Genesis 17
Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.
God renews his covenant with Abram, Genesis 17:1-4. His name in token thereof changed, Genesis 17:5. Kings shall be born of him, Genesis 17:6. The covenant established with his seed, Genesis 17:7. The promise of Canaan to him and his seed repeated, Genesis 17:8. Circumcision instituted, Genesis 17:9,10. The part to be circumcised, Genesis 17:11. The time and persons, Genesis 17:12,13. The punishment on neglecters of it, Genesis 17:14. Sarai’s named changed, Genesis 17:15. A son by her promised, Genesis 17:16. Abraham’s surprise, Genesis 17:17. His prayer for Ishmael, Genesis 17:18. The promise of a son by Sarah confirmed; his name, Genesis 17:19. Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael answered, Genesis 17:20, but the covenant established in Isaac, Genesis 17:21. Abraham is circumcised; as is also Ishmael, and all his house, Genesis 17:23-27.

I am the Almighty God, who can do all that I have promised, or shall promise to time, and whatsoever pleaseth me; and therefore do thou firmly believe all my words.

Walk before me as becomes one in the presence of thy Lord, and Judge, and Rewarder, being careful to please and obey me in all things, and depending upon me for thy well-doing and well-being. See the same phrase, Genesis 48:15 1 Kings 8:25 Psalm 116:9. And be thou perfect, i.e. sincere, universal, and constant in my belief of my promises, and obedience to my commands. See Genesis 6:9.

And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
I am come to renew, establish, and enlarge that covenant which I formerly made with thee.

And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
Abram fell on his face, partly in self-abasement, and a humble sense of his own undeservedness of such favours; and partly in reverence and worship to God, and a thankful acknowledgment of his marvellous kindness. Compare Leviticus 9:24 Ezekiel 43:3.

As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
Both literally, or after the flesh, of the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, &c., and spiritually, of all believers of all nations, to whom Abram hath in some sort the place of a father, Romans 4:12,17. Not only as he was the great example and teacher of that faith by which they are all saved, (as the instructors of others are called their fathers, both in Scripture, as Genesis 4:20,21, and in profane authors,) but as he was made by God the head of the covenant, by or through whom the covenant right was conveyed to all his natural seed, and afterwards to the spiritual seed, all Gentile believers.

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.
Abraham, i.e. the father of a multitude; Ham in the Hebrew being put for Hamon, which signifies a multitude, by a figure called apocope, which is usual in proper names.

And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
So did the kings of Israel and Judah, of Edom, of the Saracens, and the Messias, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords.

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.
i.e. Whatsoever I am or have, all that shall be thine, and shall be employed for thy protection, consolation, and salvation. This phrase contains in it the confluence of all blessing, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. See Leviticus 26:12 Psalm 33:12 144:15 Jeremiah 31:33.

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.
And to thy seed; unto thee, not in thy own person, but in thy seed. See Genesis 13:15,17.

For an everlasting possession; upon condition of their obedience to God, as is oft expressed; wherein seeing they so notoriously failed, it is no wonder if they possessed it but a little while, as the prophet complains, Isaiah 63:18.

And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
The agreement is mutual: my part was expressed before; now follows thy part, and the condition to which my promise and blessing is annexed.

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 is here called the covenant by a usual metonomy, because it is the condition, sign, and seal of the covenant, the pledge of God’s promise and man’s duty. And upon the same grounds the cup, i.e. the wine, is called the new testament in Christ’s blood, Luke 22:20; or, which is all one, Christ’s blood in the new testament, Matthew 26:28.

It is evident that women as well as men were comprehended in this covenant, from Genesis 34:14 Exodus 12:3,4 Joe 2:15,16. Yet circumcision is given only to the males, partly, because it could not, at least not conveniently, be administered to females; partly, because man is the principal cause of the propagation of children, and consequently of the propagation of that original corruption which cleaves to them; partly, to signify that all persons begotten by man should be polluted by sin, though not all conceived by a woman, as Christ was; and partly, because man is the head of the woman, and of the family, upon whom all their concerns are devolved, and from whom the distinction of families and people comes.

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
The flesh of your foreskin, i.e. by a usual hypallage, the foreskin of your flesh; and the word flesh is here put for the genital part, as it is Leviticus 15:2,19 Eze 16:26 23:20, and elsewhere. This part God singled out for this ordinance, because it is and was a great instrument both in the commission of actual sins, and in the propagation of original sin; and therefore it was very proper to apply to it the seal of God’s gracious covenant for the remission of sins past, and the extirpation of sin for the future.

It shall be a token of the covenant, i.e. a sign, evidence, and assurance, both of the blessing promised by that God who appointed this ordinance, and of man’s obligation to the duties required, which is signified by his acceptance of and submission to this ordinance. And here we have the nature and definition of a sacrament, viz. that it is a figure or token of God’s covenant.

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.
Eight days; not before that time, because of the child’s weakness and imperfection, and impurity too, Exodus 22:30 Leviticus 12:3, for which reason also beasts were not to be offered to God before the eighth day, Exodus 22:30.

Every man-child in your generations, successively, until the Messias come, who shall circumcise your hearts, and change this ordinance for another.

Bought with money of any stranger: these were of two sorts.

1. Children, who being entirely his possession, and having not understanding to discern, nor will to choose or refuse, were to be circumcised.

2. Grown persons, who were not to be compelled to be circumcised, but if they refused it, were not to be permitted to dwell in his family, lest they should infect others, but were to be sold to strangers, as the Hebrew doctors teach. But as for Abraham’s servants here, they were thoroughly instructed in religion, Genesis 18:19, and doubtless did willingly embrace it, and submit to this sacrament.

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.
So it was, and is properly in regard of the thing signified to all true believers; and for the sign, it is so called because it was to endure through all generations till the coming of the Messias; the word olam, here and elsewhere rendered everlasting, or for ever, being oft used to express not only simple eternity, but any long continuance, for many ages, yea, sometimes for a man’s life. See Exodus 21:6 Deu 15:17 1 Kings 9:3.

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.
And the uncircumcised man-child; or rather, and as for the uncircumcised man-child. So the nominative is put absolutely, as is frequent in the Hebrew tongue.

Whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, or, who shall not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin; for the Hebrew verb may be rendered actively, which seems best here; because the punishment seems more justly to belong to the parent, who was guilty of this neglect; than to the child, who was not capable of this precept, and therefore not guilty of the violation of it. And this may further appear from Exodus 4:24,25, where God seeks to kill, not the child, but the father, Moses, for this sin. And the flesh of the child’s foreskin is rightly called the flesh of his, i.e. the parent’s, foreskin, because the child is a part and the possession of his parent. So that this threatening concerns only grown persons, and of them only such as shall wilfully and unnecessarily neglect this duty; for otherwise it was neglected by the Israelites for forty years together in the wilderness, Joshua 5:7, without any token of God’s displeasure for it.

That soul shall be cut off from his people. This phrase denotes either,

1. An exclusion from fellowship with God’s people, and from all the promises, privileges, and blessings belonging to them, either in this life or that to come. Or rather,

2. An untimely and violent death, as may be gathered from Exodus 31:14, to be inflicted by the magistrate, to whom God committed the execution of this as well as other laws; and in case of his neglect and default, or the secrecy of the fact, by the extraordinary hand of God, who sometimes ascribes this act to himself, as Leviticus 17:10 20:6.

He hath broken my covenant, that sacred bond which tied him and me together; and by his neglect and contempt of the condition required on his part, he hath forfeited the blessing promised on my part.

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
Sarai signifies my lady, or my princess, which confines her dominion to one family; but

Sarah signifies either a lady or princess, simply and absolutely without restriction, or the princess of a multitude, the Hebrew letter he being taken out of Hamon, and added to her name, as it was to Abram’s name.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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?

laughed, through admiration and holy rejoicing at so great a blessing, not through unbelief, as Sarah did, Genesis 18:12,13, as appears from Romans 4:19,20. And though the outward act was the same in both, yet God discerned their differing dispositions and intentions therein.

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
Grant, O Lord, that the giving of one son may not be joined with the taking away of another; that Ishmael may faithfully serve thee, and may have a share in thy favour and gracious covenant. For this seems to be the meaning of this phrase of living before God, or in God’s presence, by comparing a parallel phrase, of walking before God, Genesis 17:1, and elsewhere, and an opposite phrase, from thy face shall I be hid, Genesis 4:14.

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.
Isaac signifies laughter, not from Sarah’s laughter, which as yet had not happened, but from Abraham’s past laughter, Genesis 17:17, and future joy in his son.

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.
Have heard thee, to wit, in part, or so far as is here expressed; and probably, as to the chief blessing of the covenant, to wit, the forgiveness of his sins, and eternal life, as the Hebrew doctors and some others collect from Genesis 25:17, and from other considerations.

But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
The covenant of the promised Seed to come out of his loins, and of life and salvation to accrue to himself and to his posterity by virtue of that Seed; in comparison whereof God speaks slightly of all the temporal blessings conferred upon Ishmael, though in themselves they were great and glorious. By which it may sufficiently appear that Abraham’s faith, whereby he is said to be justified, Romans 4:1-25, had a further reach in it than to his own immediate child, even to the Messias, whose day therefore Abraham is said to have seen, John 8:56.

And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
To heaven in a visible manner, as it seems he conversed with him in some visible shape. Compare Genesis 35:13 Judges 13:20.

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.
Circumcised the flesh of their foreskin; partly by his own hand, and partly by the help of others, whom he by Divine instinct called to and directed in that work;

in the self-same day, in which God appeared to him and gave the command. So he made haste and delayed not to execute God’s command. And his servants also yielded a ready and cheerful obedience to this severe and painful precept, being moved thereunto by Abraham’s example and sovereign authority, by God’s powerful presence some way or other manifested to them, and by the prospect and hope of God’s blessing to accompany and follow his own ordinance.

And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
No text from Poole on this verse. 1898

And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
No text from Poole on this verse.

In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.
No text from Poole on this verse.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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