Genesis Segment 13 (17:1-27)

Originally Published 7/31/2001

(Gen 17:1) And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

The words (not the numbers, which are obviously related) ninety and nine are related. The Hebrew for nine is tesha’ (feminine) or tisha’ (masculine). The word for ninety is tish’iym, the plural of tesha’. In English the word “ninety” would be literally be the word “nines.” The number ninety-nine is 99, or multiple nines. The point I am trying to make is that Abram’s age has a symbolic attachment.

According to several sources, the number nine is the number of divine finality or divine judgment1. Abram is circumcised at age ninety-nine (Gen 17:24), an act that ended his previous life. That is divine finality. After that, God re-named him Abraham. So here at the end of Abram’s former life, God appears to him to make the covenant that Abram would become the father of many nations. This was the second major Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of circumcision. We will explore the covenant further in the next few verses.

It is interesting to note that when God is speaking of the covenant, and speaking only about Abraham, including no one else (Gen17:2-14), before God speaks of Sarai or Isaac, He says the word covenant (beriyth or brith) nine times. After the ninth time, God then includes Sarai.

Here, Yehovah actually physically appears to Abram; Abram sees Him. This is not an episode where God appears as the Angel of the LORD; this is a manifestation of Yehovah Himself in His glory. Verse 3 proves this–Abram falls on his face in worship.

God says “I am ‘El Shaddai,” God Almighty. ‘El is the short form of ‘elohim, which is the plural form of the word ‘god.’ The Hebrew for “perfect”, tamiym, signifies completeness in this context. God says that if Abram will walk before Him (literally walk in His face, that is, under His watchful eye), Abram will be complete.

(Gen 17:2) And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

This is a repetition of the covenant made in previous verses. See God’s Promises to Abraham.

(Gen 17:3) And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,

Abram fell down because he beheld God face to face. God didn’t seem to notice. It seems that when angels are beheld, they usually tell the beholder to fear not. God didn’t, He went on speaking.

(Gen 17:4-5) As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. {5} Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

Abram changes from an exalted father (‘abram) to the father of a multitude (‘abraham). He is no longer to be the father of one house or family, but a multitude of nations. His children were Isaac–the Israelites, Ishmael–the Bedouins, Midian–the Midianites as well as Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Ishbak, and Shuah. Each of them had children and became nations. Hence Abraham is literally the father of many nations. Again, Abraham is composed of two words, ab, meaning father and hamown meaning multitudes.

(Gen 17:6) And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

Kings did come out of him. David was one. Jesus is another. This verse does not say that kings will come only from the line of Isaac, but out of the line of Abraham and that includes all his sons. Other kings came from Abraham through sons other than Isaac.

(Gen 17:7) And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

This covenant is everlasting. It is still in effect today. The church has not replaced Israel. The church is comprised of the Sons of God, the children of Abraham. If you are a Christian, you are a child of Abraham. Again, the church has not replaced Israel; we are part of Israel. Paul tells us so: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal 3:7). The covenant is still in effect and we are a part of the recipients of this statement because Yehovah is God unto us. Gentile Christians are of the seed of Abraham by adoption (Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 3:7; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5; Eph 2:14-16). See The Relationship Between Israel and the Church. “Christianity is not a new religion, but rather the completion of the Jewish faith2.”

(Gen 17:8) And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Why do we support the nation of Israel? Because the land of Canaan is an everlasting possession of the sons of Abraham. This includes Christians and saved Jews (Rom 2:17, 25-26, 27, 28-29. Rom 9:6, 21-32; Rom 11:5, 28). You might get into a disagreement with an unsaved Jew because they don’t believe Christ is the Messiah, but according to the Bible, the land is their possession and our possession. There are some that say America is the land of promise–and it is–but the scripture here is very specific. God is talking about the land of Canaan through which the Jordan river runs, adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea and not North America.

(Gen 17:9) And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

Because of the grace of God, Abraham and his seed will keep God’s covenant. And so it has been and will be. Though many have fallen away, God has always preserved a remnant: “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries” (Ezek 6:8). Through that remnant has come the True Religion, that is, the worship of Yehovah and His Christ. The remnant also applies to the church. Down through the ages, when there was great apostasy, as now, God preserved a remnant. Through that remnant came the true worship of God.

(Gen 17:10) This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

Circumcision involves the shedding of blood. Circumcision causes bleeding and permanently marks a man for his entire life. The covenant is one of blood and those who enter the covenant receive a mark on their bodies. All boys were to have been circumcised. Yet, in the New covenant, circumcision of the flesh (the foreskin) has no part in redemption. Only the shed blood of Christ is effective; our shed blood has no spiritual effect. It is only through circumcision of the heart—the cutting away of the old “heart” and the insertion of a new “heart” that we are saved (Rom 2:29). The old covenant of circumcision of the flesh has passed away (2 Cor 5:17; Heb 8:10, 13).

(Gen 17:11) And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

A token is a sign. Circumcision of the flesh was to be a sign that a man had faith in God and was verily one of God’s people. However, just being circumcised did not guarantee a man that he was a child of God, just as baptism doers not. Many have been baptized without a change of heart. Abraham was circumcised because of his faith in God. It was his faith that justified him (Gen 15:6, Ps 106:3; Gal 3:6-8; Jam 2:23), not the cutting off of the foreskin. The cutting of his foreskin was a sign that he had faith in God, just as Baptism is to be a sign that a person has faith in God.

(Gen 17:12) And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

Why eight days? Eight symbolizes regeneration. Jesus was raised from the dead on the eighth day, Sunday. The number eight in Hebrew is shemoneh, which means fat and plentiful. It also means to super-abound. It is one more than seven, the number of perfection. It super-abounds seven. There are seven days in the week, so eight is one more than seven. The eighth day is also the first. Hence regeneration. Regeneration super-abounds life, bringing on life eternal.

A Psalm written specifically about the Word of God is Psalm 119. It is an acrostic Psalm broken down into 22 sections, one section corresponding to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza mentions the law, the Word, precepts, statutes, etc. Each section has exactly eight stanzas. In each section, each of the eight stanzas begins with the letter corresponding to that section. For example, the first eight stanzas begin with Aleph, the second eight begin with Beth, the third eight begin with Gimel, etc., all the way through Tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

So, not only does eight correspond to regeneration, it corresponds to the written word and the law as well. A case can be made that the law was given for our regeneration. If we perfectly follow all of God’s Law (a feat that is impossible) we will be saved. But since the Law condemns us because it is impossible to follow, then we need salvation from another source. That source is vicarious atonement. That is a big word for the substitution of another life for our own in payment for transgressing the Law.

In the Old Testament, that sacrifice was of bulls, goats, rams, birds, lambs, etc. They were substituted for the lives of sinners. There was only one problem. Those sacrifices had to be made over and over again for sins. Jesus, the Messiah, was sacrificed once for all. There is never a need for another sacrifice after His. (By the way, the phrase “once for all” does not mean once saved always saved, which is a true statement; it simply means that Christ had to die only once to save all of us from all of our sins).

The Law shows us our guilt. The blood of goats, bulls, etc., was never enough to remove sins. (See Hebrews chapters nine and ten.) Only Christ could do that. So through the Law we are shown our guilt and led from bulls and goats to Jesus Christ for our regeneration. So, again, we see the number eight referring to regeneration.

Again, why eight? Circumcision represented regeneration to Abraham and his progeny. By being circumcised, Abraham moved from his old life to his new life; he changed from exalted father to father of a multitude. His new life was a life dedicated to the LORD, which led to salvation. His offspring were circumcised to represent their regeneration into new life with God. Our ordinance of Baptism does the same thing. Why eight? Because the covenant of circumcision led to regeneration. This applies also to anyone in the household of the House of Abraham, including those not related by blood. Anyone who wanted to could become a worshipper of Yehovah, and that person signified that by being circumcised.

(Gen 17:13) He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Anyone in the household of an Israelite was to be a part of the covenant and therefore had to be circumcised.

(Gen 17:14) And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

Conversely, anyone not circumcised would not be a participant in the covenant. That person was not allowed to remain with his people.

(Gen 17:15) And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

Sarai was also a part of the covenant, so she to was given a new name. Sarai meant exalted or princely. Abram was the exalted father; Sarai was the exalted wife. Sarah simply means princess or queen.

(Gen 17:16) And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

You have heard this before, but it must be said. To a wife in the day and age of Abraham, having a child, especially a son, was the absolute most important thing she could do. A wife who was barren was almost a social outcast. She considered herself less than complete and others agreed. Sarah was ninety and had been married to Abraham a long time. She had resigned herself to being barren, as we will see in Gen 18:12.

The KJV and most other translations add “a mother” to the verse. The Hebrew reads “yea, I have blessed her and she shall become nations; kings of people from her shall be. (Green’s Interlinear Bible)” Young says it this way: “and I have blessed her, and she hath become nations–kings of peoples are from her.” (Young’s Literal Translation). Young puts it in the present tense, which is more like the Hebrews would have said it. In prophecy from God, it is always assumed that it has already happened. Once God utters a prophecy it is. The Hebrew does not say that she is a mother of all nations; it is implied. This is the reason she became Sarah, a queen, because nations and kings have come from her.

(Gen 17:17) Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

Abraham, who had believed God and had been credited with righteousness, doubted at this point. He just couldn’t bring himself to believe that he could sire a child or that Sarah could bear one. So he fell upon his face to worship and laughed in scorn.

(Gen 17:18) And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

This is the literal rendering of the verse, but in English, it is difficult to follow. Abraham is asking God to allow Ishmael to be his heir. Abraham didn’t believe that Sarah could have a child so he asked for this.

(Gen 17:19) And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

The answer to Abraham’s question was no. Referring to Abraham’s laughter and cynicism, God said, “Sarah will INDEED have a son.” Isaac means “laughter,” referring to both Abraham’s and Sara’s scorn.

God grants the same covenant that He gave to Abraham to Isaac and his offspring, even before Isaac’s birth. God knew Isaac before he was in the womb.

(Gen 17:20) And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

God did not leave Ishmael out. Ishmael was the progenitor of the Bedouins, and several Arab nations. Today they are mostly Muslims, who refer to Ishmael as their spiritual father. They are now and have been a great nation for millennia. God truly blessed them.

(Gen 17:21) But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

God was essentially saying, “I’m going to bless Ishmael, but Isaac will be the beneficiary of the covenant.”

A “set time” is a season (winter, spring, summer, or fall). So God said that Sarah would bear Isaac in about a year in the same season.

(Gen 17:22) And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

God ascended back to heaven.

(Gen 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 unto him.

He did this in obedience. This was not a painless surgery; the pain lasted for several days Compare Gen 34:24-25, where grown men were circumcised. Infants heal much more quickly than adults, so the pain would last longer for an adult. Females were not circumcised. That barbaric procedure is practiced by Muslims.

(Gen 17:24) And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

See note on Verse 1.

(Gen 17:25-27) And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. {26} In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. {27} And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

This is exactly what God had told Abraham to do in verse twelve. Abraham obeyed.

  1. Jerome, Augustine, Gregory I, Bullinger, and Panin all assigned significance to numbers in the Scriptures. All of these men agreed that the number nine signifies finality or judgment.
  2. From Two Jews Identify Spiritual Israel by Steve Wohlberg and Doug Batchelor, © 2009
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