Table of Contents
No specific geographic information is provided, but it’s reasonable to believe the meeting took place at the same site as one of their prior meetings. Therefore Beer Sheba is a good guess.
In Genesis 17, God reaffirms His promise to Abraham, whose name God has recently changed. Abraham means “father of multitudes,” which at this point has to be considered a prophecy. As a sign of the covenant, God institutes circumcision. Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah, meaning “Princess.” God reiterates that Sarah will have a child in her old age. Abraham laughs, and God says the son’s name shall be Laughter “Yitzhak.” Abraham then circumcises himself, his son Ishmael, and the rest of his household (who probably weren’t laughing).
Genesis 17:1-2: Abraham is 99 when LORD appears again
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will make My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly” (New American Standard Version).1
The first mention of God Almighty = El Shaddai
Used 48x in OT
We aren’t exactly sure what “shaddai” means, but it has the sense of supplier, strength, protector, guardian, and sufficiency.
Mezuzot and tefillin (phylacteries) have the Hebrew שׁ for Shaddai.
Lancaster: “He is sufficient to meet our needs. He is sufficient to carry us and sustain us, even through the long, dry spells when we do not necessarily feel His presence.”2
Thirteen years have passed between Genesis 16 and 17 and twenty-four years since Genesis 12.
Undoubtedly, Abraham assumed Ishmael was the promised son.
Lancaster sees a separate covenant from Genesis 15, one that “reaffirms all the same promises but increases their scope.”
Most other commentators would agree that the scope is increased but it’s the same covenant.
Lancaster sees the following distinctions:
|Gen 15||Gen 17|
|Unconditional, Abram was asleep||Abraham must live out his life with integrity and walk with God, submitting to His Authority.|
|A great nation||A multitude of nations (4)|
|Abundant seed||Kings come forth (6)|
|Land is a possession.||Canaan is an everlasting possession (8)|
|Name and mother of son not stated – Abraham assumed Ishmael||Sarah will have a son to be named Isaac (16, 20-21)|
This may be hyperanalyzing the two covenants, but it’s interesting (I have three of his commentaries, and he only mentioned this in the oldest one; it’s entirely possible he’s since backed off of this viewpoint).
What does it mean to walk before God and be blameless?
Lancaster writes, “Messianic Paul Leavertoff said, “If you want to know God, you must first have the certainty that He knows and loves you.” That’s the basis for a friendship, such as Abraham experienced with God.”3
Genesis 17:3-4: Father of multitudes
Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
A minor point perhaps, but it doesn’t say “our covenant” it says “My covenant.”
Lancaster’s view notwithstanding, it could be God is reiterating that the covenant is unilateral.
Perhaps this is in response to chapter 16, where we might say Abraham tried to meet the terms of God’s covenant in Abraham’s own power apart from God.
Walton notes “no parallels in the ancient world to covenants between diety and mortal. Gods make demands and promise favor…but these fall far short of a covenant relationship initiated by diety for His own purposes.”4
Genesis 17:5-6: Abram to Abraham
“No longer shall you be named Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
Abraham = father of multitudes. For a moment this must have seemed like a cruel joke. He was 99. Imagine the snickering when he told his men his new name.
As a matter of fact, the King of Kings will come from Abraham.
Matthew 1:1: The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
As we mentioned, Romans 4 is Paul’s exposition on Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Paul makes a reference to Genesis 17:5
Romans 4:17-18 (as it is written: “I HAVE MADE YOU A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, that is, God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that do not exist.  In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.”
Both Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah have the Hebrew letter ה added.
Some see the breath of God’s spirit as when God breathed life into Adam.
The word for love is pronounced ahav (אהב), which is adding a ה to אב, the word for “father.” The ה thus represents love as the essence of the Father.
In any case, as with Adam, that which you name you have dominion over – God is establishing a special relationship with this couple by naming them personally.
God renamed Abram. God named Isaac prior to conception. God renamed Jacob as Israel.
Genesis 17:7-8: you and your descendants
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. “And I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land where you live as a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Jesus is the primary beneficiary of the covenant:
Mary concluded her beautiful Magnificat in Luke 1 with a reference to Genesis 17:7
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. “And His mercy is to generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. “He has filled the hungry with good things, And sent the rich away empty-handed. “He has given help to His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, Just as He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
Zechariah similarly invoked Abraham in the famous Benedictus Luke 1:68-75:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David— Just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times— Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; To show mercy to our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Would serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
Genesis 17:9-11: Circumcision
9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.
God’s covenants are always associated with a sign.
Noah – rainbow; Abraham-circumcision; Moses-the Sabbath; David-a House (both in terms of a building and a royal bloodline); Jesus/New Covenant-Bread and Wine.
Since this covenant dealt with progeny and legacy, God selected the relevant part of the body for the covenant’s sign.
The intent is that every time a son of Abraham engages in reproduction, they would be reminded not only of the covenant with Abraham but the individual’s role both as beneficiary and trustee in the covenant.
Circumcision was fairly common in the ancient near east, though as we shall see, over time it becomes associated with Abraham’s children and not the larger gentile world.
Walton: “Circumcision can be seen as one of many cases where God transforms a common practice to a new purpose in revealing Himself and relating to his people.”5
One of Paul’s major points is that Genesis 15:6 comes before 17:10.
In other words, belief/faith comes first, followed by Obedience.
Romans 4:10-12: How then was (Abraham’s faith) credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
Genesis 17:12-13: the 8th day
12 “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, including a slave who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. “A slave who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall certainly be circumcised; so My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.
Missler suggests that the 8th day is when Vitamin K and Prothrombin peak in the body at 110% of normal before stabilizing at normal levels, helping with healing and pain.
In Christianity, we say that baptism is supposed to be an outward sign of an inward change.
Circumcision is sort of like this, though, for Jews at 8 days old, it is certainly it’s an outward sign of what is expected to be an inward change. The stock market might call it a forward-looking statement.
Presumably, when the age of accountability is reached the boy would realize he’s under the covenant and act accordingly.
In either case, the act is a sign of the covenant; in other words, it points to the covenant, it is not the covenant itself.
Getting circumcised doesn’t make one Jewish any more than getting baptized makes one a Christian.
Baptism doesn’t make you a Christian; you’re a Christian; therefore, you get baptized.
Both Moses, Jeremiah, and Paul will dig into the theme of “circumcision of the heart.”
Deuteronomy 30:6 “Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live.
Jeremiah 9:26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all those inhabiting the desert who trim the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God.
Circumcision of the Flesh reminds Jews that they’re under a unique covenant that requires circumcision of the heart.
Water Baptism reminds a Christian that we’re under a unique covenant that requires Baptism of the Spirit.
We’re not that far apart – our procedure is less painful but their procedure probably better assures converts are committed to their new faith.
Note that “circumcision of the heart” does not replace physical circumcision.
Read verse 13 again. (Physical) circumcision is an “EVERLASTING” covenant.
In the various “sabbath controversies” in the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates that the things that He was doing were not violations of Shabbat.
A Jewish Messiah could not have violated the Sabbath and still claim to be the Jewish Messiah.
Every Sabbath act was related to bettering the human condition and alleviating suffering.
Jesus’ argument was that they were approved exceptions (even though those exceptions were not generally accepted in the Jewish community – He came to redefine/correct their view of the Sabbath.
In that regard, Jesus could have easily pointed to the command to circumcise on the 8th day.
In Jewish practice, the circumcision (called a ‘bris’ in American and Europe) is performed on the 8th day even if the baby is born on a Friday (which presumably 14.2% of Jewish babies are).
The command is so important to furthering life (as represented by the original Covenant with Abraham) it supersedes Sabbath restrictions.
Genesis 17:14: Uncircumcised shall be cut off
14 “But as for an uncircumcised male, one who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
One who refuses to get cut off shall be cut off (hard to miss the irony in that one).
In practice, the son of a Jewish father and a gentile mother is not Jewish and is not required to be circumcised.
It is different for a Jewish mother, whose male son was required to be circumcised.
This guideline was evidently in play in the first century as Paul had timothy circumcised.
Acts 16:1-3 Now Paul also came to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek … Paul wanted this man to leave with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
If you had ever wondered why Paul, who was typically so “anti-circumcision,” had Timothy circumcised, now you know!
If you got circumcised in a hospital, this was a worldly medical procedure; even though it probably has some health benefits, it is not the same as a covenant of circumcision.
If a previously circumcised gentile converts to Judiasm, a drop of blood from that area will be obtained.
The covenant was a free gift (well, mostly free). Just as someone named in a will can refuse an inheritance, refusing to be circumcised means the person was opting out of God’s covenant.
Can a person lose his or her salvation? Probably not if the person falls away through deception or falling into some sin pattern, but is God going to force a person who once made a profession but later willfully opts out?
Genesis 17:15-16: Sarai to Sarah
15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you shall not call her by the name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
Sarah means princess.
Famous sons are often preceded by divine announcement.
Lancaster tells of a Jewish fable that is curious.
As context, Sarai ends with the Hebrew letter yod (י); the yod was dropped and replaced with a hei to form Sarah.
After the yod was lost from the end of Sarai’s name, it soared up to heaven to protest. “Is it because I am the smallest of all the letters that You have removed me from the name of righteous Sarai?” God replied, “Previously you were the last letter in a woman’s name. I am promoting you to the first letter in a man’s name.” For Moses renamed the son of Nun Yehoshua from Hoshea (Numbers 13:16).
Followers of our Messiah raise an eyebrow at this story because in the first century, the name Yeshoshua had been abbreviated to Yeshua.
Lancaster concludes, “the little letter yod had no further reason to complain about the change of Sarai’s name” as it is now associated with the Messiah.6
17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth to a child?”
Abraham assumed his descendants would come through Ishmael, whom Abraham loved.
The verb for laugh is Tzhak. Yitzhak is related.
It also means joking, mocking, sporting.
In Genesis 26:8 Isaac is Tzhaking with Rebekkah (translated in NASB as caressing).
In Genesis 21:9 the son of Hagar is Tzahaking Isaac (translated in NASB as mocking), prompting Sarah to tell Abraham to drive out the slave woman and her son.
Paul continues in Romans 4, with a reference to Abraham’s and Sarah’s old age.
Romans 4:18-22: In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
- Abraham loved Ishmael
20 “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. “But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
Then Abraham took his son Ishmael, and all the slaves who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on this very same day, as God had said to him. Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. On this very same day Abraham was circumcised, as well as his son Ishmael. And all the men of his household, those who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
Abraham’s 6th test: to undergo such a painful ritual, Abraham had to have faith in the promise which had not yet materialized.
As we have been stressing, his faith came first.
Because of his faith he then changed his behavior to conform to God’s standards.
To use our terminology, He didn’t get circumcised to get righteous with God; he got circumcised because by faith, he already was righteous.
We are saved by virtue of our faith, not by our ethnicity or whether we have undergone a ritual.
The battle over circumcision in the Apostolic era was heated and complex.
We make it about “Law versus Grace,” but that is oversimplifying the matter.
There was a side that reasonably believed that one had to be Jewish to follow a Jewish messiah.
Therefore Gentiles who came to faith should naturally wish to convert to Judaism and undergo circumcision in keeping with the expressed wishes of God in the Abrahamic covenant we just read.
Paul agreed the commandment should continue to be required for Jewish people who come to faith in Messiah (as we saw with Timothy)
Paul and others cited verses in the Old Testament that said Gentiles would believe in Messiah.
One of Paul’s arguments is that if you required gentiles to convert to Judism, then they would henceforth be Jews not Gentiles.
If there are no gentiles, how can the OT passages regarding gentiles following Messiah be fulfilled?
Additionally, these adult believers would now be legally Jewish and required to keep the Torah, just the same as Jews who had been raised in Jewish homes and communities. The gentile converts would be at a severe disadvantage (see Galatians 5:3).
If a believer in Yeshua had the desire and discipline to begin the path to conversion to Judaism, that was great.
A late first-century document called the Didache appears to state that such conversion could be a reasonable path for many mature disciples.
It would be wrong to require such discipline from a brand-new gentile believer; it would be setting them up to fail.
Another of Paul’s arguments is that by requiring conversion to Judaism, the gentiles would have to earn their salvation.
Gentiles who believed this were trying to earn their way into heaven.
Our faith doesn’t work like that; what’s more, the Torah doesn’t teach that.
Still another of Paul’s arguments hinges upon the fact that Paul found Abraham’s new name significant.
Not just a “great nation” in Genesis 12 and 15, but now a multitude of goyim, gentile nations.
We are sons of Abraham not by bloodline but by faith in Yeshua the perfect seed of Abraham.
Paul was not anti-Judaism; he was against the perversion of Judaism into a works-based religion.
I’m confident he would similarly be against 21st-century examples of works-based righteousness that are present in many Christian churches today.
As we say, be a Berean. Don’t take my word for it.
Try reading Galatians with this assumption about Paul and see if it doesn’t make more sense.
Lancaster: “Yeshua of Nazareth is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises. He is the promised Messiah, the Son of Abraham in whom all nations will be blessed. As children of Abraham, we share in his firm hope, his faith in God, and the promised Seed of Abraham. He is the father of all who believe.”7
Lancaster, D. Thomas. Beginning of Wisdom. Edited by Boaz Michael and Seth Dralle. Torah Club. Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2022.
———. Unrolling the Scroll. Edited by Boaz Michael and Seth Dralle. 2nd ed. Torah Club. Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2014.
———. Shadows of the Messiah. Edited by Boaz D. Michael and Steven P. Lancaster. 3rd ed. Torah Club. Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2015.
Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (E-Sword). Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2000.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org. ↩︎
D. Thomas Lancaster, Unrolling the Scroll, ed. Boaz Michael and Seth Dralle, 2nd ed., Torah Club (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2014), 60. ↩︎
John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, (E-Sword) (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2000), loc. Gen 17:4. ↩︎
Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, loc. Gen 17:9-14. ↩︎
Daniel T. Lancaster, Shadows of the Messiah, ed. Boaz D. Michael and Steven P. Lancaster, 3rd ed., Torah Club (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2015), 82. ↩︎
Lancaster, Unrolling the Scroll, 63. ↩︎