|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:23-27 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, Ro 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.
Verses 26, 27. - In the self-same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, wore circumcised with him. The usual charges of needless repetition which are preferred against the closing verses of this chapter may be disposed of by observing that Ver. 23 intimates that the sacrament of circumcision was administered to the patriarch and his household on the very day that God had enjoined it, i.e. without delay; that Vers. 24, 25 declare the respective ages of Abraham and Ishmael when they received the Divinely-appointed rite; and that Vers. 26, 27 state the fact that the entire household of the patriarch was circumcised simultaneously with himself. THE ORIGIN OF CIRCUMCISION. The determination of this question does not appear of paramount importance, yet the ascertained results may be briefly indicated.
(1) According to Herodotus (2. 104) circumcision was observed as a custom of primitive antiquity among the Colchiaus, Ethiopians, and Egyptians, by the last of whom it was communicated to the Syrians of Palestine and the Phoenicians. It is, however, uncertain Whether among the Egyptians the practice was universal, as Philo and Herodotus assert, or limited to the priesthood, as Origen believed; and equally doubtful whether the Egyptians themselves may not have adopted it from the Hebrews in the time of Joseph, instead of from the Ethiopians, as appears to be the judgment of Kalisch. Against the idea that circumcision was a national and universal observance among the Egyptians in the time of Abraham, it has been urged that the male servants of the patriarch, some of whom were Egyptians (Genesis 12:16), were not circumcised till Abraham was commanded to perform the rite; that Ishmael, the son of an Egyptian mother, remained uncircumcised till the same time; and that the daughter of Pharaoh recognized Moses as a Hebrew child, which, it is supposed, she could not have done had circumcision been generally practiced among her own people. On the other hand, it is contended that the absence of details as to how the rite should be performed seems to imply that already circumcision was familiar to Abraham; and by some modern Egyptologists it is asserted that an examination of ancient mummies and sculptures, in which circumcision is a distinctive mark between the Egyptians and their enemies, shows that the ceremony must have been in use not among the priests only, but throughout the nation generally so early as the time of the fourth dynasty, i.e. , or considerably earlier than the time of Abraham. Still
(2) though it should be held as indubitably established that circumcision was a prevalent custom among the Egyptians in the time of Abraham, it would not follow that the Hebrews adopted it from them. On the contrary, the Biblical narrative expressly mentions that its observance by the patriarch and- his household was due to a Divine command, and was connected with a religious significance which was altogether foreign to the Egyptians and others by whom that rite was practiced. Among the reasons for its adoption by the heathen nations of antiquity have been assigned, among the Ethiopians, a prophylactic design to ward off certain painful, and often incurable, disorders; among the Egyptians, a regard to cleanliness; and perhaps among the priesthood of the latter country a semi-religious idea (the deification of the generative powers) was associated with a practice which was commonly regarded as enhancing productivity; but the import of the ceremony as enjoined upon the father of the faithful was as widely as possible removed from every one of these ideas, being connected with spiritual conceptions of which the heathen world was entirely ignorant. That a heathen custom should have been adopted by Jehovah and elevated to the rank and connected with the spiritual significance of a religious sign will not occur as a difficulty to those who remember that the rainbow, a well-known natural phenomenon, was selected as the sign for Noah's covenant, and that Christian baptism is a similar transformation of a previously existing ceremony by which Gentile proselytes were admitted to the Hebrew Church.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. This is repeated, that it might be taken notice of that both were circumcised according to the command of God, and on the very day in which it was given. Jarchi observes, it was in the day, and not in the night; which shows, says he, he was not afraid of the Heathen, and of mockers; and that his enemies, and the men of that generation, might not say, if we had seen him, we would not have suffered him to be circumcised, and keep the commandment of God: and some of the Jewish writers (e) fable, that he was circumcised on the day afterwards appointed by Moses for the day of atonement, and that in the place where he was circumcised the altar was built; but all this is without any foundation. This affair was transacted, according to Bishop Usher (f), A. M. 2107, and before Christ 1897.
(e) Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. (c. 29.) (f) Annales Ver. Test. p. 8.
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