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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 17

Verses 1-8

God’s Covenant with Abraham

The LORD appears for the second time to Abram. He presents himself as El Shaddai, that is “God, the Almighty”. Here not “LORD God”, because this time it is not about Who He is for Abram, but about Who He is in Himself. This may mean an enormous encouragement for the believing Abram to live in the country where he has nothing yet, but what his descendants will inherit. To know God in this way is also a great encouragement for us, who equally live by faith. It is a great privilege to walk before God, the Almighty, and to be always aware that He is with you.

At the same time, God can only expect this walk to be blameless, impeccable. That’s why He adds that. We can’t fill in that walk as we like. We know that Abram is not perfect and that we are not. But God can never adjust His measure to who man is (cf. Matthew 5:48).

In the relationship just established, God makes His covenant with Abram. He will fill in what He said in Genesis 15 (Genesis 15:18). In this covenant He unfolds His counsel regarding Abram, which He also gives another name: Abraham. “Abram” means “exalted father”; “Abraham” means “father of a crowd”. In the sense of the name “Abraham” the content of God’s covenant is reflected. It is a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. His offspring shall be so great that he shall become the father of a multitude of nations.

This is his physical offspring, as it becomes clear in the following verses through circumcision, which is carried out only on all from Israel. The other nations will also be blessed on the basis of this covenant, for through Israel the blessing will go everywhere. Furthermore he is the father of a crowd in a spiritual sense because he is also the father of all who walk in the footsteps of his faith: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11-2 Kings :).

Verses 9-14

The Circumcision

As a seal or sign of the covenant, God commands Abraham to circumcise every male. Stéfanus speaks of “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8), which indicates how much this covenant and the circumcision are connected. Abraham must cut away the foreskin of the male genitalia. Breeding takes place via this organ, through which sin is also bred. Practically that is a painful matter (Genesis 34:24-Lamentations :).

God considers the omission of circumcision a mortal sin. Even Moses experiences this when he was neglectful to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24-Lamentations :).

What is a literal matter for Israel, an outward sign that they form the covenant people of God, has a spiritual and far-reaching meaning for the Christian. It means that the believer lives from the awareness that God’s judgment on the flesh is carried out in the judgment that has come on Christ. Because of this he no longer lives according to his own ‘I’ (Romans 2:28-Joel :; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:3; Galatians 2:20).

Verses 15-22

The Heir Promised

When everything concerning the covenant and circumcision has been brought forward by God, He tells who the heir’s mother is. To this God also connects a name change for Sarai. The heir will be born of “Sara”. “Sarai” means ‘my princess’; “Sara” means ‘princess’. When we think of ‘my princess’ we can think of a certain family or gender to which she belongs. That name implies a certain limitation. When we think of ‘princess’ we do not think of limitations, but of her dignity. She is a picture of Israel that is still infertile, but that will produce fruit that will be a blessing to the whole earth.

After this announcement Abraham throws himself down in worship before God and laughs. This is not a laugh of unbelief, as was later the case with Sarah (Genesis 18:12). It is a laughter of joy and faith for the promise of God (Romans 4:19). That it is a laughter of joy and faith is also expressed in the name he has to give his son, for “Isaac” means ‘laughing’.

Abraham still has a special request for Ishmael. After all, he is also his son? At Abraham’s request, God only responds by promising blessing on the earth for Ishmael, without any special bond with God. Ishmael is the result of a work of disbelief. With this God can never stand in a covenant relationship.

Then God continues to speak about Isaac. The blessing for Abraham and his descendants is exclusively connected with Isaac. With him God will also establish His covenant. He predicts that the birth of Isaac will take place in the near future. The fulfilment of the promise will not be long in coming.

Verses 23-27

Abraham Circumcises His House

Abraham obeys God and circumcises his house. He does not wait with this, but does it “in the very same day” (cf. Psalms 119:60). He brings, spiritually speaking, his whole house upon the foundation of death. That is the only way to receive the blessing promised by God. Later there is talk of the circumcision of all Israel (Jz 5:2). This is just as necessary if Israel is to inherit the blessing of the promised land.

In this context, it is good to pay attention to the doctrine that ‘baptism has replaced circumcision’. This is how it says in the Heidelberg Catechism, at Sunday 27, question 74. Now that is not the Bible and therefore it is important that we check whether what is said there is in accordance with the Bible. Of the reference texts quoted in Sunday 27, question 74, only Colossians 2:11-12 contains something about a connection between ‘circumcision’ and ‘baptism’.

We should therefore read this text carefully and through ‘covenant glasses’, because then we ‘read’ what it does not say. Reading through ‘covenant glasses’ means that one reads the Bible from the idea that the church replaced Israel. As a result, it is said that God has now made His covenant with the church instead of with Israel.

By extension, circumcision is given a meaning that is alien to what God means by it when He institutes the circumcision. This institution we find here in Genesis 17. Here it becomes clear that circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The offspring of Abraham is the people of Israel. Every Israeli boy must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.

Those who believe that God has a covenant with the church at this time say that the sign of this is no longer circumcision, but baptism. Therefore, it is said, children of parents going to church must be baptized. After all, these children must be included in God’s covenant with the church. In order to prove this reasoning, they appeal to Colossians 2 (Colossians 2:11-2 Kings :), among others.

Now let us look at that text. The biblical text reads: “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:11-2 Kings :). First of all, it is striking that there is talk of “a circumcision made without hands”. So it is not the same act as with Israel. That would make room for baptism, because that is really something else than circumcision. But we continue to read: “in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ”. Here we find the explanation of circumcision.

It is about “the removal of the body of the flesh”. This means that the sinful flesh is judged. This happened when Christ received the judgment on the cross (Romans 8:3). The believer is stripped of what used to characterize him: the flesh. It is ‘removed’, it may no longer play a role. And how did that happen? “By the circumcision of Christ.” Of course, this can never refer to what literally happened to Him on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). To what it must be applied then? As said: To the judgment He received on the cross. Here it becomes clear that circumcision has not only a literal, but also a spiritual meaning (Romans 2:28-Joel :).

If we now continue to read in Colossians 2, we see that “the circumcision of Christ” is followed by “buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12). That is also clear: After death’s judgment on the flesh, the burial follows in baptism.

If we read carefully, the conclusion is simple: the circumcision is not the burial, but the judgment. Thus, the circumcision is not replaced by baptism, but baptism as a picture of the burial follows the circumcision.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-17.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.