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Genesis 17


Abraham and the Covenant of Circumcision The Sign of the Covenant The Everlasting Covenant Circumcision, the Sign of the Covenant The Covenant and Circumcision
17:1-8 17:1-8 17:1-8 17:1-6 17:1-3a
17:9-14 17:9-14 17:9-14 17:9-14 17:9-14
17:15-22 17:15-22 17:15-22 17:15-16 17:15-22
17:23-27 17:23-27 17:23-27 17:23-27 17:23-27



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Genesis 17 is a reaffirmation of the Covenant which was made in Genesis 15 and which was first announced in Genesis 12.


B. It has been thirteen years since the promise of a son in Genesis 15. Genesis 17 sets the stage for God to fulfill His plan to Abram through Sarai.


C. This chapter is a series of word plays based on the names of the individuals involved. Names were very important to the Hebrews (i.e., 16:11-12). At significant periods in their lives, they often changed their name to show the uniqueness of what was happening in their lives.



1Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
"I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
2I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly."
3Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
4As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.
6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

17:1-5 NASB divides this into two poems, 1b-2; 4-5, but NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, and JPSOA do not.

17:1 "ninety-nine years old" Genesis records Abram's age several times to give a chronology of his faith pilgrimage.

1. 75 years old, 12:4 - YHWH's first revelation to him

2. 86 years old, 16:16 - birth of Ishmael

3. 99 years old, 17:1 - YHWH's third revelation to him

4. 100 years old (round number), 17:17 - age at chapter 17

5. 99 years old, 17:24 - when circumcised

6. 100 years old, 21:5 - birth of Isaac

7. no exact age, 24:1 - "advanced in age"

8. 175 years old, 25:7 - age at death


▣ "the Lord" "YHWH" is the covenant name for God used in Exodus 3:14. It is used only here in this chapter. It seems to have been used very early by the line of Seth (cf. 4:26; and often by the Patriarchs). However, from Exod. 6:3 we are told that the Patriarchs called him El Shaddai, not YHWH. Maybe they called Him YHWH, but did not know the full significance of the name until the burning bush experience of Moses. See Special Topic at 12:1.

▣ "the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him" God appears to Abraham several times (i.e., 12:7; 18:1), but it has been thirteen years since the last recorded appearance. Obviously, YHWH was testing Abram's walk of faith.

▣ "I am God Almighty" The title "God Almighty" is El Shaddai. The etymology of this term (BDB 994) is uncertain. The rabbis say that it means "self-sufficiency." The LXX and the Vulgate follow this understanding by translating it "God (El) Almighty." Apparently this was the patriarchal name for God (cf. Exod. 6:3). It is used six times in Genesis and thirty-one times in Job. Albright asserted that it is from an Akkadian root that can mean mountain or rock (cf. Ps. 18:1, 2). If the term implies, "God of the mountain" as the true meaning, then it must reflect Canaanite mythology (cf. Isa. 14:13; Ezek. 28:2) or Babylonian religion (i.e., ziggurats being raised on human-built mountains, cf. Genesis 11) on which to worship their gods. Whatever the original intent, as early as Exodus 19-20 the focus will change to the God of Mt. Sinai (cf. Jdgs. 5:5). See Special Topic at 12:1.

▣ "Walk before Me" This is the first of two commands by YHWH to Abram.

1. walk - BDB 229, KB 246, Hithpael imperative

2. be blameless - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperative

YHWH seeks a fellowship with Abram as He had with Adam, Enoch, and Noah. The phrase "walk before Me" denotes an intimacy; a personal relationship; a distinctive type of faith and life! This is an emphasis on a lifestyle faith relationship which is a balance to the legal pronouncement of justification by grace through faith seen in 15:6. In the NT Paul and James unite these twin emphases of the Christian life (cf. Romans 4 and James 2). Notice that lifestyle is the condition for the covenant (cf. v. 9). All of the OT covenants are unconditional on God's part and conditional on human response. This same term (BDB 229, KB 246), walk, is used of Enoch's (cf. Gen. 5:24), and Noah's (cf. Gen. 6:9) lifestyle faith.

▣ "blameless" This Hebrew root (verb, BDB 1070, noun 1070, two adjective forms, 1070 & 1071) denotes a "whole-heartedness," "completeness," "soundness," "integrity," and "innocence." It was used of

1. Noah - Gen. 6:9

2. Abram - Gen. 17:1 (a command)

3. Abimelech - Gen. 20:5-6

4. Jacob - Gen. 25:27 (usually translated "quiet" or "mild")

5. Job - Job 1:1,8; 2:3

6. Israel - Deut. 18:13

7. David - II Sam. 22:24; Ps. 18:23,25,32

8. YHWH - Deut 32:4; II Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30

It also denotes a clean animal, a perfect representation of its breed, which was acceptable for sacrifice (i.e., Exod. 12:5; 29:1; Lev. 1:3,10; 3:1,6; 4:3,23,28,32).


17:2 "I will establish" YHWH promises to

1. "establish" His covenant - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal cohortative; this is a common verb with many connotations. The same verb is used of YHWH's promise of "giving" Abram's descendants land in 12:7; 13:15; 15:7,18 and of Abram's complaint that YHWH had not "given" him children in 15:3. Note how this term is translated in chapter 17.

   NASB    NIV
  a. establish, v. 2
b. make, v. 5
c. make, v. 6
d. give, v. 8
e. give, v. 16
f. make, v. 20
  confirm, v. 2
make, v. 5
make, v. 6
give, v. 8
give, v, 16
make, v. 20

2. "multiply" - BDB 915, KB 1176, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense (i.e., many descendants)

3. the land is mentioned in v. 8


▣ "My covenant between Me and you" Covenant is the central theme of the OT. YHWH comes to Abram in initiating grace, but he must respond, not only in initial faith, but also in lifestyle faith. There are mutual rights and also responsibilities. OT covenants are not between equals, but form the cultural pattern for the Hittite/Suzerian treaties of 2000 b.c. This covenant is further qualified in v. 7.

▣ "I will multiply you exceedingly" This has been a common theme of YHWH's promise to Abram in his old age with his barren wife (cf. Gen. 12:2; 15:2-5; 13:16; 17:6). It becomes the basis for his name change. Just a reminder, this was God's original plan for all life forms (cf. Genesis 1 and note Isaiah 60).

17:3 "Abram fell on his face" This was a sign of respect and reverence for God (cf. 18:2), but note 17:17.

▣ "God" Elohim is the common name for God in the Ancient Near East, based on the root El. The rabbis say that it emphasizes God's power and control of nature as Creator, while YHWH emphasizes His grace and redemption. This seems to be a much better theory than that of source criticism (JEDP). See Special Topic at 12:1.

17:4 "And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations" Notice that more nations than simply Israel are included in the lineage of Abraham (cf. 35:11; 48:4,19). This sets the stage for the NT understanding of Abraham being the father of all those who have faith (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:1ff).

17:5 "Abram" His name will be changed to "Abraham," which means "the father of a multitude." This is not scientific etymology, but a typical popular etymology so characteristic of these early chapters of Genesis. Many have said that "Abraham" is based on the promise in 12:2.

17:7 "I will establish" This verb (BDB 877, KB 1086, Hiphil perfect) in the Hiphil stem is used with oaths to assure their fulfillment (cf. 6:18; 17:19; Exod. 6:4; Lev. 26:9; Ezek. 16:62). YHWH is committing Himself to the completion of His promises.

▣ "an everlasting covenant" The Hebrew term 'olam (BDB 761) is from the root that means "to be hidden." It does not necessarily mean "forever and ever" (i.e., vv. 8,13,19), but it must be interpreted in its context. See Special Topic at 13:14.

17:8 "I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings" This is one of YHWH's initial promises (cf. 12:7; 13:15, 17; and 15:18) and later to Jacob in 48:4.

▣ "I will be their God" This becomes special covenant language (i.e., Exod. 6:7; 29:45; Lev. 26:12,45; Num. 15:41; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1,33). YHWH uniquely, in a sense exclusively, chooses Abram and his descendants to represent Him to the nations (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 29:12-13). YHWH loves the nations through him.

9God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

17:9 "you shall keep My covenant" This verb (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect) is repeated in 17:10. Remember that the covenant was conditional on Abraham's faith response, both initially and throughout his life. This truth can be clearly seen in 26:5; Exod. 12:24; 13:10; 15:26; 19:5; 20:6; 23:17; Lev. 18:4,5,26,30; 19:19,37; 20:8,22; 22:31; 25:18; 26:3; Deut. 4:2,6,9,23,40; 5:1,29; 6:2,3,12,17,25; 7:9,12; 8:1,2,6,11; 10:13; 11:1,8,22, etc. Obedience is crucial, not optional!

17:10 "circumcised" Circumcision (BDB 557 II) was not an uncommon rite in the ancient Orient. All of the surrounding people circumcised their children at puberty except possibly the Assyrians, Babylonians, Hivites, or Horites of central Palestine and the Philistines (Aegean people) who invaded the southern coast of Palestine in the 1200's b.c. (cf. Jer. 9:25-26). However, circumcision had a religious purpose for the Israelites. It was always an outer sign of an inner faith (cf. Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4; 9:26; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11-13).

17:12-14 Other races and peoples besides the Israelites were included in the covenant if they were obedient to God's will (cf. Exod. 12:44; 20:10). This is the OT precedent for household faith as seen in the NT (cf. Acts 10:2; 11:14; 16:15,31-34; 18:8).

17:12 The word "circumcision" (BDB 557 II) is mentioned several times in this chapter.

1. v. 10 - Niphal infinitive absolute

2. v. 11 - Niphal perfect

3. v. 12 - Niphal imperfect

4. v. 13 - Niphal infinitive absolute (the combination of the imperfect verb and an infinitive absolute intensifies the action, "you shall surely be circumcised")

5. v. 24 - Niphal infinitive construct

6. v. 25 - Niphal infinitive construct

7. v. 26 - Niphal perfect

8. v. 27 - Niphal perfect

YHWH took a common cultural practice, changed the time of its initiation and used it as a visible sign of His unique people. This was not for hygiene, but religious purpose.

17:14 "that person shall be cut off from his people" This is the same verb used in the phrase "to cut a covenant" (Qal stem, cf. 15:10). In the Niphal stem it denotes the death penalty (cf. Exod. 12:15,19; 30:33,38; 31:14; Lev. 7:20,21,25,27; 17:4,9,14; 18:29; 19:8; 20:17,18; 22:3; 23:29; Num. 9:13; 15:30,31; 19:13,20; see note at NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 431). Disobedience had serious consequences. It affected the application of the "eternal covenant" to an individual.

There are some scholars who prefer to see this verb as representing a disfellowshiping or removal from the community instead of death. Scholarly discussion continues on this point.

15Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" 18And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!" 19But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year."

17:15 "Sarai, but Sarah" Both names mean the same thing, but one is the older form. Some think the root is "princess" (BDB 979 I, KB 1354 I, Sarah - KB 1354 II) from the verb "to rule," but it is also possibly from the root "to strive," which may be better because of the root's relationship to "Israel" (cf. 32:28, BDB 975 I), which is from the same root "contend" (KB 1354 I).

Sarah, a background overview.

1.  She was Abraham's wife

2. She was barren, Gen. 11:29-30

3. She was his half-sister, Gen. 20:12

4. She was very beautiful, Gen. 12:10-13; implied in 20:1-7 

5. She was a jealous lady, Gen. 16; 21:8-21

6. She laughed, as Abraham did (Gen. 17:17), at God's promises, Gen. 18:12-15

7. She died at the age of 127 and was buried at Hebron in the cave of Machpelah, Gen. 23:2-20

8. She is used in allegory with Hagar, Gal. 4:21-31

9. She is given as an example to woman, I Pet. 3:1-6


17:16 "I will give you a son by her" It had been thirteen years since the promise. Ishmael was born through Hagar, but this was not the promised seed to establish the covenant. Abraham believed God in 15:6 (cf. Rom. 4:3), but it was not until many years later that the promise was fulfilled.

▣ "I will bless her" The Septuagint, Peshita, and the Vulgate all have the masculine which refers to Isaac, but the description is parallel to the promises given to Abram.

▣ "she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her" Again notice the emphasis on more than Israelites (cf. v. 6).

17:17 YHWH is testing Abraham again. After all these years (i.e., 13) does he still believe (cf. 15:6) he will have a child (a son, an heir)? Abraham "laughs" (17:17); Sarah "laughs" (18:12,13,15). What did this represent?

1. joy at the promise's fulfillment (cf. 21:6)

2. gesture of doubt (cf. 19:14)

Paul, in Rom. 4:19, focuses on Abraham's faith, but was this a developed faith after testing or the initial faith which tried to help the fulfillment by taking Hagar? These were not perfect people. There are no "perfect" people! God does not demand perfect faith! The focus in Genesis is YHWH's faithfulness, not Abram's or Sarai's!

Note the distinction between Abraham's outward act, "fell on his face," but inner reaction, "laughed"! Only God can see both.

17:18 This may be another attempt to "help" God fulfill His promise (like Hagar) or it might be an expression of Abraham's genuine love for Ishmael. Calvin asserts that this was a lack of faith on Abraham's part and uses this verse in a negative sense.

▣ "Ishmael" Ishmael (BDB 1035) is the son of Hagar, Sarah's handmaiden. His name seems to mean "May God hear" and may be a play on Hagar's and Abraham's prayers. Ishmael is the father of the Arab tribes (cf. 16:10-12).

17:19 "you shall call his name Isaac" All of the other Patriarch's names are changed when they come into a relationship with YHWH except for Isaac. This is because his name was given by God from the very beginning. "Isaac" (BDB 850) is a wordplay on the word "laughter" (BDB 850). This is explained in 21:6. Sarah's unbelief will be changed to "laughter" and joy!

▣ "an everlasting covenant" This is the same Hebrew term 'olam (cf. vv. 6, 8). It means "into the hidden future," not "forever and ever." See Special Topic at 13:14.

17:20 See Genesis 25:12-18, where the lineage of Ishmael is delineated.

17:21 This is the fulfillment of God's covenant promise begun in Genesis 12.

When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. 24Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

17:22 "God went up" God acted in the way commensurate with how the people of that day expected Him to act (cf. 11:5; 35:13). To modern western people this phrase implies an ascension, but it could be an idiom for "left suddenly."

17:23 "in the very same day, as God had said to him" This reflects Abraham's obedience (cf. 12:4; 22:3).

17:25 "And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin" Circumcision is still a puberty rite for the Arabs, who perform it at age thirteen. This possibly reflects this biblical account. It needs to be noted that the Israelites circumcised at eight days old, which is a sign of the covenant relationship, not a sign of personal faith (modern denominations use this as analogous to infant baptism). Faith must come and be lived out in order for the covenant to be valid to each individual.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How is Genesis 17 related to Genesis 12 and 15?

2. Why are the names of the Patriarchs changed?

3. Is the Old Testament covenant conditional or unconditional?

4. Describe covenant and its responsibilities.

5. How is circumcision related or unrelated to the surrounding nations?


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