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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And 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.
The covenant in its spiritual aspect. "The Lord," the Author of existence and performance. "God Almighty," El Shaddai. "El," the Lasting, Eternal, Absolute. "Shaddai," the Irresistible, Unchangeable, Destructive Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15. This term indicates on the one hand his judicial, punitive power, and points to his holiness; and on the other hand, his alterative, reconstructive power, and points to his providence. The complex name, therefore, describes God as the Holy Spirit, who works in the development of things, especially in the punishment and eradication of sin and its works, and in the regeneration and defense of holiness. It refers to potence, and potence combined with promise affords ground for faith.
Walk before me and be perfect. - In the institution of the covenant we had "fear not" - an encouragement to the daunted or the doubting. In its confirmation we have a command, a rule of life, prescribed. This is in keeping with the circumstances of Abraham. For, first, he has now faith in the Lord, which is the fruit of the new man in him prevailing over the old, and is therefore competent to obey; and, next, the Lord in whom he believes is God Almighty, the all-efficient Spirit, who worketh both to will and to do in the destroying of sin and building up of holiness. "Walk" - act in the most comprehensive sense of the term; "before me," and not behind, as one conscious of doing what is, not displeasing, but pleasing to me; "and be perfect," not sincere merely, unless in the primitive sense of duty, but complete, upright, holy, not only in walk, which is provided for in the previous clause, but in heart, the spring of action.
2And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
My covenant - which I have already purposed and formally closed. "I will grant," carry into effect, the provisions of it. "Multiply thee." The seed is here identified with the head or parent seat of life. The seed now comes forward as the prominent benefit of the covenant.
3And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
Abram fell on his face. - This is the lowliest form of reverence, in which the worshipper leans on his knees and elbows, and his forehead approaches the ground. Prostration is still customary in the East. Abram has attained to loftier notions of God. "God talked with him." Yahweh, El Shaddai, is here called God. The Supreme appears as the Author of existence, the Irresistible and Everlasting, in this stage of the covenant relation.
4As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
As for me. - The one party to the covenant is here made prominent, as in Genesis 17:9 the other party is brought out with like emphasis. The exalted Being who has entered into it imparts a grandeur, solemnity, and excellence to the covenant. "Father of many nations." The promise of seed is here expanded and particularized. A multitude of nations and kings are to trace their descent from Abram. This is true in a literal sense. The twelve tribes of Israel and many Arab tribes, the twelve princes of Ishmael, Keturah's descendants, and the dukes of Edom sprang from him. But it is to be more magnificently realized in a spiritual sense. "Nations" is a term usually applied, not to the chosen people, but to the other great branches of the human race. This points to the original promise, that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed. "Abraham." The father of many nations is to be called by a new name, as he has come to have a new nature, and been elevated to a new dignity. The high father has become the father of the multitude of the faithful.
5Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7And 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.
Next, the spiritual part of the covenant comes into view. "To be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Here we find God, in the progress of human development, for the third time laying the foundations of a covenant of grace with man. He dealt with Adam and with Noah, and now be deals with Abraham. "A perpetual covenant." This covenant will not fail, since God has originated it, notwithstanding the moral instability of man. Though we cannot as yet see the possibility of fulfilling the condition on man's side, yet we may be assured that what God purposes will somehow be accomplished. The seed of Abraham will eventually embrace the whole human family in fellowship with God.
8And 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.
Thirdly, the temporal and the spiritual are brought together. The land of promise is made sure to the heir of promise, "for a perpetual possession," and God engages to "be their God." The phrase "perpetual possession" has here two elements of meaning - first, that the possession, in its coming form of a certain land, shall last as long as the co-existing relations of things are continued; and, secondly, that the said possession in all the variety of its ever grander phases will last absolutely forever. Each form will be perfectly adequate to each stage of a progressive humanity. But in all its forms and at every stage it will be their chief glory that God is their God.
9And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
The sign of the covenant. "And thou." The other party to the covenant now learns his obligation. "Every male of you shall be circumcised." Circumcision, as the rainbow, might have been in existence before it was adopted as the token of a covenant. The sign of the covenant with Noah was a purely natural phenomenon, and therefore entirely independent of man. That of the Abrahamic covenant was an artificial process, and therefore, though prescribed by God, was dependent on the voluntary agency of man. The former marked the sovereignty of God in ratifying the covenant and insuring its fulfillment, notwithstanding the mutability of man; the latter indicates the responsibility of man, the trust he places in the word of promise, and the assent he gives to the terms of the divine mercy. As the former covenant conveys a common natural blessing to all mankind and contemplates a common spiritual blessing, so the latter conveys a special spiritual blessing and contemplates its universal acceptance. The rainbow was the appropriate natural emblem of preservation from a flood; and the removal of the foreskin was the fit symbol of that removal of the old man and renewal of nature, which qualified Abraham to be the parent of a holy seed. And as the former sign foreshadows an incorruptible inheritance, so the latter prepares the way for a holy seed, by which the holiness and the heritage will at length be universally extended.
It is worthy of remark that in circumcision, after Abraham himself, the parent is the voluntary imponent, and the child merely the passive recipient of the sign of the covenant. Hereby is taught the lesson of parental responsibility and parental hope. This is the first formal step in a godly education, in which the parent acknowledges his obligation to perform all the rest. It is also, on the command of God, the formal admission of the believing parents' offspring into the privileges of the covenant, and therefore cheers the heart of the parent in entering upon the parental task. This admission cannot be reversed but by the deliberate rebellion of the child.
Still further, the sign of the covenant is to be applied to every male in the household of Abraham. This indicates that the servant or serf stands in the relation of a child to his master or owner, who is therefore accountable for the soul of his serf, as for that of his son. It points out the applicability of the covenant to others, as well as the children of Abraham, and therefore its capability of universal extension when the fulness of time should come. It also intimates the very plain but very often forgotten truth, that our obligation to obey God is not cancelled by our unwillingness. The serf is bound to have his child circumcised as long as God requires it, though he may be unwilling to comply with the divine commandments.
10This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12And 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.
The time of circumcision is the eighth day. Seven is the number of perfection. Seven days are therefore regarded as a type of perfectage and individuality. At this stage, accordingly, the sign of sanctification is made on the child, betokening the consecration of the heart to God, when its rational powers have come into noticeable activity. To be "cut off from his people" is to be excluded from any part in the covenant, and treated simply as a Gentile or alien, some of whom seem to have dwelt among the Israelites. It was sometimes accompanied with the sentence of death Exodus 31:14; and this shows that it did not of itself imply such a doom. Excommunication, however, for the omission of circumcision, would be extremely rare, as no parent would intentionally neglect the sacred interest of his child. Yet the omission of this rite has not been unprecedented, as the children of Israel did not generally circumcise their children in the wilderness Joshua 5:5.
13He 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.
14And 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.
15And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
Sarai is now formally taken into the covenant, as she is to be the mother of the promised seed. Her name is therefore changed to Sarah, "princess." Aptly is she so named, for she is to bear the child of promise, to become nations, and be the mother of kings. "Abraham fell upon his face and laughed." From the reverential attitude assumed by Abraham we infer that his laughter sprang from joyful and grateful surprise. "Said in his heart." The following questions of wonder are not addressed to God; they merely agitate the breast of the astonished patriarch. Hence, his irrepressible smile arises not from any doubt of the fulfillment of the promise, but from surprise at the unexpected mode in which it is to be fulfilled. Laughing in Scripture expresses joy in the countenance, as dancing does in the whole body.
16And 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.
On the journey, Rachel dies at the birth of her second son. "A stretch." It was probably a few furlongs. "Fear not." The cause for encouragement was that the child was born, and that it was a son. Rachel's desire and hope expressed at the birth of Joseph were therefore, fulfilled Genesis 30:24. "When her soul was departing." This phrase expresses not annihilation, but merely change of place. It presupposes the perpetual existence of the soul. "Ben-oni," son of my pain, is the natural expression of the departing Rachel. "Benjamin." The right hand is the seat of power. The son of the right hand is therefore, the child of power. He gave power to his father, as he was his twelfth son, and so completed the number of the holy family. "Ephrath and Beth-lehem" are names the origin of which is not recorded. "The pillar of Rachel's grave." Jacob loves the monumental stone. "Unto this day." This might have been written ten or twenty years after the event, and therefore, before Jacob left Kenaan (see on Genesis 19:37). The grave of Rachel was well known in the time of Samuel 1 Samuel 10:2, and the Kubbet Rahil, dome or tomb of Rachel, stands perhaps on the identical spot, about an English mile north of Bethlehem.
17Then 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?
18And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
Abraham seems up to this time to have regarded Ishmael as the promised seed. Hence, a feeling of anxiety instantly penetrates his breast. It finds utterance in the prayer, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee." He asks "life" for his beloved son - that is, a share in the divine favor; and that "before God" - that is, a life of holiness and communion with God. But God asseverates his purpose of giving him a son by Sarah. This son is to be called Isaac - he that laughs or he shall laugh, in reference to the various emotions of surprise and delight with which his parents regarded his birth. Abram's prayer for Ishmael, however, is not unanswered. He is to be fruitful, beget twelve princes, and become a great nation. But Isaac is to be the heir of promise. At the present season next year he is to be born. The communication being completed, "God went" up from Abram.
19And 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.
20And 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.
21But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
22And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
23And 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.
In the self-same day. - In this passage we have the prompt and punctual fulfillment of the command concerning circumcision detailed with all the minuteness due to its importance. Ishmael was thirteen years of age when he was circumcised. Josephus relates that the Arabs accordingly delay circumcision until the thirteenth year (Ant. I. 12. 2).
- The Visit of the Lord to Abraham
2. השׂתחיה vayı̂śtachû "bow," or bend the body in token of respect to God or man. The attitude varies from a slight inclination of the body to entire prostration with the forehead touching the ground.
6. סאה se'ah a "seah," about an English peck, the third part of an ephah. The ephah contained ten omers. The omer held about five pints.
This chapter describes Abraham's fellowship with God. On the gracious assurance of the Redeemer and Vindicator, "Fear not, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward," he ceased to fear, and believed. On the solemn announcement of the Conqueror of evil and the Quickener of the dead, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect," he began anew to walk with God in holiness and truth. The next step is, that God enters into communion with him as a man with his friend Isaiah 41:8; John 14:23. Hitherto he has appeared to him as God offering grace and inclining the will to receive it. Now, as God who has bestowed grace, he appears to him who has accepted it and is admitted into a covenant of peace. He visits him for the twofold purpose of drawing out and completing the faith of Sarah, and of communing with Abraham concerning the destruction of Sodom.
24And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
25And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
26In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
27And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.