Genesis 17

The Word Made Fresh

1When Abram was 99 years old the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El Shaddai, God the Almighty. Live in my sight and do no evil, 2and I will make an alliance with you. I will see that you become very numerous.” 3Abram fell to the ground facedown, and God said, 4“This is the pact I am making with you: you will become the ancestor of many nations of people. 5You will no longer be known as Abram, ‘exalted father’, but now you will be Abraham, ‘father of nations.’ I have decided that you shall be the ancestor of many nations. 6I will see to it that you have a lot of descendants who will become groups of nationalities. You will be the ancestor of kings. 7My treaty with you will remain with your children and their children through every generation; a never-ending promise that I will be your God and your children’s God throughout the generations to come; an enduring agreement to be your God and theirs. 8I will give you and your descendants the land you are now living in, where you are known as a foreigner. Yes, the whole land of Canaan will be theirs forever, and I will be their God.”

9Then God said to Abraham, “You must keep this agreement, you and your offspring after you from generation to generation. 10This is the sign of my treaty with you, which I shall require you to keep, and your offspring after you: every male in your household must be circumcised. 11You must remove the flesh of your foreskins; that shall be the evidence of the agreement between us. 12Throughout every generation to come, every boy child born to you must be circumcised when he is eight days old. This includes any slave born in your house or purchased from someone outside your family. 13Both of them, the slave you own and the one purchased from foreigners must be circumcised. This requirement of your flesh is an everlasting part of our agreement. 14Any male who is not circumcised must be dismissed from your people because he will have broken the agreement.”

15Then God said, “As for your wife, Sarai, from now own her name is Sarah. 16I will reward her, and she will give birth to your son. I will exalt her so that she will be the ancestor of nations to come and kings will be among her children.”

17Abraham, lying face down, began to laugh. He thought, “Can a child be born to a 100-year-old man? Can 90-year-old Sarah give birth?” 18He said to God, “Please let Ishmael be in your favor!”

19God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will give you a son, and you shall name him Isaac (which means ‘laughter’). I will certify my agreement with him and with all his children after him to every generation. 20But as for Ishmael, I hear you. I will reward him with many offspring. He will be the father of a dozen princes and I will make his descendants a great nation. 21But my special covenant agreement will be made with Isaac. Sarah will bear him for you this season next year.”

22With that, God went up from Abraham.

23Then Abraham summoned his son Ishmael and all the male slaves born in his house or purchased with his money, every single male, and he cut off the flesh of their foreskins that very day as God had commanded him. 24So, Abraham was 99 years old when his foreskin was circumcised. 25His son Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised. 26That very same day they were circumcised, 27and every male born in his family or purchased from a foreigner was circumcised with them.

Commentary

Abram was 75 years old when he came to Canaan (12:4). He was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (16:16). Between the last verse of chapter 16 and the first verse of chapter 17, 13 years have passed, and Abram is 99 years old. Twenty four years have passed since God called him to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.

1-8: Believe it or not, God speaks to Abram for only the fourth time – 12:1-3, 12:7, and 15:1-16 were the other three. Surprised? This time the promise of descendants is repeated. Indeed, God even changes Abram’s name to reflect that promise: Abram (“exalted father”) becomes Abraham (“father of many”). This time God expands the promise to include whole nations and kings. This time God promises to extend the covenant with Abraham to his offspring for all the generations to come. This time God extends the promise of the land to Abraham’s offspring for all time to come. It is clear that God is now really committed to the human race that he once destroyed with a flood.

9-14: This time God demands something of Abraham and his offspring – that they be circumcised, so that the covenant will be represented in their flesh.

15-22: This time God changes Sarai’s name as well: she is now to be called Sarah. No explanation is given for her name change, but it is clear that this time the covenant with God is specifically applied to Sarah as well as to Abraham.

And this time Abraham falls on his face laughing! (Well, actually, Abraham was already on his face – see verse 3.) He thinks it is hilarious that a 100 year-old man (as he would be when the child is born) and an 90 year old woman would have a baby. He begs God to spare them such an upheaval of a comfortable old age and accept Ishmael as the heir, but God insists that it will be the descendants of Abraham and Sarah together who will be in a covenant relationship with him. Ishmael will be blessed, but not with the covenant. At the end of the conversation, God “went up from Abraham.” You may want to check out the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1; it makes for an interesting comparison.

23-27: Abraham carries out the mark of the covenant by circumcising every male in his household (remember he once had 318 armed men aside from servants and slaves – see 14:14) including himself, at the tender age of 99.

Takeaway

It is obvious that God was carefully shaping history with Abraham and Sarah. Is God carefully shaping history today? Are we all a part of God’s plan?