that hung upon Abraham's mind; as well as to let him know that the promise of a son by Sarah was not to be superseded by his prayer for Ishmael, for whom he might have a greater flow of natural affection than for his unborn son, in whom his seed should be called:
and thou shall call his name Isaac; which signifies "laughter"; and which name was given him from the laughter of Abraham at the promise of him, and not from the laughter of Sarah, which as yet was not; wherefore Josephus
and I will establish my covenant with him, for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him; the covenant of circumcision just made with Abraham, the promise of the land of Canaan to him and his posterity, and of the Messiah that should spring from him, until whose coming this covenant would continue, and therefore called everlasting.
And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee, &c. Took notice of his prayer for him, and accepted of and would answer him, and did, as follows:
behold, I have blessed him; determined in his mind to bless him, promised to bless him, Genesis 16:10; had blessings laid up and in reserve for him:
and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; as he did, many of the Arabian nations, the Hagarenes, Saracens, and Turks, all springing from him:
twelve princes shall he beget; whose names are given, Genesis 25:13; and their number there exactly agrees with this prophecy. Melo
I will make him a great nation; as the nation of the Turks especially is; and the Turkish empire is frequently called in Jewish writings the kingdom of Ishmael, as the Arabic language is called the Ishmaelitish language.
But my covenant will one establish with Isaac,.... The covenant of circumcision; for though Ishmael was circumcised, and his posterity practised that rite, yet it was not enjoined them of God; nor was it to them, or served the same purpose as to the Israelites; and particularly the promise of the land of Canaan, made in that covenant, belonged only to the posterity of Isaac, and to those only in the line of Jacob, and especially that of the Messiah springing from him, which circumcision had a respect unto:
whom Sarah shall bear unto thee, at this set time, in the next year: that is, at the end of nine months, which is the set time a woman goes with child.
And he left off talking; with him,.... After he had finished all he had to say to him at this time. It was great condescension in the divine Being to talk with a creature; it was wonderful grace and kindness to make such promises to him, as he did, and indulge him with answers of prayer and communion with him; but the highest enjoyments of God here are not lasting; uninterrupted communion with him is reserved for another world:
and God went up from Abraham; from the earth, where he had been with Abraham, and ascended above him up to heaven, in a visible, and very likely in an human form, in which he descended: the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan paraphrase it, "the glory of the Lord", the glorious Shechinah, the Lord of life and glory.
And Abraham took Ishmael his son,.... To circumcise him; he took his son first, to set an example to his servants, and that they might the more readily comply when they saw that Abraham's son, and at that time his only son, was circumcised before their eyes:
and all that were born in his house; which were three hundred and eighteen when he rescued Lot from the kings, Genesis 14:14; and perhaps they might be now increased:
and all that were bought with his money; how many those were, it is not easy to say, no doubt they were many:
every male among the men of Abraham's house; whether children or servants, and those little or grown up:
and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin, in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him; he performed this operation in the manner God directed him, the same day he spoke to him of it; he was not disobedient, nor dilatory to obey the command of God, but at once complied with it, not consulting flesh and blood, not regarding the pain he and his should endure, or the shame or danger they should be exposed unto through the Heathens about them; but trusting in God, and committing himself to him, and having his fear before his eyes, he hesitated not, but cheerfully did the will of God. In doing this work he might have some assistance: it is highly probable he began it himself, and circumcised several; and having taught some of his servants how to perform it according to the divine prescription, they might assist him in going through with it.
And Abraham was ninety years old and nine,.... See Genesis 17:1. This circumstance of his age is observed the more to commend his faith and obedience, that though he was an old man, he did not consider his age, or make that an objection; that he was unable to bear the pain, or it would be shameful for a man of his years to be uncovered before his servants:
when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin; who circumcised him is not said, very probably Eliezer his head servant: the Jews, who affect to know everything, say
And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. Hence the Arabians, as Josephus
In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. This is repeated, that it might be taken notice of that both were circumcised according to the command of God, and on the very day in which it was given. Jarchi observes, it was in the day, and not in the night; which shows, says he, he was not afraid of the Heathen, and of mockers; and that his enemies, and the men of that generation, might not say, if we had seen him, we would not have suffered him to be circumcised, and keep the commandment of God: and some of the Jewish writers
And all the men of his house,.... All the males, whether children or adult:
born in the house, or bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him; by their will, and with their consent; not forced to it, as Aben Ezra rightly observes; and these being before trained up by him in religious exercises, were more easily prevailed upon by him to follow his example; this also is repeated, that it might be served, and be an example to follow in after generations.
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