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Go to Bible: Genesis 17
|Gen 17:1||- (top)|
“greatly, yes, greatly.” The Hebrew text repeats the word “greatly” twice in succession at the end of the verse. This is the figure of speech epizeuxis, and emphasizes “greatly.” We might say something like, “exceedingly greatly.”a
This kind of historically verifiable prophecy is one of the reasons that we know the Bible is true. The Bible is the only holy book with any clear and unmistakable prophecy that has been shown in history to come true. Unlike the Greek oracles which were so obscure that they had to be fit to the facts after the event, the Bible says over and over—in very clear language—what will happen in the future, but that future is past to us today so we can verify the prophecy. Who would have thought that about 4,000 years ago a man with a barren wife would become so numerous and so famous that the majority of the people on planet earth knew his name? Only the true God can foretell like that.
“Abram fell on his face.” This was a standard posture of worship. Upon hearing that God would make His covenant with Abram and multiply his descendants, Abraham immediately worshiped God.(top)
“crowd.” The Hebrew word is hamōn (#01995 הָמוֹן) and it means “murmur, roar, rush, tumult, confusion, crowd, multitude.” It refers more to the sound a huge crowd makes than the number of the crowd, although a large number is certainly implied. This is an amazingly accurate description of the multitude of nations that would come from Abraham, and a very accurate prophecy. Far from being friends and similar in culture and custom, Abraham’s descendants are very different and sadly, often even enemies.(top)
“but your name will be Abraham.” God changed Abram (“Exalted father”) to Abraham (“Father of a multitude). It was a fairly common custom in the Bible that when a powerful person gained control or fealty from a less powerful person, he changed the name of the less powerful person (Gen. 17:5, 15; 41:45; 2 Sam. 12:25; 2 Kings 23:34; Dan. 1:7). In the biblical culture, the name by which a person was known often said something about the person. It may be about the person’s character, or past, or destiny, but it often (but not always) revealed something about the person. Thus Jacob was “heel snatcher.” Esau was “hairy” and Edom was “red.” Elijah was “My God is Yahweh.” Jesus was “savior.” Abraham was “father of a multitude,” and so forth. Not every name had significance, but most did.
“I have made you.” God speaks of Abraham becoming a crowd of nations as if it had already happened. This is a Hebrew idiom we call the prophetic perfect. By speaking of a future event as if it was past, God promises it will come to pass.
[For more on the prophetic perfect, see commentary on Ephesians 2:6.](top)
“greatly, yes, greatly.” These are the same words God has spoken in Genesis 17:2, so God is reconfirming what He said there, and retaining the emphasis in that verse. God promised Abraham that his seed would be a great multitude on a number of different occasions (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 16:10 (via Hagar); Gen. 17:6; 22:17).
“kings will come from you.” If nations are going to come from Abraham, then it is only logical that kings would come from him. Otherwise it would not be that nations would come from him, but only people who live in nations. For nations to come from him, then the leaders of those nations would come from him too.(top)
|Gen 17:7||- (top)|
“give to you...the land.” God repeated the promise that He would give the land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants many times, and said it in slightly different ways. He told Abraham that he and his descendants would get the land (Gen. 12:7; 13:15-17; 15:7, 18; 17:8). He told it to Isaac (Gen. 26:3). He told it to Jacob (Gen. 28:13; 35:12; 48:4). Then over and over He told Israel about the promise or that He would give them the land (cp. Exod. 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5, 11; Lev. 14:34; 20:24; 23:10; 25:2).
[For more on the promise God made to give the land to Abraham and his descendants, see commentary on Genesis 15:18.]
“everlasting.” The Hebrew word is olam (#05769 עוֹלָם), and here and elsewhere it can mean “everlasting” or “age enduring,” or “of long duration.” The Hebrews did not have a word that meant “forever” like English does. English time words are very specific: “forever” means forever, while “of long duration,” or “for a long time,” means for a long time but not forever. However, the Hebrew word olam can mean forever or it can mean “for a long time.” In this case, the whole earth will be changed when the New Jerusalem comes from heaven (Rev. 21:1-2), and the land we now know will cease to exist. But it has been 4,000 years since Abraham, and the Millennial Kingdom will add 1,000 years to that, so God’s promise will certainly qualify as being “for a long time.”(top)
|Gen 17:9||- (top)|
“must be circumcised.” Circumcision was a requirement to be included in the covenant God made with Abraham. That is one reason that the Jews at the time of Paul were so insistent upon it. But the New Testament makes it clear that circumcision was not a requirement for Christians (Acts 15:1, 19-21; 1 Cor. 7:18; Gal. 6:12-15; Col. 3:11).
The reason Christians do not have to become circumcised to be “Abraham’s seed, and heirs of what was promised” is that we are completely in union with Jesus Christ. This means that in the eyes of God, we were crucified when Christ was crucified (Rom. 6:6), we died with Christ (Rom. 6:8), we were buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4); and we were made alive and then raised with Christ (Eph. 2:5-6). So too, we were circumcised with Christ, as Colossians says: “And through union with him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11 REV). But, much better than ordinary human circumcision, which removes only the unnecessary flesh of the foreskin, when Christians are “circumcised,” God removes our whole dead-flesh body! Christian “circumcision” is “a circumcision made without hands, consisting of the removal of the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11 REV).
[For more on being in union with Jesus Christ, see commentary on Romans 6:3.](top)
|Gen 17:11||- (top)|
“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.](top)
|Gen 17:13||- (top)|
|Gen 17:14||- (top)|
|Gen 17:15||- (top)|
|Gen 17:16||- (top)|
“him who is 100.” The Hebrew is idiomatic: “to the son of 100 years.” The same is said of Sarah: “a daughter of 90 years.”(top)
“live.” This is the full or “pregnant” sense of “live,” meaning live and be blessed now, and have everlasting life in the future as well. It seems that when God told Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah, Abraham may have thought that Ishmael might die.
[For more on the full sense of “live,” see commentary on Luke 10:28.](top)
|Gen 17:19||- (top)|
“heard.” This is the full sense of the verb “heard,” where it means to hear and to pay attention and respond to what was said. God did more than “hear,” He responded. God’s answer, “I have heard you,” makes a word play with Ishmael, which means “God hears.”
“exceedingly, yes, exceedingly.” The Hebrew word means “exceedingly” or “greatly,” and the Hebrew text has the figure of speech epizeuxis, where a word is repeated twice in succession to emphasize the “exceedingly.”
[For more on epizeuxis and the way it is translated, see commentary on Gen. 2:16.]
“He will become the father of 12 rulers.” This prophecy was fulfilled and the 12 sons of Ishmael are listed in Genesis 25:12-16).(top)
|Gen 17:21||- (top)|
|Gen 17:22||- (top)|
“born in his house.” This phrase refers to Abraham’s slaves, a point that is made very clear by being put with “bought with his money.” The child of a slave was a slave.
[For more on “born in his house,” see commentary on Genesis 17:12.](top)
|Gen 17:24||- (top)|
|Gen 17:25||- (top)|
|Gen 17:26||- (top)|
“born in the house.” This phrase refers to Abraham’s slaves, a point that is made very clear because it is combined with “bought with his money.” The child of a slave was a slave.
[For more on “born in his house,” see commentary on Genesis 17:12.](top)