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Genesis: Chapter 17

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1When Abram was ninety‐nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; f Traditional rendering of Heb El Shaddai walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, a That is exalted ancestor but your name shall be Abraham; b Here taken to mean ancestor of a multitude for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring c Heb seed after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

9God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. d That is he laughs I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

23Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24Abraham was ninety‐nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; 27and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

Notes:

f Traditional rendering of Heb El Shaddai

a That is exalted ancestor

b Here taken to mean ancestor of a multitude

c Heb seed

d That is he laughs

Text Commentary view alone

17.1–27 : The everlasting covenant and sign of circumcision.

This account from the Priestly tradition is parallel to that in 15.1–21 and links to the Priestly Noachic covenant in 9.8–17. See 9.8–17n. on “covenant.”

1 :

The phrase translated as God Almighty is variously understood as “God, the one of the Mountains,” “God of the Shadday [deities],” or even “God with breasts” (= “fertile God,” see 49.25 ). Whatever its original meaning, the Priestly tradition understands this epithet to be what the early ancestors of Israel called God before they learned the name Yahweh during the Exodus (Ex 6.2–8 ).

2–6 :

In a parallel to 15.1–6 this text includes the promise of offspring in the covenant.

5 :

A new name signifies a new relationship or status (see 32.28 ). Abraham, a dialectical variant of Abram, means “the [divine] ancestor is exalted.” Here the name is explained by its similarity to the Hebrew for ancestor of a multitude, referring to nations whose ancestry was traced to Abraham (v. 16; 28.3; 35.11; 48.4 ), such as Edomites and Ishmaelites. The promise to make Abraham “exceedingly numerous” (v. 2 ) and exceedingly fruitful (v. 6 ) echoes the broader fertility blessing given animals ( 1.22; 8.17 ) and humanity ( 1.28; 9.1,7 ) in the primeval history.

7 :

Within the Priestly tradition, the promise to be God to Abraham and his offspring leads to the divine provision of religious laws and a tabernacle sanctuary into which God comes to dwell in Israel's midst (Ex 25–31,35–40 ). Like the covenant with Noah ( 9.8–17 ), this covenant to be bound to Israel is an everlasting covenant (vv. 13,19 ) because it is grounded in the will of God, not human behavior.

9–14 :

Circumcision was an ancient rite, perhaps originally connected to marriage (see 34.14–17 ), probably having to do with warding off demons (see Ex 4.24–26 ). Here, however, it is moved to early childhood and reinterpreted as a sign of God's everlasting covenant with Israel, a mark of membership in the covenant community. Unlike the Noachic covenant ( 9.1–17 ), this one pertains only to the household and heirs of Abraham.

15 :

Sarah, meaning “princess,” is a variant of Sarai; see v. 5n.

17 :

Abraham's laughter here in the Priestly tradition anticipates Sarah's laughter in the non‐Priestly (J) account ( 18.9–15n. ).

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