Chapter xvii
7. The Covenant Sealed by New Names and Circumcision (17:1-27)

The basic fact to be observed for a proper approach to this chapter is that the covenant referred to is not a new one. For Ge 15:18 reports the establishment of the covenant, whose essential provisions are the same as those here outlined. Consequently this chapter marks an advance in this direction that the things previously guaranteed are now foretold as finally coming to pass: the one covenant promises certain blessings, the other the realization of these blessings when their appointed time has come.

Criticism confuses issues by claiming that our chapter gives P's account of the covenant which was covered by J's account in the somewhat different fashion in chapter 15. Consequently it need not be wondered at that the critical approach continually magnifies incidental differences and tries to set these two chapters at variance with one another.

Furthermore, the distinct importance of our chapter is readily discerned. A man who has long been obliged to wait in unwavering faith certainly requires clear promises of God upon which to build such faith. For faith must have a foundation. Here these promises, covering the essentials of numerous posterity and possession of the land, and involving by implication the Messianic features found in v.12, now specify Sarai as the mother who is to bear the son, and also establish a covenant sign. Immediately before the birth of the son of promise these distinct features are, of course, most in place. Aside from this, to have all these promises featured as parts of the covenant seals everything for the faith of Abram which is now under necessity of hoping and believing against all hope.

1, 2. When Abram was a man of ninety-nine years, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said: I am El Shadday; walk before me and be thou perfect. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

If we are to understand rightly the things about to be reported, it is essential to know at what juncture of Abram's life they took place, that is to say, how old Abram was. This very natural consideration calls for the statement of Abram's age at this point. Consequently, to begin to note here the precise style of P who is supposed to love exact statistical information is a misreading of a very simple and natural statement. The Hebrew idiom "a son of" (ben) for "a man of" appears here. The dative construction "to Abram" here is not the customary le but el (K. S., p.263, Note 1).

The divine name 'El Shadday here demands attention. "God Almighty," or "Almighty God," (A. V.), is a very satisfactory translation. So other versions: Luther -- der allmaechtige Gott; Vulgate -- usually, omnipotens. It would appear that this name Shadday comes from the root shadad, which may mean, "deal violently," but would in reference to God signify "to display power." This derivation is so natural and the sense so satisfactory that efforts to lay inferior and unworthy meanings into this divine name should not have been made. Very unsatisfactory, is the evidence which would impress the meaning of "hurler of lightnings," "mountain god," "demon," or "thunder god" upon the title; and behind such efforts lies the attempt to degrade the patriarchal religion to the level of contemporary heathen religions. But neither can we lend our approval to the queer Jewish etymology of the name, which makes sh -- "who," and day -- "sufficiently"; therefore "the self-sufficient," cf. the Septuagint rendering icanov. The name is common in Job, where the Greek translators usually render it pantocratwr, "the Almighty."

To the critics the use of this name is a sure index of the style of P. But quite apart from the fact that the argument in a circle functions in the proof -- first these passages are because of the name assigned to P, then the name is again extracted from the passages as proof of P's use of it -- of the six passages thus assigned to P one is admitted to be touched up by a redactor (Ge 43:14); and besides, the first verse, of our chapter bears the name "Yahweh," which also is then conveniently assigned to another redactor, and lastly, the name appears also in Nu 24:4, 16, assigned to JE.

Of far more importance is the remark by Delitzsch which indicates the propriety of the use of this name here: he claims that El Shadday designates "the God who compels nature to do what is contrary to itself and subdues it to bow and minister to grace." So in the last analysis it should not be regarded as a stylistic peculiarity or as a favourite divine name regularly used by some one author, but as the most appropriate divine name for the circumstances under consideration at this point. It is Yahweh, according to the text, who says: "I am El Shadday" -- not P.

Abram is by no means to desist from the type of life which wholeheartedly aims to please God. Though he has been obliged to wait long and patiently for the Lord, conscientious conduct is still the most manifest characteristic of him who is called a true servant of His. Therefore says Yahweh: "Walk before me and be thou perfect." The one command demands a God-conscious life of the best type; the other, faithful observance of all duties. The one is sound mysticism; the other, conscientious conduct. The one is the soul of true religion; the other, the practice of it. "Walk before me" is a very expressive description of how a believer realizes the very real presence of God. "Perfect" (tamim), of course, involves not complete moral perfection; but since it involves the idea of "complete" and "sound," it implies that no vital feature of a godly life is absent. Such a demand does not ask Abram to make himself fit to receive divine blessings, but it does warn him against doing those things whereby he renders himself unfit.

2. God's covenant was seen to have been established by God already Ge 15:18. Consequently, nathan berîth cannot here mean "to set up a covenant," but rather to put into force, or to make operative, the one that is in force. It is in this sense that we used the hardly adequate rendering "I will establish." God is simply assuring Abram that the time has now come to let the promised things begin to take place. That must mean for Abram: a son will be born. That, too, is exactly what lies in the divine promise: "I will multiply thee exceedingly." God speaks in terms of the ultimate results. Abram for the present thinks primarily in terms of the immediate realization. Bim'odh me'odh constitutes, as usual in such repetitions, a kind of superlative (K. S.318 f.). Strack has a translation that covers the idea involved very acceptably from one point of view: "I will let my promise made to thee become a reality."

3. And Abram fell upon his face, and God continued to speak to him and said:

Abram's response to the gracious divine promise is humble adoration, which leads him who recognizes how unworthy he is to receive such a promise to fall face downward to the ground. Since this displays the proper attitude on Abram's part, God goes on to address him.

From this point onward through the chapter the divine name 'Elohîm is used, the Creator-God. Yahweh (v.1) marked the divine manifestation about to be reported as a token of gracious favour. 'El Shadday emphasized that God was about to display His power in making nature subservient to grace. 'Elohîm covers the idea adequately from this point onward, for the Creator is about to do a creative work in enabling Sarai to bring forth.

4, 5. As for me, behold my covenant with thee stands, and thou shalt become a father of a multitude of nations. So thy name shall no longer be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; because as a father of a multitude of nations have I appointed thee.

The emphatic "I" ('anî) at the beginning of the verse introduces significantly what God purposes to do and stands in contrast with the obligations Abram is to meet, which are preceded by a prominent emphatic "thou" ('attah) v.9. The pronoun of v.4 which is thus made emphatic by an independent pronominal form is the possessive attached to berîthî, "my covenant," (K. S.341 g). The initial statement lacks a verb: "my covenant with thee," necessitating that some verb like "stands" be supplied in translating. As previously remarked, the covenant of chapter 15 is regarded as unassailable. The promise of v.2 which still only guaranteed numerous offspring is now elucidated as involving "a multitude of nations." To be the ancestor of one prominent nation would be a gracious prospect. To become the ancestor of a multitude of nations is almost without precedent, except in the case of Noah's sons. As a matter of fact the Ishmaelites and the sons of Ketura, as well as all Israelites acknowledge him as father. Besides, he becomes "heir of the world" (Ro 4:13) by virtue of all true believers of all nations, who through faith become his children.

5. In token of this new fact Abram's name is changed by God. Many question this fact in spite of the plain statement here recorded and reckon the account nothing more than an attempt to explain how men changed Abram's name. But the integrity of a writer like Moses dare not be questioned; for he is nowhere found inventing episodes such as this one. It may not be a strict etymology, for the second half, raham, could hardly be' derived from hamôn, "multitude." Consequently the criticisms of Procksch, who calls the efforts "clumsy," or of Dillmann, who labels it "hardly an etymology" are untenable. The simple facts seem to be these: the altered name is to appear as one but little different from the original. However, raham, "multitude," is very close to ram, "exalted," but since the root is not in use in Hebrew but only in Arabic (ruhdm) but apparently was understood in Hebrew, it suggests itself as usable; only its equivalent must be given in a truly Hebrew word "multitude" -- hamôn. The attempts to extract other meanings from the name, which the text adequately explains, must therefore be dismissed as hypercritical. So, too, the explanation that the inserted h really only represents the long vowel within the word -- a practice nowhere met with in Hebrew.

The sign or the accusative 'eth before the virtual subject shimkha is to be explained by the fact that in adopting the passive verb the retained object practically becomes the subject (K. S.109). The conjunction waw before hayah is adversative (K. S.360 b; cf. Ge 42:10).

6. And I will make thee exceedingly, prolific, and make nations of thee and kings shall come forth from thee.

The promise of v.4 is unfolded as to the further honours it embraces. Again critics lose this feature by trying to describe the legal style of P, of which this is only a further example. V.4 had only assured "a multitude of nations." This promise could be construed to mean small nations. Our verse now construes it to mean very populous nations; for "I will make thee exceedingly prolific." Hiphréthî strictly means "I will make fruitful," but our idiom prefers "prolific" (Meek). Between the two new features of the promise stands "I will make nations of thee," the original promise whose possibilities are being unfolded. The second new feature mentioned is: "Kings shall come forth from thee." The future nations descended from Abraham are to produce out of their own midst their own competent heads worthy of the name of "Kings."

Note both an accusative and a dative (really factative) object after nathan (K. S.327 t).

7. And I shall uphold my covenant between me and between thee and thy seed after thee for generations to come as a covenant reaching into the hidden future, to be God to thee, and to thy seed after thee.

This verse dwells more specifically on the covenant proper. The verb qûm, here used in the Hifil, may mean "make a covenant," or "uphold a covenant," depending on the connection. Here the latter must be meant. But the new thing unfolded is that the covenant is to continue in force graciously also for his descendants "for generations" -- literally "for their generations" -- as a berîth ôlam. Though this expression is usually translated "an everlasting covenant" (A. V.), really the force of 'ôlam carries no farther than ."into the hidden future" (bis in dunkle Zukunft, K. C.). It may on occasion actually signify eternity. At times it does not reach beyond the limits of a lifetime. The vital soul of the covenant is also specifically mentioned: He will "be God" (le'lohîm -- "for God") to Abraham and to his descendants, that means He will fulfil those obligations to which He pledges Himself by becoming party to a covenant. All that one might rightly expect of God will be realized. God can really promise no more than that He will be God to men.

Here critics make the most valiant attempt to make this so-called covenant of P radically different from the covenants mentioned elsewhere. For in the passages relating to covenants according to P, as they say, Ex 6:7; 29:45; Le 11:45, as well as in our passage, the statement, "I will be their God," is not matched by another which says: "they shall be my people." So "a reciprocal act of choice on man's part" is not an "essential feature of the relation." However, the passages cited above as well as those listed together with them attributed to ph, like Le 22:33; 25:38; 26:12, 45; Nu 15:41, though they do not contain the very words referred to, still always stress the equivalent, namely, walking in a manner worthy of God. The only thing missing is the set form of words. How hard and futile are the labours of critics to set part against part in Holy Writ.

Note the plural suffix "to their generations" referring back to the collective singular seed (K. S.346 p).

8. And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojournings, namely the entire land of Canaan for a possession in the hidden future, and I will be God to them.

The land had been promised to Abraham and his descendants before this; see Ge 12:7 and Ge 15:18. In the almost twenty-five years that had elapsed hitherto no trace of the fulfilment of this promise was discernible. Consequently it was quite in order to renew this promise too in an all-embracing covenant. To make the statement as broad as possible the promise is added that this possession of the land is to be for long years to come. But the future is not to resolve itself into any such thing as mere outward possessions, even though it be of a good land. So the promise definitely adds that in these long years to come God will be God to Abraham's seed.

Our translation of 'ôlam in this verse and the preceding as "in (or into) the hidden future" provides whatever corrective may be needed for the extravagant opinion that Canaan is to be the inalienable possession of Israel, perhaps even into the Millennium. Long endurance of this possession is guaranteed by this expression but not eternal possession.

The plural meghurîm, "sojournings," is one of the plurals of extent common with nouns picturing various conditions (K. S.261 a). "Possession of the hidden future" for "future possession" is a characteristic example of the use of nouns for adjectives (K. S.306 a).

9, 10. And God said unto Abraham: But as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou and thy descendants after thee throughout their generations. This is the covenant-sign which ye shall observe between me and yourselves and (between) thy descendants after thee: all of your males shall be circumcised:

Abraham gets a clear outline of his obligations which the covenant imposes upon' him and his descendants for all times to come: "thou shalt keep my covenant." This general statement implies quite a bit. It imposes the broad duty upon Abraham and all his descendants to live in a manner befitting those who are bound by God's covenant. All this is really so self-evident that for the present no further specifications are required. Besides, v.1 had very clearly covered these obligations in the word: "Walk before me and be thou perfect."

10. But a new feature is appended to the covenant, which is so distinctly a part of it that at first the statement merely runs thus: "This is the covenant" (berth). However, since the thing demanded as being the covenant immediately follows, and is circumcision, the word "covenant" must here be used by metonomy for "covenant-sign," or "covenantcondition" (K. C.). This "covenant-sign" is laid as a duty upon Abraham and upon his offspring. The commandment as such is the Nifal absolute infinitive himmôl, for infinitives may be used as imperatives when they stand unconnected as here. Cf. Exod.12:48. The further specification "all males" is not self-evident; for, in the first place, it allows for no exceptions, and, in the second place, it exempts all females, for circumcision of females in ancient times as well as at the present is a regular custom among some races or tribes.

It cannot be denied that such a custom distinctly appointed for so holy a purpose is apt to strike us as exceedingly strange. Nor can such purely utilitarian considerations as a sanitary expedient appeal to us as having been the primary purpose behind the rite. A deeper meaning must be sought. The two chief considerations that require investigation here are: first, the rite as such represents a putting away of evil, a kind of purification, in fact, more specifically it points to the necessity of the purification of life at its very source. It is not a sacrament efficacious in supplying the needed grace and the desired effect. But it suggests in a type or symbol what obligations are laid upon those who stand in covenant relation, with God, namely primarily to put away the foreskin of their hearts (Jer 4:4), to circumcise the heart and "be no longer stiffnecked" (De 10:16), an effect which, strictly speaking, only the Lord's grace can achieve, in man (De 30:6), which, therefore, man in seeking to accomplish must seek from the Lord. Secondly, this rite is tied up closely with the Messianic hope. For if it indicates the purification of life at its source, it in the last analysis points forward to Him through whom all such purification is to be achieved, who is Himself also to be born by a woman, but is to be He in whom for the first time that which circumcision prefigures will be actually realized.

Here it should be remembered that this rite, even as it is not a sacrament, so, too, is not a divinely ordained instrumentality for initiation into the people of God, at least not for a native Israelite. He was a member of the people of God by virtue of birth. By circumcision he was made aware of his covenant obligations and received a perpetual badge or reminder of these obligations. That circumcision foreshadows baptism is, of course, undeniable.

11-13. Namely, ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and this shall be for a sign of a covenant between me and you. Namely, when a child is eight days old, then shall all males be circumcised for all generations to come: as well the children born in the house as also those bought for money of any foreigner whatsoever, who does not happen to be of your race. Invariably ye shall circumcise these (slave children) born in your house or bought for money; and so my covenant shall be in your flesh for a covenant enduring into the far distant future.

These necessary explanations how the rite of circumcision is to be put into practice fit together far more smoothly than a cursory reading of the original text or even of our familiar version seems to indicate. For the initial "and" of v.11 and v.12 really is a "namely," the German und zwar (K. C.). Consequently, the things implied in the initial statement (v.10) are being unfolded. Yet how could a rite of this sort be inaugurated at all in a satisfactory manner without clear directions (a) as to what manner of operation it was to be (v.11); or (b) as to at what age it was to be administered (v.12 a); or (c) as to who falls under its provisions, whether only the direct descendants of Abraham or also the slaves of the household (v.12 b); or (d) as to the absolute or relative necessity of this rite for all those enumerated (v.13). To impose the rite and leave all these problems open would merely have caused grievous perplexity to those entrusted with the duty of circumcision. Consequently, all such critical remarks as "the legal style of this section is so pronounced that it reads like a stray leaf from the book of Leviticus," are just another case where the nature of the circumstances that call for just such a presentation is confused with the problem of style. The question of various authors (J, E, and P) does not enter in at this point. No matter who the author is, the case in question calls for this kind of presentation of the necessary details.

So then, first of all, since a mark in the flesh might be cut into various parts of the body, the divine command specifies what man's thoughts might well have deemed improbable, that this cutting was to be "in the flesh" -- euphemism -- of their foreskin. Such a peritomh will then certainly be "a sign of a covenant" between God and a member of the covenant people. So little does the unsanctified mind appreciate the issues involved, that in the eyes of the Gentiles circumcision was merely an occasion for ridicule of the Jews.

The converted Kal perfect attaches itself naturally to an infinitive absolute used as an imperative (K. S.367 t). The sign of the accusative 'eth here stands not with a definite object but with an accusative of specification (besar). The subject of hayah has to be supplied ad sensum from the preceding, and so we have inserted a "this," or we could have supplied the subject "circumcision."

12. In so important, a rite it is not to be left to man's discretion when it is to be administered. "Eight days" is the proper age. Apparently, as the law regards the young cattle as beginning their independent existence with their eighth day (see Ex 22:30), so a child may be viewed from the same angle. That rule is to hold good "for all generations to come," literally: "according to your generations," a phrase which makes poor English. Such specific regulations, which divine wisdom stoops to give, must have satisfied those to whom the administration of the rite was entrusted. They knew step for step how to regulate its application.

Besides, had even Abraham been left to his own devices, he might well have been puzzled as to whether he might regard the slave children as candidates for this rite. Again, the added question might have arisen, whether here a distinction was to be made between children born of slaves who belonged to the household at the time of the birth of the children (on these children the master had special claim -- Ex 21:2-6) and those children, on the other hand, who had been born of slave parents before these parents passed into control of the Hebrew master. In the case of Abraham's very large household such cases would be numerous. God Himself proves His estimate of the importance of the rite by regulating these details.

It certainly is passing strange to find critics referring to this solemn and sacred rite which God ordained as a "taboo" -- "the taboo of the household required the circumcision" of the purchased slave child (Procksch). Taboos are superstitious practices; here is one of the most solemn divine institutions of the Old Testament.

But now the further question: "Were such circumcised slaves and slave children by this rite incorporated into the chosen race?" We believe that the answer must be, "Yes." Israel certainly never had a separate slave class, who were deemed inferior beings and mere chattels. What then became of the slaves that originally were part of the household establishment and went down into Egypt at Jacob's time? The answer seems to be: "They were naturally absorbed by the Israelites and blended with the Israelite stock, adopting the Israelite religion." So with all its necessary exclusiveness Israel was at the same time broader in its attitude than many assume. But there certainly could be little hesitation about letting circumcised slaves be merged with the chosen race.

The final hû' stands in a somewhat unusual position after the subject and the predicate.

13. The injunction is made exceptionally strong by the absolute infinitive, joined with its corresponding verb: "circumcising you shall circumcise" -- "You shall invariably circumcise." A final emphatic summary serves to strengthen the impression of the importance of the rite ordained.

14. The uncircumcised male, one who shall not be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, such a person shall be cut from his people; he has broken my covenant.

The eventuality has yet to be dealt with, what to do with the one who might refuse to receive this badge of the covenant relation. The penalty demanded is severe: "such a person (literally: "this soul") shall be cut off from his people" ('ammêha -- seine Volksgenossen). The mooted question just how this penalty is to be defined is settled most satisfactorily, in view of passages where practically the same expression occurs -- Ex 12:15, 19; Le 7:20, 21, 25; 17:9, 10 -- as allowing for two possibilities. In some instances, where neglect of the important divine ordinance was marked by a spirit of rebellious defiance, the proper authorities were expected to take the offender in hand, and after a just trial, which might establish his stubborn contempt, to put away such iniquity from Israel. On the other hand, there were cases of less flagrant neglect, which due to modifying circumstances might not call for interference on the part of the authorities; and yet the offender was not to regard his offense lightly. The thing threatened for such a case then appeared to be that God Himself would take it in hand and "cut off" such a person, according to tradition "by an early death before such a one had begotten offspring" (Delitzsch).

On hephar (with a) see G. K.67v. The asyndeton of the last clause marks the writer's (or speaker's) indignation. In wenikhretha the converted perfect follows after a nominative absolute (K. S.367, 8).

15, 16. Then God said unto Abraham: As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt no longer call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I shall bless her and shall also give thee a son from her, and as a result of my blessing she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall spring from her.

No specific word from God had hitherto indicated that Sarai was actually to bring forth the long promised son. This word is now spoken. On the strength of the implications of monogamous marriage this fact had actually been presupposed, excepting, of course, the possibility that Sarai should have died before Abraham had such a son. In anticipation of this event Sarai is given a new name, Sarah, which bears no different meaning from her former name but marks an added dignity nevertheless because of the circumstances involved. "Sarah" means "princess," or the "princely one." Without a special divine blessing it would, of course, have been a physical impossibility for Sarah to bring forth this son. Consequently, this potent blessing of God is twice referred to: once in connection with this son, then in relation to the "kings of peoples" that shall in the course of time spring from this son. But she who thus becomes the mother of kings certainly merits the name "Princess." The meaning that some attach to the name, when they say it signifies "the Contender" (Kaempferin, Luther), is less appropriate and natural.

Nathßtti is a promissory perfect, as in v.20. The kî of v.15 is adversative as usual after a negative.

To catch the full scope of the last part of this promise it should be carefully weighed that Sarah herself is to become "a mother of nations." The original has only "she shall be unto nations," which, however, A. V. already felt free to render: "she shall be a mother of nations." This promise cannot have the Ishmaelites or the sons of Ketura (Ge 25:2 ff) in mind: they are not of Sarah. The Israelites descended from her, however, are only one nation: Consequently "the posterity of Abraham embraces the spiritual posterity also, i. e., all nations who are grafted ec pistewv lbraam into the seed of Abraham (Ro 4:11, 12, 16, 17). So Abraham becomes heir of the world' (Ro 4:13) through the spiritual Israel" (Keil).

17. Then Abraham fell upon his face and laughed, and he said to himself: Shall a child be born to a man a hundred years old? or shall Sarah -- shall a woman of ninety years bring forth a child?

From what follows it becomes very clear that Abraham's attitude in no wise lays him open to blame. Nothing is indicative of doubt or misgivings in his reply. Consequently, when he falls upon his face, this is an act of worshipful adoration. Also his laughter is the laughter of joy and surprise. A host of glad feelings is called forth in him at this precious promise. So, too, the questions express no doubt but happy wonder. For saying "to himself" the Hebrew uses the more expressive belibbô, "in his heart." That he who is a hundred years old should have a son does indicate that he realizes that he has not lost his vitality; for afterward he becomes father of a number of children (Ge 25:2 ff.). But that he at the age of a hundred years should have a son out of a hitherto childless union is, indeed, quite remarkable. His strong joy over Sarah's good fortune finds expression in the double interrogative particle ('im and ha) in the resumption of the question thus: "Shall Sarah -- shall a woman," etc. Whereas we say, "a woman of ninety years," the Hebrew says, "a daughter of ninety," etc, employing the word bath, for this and many other such relationships.

18. And Abraham said unto God: Would that Ishmael might live before Thee!

This plea means: Would that Ishmael might live in thy favour! This plea is not a substitute suggestion for what God offered in v. Ge 17: 16. God's answer v.19 and 20 Ge 17: 19, 20 makes such an interpretation impossible. Not a substitute suggestion but an additional plea Abraham offers. When he observes that God's new promise passes by Ishmael completely, he seeks a favour from God for him, that he too might have God's good will directed toward him.

19, 20. And God said, Most assuredly Sarah thy wife shall bring forth a son for thee and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish my covenant with him as a covenant for the hidden future for his seed after him. Also in reference to Ishmael have I heard thee: behold, I shall bless him and make him fruitful and shall make him grow exceedingly numerous; twelve princes shall his line produce, and I appoint him to be a great nation.

The good approach of A. V. and Luther is here lost by the A. R. V., which renders the initial 'abhal. "Nay but." So also B D B, but as a result of a false exegesis. Since nothing in Abraham's remark suggests a substitute suggestion, God has nothing to reject. He confirms what Abraham's joyful faith accepted: "Most assuredly Sarah shall bring forth a son," and appoints a name for this son, commemorative of the father's joy, "Isaac," Hebrew: yits- chaq -- "he laughs," or more appropriately "glad," "happy," Koenig: heiter, froehlich. He is, besides, definitely indicated as the one with whom God's covenant is to be established after Abraham: he carries on the line of promise in a special relation to God. Yolédheth reaches distinctly into the future in this case: she "will be bringing forth."

20. Now God's response to the plea for Ishmael. He has accepted the plea and agrees to answer it: "I have heard thee." Le introduces a dative of reference' "as for Ishmael." Since all depends on God's blessing as to whether a man has any future, God agrees to bestow His blessing, which will appear in a fourfold form. First, He purposes to make Ishmael "fruitful," the same word that we rendered "prolific," (Ge 17:6) Secondly, this will result in his being "exceedingly numerous." Thirdly, he specifically predicts that in the course of the history of the nation "twelve princes'" shall successively appear. The faithful historian records the fulfilment of this promise Ge 25:12-16. Some nations might have called such rulers "kings." Ishmaelites preferred the title "princes." Fourthly -- and this is practically the inevitable result of all that preceded -- they shall become "a great nation." Certainly, God gave a very generous response to Abraham's petition in Ishmael's behalf. Spiritual prerogatives are not included, inasmuch as this nation had no capacity nor destiny in this field.

Berßkhti is a promissory perfect (K. S.131). Shenêm appears as a constant irregular form, a Keri perpetuum (G. K.97 d).

21. But my covenant I establish with Isaac whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

This word is as explicit as it can be in ruling out Ishmael from the prospect of continuing in the covenant. The emphatic position of the word "my covenant" necessitates regarding the statement as adversative. Ishmael, a child brought into the world according to human devices, is not of grace as is the covenant. But Isaac is a child purely of grace. With him the covenant may be coupled. Besides, the lapse of only one more year is appointed before the fulfilment of the promise appears.

22. And He finished speaking with him and God went up from Abraham.

The interview is definitely terminated by God. Whether now Abraham saw Him who appeared to Him actually ascend upward, or whether the correct statement that God ascended upward from the earth is merely made by the author Moses as a more highly descriptive way of telling of God's departure, matters little. God's abode is higher than the earth, and the Scriptures consistently describe it as being thus: therefore -- "God went up." When Meek translares wayyß'al as a pale "he left," that is a typical modernistic translation which levels off what is distinctive in revelation as found in the Scriptures. On killah la see G. K.114 m.

23. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and those servants that had been born in his house as well as those that had been purchased for money -- every male in Abraham's household -- and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day, just as God had told him to do.

The excellent obedience of the faith of Abraham prompts him to carry out the divine injunction in regard to circumcision immediately. Now there are at least two ways of reporting such an act of faith. Either a summary statement to this effect may be made, or else a detailed statement repeating portion for portion the salient features of the command. The author prefers the latter mode, dwelling with loving attention upon every detail, as, no doubt, Abraham himself did while carrying out what had been enjoined upon him. This mode of representation may be regarded as quite effective, at least in the esteem of those who enter into the spirit of the account sympathetically. But, strange to say, such a representation earns for the author a bit of adverse criticism on the part of modern scholars, who even speak of the "pedantic and redundant circumstantiality of narration" here displayed.

So also Ishmael's circumcision is by such regarded as an inconsistency; for "the rite is a sign of the covenant, from which Ishmael is excluded." Why manufacture baseless charges? All men can see that Ishmael is excluded merely from being the one whose descendants shall personally carry on the line of promise from which the Deliverer will ultimately come. He is by no means to be excluded from sharing in the blessings that are to spring from that promised Deliverer, neither he himself, nor even the servants of the household. He is to consider himself a candidate for a share in these blessings. Circumcision constitutes an invitation for him and the others circumcised to regard themselves such candidates. He and they may afterward reject such spiritual opportunities, even though they continue the custom of circumcision. The loss, then, in such an event is their own fault. The initial circumcision threw open the door of gracious invitation.

The conscientious obedience of Abraham is reflected most strongly in the statement that he did all this "on that very day" -- a thing God had not even demanded in so many words.

24, 25. And Abraham was a man of ninetynine years when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin; whereas Ishmael, his son, was a lad of thirteen years when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

The event is of sufficient importance to have the age of the chief characters brought to our attention, though v.1 had already reported Abraham's age. The thought conveyed by the emphatic repetition of this fact suggests very prominently again Abraham's faith: the man who had waited so long for the son of promise had not as a result of long waiting grown weak in the faith, so that God's words are now, perhaps, regarded somewhat lightly. Rather, in perfect trust Abraham yields implicit obedience to every word, no matter how strange it may seem to human reason. "Man of" and "lad of" are one expression in Hebrew: ben.

It has been observed that the Arab descendants of Ishmael still choose the age of about thirteen for the circumcising of their children. Such a practice could well base itself on the recollection of their ancestor's age at the time of his circumcision. However, to let the notice, here given count merely as a statement "based on the knowledge of this custom" in just one more attempt to label Biblical statements as manufactured rather than historical.

26, 27. On this very day Abraham and Ishmael, his son, were circumcised, as well as all the men of his household, those born in the house and those purchased for money from foreigners, who were circumcised with him.

This is the closing statement in the elaborate detailed account of what because of its importance deserved and required to be recorded with minute exactitude. This is not an account of a man (P) whose style is circumstantial and pedantic. This account comes from Moses who suits his style to the needs of the case with a fine sense of propriety.


It seems to us that only the portions v.1-8 and v.15-21 are suitable for use as texts, and perhaps these two had better serve as one text. The sections concerning circumcision are not adapted to use in a sermon. The other portions speak emphatically of the greatness of God's mercy toward Abraham, which includes unusual blessings for Sarah as well as for Hagar. Care should be taken in treating all such portions of Abraham's story to indicate how each new divine word marks a distinct advance upon the preceding words. The details of what the covenant implies are here the matter under particular consideration.

chapter xvi
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