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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 17

 

 

Introduction

Genesis 17. The Covenant of Circumcision.—From P, as is shown by its characteristic phraseology and style, and its interest in the origin of religious institutions. It also uses the name Elohim throughout (apart from 1), but has none of E's characteristics. The use of Yahweh in I must be due to the redactor or a scribe, since it is carefully and deliberately avoided by P till the revelation of Himself as Yahweh by Elohim in Exodus 6. This narrative marks a new stage in God's self-manifestation, signalised by a new covenant; a new sign—circumcision; a new Divine name—El Shaddai; and in this case the change in the name of those with whom the covenant was made. The author's scheme recognises four stages, of which this is the third; Adam, Noah, and Moses inaugurate the rest. Gunkel suggests that this scheme, for which analogies are to be found elsewhere, may have a Babylonian origin; history being conceived as a great year with four seasons. Circumcision (pp. 83, 99f.) is not a rite confined to the Abrahamic peoples. It is very widely diffused, of enormous antiquity, and found, sometimes associated with ordeals still more severe, among savages of the present day. Originally it was an initiation ceremony by which the youth was admitted to partial or full participation in the prerogatives and duties reserved for the male adults of the tribe, from which women and boys were rigidly excluded. Among the Jews it was practised in infancy, because its significance was changed, and the sooner the child was brought under the protection of the covenant the better. In the earlier period, the surrounding nations seem generally to have practised it, for the Philistines are singled out as uncircumcised, so that they were apparently an exception to the rule. Later the custom seems to have largely lapsed, so that it became specially characteristic of the Jews, who clung tenaciously to it as a mark both of dedication to Yahweh and distinction from the heathen.

Genesis 17:1-8. The Covenant Promises.—The name El Shaddai is that by which Elohim, when He reveals Himself to Moses as Yahweh, says that He had revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:2 f.). P's account of the revelation to Isaac is not preserved, but he uses the name in Genesis 28:3, while that to Jacob is recorded in Genesis 35:11 (cf. Genesis 48:3). The meaning of Shaddai, which occurs thirty-one times in Job, is much disputed; perhaps it means "Destroyer" (Joel 1:15*). He bids Abraham live as in His presence a blameless life. At this appearance the patriarch prostrates himself, and God, in pledge of His promise that he shall be father of a multitude of nations, changes his name from Abram to Abraham. He makes a perpetual covenant with him and his posterity, and promises lasting possession of Palestine.

Genesis 17:5. Abraham: the etymology suggested is philo-logically impossible; perhaps no more than an assonance is thought of. The real meaning is unknown. Abram means "the Father is exalted."

Genesis 17:9-14. Circumcision to be the Token of the Covenant.—The covenant involves for all time the circumcision of every male when it is eight days old, including all those in the household, whether of Hebrew origin or not. Neglect involved the cutting off of the offender—whether by death or excommunication, by Divine or human act, is not clear.

Genesis 17:15-22. Promise of a Son to Sarah.—The name Sarai is now changed to Sarah, "princess," for she is to be a mother of nations and kings. Abraham laughs at a promise so contrary to nature, and utters the wish that Ishmael might be the object of God's choice. But God has some other purpose in store for His incredulous servant; his wife is to have a son, whose name, in allusion to Abraham's laughter, is to be Isaac, "he laughs." As for Ishmael (= May God hear), God has already heard; he shall be abundantly blessed, but the covenant will be made not with him but with Isaac.

Genesis 17:23-27. Abraham, Ishmael, and the Men of his Household are Circumcised.—Though Ishmael stands outside the covenant, he is circumcised as a member of the house. He is thirteen at the time, the age at which the rite is said to have been practised among the ancient Arabs.


Verses 1-27

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18. The Story of Abraham.—In this section the three main sources, J. E, P are present. Gunkel has given strong reasons for holding that J is here made up of two main sources, one connecting Abraham with Hebron, the other with Beersheba and the Negeb. The former associates Abraham with Lot. (For details, see ICC.) On the interpretation to be placed on the figures of Abraham and the patriarchs, see the Introduction. The interest, which has hitherto been diffused over the fortunes of mankind in general, is now concentrated on Abraham and his posterity, the principle of election narrowing it down to Isaac, Ishmael being left aside, and then to Jacob, Esau being excluded.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 17:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-17.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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