Genesis 17:2
And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) I will make my covenant.—In Genesis 15:18 the Heb. word for “make” is cut, and refers to the severing of the victims; here it is “give,” “place,” and implies that it was an act of grace on God’s part (comp. Note on Genesis 9:9). Abram had now waited twenty-five years after leaving Ur-Chasdim, and fourteen or fifteen years since the ratification of the solemn covenant between him and Jehovah (Genesis 15:17); but the time had at length arrived for the fulfilment of the promise, and in token thereof Abram and Sarai were to change their names, and all the males be brought near to God by a solemn sacrament.

Genesis

WAITING FAITH REWARDED AND STRENGTHENED BY NEW REVELATIONS

Genesis 17:1 - Genesis 17:9
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Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He was ninety-nine when God appeared to him, as recorded in this chapter. There had been three divine communications in these twenty-five years-one at Bethel on entering the land, one after the hiving off of Lot, and one after the battle with the Eastern kings. The last-named vision had taken place before Ishmael’s birth, and therefore more than thirteen years prior to the date of the lesson.

We are apt to think of Abraham’s life as being crowded with supernatural revelations. We forget the foreshortening necessary in so brief a sketch of so long a career, which brings distant points close together. Revelations were really but thinly sown in Abram’s life. For something over thirteen years he had been left to walk by faith, and, no doubt, had felt the pressure of things seen, silently pushing the unseen out of his life.

Especially would this be the case as Ishmael grew up, and his father’s heart began to cling to him. The promise was beginning to grow dimmer, as years passed without the birth of the promised heir. As Genesis 17:18 of this chapter shows, Abram’s thoughts were turning to Ishmael as a possible substitute. His wavering confidence was steadied and quickened by this new revelation. We, too, are often tempted to think that, in the highest matters, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’ and to wish that God would be content with our Ishmaels, which satisfy us, and would not withdraw us from possessed good, to make us live by hope of good unseen. We need to reflect on this vision when we are thus tempted.

1. Note the revelation of God’s character, and of our consequent duty, which preceded the repetition of the covenant. ‘I am the Almighty God.’ The aspect of the divine nature, made prominent in each revelation of Himself, stands in close connection with the circumstances or mental state of the recipient. So when God appeared to Abram after the slaughter of the kings, He revealed Himself as ‘thy Shield’ with reference to the danger of renewed attack from the formidable powers which He had bearded and beaten. In the present case the stress is laid on God’s omnipotence, which points to doubts whispering in Abram’s heart, by reason of God’s delay in fulfilling His word, and of his own advancing years and failing strength. Paul brings out the meaning of the revelation when he glorifies the faith which it kindled anew in Abram, ‘being fully assured that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform’ {Romans 4:21}. Whenever our ‘faith has fallen asleep’ and we are ready to let go our hold of God’s ideal and settle down on the low levels of the actual, or to be somewhat ashamed of our aspirations after what seems so slow of realisation, or to elevate prudent calculations of probability above the daring enthusiasms of Christian hope, the ancient word, that breathed itself into Abram’s hushed heart, should speak new vigour into ours. ‘I am the Almighty God-take My power into all thy calculations, and reckon certainties with it for the chief factor. The one impossibility is that any word of Mine should fail. The one imprudence is to doubt My word.’

What follows in regard to our duty from that revelation? ‘Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.’ Enoch walked with God; that is, his whole active life was passed in communion with Him. The idea conveyed by ‘walking before God’ is not precisely the same. It is rather that of an active life, spent in continual consciousness of being ‘naked and opened before the eyes of Him to whom we have to give account.’ That thrilling consciousness will not paralyse nor terrify, if we feel that we are not only ‘ever in the great Task-Master’s eye,’ but that God’s omniscience is all-knowing love, and is brought closer to our hearts and clothed in gracious tenderness in Christ whose ‘eyes were as a flame of fire,’ but whose love is more ardent still, who knows us altogether, and pities and loves as perfectly as He knows.

What sort of life will spring from the double realisation of God’s almightiness, and of our being ever before Him? ‘Be thou perfect.’ Nothing short of immaculate conformity with His will can satisfy His gaze. His desire for us should be our aim and desire for ourselves. The standard of aspiration and effort cannot be lowered to meet weakness. This is nobility of life-to aim at the unattainable, and to be ever approximating towards our aim. It is more blessed to be smitten with the longing to win the unwon than to stagnate in ignoble contentment with partial attainments. Better to climb, with faces turned upwards to the inaccessible peak, than to lie at ease in the fat valleys! It is the salt of life to have our aims set fixedly towards ideal perfection, and to say, ‘I count not myself to have apprehended: but . . .I press toward the mark.’ Toward that mark is better than to any lower. Our moral perfection is, as it were, the reflection in humanity of the divine almightiness.

The wide landscape may be mirrored in an inch of glass. Infinity may be, in some manner, presented in miniature in finite natures. Our power cannot represent God’s omnipotence, but our moral perfection may, especially since that omnipotence is pledged to make us perfect if we will walk before Him.

2. Note the sign of the renewed covenant. Compliance with these injunctions is clearly laid down as the human condition of the divine fulfilment of it. ‘Be thou perfect’ comes first; ‘My covenant is with thee’ follows. There was contingency recognised from the beginning. If Israel broke the covenant, God was not unfaithful if He should not adhere to it. But the present point is that a new confirmation is given before the terms are repeated. The main purpose, then, of this revelation, did not lie in that repetition, but in the seal given to Abram by the change of name.

Another sign was also given, which had a wider reference. The change of name was God’s seal to His part. Circumcision was the seal of the other party, by which Abram, his family, and afterwards the nation, took on themselves the obligations of the compact.

The name bestowed is taken to mean ‘Father of a Multitude.’ It was the condensation into a word, of the divine promise. What a trial of Abram’s faith it was to bid him take a name which would sound in men’s ears liker irony than promise! He, close on a hundred years old, with but one child, who was known not to be the heir, to be called the father of many! How often Canaanites and his own household would smile as they used it! What a piece of senile presumption it would seem to them! How often Abram himself would be tempted to think his new name a farce rather than a sign! But he took it humbly from God, and he wore it, whether it brought ridicule from others or assurance in his own heart. It takes some courage for any of us to call ourselves by names which rest on God’s promise and seem to have little vindication in present facts. The world is fond of laughing at ‘saints,’ but Christians should familiarise themselves with the lofty designations which God gives His children, and see in them not only a summons to life corresponding, but a pledge and prophecy of the final possession of all which these imply. God calls ‘things that are not, as though they were’; and it is wisdom, faith, and humility-not presumption-which accepts the names as omens of what shall one day be.

The substance of the covenant is mainly identical with previous revelations. The land is to belong to Abram’s seed. That seed is to be very numerous. But there is new emphasis placed on God’s relation to Abram’s descendants. God promises to be ‘a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,’ and, again, ‘I will be their God’ {Genesis 17:7 - Genesis 17:8}. That article of the old covenant is repeated in the new {Jeremiah 31:33}, with the addition, ‘And they shall be My people,’ which is really involved in it. We do not read later more spiritual ideas into the words, when we find in them here, at the very beginning of Hebrew monotheism, an insight into the deep truth of the reciprocal possession of God by us, and of us by God. What a glimpse into the depths of that divine heart is given, when we see that we are His possession, precious to Him above all the riches of earth and the magnificences of heaven! What a lesson as to the inmost blessedness of religion, when we learn that it takes God for its very own, and is rich in possessing Him, whatever else may be owned or lacking!

To possess God is only possible on condition of yielding ourselves to Him. When we give ourselves up, in heart, mind, and will, to be His, He is ours. When we cease to be our own, we get God for ours. The self-centred man is poor; he neither owns himself nor anything besides, in any deep sense. When we lose ourselves in God, we find ourselves, and being content to have nothing, and not even to be our own masters or owners, we possess ourselves more truly than ever, and have God for our portion, and in Him ‘all things are ours.’17:1-6 The covenant was to be accomplished in due time. The promised Seed was Christ, and Christians in him. And all who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abram, being partakers of the same covenant blessings. In token of this covenant his name was changed from Abram, a high father, to Abraham, the father of a multitude. All that the Christian world enjoys, it is indebted for to Abraham and his Seed.My covenant - which I have already purposed and formally closed. "I will grant," carry into effect, the provisions of it. "Multiply thee." The seed is here identified with the head or parent seat of life. The seed now comes forward as the prominent benefit of the covenant.CHAPTER 17

Ge 17:1-27. Renewal of the Covenant.

1. Abram … ninety years old and nine—thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael [Ge 16:16]. During that interval he had enjoyed the comforts of communion with God but had been favored with no special revelation as formerly, probably on account of his hasty and blameable marriage with Hagar.

the Lord appeared—some visible manifestation of the divine presence, probably the Shekinah or radiant glory of overpowering effulgence.

I am the Almighty God—the name by which He made Himself known to the patriarchs (Ex 6:3), designed to convey the sense of "all-sufficient" (Ps 16:5, 6; 73:25).

walk … and … perfect—upright, or sincere (Ps 51:6) in heart, speech, and behavior.

I am come to renew, establish, and enlarge that covenant which I formerly made with thee. And I will make my covenant between me and thee,.... The covenant of circumcision, so called from the token of it, which God is said to make or give (e), being his own constitution, and depended on his sovereign will and pleasure, see Acts 7:8,

and will multiply thee exceedingly; as he had before promised at several times, and now renews it, lest be should think that Ishmael was the promised seed; for though Hagar's seed is promised to be multiplied, yet here Abram's seed by Sarai is intended, which should be exceeding exceedingly, or in great abundance multiplied; and especially as this may include both his natural seed by her, and his spiritual seed among all nations, who are of the same faith with him, see Genesis 12:2.

(e) "dabo", Pagninus, Montanus, Schmidt.

And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. And I will make my covenant] See note on Genesis 15:9; Genesis 15:18. The words of this verse imply no knowledge of the covenant described in chap. 15. The covenant has yet to be made. P’s account of the covenant is different from that of J; and, the two traditions being distinct, there is no allusion here to the previous narrative.

fell on his face] The prostration of humility and reverence, as in Genesis 17:17. Cf. Numbers 14:5.Verse 2. - And I will make my covenant between me and thee. Literally, I will give (cf. Genesis 9:9, 11, 12). Neither an additional covenant to that described in Genesis 15. (Rosenmüller), nor a different traditional account of the transaction contained in Genesis 15. (Tuch, Bleek), nor the original Elohistic narrative of which that in Genesis 15. was a later imitation (Knobel); but an intimation that the covenant already concluded was about to be carried into execution, and the promise of a son to be more specifically determined as the offspring of Sarai (Keil). And will multiply thee exceedingly (vide Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). Hagar no doubt intended to escape to Egypt by a road used from time immemorial, that ran from Hebron past Beersheba, "by the way of Shur." - Shur, the present Jifar, is the name given to the north-western portion of the desert of Arabia (cf. Exodus 15:22). There the angel of the Lord found her by a well, and directed her to return to her mistress, and submit to her; at the same time he promised her the birth of a son, and an innumerable multiplication of her descendants. As the fruit of her womb was the seed of Abram, she was to return to his house and there bear him a son, who, though not the seed promised by God, would be honoured for Abram's sake with the blessing of an innumerable posterity. For this reason also Jehovah appeared to her in the form of the Angel of Jehovah. הרה is adj. verb. as in Genesis 38:24, etc.: "thou art with child and wilt bear;" ילדתּ for ילדת (Genesis 17:19) is found again in Judges 13:5, Judges 13:7. This son she was to call Ishmael ("God hears"), "for Jehovah hath hearkened to thy distress." עני afflictionem sine dubio vocat, quam Hagar afflictionem sentiebat esse, nempe conditionem servitem et quod castigata esset a Sara (Luther). It was Jehovah, not Elohim, who had heard, although the latter name was most naturally suggested as the explanation of Ishmael, because the hearing, i.e., the multiplication of Ishmael's descendants, was the result of the covenant grace of Jehovah. Moreover, in contrast with the oppression which has had endured and still would endure, she received the promise that her son would endure no such oppression. "He will be a wild ass of a man." The figure of a פּרא, onager, that wild and untameable animal, roaming at its will in the desert, of which so highly poetic a description is given in Job 39:5-8, depicts most aptly "the Bedouin's boundless love of freedom as he rides about in the desert, spear in hand, upon his camel or his horse, hardy, frugal, revelling in the varied beauty of nature, and despising town life in every form;" and the words, "his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him," describe most truly the incessant state of feud, in which the Ishmaelites live with one another or with their neighbours. "He will dwell before the face of all his brethren." פּני על denotes, it is true, to the east of (cf. Genesis 25:18), and this meaning is to be retained here; but the geographical notice of the dwelling-place of the Ishmaelites hardly exhausts the force of the expression, which also indicated that Ishmael would maintain an independent standing before (in the presence of) all the descendants of Abraham. History has confirmed this promise. The Ishmaelites have continued to this day in free and undiminished possession of the extensive peninsula between the Euphrates, the Straits of Suez, and the Red Sea, from which they have overspread both Northern Africa and Southern Asia.
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