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Genesis 17:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The Lord appeared to Abram - See note on Genesis 15:1.

I am the Almighty God - שדי אל אני ani El shaddai, I am God all-sufficient; from שדה shadah, to shed, to pour out. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.

Walk before me - לפני התהלך hithhallech lephanai, set thyself to walk - be firmly purposed, thoroughly determined to obey, before me; for my eye is ever on thee, therefore ever consider that God seeth thee. Who can imagine a stronger incitement to conscientious, persevering obedience?

Be thou perfect - תמים והיה vehyeh thamim, and thou shalt be perfections, i.e., a together perfect. Be just such as the holy God would have thee to be, as the almighty God can make thee and live as the all-sufficient God shall support thee; for he alone who makes the soul holy can preserve it in holiness. Our blessed Lord appears to have had these words pointedly in view, Matthew 5:48; : Εσεσθε ὑμεις τελειοι, ὡσπερ ὁ Πατηρ ὑμων ὁ εν τοις ουρανοις τελειος εστι· Ye Shall Be perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. But what does this imply? Why, to be saved from all the power, the guilt, and the contamination of sin. This is only the negative part of salvation, but it has also a positive part; to be made perfect - to be perfect as our Father who is in heaven is perfect, to be filled with the fullness of God, to have Christ dwelling continually in the heart by faith, and to be rooted and grounded in love. This is the state in which man was created, for he was made in the image and likeness of God. This is the state from which man fell, for he broke the command of God. And this is the state into which every human soul must be raised, who would dwell with God in glory; for Christ was incarnated and died to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. What a glorious privilege! And who can doubt the possibility of its attainment, who believes in the omnipotent love of God, the infinite merit of the blood of atonement, and the all-pervading and all-purifying energy of the Holy Ghost? How many miserable souls employ that time to dispute and cavil against the possibility of being saved from their sins, which they should devote to praying and believing that they might be saved out of the hands of their enemies! But some may say, "You overstrain the meaning of the term; it signifies only, be sincere; for as perfect obedience is impossible, God accepts of sincere obedience." If by sincerity the objection means good desires, and generally good purposes, with an impure heart and spotted life, then I assert that no such thing is implied in the text, nor in the original word; but if the word sincerity be taken in its proper and literal sense, I have no objection to it. Sincere is compounded of sine cera, "without wax;" and, applied to moral subjects, is a metaphor taken from clarified honey, from which every atom of the comb or wax is separated. Then let it be proclaimed from heaven, Walk before me, and be Sincere! purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump unto God; and thus ye shall be perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. This is sincerity. Reader, remember that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. Ten thousand quibbles on insulated texts can never lessen, much less destroy, the merit and efficacy of the great Atonement.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-27

- The Sealing of the Covenant

1. שׁדי shaday Shaddai, “Irresistible, able to destroy, and by inference to make, Almighty.” שׁדד shādad “be strong, destroy.” This name is found six times in Genesis, and thirty-one times in Job.

5. אברהם 'abrâhām Abraham, from אברם 'abrām “high-father,” and הם hām the radical part of המין hāmôn a “multitude,” is obtained by a euphonic abbreviation אברהם 'abrâhām “father of a multitude.” The root רהם rhm is a variation of רום rvm affording, however, a link of connection in sound and sense with the root המה hāmâh “hum, be tumultuous,” from which comes המון hāmôn a “multitude.” The confluence of the biliterals רם rm and הם hm yields the triliteral רהם rhm occurring in Arabic, though not elsewhere in our written Hebrew. The law of formation here noticed is interesting and real, though רהם rhm may not have been an actual result of it.

11. נמלתם nemaltem formed from נמל nāmal “circumcised.” מוּל mûl “cut, circumcise.”

15. שׂרה śārâh Sarah, “princess.”

19. יצהק yı̂tschāq Jitschaq, “laughing.”

The present form of the covenant is not identical with the former. That referred chiefly to the land; this chiefly to the seed. That dwelt much on temporal things; this rises to spiritual things. That specifies only Abram; this mentions both Abram and Sarai. At the former period God formally entered into covenant with Abram ברית כרת kārat berı̂yt Genesis 15:18); at present he takes the first step in the fufillment of the covenant ברית נתן nātan berı̂yt seals it with a token and a perpetual ordinance, and gives Abram and Sarai new names in token of a new nature. There was an interval of fourteen years at least between the ratification of the covenant and the preparation for the fulfillment of its conditions, during which Abraham‘s faith had time to unfold.

Genesis 17:1-8

The covenant in its spiritual aspect. “The Lord,” the Author of existence and performance. “God Almighty,” El Shaddai. “El,” the Lasting, Eternal, Absolute. “Shaddai,” the Irresistible, Unchangeable, Destructive Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15. This term indicates on the one hand his judicial, punitive power, and points to his holiness; and on the other hand, his alterative, reconstructive power, and points to his providence. The complex name, therefore, describes God as the Holy Spirit, who works in the development of things, especially in the punishment and eradication of sin and its works, and in the regeneration and defense of holiness. It refers to potence, and potence combined with promise affords ground for faith.

Walk before me and be perfect. - In the institution of the covenant we had “fear not” - an encouragement to the daunted or the doubting. In its confirmation we have a command, a rule of life, prescribed. This is in keeping with the circumstances of Abraham. For, first, he has now faith in the Lord, which is the fruit of the new man in him prevailing over the old, and is therefore competent to obey; and, next, the Lord in whom he believes is God Almighty, the all-efficient Spirit, who worketh both to will and to do in the destroying of sin and building up of holiness. “Walk” - act in the most comprehensive sense of the term; “before me,” and not behind, as one conscious of doing what is, not displeasing, but pleasing to me; “and be perfect,” not sincere merely, unless in the primitive sense of duty, but complete, upright, holy, not only in walk, which is provided for in the previous clause, but in heart, the spring of action.

Genesis 17:2

My covenant - which I have already purposed and formally closed. “I will grant,” carry into effect, the provisions of it. “Multiply thee.” The seed is here identified with the head or parent seat of life. The seed now comes forward as the prominent benefit of the covenant.

Genesis 17:3-6

Abram fell on his face. - This is the lowliest form of reverence, in which the worshipper leans on his knees and elbows, and his forehead approaches the ground. Prostration is still customary in the East. Abram has attained to loftier notions of God. “God talked with him.” Yahweh, El Shaddai, is here called God. The Supreme appears as the Author of existence, the Irresistible and Everlasting, in this stage of the covenant relation.

Genesis 17:4

As for me. - The one party to the covenant is here made prominent, as in Genesis 17:9 the other party is brought out with like emphasis. The exalted Being who has entered into it imparts a grandeur, solemnity, and excellence to the covenant. “Father of many nations.” The promise of seed is here expanded and particularized. A multitude of nations and kings are to trace their descent from Abram. This is true in a literal sense. The twelve tribes of Israel and many Arab tribes, the twelve princes of Ishmael, Keturah‘s descendants, and the dukes of Edom sprang from him. But it is to be more magnificently realized in a spiritual sense. “Nations” is a term usually applied, not to the chosen people, but to the other great branches of the human race. This points to the original promise, that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed. “Abraham.” The father of many nations is to be called by a new name, as he has come to have a new nature, and been elevated to a new dignity. The high father has become the father of the multitude of the faithful.

Genesis 17:7

Next, the spiritual part of the covenant comes into view. “To be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” Here we find God, in the progress of human development, for the third time laying the foundations of a covenant of grace with man. He dealt with Adam and with Noah, and now be deals with Abraham. “A perpetual covenant.” This covenant will not fail, since God has originated it, notwithstanding the moral instability of man. Though we cannot as yet see the possibility of fulfilling the condition on man‘s side, yet we may be assured that what God purposes will somehow be accomplished. The seed of Abraham will eventually embrace the whole human family in fellowship with God.

Genesis 17:8

Thirdly, the temporal and the spiritual are brought together. The land of promise is made sure to the heir of promise, “for a perpetual possession,” and God engages to “be their God.” The phrase “perpetual possession” has here two elements of meaning - first, that the possession, in its coming form of a certain land, shall last as long as the co-existing relations of things are continued; and, secondly, that the said possession in all the variety of its ever grander phases will last absolutely forever. Each form will be perfectly adequate to each stage of a progressive humanity. But in all its forms and at every stage it will be their chief glory that God is their God.

Genesis 17:9-14

The sign of the covenant. “And thou.” The other party to the covenant now learns his obligation. “Every male of you shall be circumcised.” Circumcision, as the rainbow, might have been in existence before it was adopted as the token of a covenant. The sign of the covenant with Noah was a purely natural phenomenon, and therefore entirely independent of man. That of the Abrahamic covenant was an artificial process, and therefore, though prescribed by God, was dependent on the voluntary agency of man. The former marked the sovereignty of God in ratifying the covenant and insuring its fulfillment, notwithstanding the mutability of man; the latter indicates the responsibility of man, the trust he places in the word of promise, and the assent he gives to the terms of the divine mercy. As the former covenant conveys a common natural blessing to all mankind and contemplates a common spiritual blessing, so the latter conveys a special spiritual blessing and contemplates its universal acceptance. The rainbow was the appropriate natural emblem of preservation from a flood; and the removal of the foreskin was the fit symbol of that removal of the old man and renewal of nature, which qualified Abraham to be the parent of a holy seed. And as the former sign foreshadows an incorruptible inheritance, so the latter prepares the way for a holy seed, by which the holiness and the heritage will at length be universally extended.

It is worthy of remark that in circumcision, after Abraham himself, the parent is the voluntary imponent, and the child merely the passive recipient of the sign of the covenant. Hereby is taught the lesson of parental responsibility and parental hope. This is the first formal step in a godly education, in which the parent acknowledges his obligation to perform all the rest. It is also, on the command of God, the formal admission of the believing parents‘ offspring into the privileges of the covenant, and therefore cheers the heart of the parent in entering upon the parental task. This admission cannot be reversed but by the deliberate rebellion of the child.

Still further, the sign of the covenant is to be applied to every male in the household of Abraham. This indicates that the servant or serf stands in the relation of a child to his master or owner, who is therefore accountable for the soul of his serf, as for that of his son. It points out the applicability of the covenant to others, as well as the children of Abraham, and therefore its capability of universal extension when the fulness of time should come. It also intimates the very plain but very often forgotten truth, that our obligation to obey God is not cancelled by our unwillingness. The serf is bound to have his child circumcised as long as God requires it, though he may be unwilling to comply with the divine commandments.

Genesis 17:12-14

The time of circumcision is the eighth day. Seven is the number of perfection. Seven days are therefore regarded as a type of perfectage and individuality. At this stage, accordingly, the sign of sanctification is made on the child, betokening the consecration of the heart to God, when its rational powers have come into noticeable activity. To be “cut off from his people” is to be excluded from any part in the covenant, and treated simply as a Gentile or alien, some of whom seem to have dwelt among the Israelites. It was sometimes accompanied with the sentence of death Exodus 31:14; and this shows that it did not of itself imply such a doom. Excommunication, however, for the omission of circumcision, would be extremely rare, as no parent would intentionally neglect the sacred interest of his child. Yet the omission of this rite has not been unprecedented, as the children of Israel did not generally circumcise their children in the wilderness Joshua 5:5.

Genesis 17:15-22

Sarai is now formally taken into the covenant, as she is to be the mother of the promised seed. Her name is therefore changed to Sarah, “princess.” Aptly is she so named, for she is to bear the child of promise, to become nations, and be the mother of kings. “Abraham fell upon his face and laughed.” From the reverential attitude assumed by Abraham we infer that his laughter sprang from joyful and grateful surprise. “Said in his heart.” The following questions of wonder are not addressed to God; they merely agitate the breast of the astonished patriarch. Hence, his irrepressible smile arises not from any doubt of the fulfillment of the promise, but from surprise at the unexpected mode in which it is to be fulfilled. Laughing in Scripture expresses joy in the countenance, as dancing does in the whole body.

Genesis 17:18-20

Abraham seems up to this time to have regarded Ishmael as the promised seed. Hence, a feeling of anxiety instantly penetrates his breast. It finds utterance in the prayer, “Oh that Ishmael might live before thee.” He asks “life” for his beloved son - that is, a share in the divine favor; and that “before God” - that is, a life of holiness and communion with God. But God asseverates his purpose of giving him a son by Sarah. This son is to be called Isaac - he that laughs or he shall laugh, in reference to the various emotions of surprise and delight with which his parents regarded his birth. Abram‘s prayer for Ishmael, however, is not unanswered. He is to be fruitful, beget twelve princes, and become a great nation. But Isaac is to be the heir of promise. At the present season next year he is to be born. The communication being completed, “God went” up from Abram.

Genesis 17:23-27

In the self-same day. - In this passage we have the prompt and punctual fulfillment of the command concerning circumcision detailed with all the minuteness due to its importance. Ishmael was thirteen years of age when he was circumcised. Josephus relates that the Arabs accordingly delay circumcision until the thirteenth year (Ant. I. 12. 2).

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The covenant was to be accomplished in due time. The promised Seed was Christ, and Christians in him. And all who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abram, being partakers of the same covenant blessings. In token of this covenant his name was changed from Abram, "a high father," to Abraham, "the father of a multitude." All that the Christian world enjoys, it is indebted for to Abraham and his Seed.
Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 32.2

God requires moral perfection in all. Those who have been given light and opportunities should, as God's stewards, aim for perfection, and never, never lower the standard of righteousness to accommodate inherited and cultivated tendencies to wrong. Christ took upon Him our human nature, and lived our life, to show us that we may be like Him by partaking of the divine nature. We may be holy, as Christ was holy in human nature. Why then are there so many disagreeable characters in the world? It is because they do not suspect that their disagreeable ways and rough, impolite speech is the result of an unholy heart.... TDG 32.2

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Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 281.4

It is our privilege, by an earnest study of the Word, to learn wherein we are not revealing the principles of that Word in our daily lives. And as the mirror reveals to us our defects, we are to seek by earnest prayer and faith to put them away, and come up to the standard that is given us. As we strive to meet the perfection that God desires for us, insensibly to us the image of God will be revealed in words and works and spirit. The human will become molded to the divine.—Letter 300, September 29, 1907, to Elder O. A. Olsen, president of the Australasian Union Conference. TDG 281.4

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 155

Heavenly beings were witnesses of the scene as the faith of Abraham and the submission of Isaac were tested. The trial was far more severe than that which had been brought upon Adam. Compliance with the prohibition laid upon our first parents involved no suffering, but the command to Abraham demanded the most agonizing sacrifice. All heaven beheld with wonder and admiration Abraham's unfaltering obedience. All heaven applauded his fidelity. Satan's accusations were shown to be false. God declared to His servant, “Now I know that thou fearest God [notwithstanding Satan's charges], seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me.” God's covenant, confirmed to Abraham by an oath before the intelligences of other worlds, testified that obedience will be rewarded. PP 155.1

It had been difficult even for the angels to grasp the mystery of redemption—to comprehend that the Commander of heaven, the Son of God, must die for guilty man. When the command was given to Abraham to offer up his son, the interest of all heavenly beings was enlisted. With intense earnestness they watched each step in the fulfillment of this command. When to Isaac's question, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham made answer, “God will provide Himself a lamb;” and when the father's hand was stayed as he was about to slay his son, and the ram which God had provided was offered in the place of Isaac—then light was shed upon the mystery of redemption, and even the angels understood more clearly the wonderful provision that God had made for man's salvation. 1 Peter 1:12. PP 155.2

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 370

It was their own evil heart of unbelief, controlled by Satan, that led them to hide their light, instead of shedding it upon surrounding peoples; it was that same bigoted spirit that caused them either to follow the iniquitous practices of the heathen or to shut themselves away in proud exclusiveness, as if God's love and care were over them alone. PP 370.1

As the Bible presents two laws, one changeless and eternal, the other provisional and temporary, so there are two covenants. The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden, when after the Fall there was given a divine promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. To all men this covenant offered pardon and the assisting grace of God for future obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised them eternal life on condition of fidelity to God's law. Thus the patriarchs received the hope of salvation. PP 370.2

This same covenant was renewed to Abraham in the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 22:18. This promise pointed to Christ. So Abraham understood it (see Galatians 3:8, 16), and he trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It was this faith that was accounted unto him for righteousness. The covenant with Abraham also maintained the authority of God's law. The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” Genesis 17:1. The testimony of God concerning His faithful servant was, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Genesis 26:5. And the Lord declared to him, “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.” Genesis 17:7. PP 370.3

Though this covenant was made with Adam and renewed to Abraham, it could not be ratified until the death of Christ. It had existed by the promise of God since the first intimation of redemption had been given; it had been accepted by faith; yet when ratified by Christ, it is called a new covenant. The law of God was the basis of this covenant, which was simply an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God's law. PP 370.4

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Ellen G. White
Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, 296-7

Adam taught his descendants the law of God, which law was handed down to the faithful through successive generations. The continual transgression of God's law called for a flood of waters upon the earth. The law was preserved by Noah and his family, who for right-doing were saved by a miracle of God in the ark. Noah taught his descendants the ten commandments. The Lord preserved a people for himself from Adam down, in whose hearts was his law. He says of Abraham, “He obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” 3SG 296.1

The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him, “I am the Almighty God. Walk before me, and be thou perfect, and I will make a covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 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.” 3SG 296.2

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Ellen G. White
The Story of Redemption, 78

Abraham was also compelled to listen to Hagar's complaints of abuse from Sarah. Abraham is in perplexity. If he seeks to redress the wrongs of Hagar he increases the jealousy and unhappiness of Sarah, his first and much-loved wife. Hagar flees from the face of Sarah. An angel of God meets her and comforts her and also reproves her for her haughty conduct, in bidding her return to her mistress and submit herself under her hands. SR 78.1

After the birth of Ishmael the Lord manifested Himself again to Abraham and said unto him, “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant.” Again the Lord repeated by His angel His promise to give Sarah a son, and that she should be a mother of many nations. Abraham did not yet understand the promise of God. His mind immediately rested upon Ishmael, as though through him would come the many nations promised, and he exclaimed, in his affection for his son, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” SR 78.2

Again the promise is more definitely repeated to Abraham: “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.” Angels are sent the second time to Abraham on their way to destroy Sodom, and they repeat the promise more distinctly that Sarah shall have a son. SR 78.3

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Ellen G. White
The Story of Redemption, 146

Adam taught his descendants the law of God, which law was handed down to the faithful through successive generations. The continual transgression of God's law called for a flood of waters upon the earth. The law was preserved by Noah and his family, who for right-doing were saved in the ark by a miracle of God. Noah taught his descendants the Ten Commandments. The Lord preserved a people for Himself from Adam down, in whose hearts was His law. He says of Abraham, He “obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Genesis 26:5. SR 146.1

The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him: SR 146.2

“I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” Genesis 17:1, 2. “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.” Genesis 17:7. SR 146.3

He then required of Abraham and his seed, circumcision, which was a circle cut in the flesh, as a token that God had cut them out and separated them from all nations as His peculiar treasure. By this sign they solemnly pledged themselves that they would not intermarry with other nations, for by so doing they would lose their reverence for God and His holy law, and would become like the idolatrous nations around them. SR 146.4

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