Genesis 17:1. The Almighty God. The original word Shaddai is often rendered, All-sufficient. He is so called because he sheds down blessings as the rain.
Genesis 17:2. My covenant; so called because God gave it to Abraham, and is still mindful of it to confirm it forever to the faithful. Isaiah 51:6.
Genesis 17:3. Fell on his face. The exterior acts of worship were in general four.
(1) Prostration of the body to the ground.
(2) Bowing the head.
(3) Bowing the upper part of the body to the knees, and sometimes so much that the forehead touched the ground.
Genesis 17:5. Abram. Ab, father, and Ram, high, compounded his name before: but now Ham, multitude, was added. Abraham, according to the words of the covenant, signifies, a father of many nations.
Genesis 17:6. Exceedingly fruitful. The first blessing named was an immense progeny of nations; and Ishmael’s progeny alone seems more than those of Isaac. They are called Saracen’s, for Ishmael was born as Sarah’s son, and heir of the house, if Sarah had continued barren. The land of Canaan was promised as a possession: when God gives children, he also gives bread.
Genesis 17:10. Circumcised. To teach him that the concupiscence of the flesh must be mortified: yet who would ever have thought of imposing this bloody rite on infants, if God had not enforced it by a strong command?
Genesis 17:14. Cut off. This word, which will often occur, signifies, sometimes a judgment inflicted by God; sometimes the punishment of death inflicted by the magistrates, and sometimes excommunication from the congregation.
Genesis 17:15. Sarai, my princess; but Sarah imports, that she was to be the princess of all the great nations here promised to her husband.
Genesis 17:17. Abraham—laughed; that is, rejoiced and was glad to see the day of Christ, in the promise and birth of Isaac.
Genesis 17:18. Oh that Ishmael might live before thee. This was Abraham’s own spirit; but the Messiah must not descend in the line of Ishmael.
Genesis 17:23. Their foreskin. The Jews put a silver pin through the projecting skin of the infant, so as to keep clear of the head of the penis; and then with a sharp knife passed behind the pin, took the prepuce clean away. This yoke is done away in Christ; but not the yoke to mortify the deeds of the flesh, and possess the body in sanctification and honour. Young men, says Polycarp, keep your flesh as the temple of God.
How solemn is the covenant here renewed and enlarged with the patriarch. God himself appeared, probably in the cloud, or shechinah of his glory. Abraham listens prostrated on the ground. Here is a covenant solemnly made by the strongest of affirmations to Abraham, and his seed; that is, in Jesus Christ to all who shall believe in him. How good is the Lord to give guilty man a covenant to allay his fears, and afford him strong consolation on flying for refuge to the hope set before him.
Here is the seal of the covenant, circumcision, indicating that being joined to the Lord by faith, we should mortify the deeds of the body, and serve him in newness of life. Those only are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
The Lord said to Abraham, be thou perfect. Hence he gives the grace of the covenant to believers, that being justified, they may also be sanctified by faith, and conformed to all his blessed and holy will. And the soul that is not so sanctified, but indulges in the lusts of the flesh, shall be cut off from his people.
This covenant was also established with Abraham’s children. The males were to be circumcised on the eighth day, and St. Paul has joined circumcision with baptism in the same verse. Ye were, he says to the Colossians, circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him by baptism. Hence the baptism of infants has obviously succeeded the ordinance of circumcision; and a child is surely benefited, in a covenant view, by being so solemnly devoted to God.
But did the circumcised father beget an uncircumcised son; just so does a regenerate father beget unregenerate children. Hence we see the effect of original sin; we derive a mortal body and a tainted mind from our parents. Hence also we must receive the grace of conversion from the second Adam, and be born again, or we cannot see the kingdom of God. Did Abraham and Sarah, on embracing this covenant, receive a new or an improved name? The Lord will do the same for every believer. He has promised to give the victorious soul the white stone of absolution, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth, save he that receiveth it. This covenant being all grace, grace, and enlarged in its promises every time that God renewed it with Abraham, shall daily be enlarged to us. May we have a heart grateful to receive it, and zealous to inculcate it on posterity, for the soul that is not purged with the blood of this covenant shall be cut off.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 17". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany