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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 17

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-14


Genesis 17:1

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine—consequently an interval of thirteen years had elapsed since the birth of Ishmael; the long delay on the part of God being probably designed as chastisement for Abram's second nuptials (Calvin), and at least corresponding with Abram's undue haste (Lange)—the Lord appeared to Abram—lest he should regard Ishmael's birth as a complete fulfillment of the promise (Menochius), and be satisfied with Hagar's child as the expected seed (Calvin)—and said to him, I am the Almighty GodEl Shaddai, found six times in Genesis and thirty-one times in Job, composed of El, God, and Shaddai; not a nomen compositum (from שֶׁ = אֲשֶׁר and דַּי) signifying qui sufficiens est (Aquinas, Symmachus, Theodoret, Saadias, Maimonides, Calvin), but either a pluralis excellentiae; from the singular שַׁר, powerful—root שֱׁדַד, to be strong (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Wordsworth), or a singular from the same root with the substantive termination יַ, as in הַגַּי, the festal, יְשִׁישַׁי, the old man, סִינַי, the thorn-grown (Keil, Oehler, Lange); descriptive of God as revealing himself violently in his might, hence correctly rendered παντοκράτωρ by the LXX. in Job (Oehler); distinguishing Jehovah, the God of salvation, from Elohim, the God who creates nature so that it is and supports it that it may stand, as "the God who compels nature to do what is contrary to itself, and subdues it to bow and minister to grace" (Delitzsch); characterizing Jehovah the covenant God, "as possessing the power to realize his promises, even when the order of nature presented no prospect of their fulfillment, and the powers of nature were insufficient to secure it" (Keil); perhaps, like Elohim and Adonai, one of the world-wide titles of the Most High since it was known to Balaam (Numbers 24:4, Numbers 24:16), and is constantly used in Job ('Speaker's Commentary'). Said in Exodus 6:2, Exodus 6:3 to have been the name by which God was known to the patriarchs, it is regarded by the partitionists as characteristic of the Elohist (Tuch, Blcek, Colenso, Davidson, Ewald), and accordingly to that writer the present chapter is assigned, and the Jehovah of this verse expiated as an alteration of the original Elohist's narrative; but the πρῶτον ψεῦδος of this criticism lurks in the identification of El-Shaddai with Elohim, whereas it is not Elohim, but Jehovah, who reveals himself as E1 Shaddai not alone in the Pentateuch, but in the historical and prophetical books as well (cf. Ruth 1:20, Ruth 1:21; vide Keil's Introduction, pt. § 2; div. 1. § 25). Walk before me. Literally, set thyself to walk, as inch. Exodus 13:17, in my presence, as if conscious of my inspection and solicitous of my approval; not behind me, as if sensible of shortcomings, and desirous to elude observation. The phrase intimates a less exalted piety than the corresponding phrase used of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Noah (Genesis 6:9). And be thou perfect. Tamim, ἄμεμπτοις (LXX.), used of Noah in Genesis 6:9, and rendered τέλειος (LXX.), while perhaps retrospectively glancing at Abram's sin in marrying Hagar, indicates that absolute standard of moral attainment, viz; completeness of being in respect of purity, which the supreme Lawgiver sets before his intelligent creatures (cf. Matthew 5:8).

Genesis 17:2

And I will make my covenant between me and thee. Literally, I will give (cf. Genesis 9:9, Genesis 9:11, Genesis 9:12). Neither an additional covenant to that described in Genesis 15:1-21. (Rosenmüller), nor a different traditional account of the transaction contained in Genesis 15:1-21. (Tuch, Bleek), nor the original Elohistic narrative of which that in Genesis 15:1-21. was a later imitation (Knobel); but an intimation that the covenant already concluded was about to be carried into execution, and the promise of a son to be more specifically determined as the offspring of Sarai (Keil). And will multiply thee exceedingly (vide Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5).

Genesis 17:3

And Abram fell on his face—in reverential awe and worship. Other attitudes of devotion are mentioned. And God—Elohim, the third name for the Deity within the compass of as many verses, thus indicating identity of being—talked with him, saying—

Genesis 17:4

As for me. Literally, I, standing alone at the beginning of the sentence by way of emphasis. Equivalent to "So far as I am concerned," or, "I for my part," or, "So far as relates to me." Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be—literally, shalt become (cf. Genesis 2:7), or grow to (cf. Genesis 9:15)—a father of many (or of a multitude of) nations.

Genesis 17:5

Neither shall thy name any mere be called Abram,—Abram, i.e. high father (vide Genesis 11:26); but Abraham—Abraham (in Arabic signifying a multitude); hence "the father of a multitude," as the next clause explains—for a father of many (or a multitude of) nations have I made thee.

Genesis 17:6

And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee,—a promise fulfilled in the Ishmaelites, the descendants of Keturah, the Edomites, and the Israelites—and kings (e.g. David and Solomon) shall come out of thee.

Genesis 17:7

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant,—literally, for a covenant of eternity (vide Genesis 9:16)—to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Literally, to be for Elohim; a formula comprehending all saving benefits; a clear indication of the spiritual character of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13; Hebrews 11:16).

Genesis 17:8

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger,—literally, of thy sojournings (Genesis 12:9; Acts 7:5; Hebrews 11:9)—all the land of Canaan (vide Genesis 10:19),—for an everlasting possession. Literally, for a possession of eternity; i.e. the earthly Canaan should be retained by them so long as the arrangement then instituted should continue, provided always they complied with the conditions of the covenant; and the heavenly Canaan should be the inheritance of Abraham's spiritual children forever (vide Genesis 9:16; Genesis 13:15). And I will be their God. Literally, to them for Elohim (vide supra).

Genesis 17:9

And God said unto Abraham, Thou—literally, and thou, the other party to the covenant, the antithesis to I (Genesis 17:4)—shalt keep my covenant—literally, my covenant thou shalt keeptherefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

Genesis 17:10

This is my covenant (i.e. the sign of it, as in Genesis 9:12), which ye shall keep (i.e. observe to. do), between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. Literally, circumcise among. (or of) you every male, the inf. abs. הִמּוֹל, when it stands abruptly at the commencement of a sentence, having the force of a command.

Genesis 17:11

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. עָרְלָה, ἀκροβυστία, membrum prveputiatum, from עָרַל, to be naked, bare, hence to be odious, unclean, impure, was regarded afterwards as unclean (Deuteronomy 10:16; Isaiah 52:3; Jeremiah 4:4), and is here directed to be deprived of the skin covering its extremity, not because through it sin first discovered its effects (Poole), and original corruption is still transmitted, or to promote cleanliness (Philo), or to express detestation of certain idolatrous rites which were paid to it by the Egyptians and other heathen nations (Lyra, Kalisch), but

(1) as a sign of the faith that Christ should be descended from him (Lapide);

(2) as a symbolic representation of the putting away of the filth of the flesh and of sin in general (Calvin).

Hence it served a variety of uses:

(1) to distinguish the seed of Abraham from the Gentiles,

(2) to perpetuate the memory of Jehovah's covenant,

(3) to foster in the nation the hope of the Messiah,

(4) to remind them of the duty of cultivating moral purity (Deuteronomy 10:16),

(5) to preach to them the gospel of a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:11),

(6) to suggest the idea of a holy or a spiritual seed of Abram (Romans 2:29), and

(7) to foreshadow the Christian rite of baptism (Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:12).

And it shall be a token of the covenant—literally, for a token of covenant (cf. Genesis 9:12; Acts 7:8; Romans 4:11)—betwixt me and you.

Genesis 17:12

And he that is eight days old—literally, and the son of eight days (cf. Genesis 17:1)—shall be circumcised among you (Le Genesis 12:3; Luke 2:21; Philippians 3:5), every man child—"The fact that several times the circumcision of the males only is enjoined may point to the legislator's intention to exclude that rite in the other sex, though it was customary among many ancient nations, but not universal among the Egyptians" (Kalisch). Though not administered to both, the symbol was ordained for the sake of both sexes (Calvin)—in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. Not only a proof of the Divine benignity to Abraham in embracing all the members of his household within the pale of the visible Church now constituted, but likewise a hint of the world-wide aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, a first-fruits as it were of the "all the families of the earth" that should be blessed in Abram.

Genesis 17:13

He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised. Literally, circumcised, must be circumcised, he that is born, &c; the niph. inf. abe. with the finite verb occupying the place of emphasis at the beginning of the sentence. And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Genesis 17:14

And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people. Ἐξολοθρευθήσεται ἐκ τοῦ γένους αὐτῆς (LXX.), i.e. shall be destroyed from amongst his nation, from among his people (Le Genesis 17:4, Genesis 17:10; Numbers 15:30), from Israel (Exodus 12:15; Numbers 19:13), from the congregation of Israel (Exodus 12:19), by the infliction of death at the hands of the congregation, the civil magistrate, or of God (Abarbanel, Gesenius, Clericus, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Keil, Wordsworth, Alford); or shall be excommunicated from the Church, and no longer reckoned among the people of God. That excision from one's people was in certain cases followed by the death penalty (Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 18:29; Numbers 15:30) does not prove that the capital infliction was an invariable accompaniment of such sentence (vide Exodus 12:19; Le Exodus 7:20, Exodus 7:21; Numbers 19:13). Besides, to suppose that such was its meaning here necessitates the restriction of the punishment to adults, whereas with the alternative signification no such restriction requires to be imposed on the statute. The uncircumcised Hebrew, whether child or adult, forfeited his standing in the congregation, i.e. ceased to be a member of the Hebrew Church. He hath broken my covenant.


Genesis 17:15-27

The covenant completed.


1. The changed name. As on entering within the covenant the name of Abram was changed to Abraham, so, to signalize the reception of his spouse, Sarai was transformed into Sarah (vide Exposition), the transformation having in her case the same significance as it had in Abraham's. In particular it proclaimed that, like Abraham, Sarah was now a justified and regenerated believer in the Divine promise. N.B. There is only one gate of entrance to Christ's Church, viz; faith or conversion.

2. The guaranteed blessing. What is here affirmed of Sarai is that she should not only be received into the Church, but made a sharer of Abraham's blessing, i.e. become entitled to all the gracious provisions of the covenant. The blessing of Abraham belongs to all who are possessed of Abraham's faith. Christ's salvation is the common property of believers. And to all it is certain, as it was to Sarai. The "yea" concerning Sarai has now become for Christ's people "yea and amen."

3. The promised son. This was the first intimation that Sarai was to be the mother of the seed. The Eternal never hastens. God's disclosures of his own plans are ever slow, gradual, progressive, and mostly regulated by the faith of the recipients. When the fullness of the time arrives he is able to be minute, explicit, emphatic, as he was in intimating Isaac's birth:

(1) by the time—a year hence, and

(2) by the name—Isaac.

4. The rejoicing husband. The laugh of gladness which escaped the patriarch, though partly owing to the reiterated promise of a son, was chiefly due to the announcement that Sarah was to be its mother. It was the joy of a husband in the happiness of a beloved wife, long tried, but at length about to be rewarded; it was also the joy of a believing husband in the well-founded assurance of his wife's interest in the covenant of grace.


1. The prayer of Abraham—

(1) Reveals a note of sorrow. The displacement of Hagar's child by the son of Sarah, though for Sarah's sake thrilling him with joy, appears to have raised a tender sympathy in his breast for the disappointment which was to fall upon the lad and his mother. For years he had himself no other thought than that Ishmael might be the seed, and now he cannot put aside the cherished hope without regret. Let fathers learn that though it is beautiful to feel for children's griefs, it is dangerous to construct plans for children's greatness.

(2) Breathes an earnest spirit. Deeply concerned for the welfare of his son, Abraham was also filled with longing that God would listen to his prayer. If there is anything about which a parent's heart should be sincerely passionate, it is the happiness and prosperity of his offspring; and if there is one season more than another in which a parent's heart should be possessed by strong emotion, it is when pleading for his children at a throne of grace (Psalms 78:2).

(3) Craves a heavenly blessing. Though Ishmael was to be denied the honor of serving as a medium for the transmission of the blessings of the covenant to future ages, his father supplicated for him a personal participation in those blessings. The chief ambition of a parent should be the conversion and spiritual advancement of his children (3 John 1:4).

2. The answer of God—

(1) Assures the praying father of acceptance. Ishmael, though not admitted to the succession of the holy seed, should not be excluded from the gifts of grace. If Hagar's child, though born of the flesh, should become possessed of faith, he too would share in the spiritual benediction of the covenant. Let parents be encouraged to pray for their children.

(2) Promises great temporal prosperity to the son. Abraham had sought spiritual life for Ishmael; God bestowed m addition temporal renown. So God did with Solomon (1 Kings 3:11), and still does with saints (Ephesians 3:20).

III. THE ACQUIESCENCE OF ABRAHAM. This was signified by the patriarch's observance of the rite of circumcision, in regard to which his obedience was—

1. Immediate. There was no delay, no reluctance, no considering the question, but instantaneous compliance with the Divine directions. On the self-same day as God explained to him the provisions and conditions of the covenant, he declared his consent before God by the acceptance of the suggested sign. His behavior in this respect should be taken as a model by believers.

2. Cheerful. The rite of circumcision was of course attended with pain and something approaching to personal humiliation, and yet self-abasement and suffering were joyously assented to in view of the coming gift of the covenant. So should Christians delightedly accept tribulation and any sort of bodily indignity that God may impose, considering them as nothing in comparison with the eternal weight of glory.

3. Thorough-going. Prompt as to its time, willing in its spirit, the obedience of Abraham was also minute in its performance. The appointed ordinance was administered to himself, his son Ishmael, and every male domestic in his house, as God had said unto him. So God's people are required to observe all things written in the book of the covenant


Genesis 17:15

"Thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be," &c. "Mother of nations;" "kings of peoples shall be of her."

I. EXALTATION OF THE LOWLY. A pilgrim and stranger, made a princess. A mother of nations, though once desolate, mourning, ready to murmur. The lamentation turned into laughter.

II. THE FREEDOM OF DIVINE GRACE. The blessing unexpected, apart from creature strength, notwithstanding blind and foolish attempts to obtain blessing in our own way—the Ishmael, not the Isaac. Though many things "said in our heart," the one thing Divinely purposed the only true fulfillment of that heart's desire.

III. FOREGLEAMS OF THE COMING GLORY. The seed of the woman, specially representing the promise of God, supernaturally given, coming as the royal seed, son of a princess and forerunner of kings of peoples. God-given heir, God-given inheritance. The birth of the child of promise, so manifestly Divine, points to the yet greater glory: "Unto us a Son is born."—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-17.html. 1897.
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