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Genesis Chapter Seventeen


I. Content of the Chapter


God Made the Covenant with Abraham

A.  God changed the name of Abram and made him the father of many nations (v.1-8);

B.  God made circumcision as a proof of the covenant (v.9-14);

C.  God changed the name of Sarai and promised the son of Isaac (v.15-21);

D.  Abraham kept the commandment of circumcision (v.22-27);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 17:1 “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”

YLT: “And Abram is a son of ninety and nine years, and Jehovah appeareth unto Abram, and saith unto him, `I God Almighty, walk habitually before Me, and be thou perfect;”

Meaning of Words: Almighty (El Shaddai)”: the God of a mother’s breast, meaning that God is the All-Sufficient God; “blameless”: perfect;

Literal Meaning: when Ishmael was born, Abram was eighty-six (Gen. 86:16). There is no record of the next thirteen years in the Scriptures at all. Probably, God did not manifest or speak to Abram for about thirteen years.

  “Was ninety-nine years old”, it was the time when he considered his own body already dead (Rom. 4:19).

  “The LORD appeared to Abram”, man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.

  “I am Almighty God”, God reveals that He is the Almighty One and does not need man’s flesh and He alone can take all the responsibilities of man.

  “Walk before Me and be blameless”, let us lead a life before God of utter trust in Him, neither in ourselves nor in anything.

  God wanted Abraham to be a blameless man, which suggested that he was not perfect yet.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God pleases to reveal men Himself (Gal. 1:16). Therefore, if we have no revelation or word of God for a long time, we must have done things that displease Him.

  2) If we have expediencies by ourselves, we may not easily feel the presence of God.

3) Believers who walk in flesh may sin against God and lose the presence and word of God.

4) “The Almighty God” seeks “blameless man”. As long as we have upright intention before Him, He will be everything in pleasure and satisfaction to us.

5) If we have hope outside of God, we are not blameless before God. He who is really perfect before God can do nothing by himself (John 5:19).

6) To those who trust in God perfectly, He is abundant (Rom. 10:12) in inexhaustible providence. 

7) We do not seek to be blameless by ourselves, but by the Almighty God. Since we have such an All-Sufficient God to deal with all our needs, we have no reason to be imperfect.


Gen. 17:2 “And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."”

YLT: “and I give My covenant between Me and thee, and multiply thee very exceedingly.'”

Literal Meaning: “covenant” has been mentioned for about twenty times. “Covenant” is more reliable than “promise”. “Covenant” is a surety to man according to the faithfulness of God, so it is inalterable.

  “I will…”, it shows that “walk before Me and be blameless” in the previous is the precondition of God’s fulfilling the “covenant” of this verse ---- if Abram trusts in God perfectly, God is willing to be bound by the “covenant” to multiply Abram exceedingly.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Though the Almighty can fulfill all the promises for man, if man is unwilling to trust in Him wholly, His works will be obscured.

  2) Once we have committed ourselves to God, He is willing to be bound by the “covenant” and take our responsibility to the end.


Gen. 17:3 “Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:”

YLT: “And Abram falleth upon his face, and God speaketh with him, saying,”

Literal Meaning: then Abram fell on his face”, it showed that he feared God and submitted to God and confessed that he was frail and was nothing.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Whenever man falls on his face before God, God will speak again. The humbler one is before God, the more word of God he will obtain.

  2) God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James. 4:6; 1Pet. 5:5).


Gen. 17:4 “"As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.”

YLT: “`I -- lo, My covenant with thee, and thou hast become father of a multitude of nations;”

Literal Meaning: God here repeated the previous covenant to Abram (Gen. 15) and promised him to be “the father of many nations”. In fact, Christians are spread all over the world, proving that he is already “the father of many nations in the presence of the Lord” (Rom. 4:17).


Gen. 17:5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.”

YLT: “and thy name is no more called Abram, but thy name hath been Abraham, for father of a multitude of nations have I made thee;”

Meaning of Words: Abram”: the high father, the lofty father; “Abraham”: the father of many nations;

Spiritual Meaning: God here changed the name of Abram, which contained the following meaning:

  1) According to the original, God added a letter of His own name to the new name, showing that man can walk only by God (Zech. 4:6).

  2) A name represents a man’s being, so the alteration of the name shows that the “person” is changed. The former Abram who relies on himself has now become Abraham who does not trust in himself.

  3) “Abram” emphasizes the “individual”, and “Abraham” focuses on the “corporation” (kingdom), which suggests that God wants us to achieve the corporate testimony of building the church by a group of people rather than the personal spiritual achievements. 

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) “Abram” has changed into “Abraham” when God comes into “Abram”. Let each believer make God increase and one’s self decrease (John 3:30).

  2) Let each believer not regard his own but each of others. We need the measure of God to enlarge our mind and views (see Phil. 2:4-5).


Gen. 17:6 “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.”

YLT: “and I have made thee exceeding fruitful, and made thee become nations, and kings go out from thee.”

Literal Meaning: besides “descendants”, “kingdom” and “king” are added to God’s promises to Abram. The descendants of Abraham had indeed then built the kingdom, and many kings appeared among them.

Spiritual Meaning: Jesus Christ is the Son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1) and is the coming king (Matt. 2:2), who will build the kingdom of God on the earth (Rev. 11:15).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God will bring His kingdom through believers and reign on the earth and carry out His will and manifest His glory (Matt. 6:9-13).

  2) Faith makes us partakers of the heavenly kingdom and lets us reign in life (Rom. 5:17).


Gen. 17:7 “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

YLT: “`And I have established My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, to their generations, for a covenant age-during, to become God to thee, and to thy seed after thee;”

Literal Meaning: from the standpoint of God, this covenant was “an everlasting covenant”, for He never changes (James 1:17) and will keep this covenant forever and will be the God of Abraham and his descendants. The problems lie in the side of man ---- the people of Israel often turned to worship false gods.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The purpose of God’s selecting us is to be our God. God likes us to obey Him and worship Him and serve Him.

  2) Not only will we be the people of God, but also our offspring will also be His obedient people.

  3) The normal relationship with God is the reason for man’s being blessed and is the greatest blessing of man.


Gen. 17:8 “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."”

YLT: “and I have given to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, the whole land of Canaan, for a possession age-during, and I have become their God.'”

Literal Meaning: note the words God has spoken to Abraham from verse six to eight: “I will make… I will establish… I give…”, which indicates that everything will be fulfilled by God and man needs only to rest and enjoy here.

  “As an everlasting possession”, though God has promised to give the land of Canaan to the people of Israel as an everlasting possession, they may also lose this land temporarily because of rebellion (Deut. 28:63-64; 30:1-5).

Spiritual Meaning: the good land of Canaan typifies that Christ is the everlasting possession of believers.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) That we can obtain God and God’s blessing is not of our will, nor of our running, but of God who shows mercy (Rom. 9:16) ---- “I … and I will…”.

  2) Whoever walks in the steps of the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:12) will enjoy the profit of the promised covenant of God (Gal. 4:28).

  3) The greatest gift that believers can give to their children is to make them believe the Lord and build a normal relationship with God.

  4) Christ is our land of Canaan. Let seek Christ more so that we will enjoy the fruit of the heavenly possession.


Gen. 17:9 “And God said to Abraham: "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”

YLT: “And God saith unto Abraham, `And thou dost keep My covenant, thou and thy seed after thee, to their generations;”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The precondition of enjoying the covenant for believers is to keep the commandment of the covenant.

  2) To keep the covenant of God is to keep the word of God. If believers keep the word of God, they will be more blessed.


Gen. 17:10 “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;”

YLT: “this My covenant which ye keep between Me and you, and thy seed after thee: Every male of you to be circumcised;”

Literal Meaning: male child” represents all the descendants;

  “Be circumcised”, this is the first time of mentioning “circumcision” in the Bible. Circumcision means cutting off the skin at the end of the penis as a sign of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. Beside, to be circumcised is also a responsibility of the people of Israel to enjoy the promised covenant of God.

Spiritual Meaning: “circumcision” symbolizes that Christ has made us put off the body of the flesh (Col. 2:11), i.e. the circumcision of Christ has eliminated our “selves”. He who is circumcised is most characterized by not trusting in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). God wanted His people to be circumcised so that they would trust in God only, not in the flesh.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) True circumcision is in spirit, not in letter (Rom. 2:29).

  2) If believers have truly dealt with the lusts and strength of the flesh, they will surely enjoy all the portions in the covenant of God.

  3) Not only that is bad but also that is even good in us ---- everything outside of Christ should be circumcised. Whatever is out of us will obstruct the abundant provision of God.


Gen. 17:11 “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

YLT: “and ye have circumcised the flesh of your foreskin, and it hath become a token of a covenant between Me and you.”

Literal Meaning: “sign”: it is a “mark”, showing that whoever is circumcised will be a partaker of the covenant between God and Abraham.

  “A sign of the covenant”, “covenant” is a kind of blessing given by God. Circumcision as a sign of the covenant shows that it is a sign of blessedness. Circumcision is not only beneficial to the physical health but also the growth of spiritual life ---- man lives for God and by God.

Spiritual Meaning: here it means that circumcision is a sign of the covenant, which indicates that the promise of God will be fulfilled only in those whose flesh has been put to death.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).

  2) If we believers desire to inherit the blessings of the gracious covenant, we have to firstly deal with our flesh and cannot and dare not fulfill anything by the strength of the flesh.

  3) Each Christian shall have the sign of circumcision. However, it is not a physical one, but a spiritual one made by Christ through the Spirit.

  4) If people see our change after we have been saved, this is the proof for us to have part in the everlasting covenant.


Gen. 17:12 “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.”

YLT: “`And a son of eight days is circumcised by you; every male to your generations, born in the house, or bought with money from any son of a stranger, who is not of thy seed;”

Literal Meaning: eight days old”, it is evidenced by modern medicine that it is not quite painful when a baby is just born. And on the eighth day, there is a maximum of a certain kind of hemostatic component in a baby’s body, it easier to stop bleeding on that day than on any other day.

Spiritual Meaning: “Is born in your house”, he who is born in the house of God and has the life of God.

  “Is bought with money from any foreigner”, we are foreigners nothing to do with the Israelites. However, God bought us with a price (1Cor. 6:20).

  “Eight days old”, it symbolizes that circumcision is done in the resurrected life.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It is not sufficient that we are born of God and are bought by the blood of the Lord, and we shall also be circumcised. Since we believers are saved, we shall continue to deal with the flesh.

  2) Believers shall deal with the flesh (Col. 2:11-12) by the Lord’s risen life (“eight days old”). On the contrary, whenever believers have dealt with the flesh, they live in the risen life.


Gen. 17:13 “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.”

YLT: “he is certainly circumcised who born in thine house, or bought with thy money; and My covenant hath become in your flesh a covenant age-during;”

Literal Meaning: My covenant shall be in your flesh”, it means that whoever has no such sign of circumcision shall not partake in the promised covenant of God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The covenant is efficacious in those who do not walk in the flesh.

  2) Only when believers have manifested the signs that the flesh has been dealt with, can they really enjoy the goodness of God’s covenant.


Gen. 17:14 “And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."”

YLT: “and an uncircumcised one, a male, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised, even that person hath been cut off from his people; My covenant he hath broken.'”

Literal Meaning: circumcision shows that one commits himself unto the covenant of God ---- henceforth only Jehovah is his God and he will trust in Him and serve Him wholly. Otherwise, he is willing to be cut off by Jehovah (see v.14), just as he cuts off his foreskin.

Spiritual Meaning: whoever is unwilling to learn the lesson of the cross and unwilling to be dealt with the cross will lose the fellowship with God and can not touch the presence of God nor enjoy the full blessings of the house of God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If our flesh has not been dealt with, we cannot be vessels of God’s testimony. Therefore, we shall not be partakers of the testimony of God’s people.

  2) Even though one is redeemed and has obtained the divine life, if he has never been dealt with by the cross, he is a man “who is cut off from the people” and has no part in the building of the church.


Gen. 17:15 “Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”

YLT: “And God saith unto Abraham, `Sarai thy wife -- thou dost not call her name Sarai, for Sarah her name;”

Meaning of Words: Sarai”: lifted up, may princess; “Sarah”: princess, mother of many nations;

Literal Meaning: According to the original, God added a letter of His own name to the new names, Abraham and Sarah, which seemed to indicate that they were of God.

  When the people of Israel made their child circumcised, they gave the child the formal name (Luke 1:59). And the custom was just originated from this chapter, in which the names of Abram and Sarai were altered.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If believers desire to bear spiritual children, they themselves shall be previously changed.

  2) He will increase and I will decrease (John 3:30). The new image of Christ, namely, the constitution of God, will increase in us, and thus the constitution of our flesh will decrease thereby.

  3) Once the constitution of God in believers increases, they will be free from the narrow self-centered individualism and be brought into the wide church-centered vision (both the new names of Abram and Sarai contain a meaning of “many nations”).


Gen. 17:16 “And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her."”

YLT: “and I have blessed her, and have also given to thee a son from her; and I have blessed her, and she hath become nations -- kings of peoples are from her.'”

Spiritual Meaning: Abraham typifies the father of many nations (Rom. 4:11), and Sarah typifies the father of many nations (Gal. 4:23). When man cooperates with God by faith, there will be the kingdom and kings.

Enlightenment in the Word: man’s faith and God’s promise are complementary to each other. Faith shall be efficacious on the basis of promise (the word of God). And promise shall be fulfilled when it is accepted by faith.


Gen. 17:17 “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"”

YLT: “And Abraham falleth upon his face, and laugheth, and saith in his heart, `To the son of an hundred years is one born? or doth Sarah -- daughter of ninety years -- bear?'”

Literal Meaning: Abraham laughed secretly in his heart that it was absolutely impossible. However, it even became true and brought true “laugh” (Gen. 21:6).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Out faith is build upon the word of God, not the environmental elements.

  2) True joy is from God, and faith is the channel of joy.


Gen. 17:18 “And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!"”

YLT: “And Abraham saith unto God, `O that Ishmael may live before Thee;'”

Literal Meaning: it seemed that Abraham did not realize the fault of Ishmael, so he cherished Ishmael and asked God to receive Ishmael.


Gen. 17:19 “Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.”

YLT: “and God saith, `Sarah thy wife is certainly bearing a son to thee, and thou hast called his name Isaac, and I have established My covenant with him, for a covenant age-during, to his seed after him.”

Meaning of Words: “Isaac”: he who laughs;

Literal Meaning: “no”: here God refused Abraham’s suggestions abruptly to make him realize the fault of bearing Ishmael.

  “Isaac” was born in “laugh”. Things that are impossible in human sight have even become true in him.

Spiritual Meaning: “Isaac” typifies that Christ is the beloved Son of Christ.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Our natural advantage or strength, no matter how good it is, will never please GOD.

  2) God is not Yes and No, but in Him is Yes (2Cor. 1:19).

  3) Only when believers reject what they have and what they can do and trust in the Almighty God wholly, can they bear “Isaac” that God pleases and have true joy.

  4) God looks at the Christ in us only (“Issac”), so let us seek more Christ in life.


Gen. 17:20 “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”

YLT: “As to Ishmael, I have heard thee; lo, I have blessed him, and made him fruitful, and multiplied him, very exceedingly; twelve princes doth he beget, and I have made him become a great nation;”

Spiritual Meaning: the blessings seem to be contradictory to “No” in the previous verse. Probably, here it teaches us that:

  1) Since man is young in spirit and weak in faith, sometimes God is forced to condescend to us temporarily. However, it does not mean God has accepted our faults or changed His will.

  2) God on one hand points out our faults and on the other hand chastens us by our faults. The prosperity of Ishmael later had become the trouble to the people of Israel (Ps. 83:5-6).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God hears Abraham’s pleading for Ishmael, showing that He is truly a God who sympathizes with man’s infirmity (2King 20:5).

  2) God blesses not only the people of Israel but also the descendants of Ishmael, which indicates that He is the God of all human beings.


Gen. 17:21 “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year."”

YLT: “and My covenant I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah doth bear to thee at this appointed time in the next year;'”

Spiritual Meaning: the case of bearing Isaac shows that the right faith is characterized by the following points:

1)    Which is of the promise of God ---- all the true faith of man is based on the word of God;

2)    Which eliminates human labor ---- faith does not need human aid, but is fully due to the work of God;

3)    Which needs to wait for the time of God ---- “at this set time next year”;


Gen. 17:22 “Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.”

YLT: “and He finisheth speaking with him, and God goeth up from Abraham.”

Enlightenment in the Word: sometimes we go away when we finish our speaking in prayer. However, the true spiritual prayer should be finished in “hearing the talking of God”.


Gen. 17:23 “So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.”

YLT: “And Abraham taketh Ishmael his son, and all those born in his house, and all those bought with his money -- every male among the men of Abraham's house -- and circumciseth the flesh of their foreskin, in this self-same day, as God hath spoken with him.”

Literal Meaning: that very same day”, it pointed that the obedience of Abraham was instant. .

Enlightenment in the Word: once we believers have known the will of God, we shall keep it immediately.


Gen. 17:24 “Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”

YLT: “And Abraham a son of ninety and nine years in the flesh of his foreskin being circumcised;”


Gen. 17:25 “And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”

YLT: “and Ishmael his son a son of thirteen years in the flesh of his foreskin being circumcised;”

Enlightenment in the Word: no matter how long believers have been in the Lord, no matter young or old in the Lord, everyone should deal with his flesh. To deal with the flesh is the life-long lessen of believers.


Gen. 17:26 “That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael;”

YLT: “in this self-same day hath Abraham been circumcised, and Ishmael his son;”


Gen. 17:27 “and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

YLT: “and all the men of his house -- born in the house, and bought with money from the son of a stranger -- have been circumcised with him.”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Believers shall not only deal with their own flesh but also encourage the brethren to deal with the flesh (“were circumcised with him”).

  2) The leading brothers in the church shall not teach others to deal with the flesh only but more be examples to others.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


Conditions of Enjoying the Grace of God

A.  Reject what man “has” ---- reject Eliezer (v.15:2-4);

B.  Reject what man “does” ---- deny Ishmael (v.18-19);

C.  Have to change what man “is” ---- change the name (v.5, 15);

D.  Reject what man “is able to do” ---- circumcision (v.9-14, 23-24);

E.  Be out of God ---- Isaac only (v.19);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou