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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Genesis 17

Verses 1-8

GENESIS - CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Verses 1-8:

Verse 1: This event occurred thirteen years after the birth of Ishamel. During this time there was no recorded visitation from Jehovah.

Here Jehovah reveals Himself to Abram in a different aspect than before. The circumstances: the advanced age of both Abram and Sarai, and the fact that the promised son had not yet been born. There must be supernatural nourishment and blessing to make this promise a reality. Thus the name, "Almighty God," is El Shaddai, from the root word meaning "mother’s breast," or the Source of all nourishment and power. Sept. pantokrator, the one possessing all strength or power, who is able to realize His promises even though the course of nature gives no prospect of fulfillment. Abram and Sarai need not despair, though according to nature Sarai was past childbearing age.

"Perfect" is tammim (Sept. teleios), meaning complete, fully mature. The term does not denote sinless.

Verse 2: "My covenant" does not refer to an additional covenant to the one previously made. It intimates that the earlier covenant made years ago was now about to be fulfilled.

Verses 3, 4: "Abram fell on his face" in reverence, awe, and devotion, see Ge 24:52; Nu 16:22.

"God," Elohim, the third name of Deity in as many verses: Here God renews His covenant with Abram, that he would become father of many nations.

History confirms the fulfillment of this promise. In addition to the nation Israel, many other nations claim Abram as their father. These include the various Arab nations of today, descendants from Ishmael, and from Esau.

Verse 5: God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. It was not an uncommon practice in ancient times that one’s name should be changed at some momentous event. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel to denote a new relationship, and a new aspect of the covenant. "Abram" means "father of elevation," or "high (exalted father)." "Abraham" means "father of a multitude."

Abram’s name was changed by the addition of he, the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In Bible numerics, "five is the number of grace. In the change of his name to Abraham, God confirmed that the fulfillment of His covenant would be according to grace, not works (see Ro 4:16).

Verse 6: This promise was fulfilled through the descendants of Ishamel, of Keturah, of Esau (the Edomites), and of Israel. Furthermore, the descendants of Abraham would include those of royal lineage, as David, Solomon, etc.

Verse 7: This was not the formation of God’s covenant with Abraham, but the re-confirmation. At each restatement or reconfirmation, God revealed more of its various aspects. This covenant is to be "everlasting," literally, "a covenant of eternity." Use of the Name Elohim implies all saving benefits, and is a clear indication of the spiritual nature of the Abrahamic covenant.

Verse 8: Abraham lived in the Land as a "stranger," a sojourner, or temporary resident. This land was at that time inhabited by the sensual and notorious descendants of Ham through Canaan, would one day belong to Abraham’s literal descendants as an everlasting possession, a "possession of eternity," (For the boundaries of this possession, see ch. 15.)

Verses 9-14

Verse 9-14:

Verses 9-11: God prescribed certain tokens to confirm various covenants. For example, the token of the Noahic Covenant (Ge 9:9-17) is the rainbow. The token of the Abrahamic Covenant-is circumcision. This practice consists of removal of a portion of the foreskin to allow retraction beyond the glans penis. It is performed in modern times primarily as a medical procedure, calculated to promote hygiene and prevent disease. God instituted circumcision for Abraham and his descendants for religious purposes, as a token of His Covenant. Its practice as a religious rite continues among Jews and Muslims alike.

There appears to be a variety of reasons God decreed this token. It would distinguish the seed of Abraham from the nations; it would perpetuate the memory of God’s covenant with Abraham; it is a reminder of the duty of cultivating moral purity (De 10:16). Other tokens could have accomplished this purpose just as effectively as does circumcision. There appears to be deeper meaning than just these. As a physical operation with spiritual application, circumcision relates to procreation, a reminder of God’s promise of fruitfulness to Abraham and his seed. As an operation removing part of one’s flesh, it emphasizes the necessity of putting away of the "flesh-nature" with its cravings, and pictured to the ancients what baptism pictures to the Christian today (Col 2:11, 12).

Verses 12-14: Circumcision was not an option for Abraham’s descendants. It was to be performed on every male born to his seed, unto all generations, on the eighth day after birth (Le 12:3; Lu 2:21; Php 3:5). This included not only the natural-born seed of Abraham, but even those slaves bought or captured in battle, and those of other nations who chose to dwell among Israel as a member of that nation, a proselyte.

The penalty of refusal to observe this rite was severe. It could mean death in some instances at the hands of the civil authorities. It inevitably meant exclusion from the nation (Ex 12:15, 19; Le 17:4-10; Nu 15:30; 19:14). The uncircumcised male forfeited his standing in the nation.

Verses 15-22

Verses 15-22:

Verses 15, 16: Although Sarai had not up to this point been expressly named in any of the promises, she is now included in the Covenant. As Abram received a new name indicative of the development of the Covenant, so Sarai received a new name also, "Sarai" means "princely, noble." Sarah means "princess," denoting that she was from this point on to be considered as the princess to the Lord. The letter "he" identifies her relationship to Jehovah, in the covenant of grace as it did in the name of Abraham.

Verse 17: Abraham’s initial reaction to this promise that Sarah would bear seed was to fall upon his face, and laugh. The language indicates this was an inner laughter of joy and amazement. From a natural standpoint, the promise had no chance of fulfillment. Even at that period in history when men lived much longer than in later times, the age of Sarah (ninety) was well beyond the childbearing age. What human reason said was impossible, faith accepted as fact (Ro 4:19).

Verse 18: Abraham’s love for Ishmael is evident in his plea that God would remember him. This reflects Abraham’s desire that Ishamel might enjoy long life and prosperity, and that he might share in the blessings of the Covenant along with Sarah’s son.

Verses 19-22: God renewed His promise that Sarah would bear a son. The name of that son would be "Isaac" yitsak, an onomatopoeic word meaning "laughter." This is an obvious reminder of Abraham’s laughter on this occasion, as well as Sarah’s laughter on a later occasion (Ge 18:12-15).

God made plain His choice of the promised seed. It was to be through Isaac, the child of promise; not Ishmael, the child of human effort (Ga 4:22-31). Then He "went up" or returned to Heaven, from talking with Abraham.

Verses 23-27

Verses 23-27:

Verses 23-27: Abraham proceeded to implement the instructions God gave him regarding the sign or token of the covenant. The "selfsame day" does not necessarily mean that Abraham and all the males of his household were circumcised on the same day he talked with God, although this is possible. Likely the expression indicates that all were circumcised on the same day. Considering the size of Abraham’s household this must have been quite an undertaking. In addition to Abraham and Ishamael, there were at least three hundred eighteen men of military age among Abraham’s servants (Ge 15:14).

In ancient times, the rite of circumcision was performed with sharp knives of flint rock. Some expositors trace the origin of circumcision to the Egyptians, and say that Abraham borrowed it from them. It is highly unlikely that any ceremony of such spiritual importance in the true worship of Jehovah would be borrowed from a pagan practice. There appears to be no justification for this position. Circumcision was instituted by Jehovah God Himself, and is of deep significance in His Covenant of Grace with Abraham.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 17". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-17.html. 1985.