Genesis 17 Commentary
This chapter is highlighted by a renewed promise, now packaged in covenant or contract. It’s like the LORD is telling Abram that he (Abram) didn’t take the LORD seriously last time hence need to put things on paper. So the promise is repeated but more strongly this time. – No more petty plans with your wife this time. Here is the contract.
The LORD introduces Himself as El-Shaddai meaning God Almighty. Abram’s part in the contract is faithfulness and righteousness (blameless). But who exactly is signing the contract. We know one signatory, the LORD, El-Shaddai. The other part is signed by Abraham. The name change is important. It reflects terms of the contract. Name change projects the character and nature of the contract. Abram is now Abraham. The need for us to change our language based on the word is very important. The LORD had introduced Himself as El-Shaddai. He would move mightily in this Contract. El-Shaddai means God Almighty. Abraham would be fruitful as a consequence.
The ritual of circumcision is very difficult to understand. If by circumcision the LORD meant to draw man’s attention to physical purity and need to physically stay away from sinful peoples, then the image is truly strong. Regardless of purpose (and God knows) this ritual did work as an important initiation act into God’s physical family. It pointed to a much deeper separation from the world that is deep within a transformed heart. But even then it remained a sign or a symbol representing the contract.
Circumcision involves the shedding of blood. That could be important.
The contract is for Abraham and his descendants. This contract would be passed on from one generation to the other. But on a downer we notice that here only Canaan is mentioned as Abraham’s land but previously a very large piece of land was mentioned. Is Abraham’s failure over Ishmael the reason? Is Abraham’s reluctance to seize possession of the land he conquered the reason (remember the defeat of the 4 powerful kings). Is the LORD reducing the blessing because of Abraham’s capacity?
Abraham thinks of Ishmael but the LORD has Isaac in mind. How we want Ishmael to be blessed instead of Isaac. Isaac is the LORD’S idea while Ishmael is man’s idea. Abraham pleads for Ishmael but I think the LORD had already decided to bless Ishmael long before the boy was born – while still in Hagar’s womb. But we are aware that the LORD is having a conversation with a man, at man’s level.