Genesis 17:1-27 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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God Calls Abram, "Abraham"
Comments for Study 13

Genesis 17:1-27
Memory Verse 1-2


Chapter 17 takes Abram and us a step nearer to the birth of the son of promise. The promises of God to both of us become ever clearer and more detailed; and at the same time so do God's demands. The twin poles of promise and obligation, of privilege and responsibility, are summed up in the word "covenant" (2). This is the second stage in the divine covenant with Abram. Chapter 17 could be called a covenant renewal, just as Joshua 24 records a renewal of the Sinai covenant (the conditional covenant that God established with the nation of Israel).

I. Walk Before Me and Be Blameless (1-8)

>1. How old was Abram when he set out from Haran? (12:4) How old was Abram when Ishmael was born? (16:16) How old was Abram and Ishmael in 17:1? What do you think Abram's life had been like during those silent years?

>2. When was the last time that the LORD had appeared to Abram? Briefly tell what God promised Abram at that time. About how many years have passed since that promise? (15:1) How might of Abram thought about that promise as time went on?

>3. How did God refer to himself when he appeared to Abram? (17:1) Why and what did it mean to Abram? Why did God tell Abram to walk before him and be blameless?

Genesis 17:1 "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless."

* "When Abram was ninety-nine years old" -Genesis 12:4 says that Abram was seventy-five when he sent out from Haran. 16:16 says that Abram was eighty-six when Hagar bore him Ishmael. There is eleven years between these events. Now Genesis 17:1 says that Abram was ninety nine years old. This is twenty-four years since he set out from Haran and thirteen years since Ishmael was born. So Ishmael is thirteen years old at the beginning of this event.

I can speculate that Abram was happy enjoying his family life with Ishmael, the son he waited for for so long. His son was much joy to him. Perhaps there were problems between Hagar and Sarai, which is what happened later, but no records were made of them other than when Hagar, Ishmael's mother first became pregnant with him.

So now Abram was ninety-nine years old, and Sarai stricken in years (89). Why did God wait so long to fulfill the promise? For every human hope and prospect for a child by Sarai must have be swept away, and the heir be, in the fullest sence, the child of the promise, so that faith might receive directly from God that for which it had waited. It was in these circumstances that the LORD at last once more appeared in visible form to Abram.

God waited thirteen years to deal with Abram's lack of faith (sin) in having Ishmael by Hagar. But he did deal with it. Thus Hebrews 12:9-13 says, "Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."

* "the LORD appeared to him" -See below notes on "God Almighty" for an exposition of the word "LORD". Also see earlier Genesis comments on other names for God.

The Bible does not say what form the LORD appeared to Abram. All it says is that God was seen by Abram, who immediately fell down in reverence. Abram's experience is not described further. A vision experience at a place of worship or a dream may be meant. But the author does not deem that it was important. The author's interest (as well as the rest of the Bible) is in the fact that God speaks to his people and reveals his will. Thus the how of the revelation is often ignored.

This revelation showed that God is the faithful God of the covenant. It declared God's purpose for years to come. The Lord unveiled at this moment an entire geographical and spiritual plan for the ages. At the same time, God revealed that it is his nature to take unknown people and places and to transform them into creative participants of his will.

Genesis 15 records the last time that the LORD had appeared to Abram. The Bible doesn't record the exact time that this took place, but it does say that it was shortly after Abram and Lot separated (Gen. 14). So the last time the Lord appeared to Abram was anywhere from 13 years to 20 years ago. Most likely it was closer to 20 years before this new appearance.

The last time that the LORD appeared to Abram, he promised him "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." The Lord promised him a son and then he went in a detailed account of Abram's descendants in Egypt as slaves. What is interesting about that is that Hagar was an Egyptian. God told Aram that his descedant would be slaves of Egypt and then he had a son, his first son, by an Egyptian servant girl.

Since that time Abram did not have a son by Sarai. But no where does the Bible say his faith waned, until Sarai came to him with the idea to have a son by Hagar. I believe that as Ishmael was born and grew Abram wanted to believe that Ishmael was God's promise for a son. In fact in 17:18 Abram said, "'If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!'" And also, God had said that he would not be for thirteen years. So Abram began to believed that Sarai was right about Ishmael as time went on.

* "I am God Almighty" -The word "Almighty" in Hebrew is "Shadday". It means "Almighty," nothing else. It comes from the Hebrew word "shadad" which is a prime root meaning; "to be burly, i.e. (fig.) powerful (pass. impregnable); by impl. to ravage:-dead, destroy (-er), oppress, robber, spoil (-er), X utterly, (lay) waste."

The word "God" in Hebrew is "el". It means: "strength; as adj. mighty; espec. the Almighty (but used also of any deity):-God (god), X goodly, X great, idol, might (-y one), power, strong. Comp. names in '-el.'" It comes from the Hebrew word "ayil". It means; "prop. strength; hence anything strong; spec. a chief (politically); also a ram (from his strength); a pilaster (as a strong support); an oak or other strong tree:-mighty (man), lintel, oak, post, ram, tree." Which in turn comes from the Hebrew root word "uwl" meaning: "to twist, i.e. (by impl.) be strong; the body (as being rolled together); also powerful:-mighty, strength."

The article "I am" is not in the Hebrew phrase, but is implied by the sentence structure. Again, as in chapter 15, ancient royal covenants often began with 1) the self-identification of the king and 2) a brief historical prologue.

This is the first time that God is called by this name "El-Shadday". (Also spelled "El-Shaddai".) It was the special name by which God revealed himself to the patriarchs (Ex. 6:3). "Shaddai" occurs 31 times in the book of Job and 17 times in the rest of the Bible.

The divine name "El-Shadday", with its message that, "Nothing is impossible with God, who is all-powerful and all-sufficient," must have brought unusual encouragement and fear to Abram. The word "El Shadday" evidently calls attention to both of these attributes of God. Early Jewish scholars claimed that it was derived from "sh-da" meaning, "He who is sufficient". Some scholars derive it from the root "Shadad" which I agree with and have stated above. Others relate it to the Assyrian word "shadu" meaning "mountain". The LXX (Septuagint) gives us "hikanos" meaning "sufficient".

I believe the translator should stay as near the meaning of "all-powerful" as possible, especially since the "EL" speaks of power. The One who has all power also has all resources to supply every need of his people. In Abram's case this is a son by Sarai.

It is also interesting to note that the time that the LORD introduces himself under a new name, he also gives a new name to Abram and Sarai.

It is important to note that although God introduces himself by another name, the author makes it clear that it was still the LORD. Here "LORD" is the same Hebrew word "Yehovah" used earlier. In reference "LORD" means; "(the) self-Existent or Eternal". Jehovah (YHVH; Jews take out the vowels in God's names out of reverence) is the Jewish national name of God. In Greek it is Lord. The NIV capitalized all the letters in it where ever it appears. In lesson 3 I made this statement about the word "LORD"; Jehovah is known as the God of the covenant of Israel and God being of himself. Exodus 6:3 says, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them."

* "walk before me and be blameless" -Perhaps equivalent to "walk with me and be blameless" such as 5:22 (Enoch) and 6:8-9 (Noah) say. After Abram's and Sarai's attempt to obtain the promised offspring by using the surrogate mother, God appeared to Abram. The LORD made it clear that, if Abram was to receive God's promised and covenanted benefits, he must be God's faithful and obedient servant. His faith must be accompanied by the "obedience that comes form faith" (Rom. 1:5).

Such a God as El Shadday could make such demands. Now Abram was commanded to make his daily life (thoughts, words, deeds) before God thoroughly pleasing to the all-seeing God. Hebrew "tamin" "perfect" carries the sense of "blameless," or "spotless". But it goes beyond that sense in suggesting a well-rounded whole, every area filled out to the full.

This demand on Abram by the LORD is the big difference from the promise in chapter 15 to this in chapter 17. In chapter 15 these demands were not made. In fact in chapter 15 no demands on Abram is made. In fact the only other demands up until this point made on Abram by the LORD is in chapter 12 where the LORD said, "Leave your country, your people, and your family."

It is important to note that this is not a moral impossibility. Nor can it be considered a condition to the promise since the promise has been made before with the only condition stated back then was "leave your father" which Abram did. The next time the LORD promised Abram no condition was stated. So now, the LORD did not suddenly decide to give Abram a condition to the promise already stated. Yet, God always wants his people to be blameless before him, especially after he calls us and gives us promises through Jesus, His One and Only Son.

God wants us to be holy as he is holy. 1 Pet 1:15-16 says, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

>4. What covenant was God referring to in verse 2? (15:18) What does it mean to confirm a covenant? How did Abram respond? How does this show how Abram was spiritually at this time?

>5. How are God's promises in 2-8 like and different from earlier promises (12:2-3; 13:14-17; 15)? What was the significance in the change of Abram's name to Abraham? What is an everlasting covenant? What does it mean, "I will be their God?"

Genesis 17:2 "I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers."

* "I will confirm my covenant between me and you" -The covenant the LORD is referring to is in chapter 15:18 which says, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said..." In a sense it also refers to God's words in 12:2-3 and 13:14-16 which are one in the same promises.

God here says that the covenant is "my" covenant. In fact God calls it "My covenant" nine times in verses 2-21, and he initiates (15:18), confirms (2), and establishes (7) it.

* "and will greatly increase you numbers" -Not that this wasn't said earlier, but that it would also happen. However, earlier God had covenanted to keep his promise concerning the land (15); here he broadens his covenant to include the promised offspring.

Genesis 17:3 "Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,"

* "Abram fell facedown" -This shows Abram's spiritual condition at the time. Up until now, with the ordeal about Ishmael, Abram had not walked before God, nor was he blameless. In his heart he knew this. So when God appeared and said what he did, Abram the sinner fell facedown.

However it is important to note that Abram's falling down is more than what the unrepentant do, such as Cain. This then marks the difference between the rams and the goats. Both sin; but a man of God accepts his sin and repents, but the goats do not.

Falling face down shows that Abram was humble. Biblical giants often fall prostrate in prayer (Mark 14:35; Rev. 4:10, 5:8).

* "and God said to him" -With Abram in the right spirit, the LORD continued his conversation.

Genesis 17:4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations."

* "As for me" -First the LORD states his part of the covenant.

* "You will be the father of many nations" -Stated when the LORD first called Abram in chapter 12. See my notes on that phrase there.

Genesis 17:5-6 "No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you."

* "No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham" -The first name means "exalted father," probably in reference to God. The second means "father of many,' in reference to Abraham. By giving Abram a new name God marked him in a special way as his servant. Neh. 9:7 says, "You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham."

I must note that God has often remained people. Names are important in the Bible.

From now on, every time someone called him Abraham, Abraham would remember this appearance of the LORD to him and all that he said to him.

* "for I have made you" -This is in the past tense. God would do it for sure so that it could be stated that it was already done.

* The promise that follows came also to Sarah (16) and was renewed to Jacob (35:11, 48:19). It referred to the proliferation of Abraham's offspring, who, like the descendants of Noah (chapter 10), would someday become many nations and spread over the earth. Ultimately it finds fulfilment in such passages as Rom. 4:16-18; 15:8-12; Gal. 3:29; Rev. 7:9; and 21:24. I talked about this in Lesson 8 on verse 12:3 and in Lesson 11 on verse 15:6.

God is able to establish relationships and carry out his promises. God's promises are everlasting. His promises are not bound by limitations common to human beings. These verses contain the ideal of the covenant relationship in any age. God desires to be our God. He wants us to be his people. All people may know God because of his grace. We may be the covenant people of God because God freely bestows his grace. God wants his people to respond to his grace with obedience. As the LORD called Abram to keep the covenant, he calls us to obey the divine will. When obedience is commanded, the LORD takes the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. God initiates the covenant and keeps it. God blesses and cares for all people. God blessed both Isaac and Ishmael. However, God established his everlasting covenant with Isaac.

* "I will make you very fruitful" -Earlier stated.

* "I will make nations of you" -Earlier stated.

God's history with a chosen family had larger purposes in view. Political history grew out of the history of God's promises to a family. A theology of history must always keep in view God's focus on the individual and on the larger structures of society.

* "and kings will come from you" -The mention of kings is a fore gleam of the David's line, for David was in the lineage of Abraham; and it if a fore gleam of the kingdom of God found in Jesus Christ.
It is important here to add the Davidic Covenant to Abraham's Covenant. In it (2 Sam. 7) God promised to David a line forever, a throne forever, and a kingdom forever. It is clear from the prophetic message of both the Old and New Testaments that the eternal aspects of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants could be fulfilled only in Christ-the greater son of Abraham and David. He will rule on the throne of David during the Millennial period (starting at his second coming) and in the New Jerusalem after the creation of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21). Jesus made it clear that those who believe in him will reign with him as kings and lords.

Genesis 17:7 "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you."

* "as an everlasting covenant" -One that never is broken.

Genesis 17:8 "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God."

* "everlasting possession" -The land, though an everlasting possession given by God, could be temporarily lost because of disobedience. Deuteronomy 28:62-63 says, "You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God. Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess." See also Deut. 30:1-10.

* "I will be their God" -God had made a commitment to be the God of the Israelites centuries before they were a nation. He promised Abraham so, and God does not break his promises. In spite of all that they would do against God and all the laws that they would break and all the idols they worshiped through time, God made a promise to be their God and he has kept that promise. Even when they were in exile, being punished for their sins against him, the one and only God was their God.The God of promise to Abraham is the same today and yesterday. When he adapts someone to be his own and he their God, God will keep that commitment no matter what.

II. The Covenant Sealed By Circumcision (9-27)

>6. What did God tell Abraham to do as a sign and seal of the everlasting covenant? (9-14) Was Abraham to do anything like this when God had appeared to him in earlier times?

Genesis 17:9 "Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come."

* "As for you" -After God stated his part of his covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, God stated Abram's part of the covenant.

* "you must keep my covenant" -Even though God would always be the God of Abram and his descendant, God still expected Abram to keep his part of the covenant. So participation in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant was conditioned on obedience. As mentioned earlier God had already promised without a condition. Now the LORD added to his side of the covenant and added obedience to Abraham's side. Abraham did keep his side from this point on, even when God asked him to offer the son of promise as an offering.

Genesis 18:19 says, "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."

Genesis 22:18 says, "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

Genesis 26:4-5 says, "I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.""

* "For generations to come" -Every generation was to keep this covenant as Abram was.

Genesis 17:10-11 "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you."

* "Every male" -God picked a mark of the covenant that only the men could keep. God does not explain why. But since the fall of man (Adam and Eve's sin) God has most of the time addressed men.

How then were the woman to be a part of this covenant? By marrying a circumcised man of the covenant of God to Abram and his descendants.

* "circumcised" -Circumcision was the way to bring boys into the nation and society of Israel. It is was for purification and a seal of the covenant made to Abraham. (Genesis 17:1-3, 9-11)

Circumcision is the removal of a penis' end skin. During the circumcision there is a lot of blood and pain when done as an adult. (Genesis 34:25) Not so true when done as an infant. The Lord God gave circumcision to Abram who had to be serious when he considered God's proposal for the circumcisions part of the covenant between them.

As far as I know Abraham's circumcision was the first time God ever presented this in the history of mankind. So to do this new act took a lot of faith. Other nations (Arabs) also practiced circumcision (Jeremiah 9:25-26; Ezekiel 32:18-19), but not for the covenant reasons that Israel did. Theirs was part of the right to becoming a man and thus gain full participation in the community.

Circumcision signified Abraham's covenanted commitment to the LORD -that the LORD alone would be his God whom he would trust and serve. It symbolized a self-maledictory oath (analogous to the oath to which God had submitted himself). Thus Abraham was to place himself under the rule of the LORD as his King, consecrating himself, his offspring and all he possessed to the service of the LORD.

Physical circumcision was a sign of circumcision of the heart, which is all we need now. Romans 2:29 states, "No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." (See also Acts 15:1-21)

* "it will be a sign" -Every time the male would go to the restroom he would be reminded of the covenant that God made with Abram, "I will be their God."

Romans 4:11, "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them."

Genesis 17:12-13 "For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant."

* "eight year old" -21:4 & Acts 7:8 (Isaac), Lk 1:59 (John the Baptist) and 2:21 (Jesus, aka Yeshua), Php 3:5 (Paul). Ishmael and his descendants (Arabs) were (and some still are) at the age of 13.

Genesis 17:14 " Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

* "cut off from his people" -Removed from the covenant people by divine judgement. Thus the rite of circumcision was saying, "If I am not loyal in faith and obedience to the LORD, may the sword of the LORD cut off me and my offspring as I have cut off my foreskin."

>7. What did God say about Sarai? (15-16) What is the significance of changing Sarai's name to Sarah? What had God established for the first time? Why did Abraham needed to be told this? Should he have?

Genesis 17:15-16 "God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."

* "Sarai...Sarah" -both names evidently mean "princess." The renaming stressed that she was to be the mother of nations and kings and thus to serve the LORD's purpose.

* "give you a son by her" -Fulfilled in Isaac.

>8. What was Abraham's response? Why? What specific promise did God give Abraham concerning his family? Why did God chose to give the spiritual blessing to Isaac instead of Ishmael?

Genesis 17:17-18 "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"

* "Abraham fell facedown" -Again, as earlier in this chapter, this shows Abraham's heart toward God at this time.

* "he laughed" -Some say, "not in disbelief but in gladness and wonder." Others say, "In temporary disbelief." Genesis 18:12 says, "So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" And Romans 4:19-21 says, "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."

The verb here is a pun on the name, "Isaac", which means "he laughs."

* "Will..." -Abram's questions shows why he was laughing. It was temporary disbelief.

* "Abraham said to God" -Abraham did not say to God what he was really thinking. Thus he knew that his disbelief in God's promise that he would have a son by Sarah was not right.

* "said to himself" -He did not say it out load.

* "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing" -Thus emphasizing what I had said about his life with Ishmael and his thoughts that Ishmael was the fulfilment of God's promise to him at the beginning of this lesson.

Genesis 17:19 "Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him."

* "Yes" -God would not forget Ishmael.

* "but" -Even though God would bless Ishmael, Ishmael would not be the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham for a son.

Genesis 17:20 "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation."

* "numbers" -13:16

* "father of twelve rulers" -Fulfilled in 25:16.

Genesis 17:21 "But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year."

* Paul said about God choosing Isaac and not Ishmael in Romans 9:6-13, "It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son." Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

* "by this time next year" -See 21:2.

Genesis 17:22 "When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him."

* "God went up from him" -A solemn conclusion to the conversation. Jesus would later ascend to heaven in the same way before his disciples.

>9. How did Abraham demonstrate his belief in God and in God's promise? Why might this have been difficult for him? What kind of faith does God want his people to have?

Genesis 17:23-27 "On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. And every male in Abraham's household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

* "On that very day" -Abraham was characterized by prompt obedience.