Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Genesis
Book: Genesis
Chapter: 17

God renews the Covenant with Abram. (1-6) Circumcision
instituted. (7-14) Sarai's name changed, Isaac promised. (15-22)
Abraham and his family are circumcised. (23-27)

1-6 The Covenant was to be accomplished in due time. The
promised Seed was Christ, and Christians in him. And all who are
of Faith are blessed with Faithful Abram, being partakers of the
same Covenant blessings. In token of this Covenant his name was
changed from Abram, "a high Father," to Abraham, "the Father of
a multitude." All that the Christian world enjoys, it is
indebted for to Abraham and his Seed.

7-14 The Covenant of Grace is from Everlasting in the counsels
of it, and to Everlasting in the consequences of it. The token
of the Covenant was Circumcision. It is here said to be the
Covenant which Abraham and his seed must keep. Those who will
have the Lord to be to them a God, must resolve to be to him a
people. Not only Abraham and Isaac, and his posterity By Isaac,
were to be circumcised, but also Ishmael and the Bond-servants.
It sealed not only the Covenant of the land of Canaan to Isaac's
posterity, but of Heaven, through Christ, to the whole Church of
God. The outward sign is for the visible Church; the inward Seal
of the Spirit is Peculiar to those whom God knows to be
believers, and he alone can know them. The religious observance
of this institution was required, under a very severe penalty.
It is dangerous to make Light of Divine institutions, and to
live in the neglect of them. The Covenant in question was one
that involved great blessings for the world in all future ages.
Even the blessedness of Abraham himself, and all the rewards
conferred upon him, were for Christ's sake. Abraham was
justified, as we have seen, not By his own Righteousness, but By
Faith in the promised Messiah.

15-22 Here is the promise made to Abraham of a son By Sarai, in
whom the promise made to him should be fulfilled. The Assurance
of this promise was the change of Sarai's name into Sarah. Sarai
signifies my princess, as if her honour were confined to one
family only; Sarah signifies a princess. The more favours God
confers upon us, the more low we should be in our own eyes.
Abraham showed great joy; he laughed, it was a laughter of
delight, not of distrust. Now it was that Abraham rejoiced to
see Christ's Day; now he saw it and was glad, Joh 8:56.
Abraham, dreading lest Ishmael should be abandoned and forsaken
of God, Put up a petition On his behalf. God gives us leave in
Prayer to be particular in making known our requests. Whatever
is our care and fear, should be spread before God in Prayer. It
is the duty of parents to pray for their children, and the great
thing we should desire is, that they may be kept in Covenant
with Him, and may have Grace to walk before him in uprightness.
Common blessings are secured to Ishmael. Outward good things are
often given to those children of godly parents who are born
after the Flesh, for their parents' sake. Covenant blessings are
reserved for Isaac, and appropriated to him.

23-27 Abraham and all his family were circumcised; So receiving
the token of the Covenant, and distinguishing themselves from
other families that had No part nor Lot in the matter. It was an
implicit obedience; he did as God said unto him, and did not ask
why or wherefore. He did it because God bade him. It was a
speedy obedience; in the self-same Day. Sincere obedience makes
No delay. Not only the doctrines of Revelation, but the seals of
God's Covenant, remind us that we are guilty, polluted sinners.
They show us our need of the Blood of Atonement; they point to
the promised Saviour, and teach us to Exercise Faith in him.
They show us that without Regeneration, and Sanctification By
his Spirit, and the mortification of our corrupt and Carnal
inclinations, we cannot be in Covenant with God. But let us
remember that the true Circumcision is that of the Heart, By the
Spirit, Ro 2:28,29. Both under the old and new Dispensation,
many have had the outward profession, and the outward Seal, who
were never sealed By the Holy Spirit of promise.