And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
- 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.1898 Genesis 17:1. This circumstance of his age is observed the more to commend his faith and obedience, that though he was an old man, he did not consider his age, or make that an objection; that he was unable to bear the pain, or it would be shameful for a man of his years to be uncovered before his servants:
when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin; who circumcised him is not said, very probably Eliezer his head servant: the Jews, who affect to know everything, say (u), that he sent for Shem, the son of Noah, who circumcised him and his son Ishmael; but it is most likely that Ishmael was circumcised by Abraham himself, as seems from Genesis 17:23; and Abraham might circumcise himself, as Ben Melech thinks.And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verse 24. - And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, - literally, a son of ninety years and nine (cf. Genesis 7:6; Genesis 16:16) - when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 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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