Genesis 17:23
And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said to him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.In the self-same day. - In this passage we have the prompt and punctual fulfillment of the command concerning circumcision detailed with all the minuteness due to its importance. Ishmael was thirteen years of age when he was circumcised. Josephus relates that the Arabs accordingly delay circumcision until the thirteenth year (Ant. I. 12. 2).

- The Visit of the Lord to Abraham

2. השׂתחיה vayı̂śtachû "bow," or bend the body in token of respect to God or man. The attitude varies from a slight inclination of the body to entire prostration with the forehead touching the ground.

6. סאה se'ah a "seah," about an English peck, the third part of an ephah. The ephah contained ten omers. The omer held about five pints.

This chapter describes Abraham's fellowship with God. On the gracious assurance of the Redeemer and Vindicator, "Fear not, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward," he ceased to fear, and believed. On the solemn announcement of the Conqueror of evil and the Quickener of the dead, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect," he began anew to walk with God in holiness and truth. The next step is, that God enters into communion with him as a man with his friend Isaiah 41:8; John 14:23. Hitherto he has appeared to him as God offering grace and inclining the will to receive it. Now, as God who has bestowed grace, he appears to him who has accepted it and is admitted into a covenant of peace. He visits him for the twofold purpose of drawing out and completing the faith of Sarah, and of communing with Abraham concerning the destruction of Sodom.

19, 20. The blessings of the covenant are reserved for Isaac, but common blessings were abundantly promised to Ishmael; and though the visible Church did not descend from his family, yet personally he might, and it is to be hoped did, enjoy its benefits. Circumcised the flesh of their foreskin; partly by his own hand, and partly by the help of others, whom he by Divine instinct called to and directed in that work;

in the self-same day, in which God appeared to him and gave the command. So he made haste and delayed not to execute God’s command. And his servants also yielded a ready and cheerful obedience to this severe and painful precept, being moved thereunto by Abraham’s example and sovereign authority, by God’s powerful presence some way or other manifested to them, and by the prospect and hope of God’s blessing to accompany and follow his own ordinance. And Abraham took Ishmael his son,.... To circumcise him; he took his son first, to set an example to his servants, and that they might the more readily comply when they saw that Abraham's son, and at that time his only son, was circumcised before their eyes:

and all that were born in his house; which were three hundred and eighteen when he rescued Lot from the kings, Genesis 14:14; and perhaps they might be now increased:

and all that were bought with his money; how many those were, it is not easy to say, no doubt they were many:

every male among the men of Abraham's house; whether children or servants, and those little or grown up:

and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin, in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him; he performed this operation in the manner God directed him, the same day he spoke to him of it; he was not disobedient, nor dilatory to obey the command of God, but at once complied with it, not consulting flesh and blood, not regarding the pain he and his should endure, or the shame or danger they should be exposed unto through the Heathens about them; but trusting in God, and committing himself to him, and having his fear before his eyes, he hesitated not, but cheerfully did the will of God. In doing this work he might have some assistance: it is highly probable he began it himself, and circumcised several; and having taught some of his servants how to perform it according to the divine prescription, they might assist him in going through with it.

And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and {h} circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

(h) They were well taught if they obeyed and were circumcised without resistance. This teaches that masters in their houses ought to be as preachers to their families, that from the highest to the lowest they may obey the will of God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23–27. Abraham circumcises his Household

23. And Abraham took, &c.] This verse repeats the directions contained in Genesis 17:11-13.

in the selfsame day] As in Genesis 17:26 : see note on Genesis 7:13. The expression is characteristic of P. The performance of this rite upon all the males of Abraham’s household, consisting of several hundred (cf. Genesis 14:14), in one day is hardly to be understood literally. The narrative is more concerned with the thought of the symbolism of a ritual precept, than with its literal practicability. The operation for full-grown males is a serious one, and not unattended with risk, cf. 34.Verse 23. - And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the self-same day. Literally, in the bone of that day, an expression occurring in Genesis 7:13, which is commonly regarded as Jehovistic, while this is Elohistic; though Quarry suggests that the ensuing section should commence with this verse, in which case the present paragraph would also be Jehovistic, and the appearance of unnecessary repetition in its statements avoided by viewing them as the customary recapitulations that mark the opening of a new division of the history (vide Genesis, p. 440); against which, however, is the name of God which continues to be here employed. As God (Elohim) had said unto him. The appointment of the sign of the covenant was followed by this further revelation as to the promised seed, that Abram would receive it through his wife Sarai. In confirmation of this her exalted destiny, she was no longer to be called Sarai (שׂרי, probably from שׂרר with the termination ai, the princely), but שׂרה, the princess; for she was to become nations, the mother of kings of nations. Abraham then fell upon his face and laughed, saying in himself (i.e., thinking), "Shall a child be born to him that is a hundred years old, or shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" "The promise was so immensely great, that he sank in adoration to the ground, and so immensely paradoxical, that he could not help laughing" (Del.). "Not that he either ridiculed the promise of God, or treated it as a fable, or rejected it altogether; but, as often happens when things occur which are least expected, partly lifted up with joy, partly carried out of himself with wonder, he burst out into laughter" (Calvin). In this joyous amazement he said to God (Genesis 17:18), "O that Ishmael might live before Thee!" To regard these words, with Calvin and others, as intimating that he should be satisfied with the prosperity of Ishmael, as though he durst not hope for anything higher, is hardly sufficient. The prayer implies anxiety, lest Ishmael should have no part in the blessings of the covenant. God answers, "Yes (אבל imo), Sarah thy wife bears thee a son, and thou wilt call his name Isaac (according to the Greek form Ἰσαάκ, for the Hebrew יצחק, i.e., laughter, with reference to Abraham's laughing; Genesis 17:17, cf. Genesis 21:6), and I will establish My covenant with him," i.e., make him the recipient of the covenant grace. And the prayer for Ishmael God would also grant: He would make him very fruitful, so that he should beget twelve princes and become a great nation. But the covenant, God repeated (Genesis 17:21), should be established with Isaac, whom Sarah was to bear to him at that very time in the following year. - Since Ishmael therefore was excluded from participating in the covenant grace, which was ensured to Isaac alone; and yet Abraham was to become a multitude of nations, and that through Sarah, who was to become "nations" through the son she was to bear (Genesis 17:16); the "multitude of nations" could not include either the Ishmaelites or the tribes descended from the sons of Keturah (Genesis 25:2.), but the descendants of Isaac alone; and as one of Isaac's two sons received no part of the covenant promise, the descendants of Jacob alone. But the whole of the twelve sons of Jacob founded only the one nation of Israel, with which Jehovah established the covenant made with Abraham (Exodus 6 and 20-24), so that Abraham became through Israel the lineal father of one nation only. From this it necessarily follows, that the posterity of Abraham, which was to expand into a multitude of nations, extends beyond this one lineal posterity, and embraces the spiritual posterity also, i.e., all nations who are grafted ἐκ πίστεως Ἀβραάμ into the seed of Abraham (Romans 4:11-12, and Romans 4:16, Romans 4:17). Moreover, the fact that the seed of Abraham was not to be restricted to his lineal descendants, is evident from the fact, that circumcision as the covenant sign was not confined to them, but extended to all the inmates of his house, so that these strangers were received into the fellowship of the covenant, and reckoned as part of the promised seed. Now, if the whole land of Canaan was promised to this posterity, which was to increase into a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:8), it is perfectly evident, from what has just been said, that the sum and substance of the promise was not exhausted by the gift of the land, whose boundaries are described in Genesis 15:18-21, as a possession to the nation of Israel, but that the extension of the idea of the lineal posterity, "Israel after the flesh," to the spiritual posterity, "Israel after the spirit," requires the expansion of the idea and extent of the earthly Canaan to the full extent of the spiritual Canaan, whose boundaries reach as widely as the multitude of nations having Abraham as father; and, therefore, that in reality Abraham received the promise "that he should be the heir of the world" (Romans 4:13).

(Note: What stands out clearly in this promise-viz., the fact that the expressions "seed of Abraham" (people of Israel) and "land of Canaan" are not exhausted in the physical Israel and earthly Canaan, but are to be understood spiritually, Israel and Canaan acquiring the typical significance of the people of God and land of the Lord - is still further expanded by the prophets, and most distinctly expressed in the New Testament by Christ and the apostles. This scriptural and spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament is entirely overlooked by those who, like Auberlen, restrict all the promises of God and the prophetic proclamations of salvation to the physical Israel, and reduce the application of them to the "Israel after the spirit," i.e., to believing Christendom, to a mere accommodation.)

And what is true of the seed of Abraham and the land of Canaan must also hold good of the covenant and the covenant sign. Eternal duration was promised only to the covenant established by God with the seed of Abraham, which was to grow into a multitude of nations, but not to the covenant institution which God established in connection with the lineal posterity of Abraham, the twelve tribes of Israel. Everything in this institution which was of a local and limited character, and only befitted the physical Israel and the earthly Canaan, existed only so long as was necessary for the seed of Abraham to expand into a multitude of nations. So again it was only in its essence that circumcision could be a sign of the eternal covenant. Circumcision, whether it passed from Abraham to other nations, or sprang up among other nations independently of Abraham and his descendants (see my Archologie, 63, 1), was based upon the religious view, that the sin and moral impurity which the fall of Adam had introduced into the nature of man had concentrated itself in the sexual organs, because it is in sexual life that it generally manifests itself with peculiar force; and, consequently, that for the sanctification of life, a purification or sanctification of the organ of generation, by which life is propagated, is especially required. In this way circumcision in the flesh became a symbol of the circumcision, i.e., the purification, of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6, cf. Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 9:25; Ezekiel 44:7), and a covenant sign to those who received it, inasmuch as they were received into the fellowship of the holy nation (Exodus 19:6), and required to sanctify their lives, in other words, to fulfil all that the covenant demanded. It was to be performed on every boy on the eighth day after its birth, not because the child, like its mother, remains so long in a state of impurity, but because, as the analogous rule with regard to the fitness of young animals for sacrifice would lead us to conclude, this was regarded as the first day of independent existence (Leviticus 22:27; Exodus 22:29; see my Archologie, 63).

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