March 20, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

PART II: AN ACCOUNT OF ABRAHAM—Gen. 11:10-25:18.

Topic C:OFFSPRING AND CIRCUMCISION. Gen. 15:1-17:27.                        

Lesson II.C.4: Circumcision Appointed. Gen. 17:1-14.                                                                    

 

Genesis 17:1-17-14 (KJV)

 

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."

3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:

4 "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.

8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

9 And God said to Abraham: "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

 

 

Introduction

 

A great many people feel that the seventeenth chapter is the most outstanding chapter in the Book of Genesis. Here God makes a covenant with Abram and confirms His promise to him about a son. He lets Abram know that Ishmael is not the one he promised to him. In one sense this chapter is the key to the Book of Genesis, and it may be a key to the entire Bible. God’s covenant with Abram concerns two important items: a seed and a land. He reveals himself to Abram by a new name—El Shaddai, the almighty God—and He also gives Abram a new name. Up to this point his name was Abram; now it is changed to Abraham. Abram means “high father,” and Abraham means “father of a multitude.” That Ishmael was not the son God promised to Abraham is the thing that this chapter makes very clear.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

 

 

Think of that! Abraham was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born, and it was not until fourteen years later that Isaac was born.

 

 

“The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.God says, “I am El Shaddai, the Almighty God—this is a new name. It is the first time it appears in Scripture. It is translated “Almighty” forty-eight times in the Old Testament. It is found in Genesis, here and in 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; and 49:5. In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is used in 2 Corinthians 6:18 and Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7 and 15; 19:6 and 15; and in 21:22. It is translated “Almighty” except in Revelation 19:6 (“omnipotent”).

 

 

God’s appearance to Abraham is a “theophany,” a visible manifestation of the invisible God. Though God told Moses that “no one can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20), He has occasionally allowed believers to catch a glimpse of Him in various forms (18:2; Ex. 24:9-18; 33:18-23; Jud. 13:17-23; Ezek. 1:26-28). Sometimes these theophanies are referred to as the “Angel of the Lord.” God’s ultimate self-revelation would be in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14{4]).

 

 

“El” is the name of God that speaks of power; but what does “Shaddai” mean? Scholars do not agree. Some say it comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to be strong”; others prefer a word meaning “mountain” or “breast.” Metaphorically, a mountain is a “breast” that rises up from the plain; and certainly a mountain is a symbol of strength. If we combine these several ideas, we might say that “El Shaddai” is the name of “the all-powerful” and “all-sufficient” God who can do anything and meet any need.”

 

 

But why would God reveal this name to Abraham at this time, at the close of thirteen years of silence? Because God was going to tell His friend that Sarah would have a son. The Lord wanted Abraham to know that He is the God who is all-sufficient and all-powerful, and that nothing is too hard for him—He is fully capable of accomplishing all His promises. He is about to do the miraculous. During the “silent years” Abram had enjoyed the comforts of communion with God but had not been favored with any special revelation, as he was before, probably because of his hasty and blamable marriage with Hagar.

 

 

After Abraham’s battle with the four kings, God came to him as a warrior and told him He was his “shield.” When Abraham wondered about his refusal of Sodom’s wealth, God told him He was his “exceeding and great reward (Gen. 15:1).” Now when Abraham and Sarah “were as good as dead, God assured them that He was more than sufficient to bring about the miracle of birth. God comes to us in the ways we need Him the most.

 

 

Revelation always brings responsibility. Enoch and Noah had walked with God (5:22; 6:8-9), but Abraham was to walk before God, that is, live in the knowledge that the eyes of God were always upon him (Heb. 4:13{1]). The word blameless does not mean sinless, for that would be an impossible goal for anyone to reach (1 Ki. 8:46{2]). The word means “single-hearted, without blame, sincere, wholly devoted to the Lord.” In Exodus 12:5{3], the word refers to a “perfect” sacrifice, without blemish. It was a call for integrity.

 

 

The secret of a perfect walk before God is a perfect worship of God. Like Abraham, every believer must fall before God and yield everything to Him. If He is “El Shaddai—God Almighty,” then who are we to resist His will. God’s words to Abram in this verse may have been a veiled way of saying that he should stop trying to work things out in his own strength and let Almighty God work for him.

 

 

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 1

{1] And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

{2] "When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near;

{3] Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats

{4] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

 

2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."

 

 

Thirteen times in this chapter we find the word covenant. For it to appear thirteen times in twenty-seven verses obviously means that God is talking about the covenant. This is not another covenant, different from the one God had already established with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21). It is a reaffirmation of that covenant, with the important addition of circumcision, the sign and seal of the covenant. This is God’s fifth appearance to Abram. He comes now not only to reaffirm the covenant, but also to reaffirm the promise of a son that He has made, which absolutely rules out this boy Ishmael, of course.

 

 

Paul writing in the fourth chapter of Romans, says this: “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb” (Romans 4:19). Paul concludes that fourth chapter by saying this about the Lord Jesus: “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). Life out of death—that is the promise God is now making to this man. Abram is 99 years old, and that means Sarai is 89 years old. When Isaac was born, Abram was 100 years old and Sarah was 90.

 

 

Sarah’s womb actually was a tomb—it was the place of death. And out of death came life; Isaac was born. God promised once again to multiply Abraham’s family, even though he and his wife did not have any children. His descendents would be “as the dust of the earth” (13:16) and as the stars of the heavens (25:5). These two comparisons—earth and heaven—suggest that Abraham would have a physical family, the Jews (Matt. 3:9), and a spiritual family made up of all who believe in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:6-9; 26-29{1]). Whether Abraham looked beneath his feet or up into the heavens, or whether anyone called him by name, Abraham was reminded of God’s gracious promise to give him many descendents. Keep in mind that Abraham’s descendents include not only the Jewish people, but also the Arab world (through Ishmael) and the nations listed in Genesis 25:1-4{2]. And that will be a vast multitude.

 

 

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 2

{1] For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

{2] Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

 

3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:

4 "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

 

 

Then Abram fell on his face—humbly and reverently Abraham fell to the ground to worship. God’s patience had brought the patriarch to the right attitude of heart which would make it possible for him to have his name changed, the covenant renewed, and the promises repeated. Abram’s attitude of profound reverence was typical of Eastern people. It consists of the prostrate body resting on the hands and knees, with the face bent until the forehead touches the ground. It is an expression of conscience humility and profound reverence.

 

 

God says to Abram that he will be a father of many nations. I suppose that it could be said that this man has probably had more children than any other man that has ever lived on the earth, as far as we know. Just think of it: for four thousand years, there have been two great lines—the line of Ishmael, and the line of Isaac—and there have been many millions in each line. What a family! Added to that, there is a spiritual seed, for us Christians are called the children of Abraham by faith in Christ. In Romans 4:16, speaking of Abraham, Paul says, “. . . who is the father of us all”—that is, of believers, of the nation Israel, and also of the Arabs, by the way. Just think of the millions of people! God says here, “I am going to make you a father of many nations.

 

 

5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

 

 

Abram means “high father” or “exalter father.” Abraham means “father of a multitude.” Here was a man who was a father before he had any children. Abraham was Abraham, father of a multitude, by faith at that time. But four thousand years later, where you and I set, we can say that God sure made this good. The name stuck, if you please, and he is still Abraham, the father of a multitude.

 

 

One can well imagine that Abraham was hurt by the suppressed smiles on the faces of his men when he told them to call him Abraham, meaning the father of many nations—when he was 99 years old (vv. 1, 24). Yet Abraham knew that God had not deceived him. His new name and his wife’s new name were perpetual reminders of God’s sure Word. Every time someone addressed him he would recall God’s promise, until finally Isaac, the child of promise, would call him “abba” (father).

 

 

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.

 

 

What kind of covenant did God make with Abraham? An everlasting covenant. If it is everlasting, it is good today? It certainly is. God promised you and me everlasting life if we will trust Jesus—that is a covenant God has made. My friend, if God is not going to make good His covenant that He made with Abraham, you had better look into yours again. But I have news for you: He is going to make your covenant good, and He is going to make Abraham’s good.

 

 

Kings (v.6) will come from the promised line, therefore the promised line was royal. From if, as to the flesh, came Christ, following His Old Testament ancestors, the Kings of Israel.

 

 

8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

 

 

God tells Abraham what He will do. God says, “I will.” “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you . . . and I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your seed . . . and I give to you and your descendants after you, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession . . .”

 

 

God has made a covenant with these people that is an everlasting covenant. Since it is, it is not one that will be easily broken, and it is not one that is going to run out. God did not give them a ninety-nine-year lease on the land. God gave them an everlasting possession.

 

 

The Hebrew people have been in that land on three occasions, and it is theirs; but the important thing is that they occupy it only under certain conditions. First of all, God sent them down into the land of Egypt, and they were dispersed there. They went down a family of about seventy and came out a nation of at least one and one-half million. They were put out of their land again at the Babylonian captivity because they became involved in idolatry and were not witnessing for God. We find that they again went out of the land in a.d. 70 after they had rejected their Messiah. Actually, they have never been back. God predicted that three times they would be put out of the land and three times they would return. They have returned twice. (I do not consider their present return to the land a fulfillment.) This land is a battleground today and always be until the Lord’s return to reign. When they return the next time, I take it to mean that they will never go out of the land again. The millennium will take place when God gathers and brings them back into the land.

 

 

God gave Abraham and his descendents all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; thus, the Jews have a rightful claim to this land for as long as the earth remains.

 

 

The only piece of ground all the patriarchs possessed was the piece of ground Abraham purchased from Ephron, the son of Zohar, to become a family burial place (Gen. 23; 49:29-31).

 

 

I will be their God. Yahweh creates a people and identifies himself with them as their God.

 

 

9 And God said to Abraham: "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

 

 

Despite repeated disobedience by the patriarchs and the nation, God’s faithfulness to His covenant commitment never wavered (Deut. 4:25-31; 30:1-9; 1 Chr. 16:15-18; Jer. 30:11; 46:27-28; Amos 9:8; Luke 1:67-75; Heb 6:13-18). Though the nation was apostate, there was always an obedient remnant of faithful Israelites (Zeph. 3:12-13).

 

 

10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

 

 

This covenant was one that involved great blessings to the world in all future ages; yet it is not made with the world, but with Abraham. God will give them blessings but it will be through him. Surely these things were designed to show plainly the great principle on which our salvation should rest. It was the purpose of God to save perishing sinners: yet his covenant is not originally with them, but with Christ. With Him it stands firm; and for his sake they are accepted and blessed. 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.

 

 

11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

 

 

Circumcision (cutting away the male foreskin) is the badge of the covenant. The Israelites did not circumcise themselves in order to become members of the covenant. They did this because they had the covenant from God. Circumcision occupied the same place that good works occupy for the believer today. You do not perform good works in order to be saved; you perform good works because you have been saved. That makes all the difference in the world. The thing that put them under the covenant wasn’t circumcision, but circumcision was the badge of it, the evidence of it. Abraham’s part in the covenant was to mark each male in his house with the sign of the covenant.

 

 

Circumcision was practiced elsewhere in the world and in the ancient Near East, especially in Egypt and Canaan. Assyrians and Babylonians, however, refused to have any part in it. Note that David scornfully refers to Goliath as an “uncircumcised Philistine.” (1 Sam. 17:26). But hear, in this appearance of God to Abraham, it achieved a new meaning, it too would remind Abraham and his descendents of the everlasting covenant.  This religious and theocratic significance of identifying the circumcised as belonging to the physical and ethnical linage of Abraham (Acts 7:8; Rom. 4:11) was entirely new. Without revelation, the rite would not have had this distinctive significance; thus, it remained a theocratic distinctive of Israel (v. 13). There was also a health benefit; since disease could be kept in the folds of the foreskin, removing it prevented that. Historically, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of cervical cancer. But the symbolism had to do with the need to cut away sin and be cleansed. It was the male organ which most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners. Thus circumcision symbolized the need for a profoundly deep cleansing to reverse the effects of depravity.

 

 

12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

 

 

It is important to note that circumcision was not a “sacrament.” The performance of it did not convey spiritual blessing to the recipient. An eight-day-old baby boy (Lev. 12:3{1]) would not even understand what was going on; and when he got older, the ritual would have to be explained to him. It was the obedience of the parents that was important; for if they did not obey God in this matter, their son would be cut off from his people (v. 14). The covenant people must bear the mark of the covenant. Not only was Abraham and Isaac and his posterity by Isaac to be circumcised, but also Ishmael and the bondservants and anyone who worked for a wage.

 

 

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 12

{1] And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

 

 

13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

 

 

Again, circumcision is the badge of the covenant. They did not have to do this in order to get the covenant; God had already made the covenant with them. I trust you will see this because it is so important. The same thing is true today. A great many people think that, if they join the church or are baptized, they will be saved. No, my friend, you don’t do those things to get saved. If you are saved, I think you will do both of them—you’ll join a church, and you’ll be baptized—but you don’t do that to get saved. We need to keep the cart where it belongs, following the horse, and not get the cart before the horse. For in fact, in the thinking of many relative to salvation, the horse is in the cart today.

 

 

Unfortunately, the Jewish people eventually made this ritual a means of salvation. Circumcision was a guarantee that you were accepted by God. (Some people today place the same false confidence in baptism, communion, and other religious rites that can be very meaningful if rightly used.) They did not realize that circumcision stood for something much deeper: the parent’s relationship to God. God wants us to “circumcise our hearts” and be totally devoted to Him in love and obedience (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29[1]).

 

 

Romans 4:9-12{2] makes it clear that the physical operation had nothing to do with Abraham’s eternal salvation. Abraham had believed God and received God’s righteousness before he ever was circumcised (Gen. 15:6{3]). Circumcision was not the means of his salvation but the mark of his separation as a man in covenant relationship with God. The legalistic element in the early church tried to make circumcision and obedience to the Law a requirement for salvation to the Gentiles, but this heresy was refuted (Acts 15:1-35). In his Galatian Epistle, Paul argues convincingly for salvation by grace alone.

 

 

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 13

{1] For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

{2]For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

{3] And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

 

 

14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

 

 

The fact that there were those who disobeyed (practically the entire nation disobeyed when they came out of the land of Egypt) did not count against the covenant. That disobedience simply meant that the individual would be cut off  (separated from his people), because of his disobedience. Being cut off from the covenant community usually meant being banned or ostracized, and the loss of secular benefits stemming from being part of the special, chosen, and theocratic nation, which is the meaning here; but at other times the person was put to death, as in Exodus 31:14-15{6]. However, as far as the nation is concerned, no individual or group could destroy this covenant which God had made with Abraham and his descendents. It is an everlasting covenant. The man who had broken the covenant was cut off, but the covenant stood. That is how marvelous it is.

 

 

Elsewhere scripture refers to circumcision as a symbol of separation, purity, and loyalty to the covenant.  Moses said that God would circumcise the hearts of His people so that they might be devoted to Him (Deut. 30:6). And Paul wrote that “circumcision of the heart” (i.e., being inwardly set apart “by the Spirit”) evidences salvation and fellowship with God (Rom. 2:28-29; Rom. 4:11.). One must turn in confidence to God and His promises, laying aside natural strength. Unbelief is described as having an uncircumcised heart (Jer. 9:26{5]; Ezek. 44:7-9).

 

 

What does all this mean to Christian believers today? The seal of our salvation is not an external rite but the presence of an internal witness in the person of the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13{1]; 4:30; Rom. 8:9, 16). We have experienced a “spiritual circumcision” (Col. 2:9-12{2]) that makes us part of the “true circumcision” (Phil. 3:1-3{3]). When we trusted Christ to save us, the Spirit of God” performed spiritual surgery that enables us to have victory over the desires of the old nature and the old life. Circumcision removes only part of the body, but the true “spiritual circumcision” puts off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11) and deals radically with the sin nature. Believers today are not sealed with a physical mark; they receive the Holy Spirit as the seal at the time of their conversion (Eph. 4:30).

 

 

The “spiritual circumcision” is accomplished at conversion when the sinner believes in Christ and is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13{4]). This baptism identifies the believer with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and also in His circumcision (Col. 2:11-12{2]; Luke 2:21). It is not “the circumcision of Moses” but “the circumcision of Christ” that is important to the believer.

 

 

All the descendents of Abraham became known as the “circumcision” (Acts 10:45) and Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11). It is also the sign and seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Rom. 4:5). But then the words “circumcision” and “circumcised” took on a variety of meanings. “Uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12) signified a lack of skill in public speaking. “Uncircumcised ears” and “uncircumcised hearts” spoke of failure to hear, love, and obey the Lord (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 6:10; Acts 7:51). “Uncircumcised in flesh” (Ezek. 45:7) meant unclean.

 

 

In the New Testament, “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11) refers to His death on a cross. Believers are circumcised through their identification with Christ; Paul speaks of it as “the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11). This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer, but should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:5). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3), in contrast to a group of Jewish legalist known as “the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

 

 

Abraham immediately obeyed God and gave every male of his household the mark of the covenant. No doubt, when he told them his new name, he also explained what this ritual meant.

 

 

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 14

{1] In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,

{2] For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

{3] Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,

{4] For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

{5] Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart."

{6] You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

{7] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

 

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