“born in his house.” This phrase is generally used to refer to slaves who are born in the household, and this is especially true when it is combined with the phrase, “or bought with money.” Any child of a slave was also a slave. Also, the “house,” or “household,” can refer to a tent encampment. “Born in the house” does not mean that the slave was literally born in the exact house (or tent) that the owner lived in, but rather that the slave mother was part of the extended household of the owner. A Medieval king might have a castle big enough for his immediate and extended family, as well as servants and even some guards and soldiers. However, a Bedouin sheik like Abraham lived in a tent with a wife and her children (if a man had two or more wives, it was customary for the other wives to have their own tents that the husband would visit when he wanted), while the extended family, slaves, and hired servants lived in tents encamped around him (we refer to Abraham as a “Bedouin sheik” in the sense that he was a nomad or wanderer, moving around from place to place while caring for flocks and herds, rather than staying in one place and farming the soil).
God’s point to Abraham is that any of his descendants, or any slave born under his authority or bought with his money, could be circumcised and be part of the covenant. What a great blessing to a slave! They were often not treated well by other humans, but they were treated like family by God.
Genesis 17:12-13 shows the inclusive love and largeness of God, “who wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 REV). God’s covenant with Abraham was not just for the actual physical descendants of Abraham, as if they were the only ones who would inherit the land, rather it was for everyone who aligned themselves with Abraham and wanted to be part of God’s covenant. This is still true in the New Testament times, because people who take Christ as their Lord and become Christians, become Abraham’s seed, his descendants, and thus heirs of what God promised him: “Now if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs of what was promised” (Gal. 3:29 REV).
Many Jews tended to be exclusive, as we see in the New Testament, and did not seem to have a heart that was open to include everyone, but that is never God’s heart. For example, if a foreigner wanted to join Israel and eat the Passover, he could, he just had to become part of the covenant with Abraham first, which involved getting circumcised (Exod. 12:48). Furthermore, in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth, God’s Temple will be open to everyone who loves God and obeys His commands (Isa. 56:6-7).
Other places that refer to slaves who are “born in the house” are Genesis 14:14; 17:23, 27; Lev. 22:11; and Ecc. 2:7.
[For more information on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on why Christians do not have to be circumcised, see commentary on Gen. 17:10.]