|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:7-14 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 11. - And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. עָרְלָה, ἀκροβυστία, membrum prveputiatum, from עָרַל, to be naked, bare, hence to be odious, unclean, impure, was regarded afterwards as unclean (Deuteronomy 10:16; Isaiah 52:3; Jeremiah 4:4), and is here directed to be deprived of the skin covering its extremity, not because through it sin first discovered its effects (Peele), and original corruption is still transmitted (Lapide, Augustine), or to promote cleanliness (Philo), or to express detestation of certain idolatrous rites which were paid to it by the Egyptians and other heathen nations (Lyra, Kalisch), but
(1) as a sign of the faith that Christ should be descended from him (Lapide);
(2) as a symbolic representation of the putting away of the filth of the flesh and of sin in general (Calvin). Hence it served a variety of uses:
(1) to distinguish the seed of Abraham from the Gentiles,
(2) to perpetuate the memory of Jehovah's covenant,
(3) to foster in the nation the hope of the Messiah,
(4) to remind them of the duty of cultivating moral purity (Deuteronomy 10:16),
(5) to preach to them the gospel of a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:11),
(6) to suggest the idea of a holy or a spiritual seed of Abram (Romans 2:29), and
(7) to foreshadow the Christian rite of baptism (Colossians 2:11, 12). And it shall be a token of the covenant - literally, for a token of covenant (cf. Genesis 9:12; Acts 7:8; Romans 4:11) - betwixt me and you.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin,.... Or "the foreskin of your flesh" (u); by an hypallage (v), the manner in which this was performed may be seen in the Jewish writers (w), as well as the cure of the wound made, is particularly described by Leo Modena (x), and which when performed, they used to provide a dish full of sand to put the foreskin into; which was done, as Buxtorf (y) relates, to show that their seed should be as the sand of the sea, and to call to mind what Balaam said of them, Numbers 23:10; and with respect to the old serpent that deceived man, whose food is the dust of the earth, Genesis 3:14, the instrument with which this operation was performed, according to the Jewish canons, was as follows (z),"they may circumcise with anything, with a flint, or with glass, and with anything that cuts, excepting with a cane or reed, because of danger; but it is best to circumcise with an iron instrument, either with a knife or a razor; all Israelites use a knife.''The persons who might perform it, according to their rules, are these;"all are fit to circumcise (says Maimonides (a)), even an uncircumcised person, and a servant, and a woman, and a little one may circumcise where there is no man, but a Gentile may not circumcise at all; and if he does circumcise, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise a second time.''It is a little differently expressed by another (b) writer of theirs,"all are fit to circumcise, even a servant, a woman, and a little one, and an uncircumcised Israelite, whose brethren died through circumcision; but it there is an Israelite grown, and knows how to circumcise, he is to be preferred before them all; (some say a woman may not circumcise;) but an idolater, though he is circumcised, may not circumcise at all; but if he does, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise else a second time:"
and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you: of the promise of God to Abraham, that he should be the father of many nations. The apostle explains it, Romans 4:11; to be a seal, or what gave assurance to Abraham, or was a sure token to him, that righteousness would be wrought out by Christ, by his obedience, and the shedding of his blood, which is received by faith; and that this was imputed to him while he was uncircumcised, Genesis 15:6; and that this also would "be in the uncircumcision", or uncircumcised Gentiles that should believe as he did, and be imputed to them, as to him, and so he would appear to be the father of them all. Moreover, this was a sign or token of that part of the promise or covenant, which gave to his seed the land of Canaan: this was a seal of the lease of that land, which was made while Abraham was in it, and which the Israelites were obliged to submit to, upon entrance into it in Joshua's time, as a token of it; and which they were to observe while in it until the Messiah's coming, and by which they were distinguished from other nations, and kept a distinct nation, that it might appear he came of them: and to use the words of Tacitus (c), this rite was instituted "ut diversitate noscantur", that they might be distinguished and known from others; it was typical of Christ, the end of it, who submitted to it, that it might appear he was really man, a son of Abraham, and a minister of the circumcision, and was made under the law, and so laid under obligation to fulfil it; and that he was to satisfy for the sins of men by the effusion of his blood, and endure pains and sufferings, signified thereby: it was also an emblem of spiritual circumcision, or circumcision of the heart, which ties in the putting off the body of sin, in renouncing man's own righteousness, and in his being by the grace of God, and blood of Christ, cleansed from the impurity of his nature, propagated by carnal generation, in which the member circumcised has a principal concern.
(u) "praeputium carnis vestrae", Drusius, Piscator. (v) According to E. W. Bullinger, "hypallage" "relates to an interchange of construction whereby an adjective or other word, which `logically' belongs to one connection, is grammatically united with another, so that what is said or attributed to one things ought to be said or attributed to another". (w) Maimon. Hilchot Milah, c. 2. sect 2. Schulchan Aruch, par. 2. Jore Dea Hilchot Milah, c. 264. sect. 3.((x) History of the present Jews, part 4. c. 8. p. 206. (y) Synagog. Jud. c. 4. p. 104, 105. (z) Maimon. ib. c. 2. sect. 1. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. 2.((a) Maimon. ib. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. l. (b) Schulchan Aruch, ib sect 1.((c) Hist. l. 5. c. 5.
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