God renews the covenant with Abram. (Verse 1-6.)
Circumcision instituted. (Verse 7-14.)
Sarai’s name changed, Isaac promised. (Verse 15-22.)
Abraham and his family are circumcised. (Verse 23-27.)
1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
[Gen 35:11, Gen 48:3, Exod 6:3]
compare with 16:16 – there are 13 years between chapters 16 & 17;
“I am the Almighty God” – compare this with Christ’s words in Rev. 1:8 where he claims to be what?
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
“will make” is a future reference – Ishmael was not the promised son
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
[Abram =“high father”][Abraham = “father of a multitude”]
In the Hebrew language there is what is called and infix, where a letter or letters are added, not to the beginning of a word like a prefix, or to the end of a word like a suffix, but into the middle of the word, or as in this case, to the middle of a name to change the meaning of the name to add to it a fuller meaning.
The letters “ha” meaning “the” is added to Abram to give us Abraham: Ab the father, ram meaning high and combined gives us the name: the highest father.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
[Gen 12:2, Gen 18:18, Gen 46:3, Deut 26:5, 1st Kings 3:8]
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
[Gen 26:24, Gen 28:13]
8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
[Exod 6:7, Exod 29:45, Lev 26:12, Deut 29:13, Rev 21:7]
Notice that the land is an everlasting promise to Israel. These borders will be recognized one day during the Millennial Reign of Christ and not before, for the world hates the children of the promise because the devil hates them. We are all children of our father the devil until we come to faith in the Messiah.
Be sure to remember when this promise was given to Abraham. It is after Ishmael is already thirteen years old. It is not until Isaac is born that Abraham can circumcise his child at the age the covenant requires which is when they are 8 days old.
9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
[Luke 1:59, Acts 7:8, Acts 15:1, Acts 16:3, Rom 4:11, Gal 2:3, Phil 3:5]
there were two elements to this covenant; God was promising Abraham “seed” (physical descendants) and “land”
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
[betwixt – between]
circumcision was the “token” of this covenant; what word does Paul use instead of “token” in Romans 4:10-11?
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
[Gen 21:4, Lev 12:3, Acts 7:8, Phil 3:5]
13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
[Gen 9:16, Gen 17:19, 2nd Sam 23:5, Eze 16:60]
14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
[Exod 4:24, Josh 5:2]
Eight is the number of new beginnings with God. God began a Covenant with Abraham that would remain until it was added to with the giving of the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) some four hundred years later. Remember the promise is specifically through Isaac as we shall see in the following verse.
Those that did not adhere to this covenant were then cut off from his people. They were not killed but they could no longer intermarry within the 12 tribes. They could not obtain any land inheritance, they could not enter paradise when they died because they had rejected the covenant that God had made with them by not circumcising their children.
The man child who is not circumcised is held accountable for this later in life even though it would have been his parents who failed in their responsibility to circumcise him on the eighth day after he was born; this shows us that children can not blame their parents for things that God has personally held them accountable for. Many people today are quick to blame many of their failures and shortcomings on their parents, their upbringing and on events that occurred earlier in their lives – such excuses hold no weight with God who is more than willing and able to help any believer overcome any earlier adversities in their lives.
15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
[Sarai = “contentious”][Sarah = “princess”]
16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
[Gen 18:12, Gen 21:6]
18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
[Gen 9:16, Gen 17:13, 2nd Sam 23:5, Eze 16:60]
[Issac = “laughter”]
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
[Gen 21:18 Gen 25:16]
21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
[Gen 21:2 Rom 9:7 Heb 11:18]
22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
Pride has kept many of Isaac’s descendants from coming to the Messiah as it has kept many descendants of Ishmael from faith in him as well. Both still hate one another. Today however they can have unity in one body under the Messiah of the whole world.
The Jews became self-righteous with the Law and the Promises while the descendants of Ishmael were deceived into the religion of Islam which claimed Ishmael was the child of promise not Isaac.
Consider the words of Saul (Paul) as he corrects the false teaching of the Jewish Christians in his letter to the believers in Galatia:
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.
24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.
Notice here that Ishmael is not circumcised on the eighth day but rather after his thirteenth birthday, this is just more proof that Isaac is the seed promised by God.
No descendant of Ishmael should be upset at this as the descendants of Isaac are not better than anyone else in the world for God is not a respecter of persons, but there must be a recognition that Isaac’s descendants were commissioned by God to be a light unto the Gentiles by giving us the Messiah and also the word of God.
Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.
Verse 1-6 – The covenant was to be accomplished in due time. The promised Seed was Christ, and Christians in him. And all who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abram, being partakers of the same covenant blessings. In token of this covenant his name was changed from Abram, “a high father,” to Abraham, “the father of a multitude.” All that the Christian world enjoys, it is indebted for to Abraham and his Seed.
Verse 7-14 – The covenant of grace is from everlasting in the counsels of it, and to everlasting in the consequences of it. The token of the covenant was circumcision. It is here said to be the covenant which Abraham and his seed must keep. Those who will have the Lord to be to them a God, must resolve to be to him a people. Not only Abraham and Isaac, and his posterity by Isaac, were to be circumcised, but also Ishmael and the bond-servants. It sealed not only the covenant of the land of Canaan to Isaac’s posterity, but of heaven, through Christ, to the whole church of God. The outward sign is for the visible church; the inward seal of the Spirit is peculiar to those whom God knows to be believers, and he alone can know them. The religious observance of this institution was required, under a very severe penalty. It is dangerous to make light of Divine institutions, and to live in the neglect of them. The covenant in question was one that involved great blessings for the world in all future ages. Even the blessedness of Abraham himself, and all the rewards conferred upon him, were for Christ’s sake. Abraham was justified, as we have seen, not by his own righteousness, but by faith in the promised Messiah.
Verse 15-22 – Here is the promise made to Abraham of a son by Sarai, in whom the promise made to him should be fulfilled. The assurance of this promise was the change of Sarai’s name into Sarah. Sarai signifies my princess, as if her honour were confined to one family only; Sarah signifies a princess. The more favours God confers upon us, the more low we should be in our own eyes. Abraham showed great joy; he laughed, it was a laughter of delight, not of distrust. Now it was that Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day; now he saw it and was glad, John 8:56. Abraham, dreading lest Ishmael should be abandoned and forsaken of God, put up a petition on his behalf. God gives us leave in prayer to be particular in making known our requests. Whatever is our care and fear, should be spread before God in prayer. It is the duty of parents to pray for their children, and the great thing we should desire is, that they may be kept in covenant with Him, and may have grace to walk before him in uprightness. Common blessings are secured to Ishmael. Outward good things are often given to those children of godly parents who are born after the flesh, for their parents’ sake. Covenant blessings are reserved for Isaac, and appropriated to him.
Verse 23-27 – Abraham and all his family were circumcised; so receiving the token of the covenant, and distinguishing themselves from other families that had no part nor lot in the matter. It was an implicit obedience; he did as God said unto him, and did not ask why or wherefore. He did it because God bade him. It was a speedy obedience; in the self-same day. Sincere obedience makes no delay. Not only the doctrines of revelation, but the seals of God’s covenant, remind us that we are guilty, polluted sinners. They show us our need of the blood of atonement; they point to the promised Saviour, and teach us to exercise faith in him. They show us that without regeneration, and sanctification by his Spirit, and the mortification of our corrupt and carnal inclinations, we cannot be in covenant with God. But let us remember that the true circumcision is that of the heart, by the Spirit, Romans 2:28,29. Both under the old and new dispensation, many have had the outward profession, and the outward seal, who were never sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.