Genesis 17 Study Notes


17:1 Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, the Lord appeared to Abram for the second time (12:7). In contrast to Hagar naming the Lord (16:13), here the Lord gives himself a name: El Shaddai, the meaning of which is unknown, though it is translated as God Almighty, based on a tradition going back more than two thousand years. For more, see note at Ex 6:2-3. In commanding Abram to live in my presence and be blameless, God told Abram to live like Enoch and Noah (Gn 5:24; 6:9).


Hebrew pronunciation [a khooz ZAH]
CSB translation possession
Uses in Genesis 9
Uses in the OT 66
Focus passage Genesis 17:8

’Achuzzah generally refers to real estate, but can refer to other forms of property such as slaves (Lv 25:45). A common translation of the word is property. The noun derives from the verb ’achaz, meaning to grasp or take hold of. The first and most common OT use of the noun is for land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants (Gn 17:8). Most occurrences of ’achuzzah are in the Pentateuch, Joshua, and Ezekiel 44-48, where this topic is in the forefront. A number of times the word refers to a burial plot (Gn 23:4); these burial plots served the patriarchs as a foretaste of the eventual possession of Canaan by their descendants. The word is often associated with another noun translated as “inheritance” (nachalah), since the Israelites’ land was God’s gracious gift to be handed down from generation to generation (Nm 32:32).

17:2 As Abram obeyed the Lord, God promised him two things: first, he would set up his covenant with Abram and second, God would multiply the patriarch greatly. Proof that the Lord kept the latter promise is found in Ex 1:7, which speaks of the Israelites’ fruitfulness and repeats the phrase found elsewhere in the Torah only here.

17:3 Falling facedown was Abram’s sign of respect for a superior.

17:4-8 This section contains the fullest presentation of God’s covenant with Abram. Eight different aspects of the covenant are presented in these verses. Most of these promises are not new, but nowhere else are they put together in one place. The new aspect is where God changed the patriarch’s name, thus indicating his authority over him: instead of Abram (“Exalted Father”), his new name would be Abraham (“Father of a Multitude”).


Hebrew pronunciation [MOOL]
CSB translation circumcise, cut off
Uses in Genesis 17
Uses in the OT 35
Focus passage Genesis 17:10-14,23-27

The Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Arabs, and Phoenicians practiced circumcision (Jr 9:25-26), but normally on adolescents. God made it the sign of his eternal covenant with Abraham, to be kept by all generations of his male descendants. Any man not circumcised would be cut off from the community (Gn 17:11-14). Circumcision was to be done on the eighth day of life if possible (Gn 21:4; Lv 12:3). Jacob’s sons made it a condition of intermarriage with other people groups (Gn 34:15). Later, slaves and foreign residents had to undergo circumcision to observe the Passover (Ex 12:44,48). Flint knives were initially the instrument (Jos 5:2). Mul eventually acquired a metaphorical sense of loyalty. Circumcised hearts contrast with being stiff-necked (Dt 10:16). By removing the foreskin of their hearts, Israelites circumcised themselves to the Lord (Jr 4:4).

17:9-14 God now placed one final covenant-related demand on Abraham and his offspring: circumcision. This surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis was typically done with a razor-sharp flint knife (Jos 5:2-3). On newborns it was performed when the boy was eight days old; no form of female circumcision was authorized. This surrender of the first portion of the bodily instrument used to fulfill God’s first command to humanity (“Be fruitful, multiply,” Gn 1:28) symbolized the individual’s willingness to submit all of himself to God and to all of his covenant commands.

The fact that every male among them was to be circumcised had a leveling effect within the Israelite community; whether wealthy or poor, master or slave, all shared a common experience and a common mark. All were equal before God. So vital was the acceptance of the sign on the body that anyone who lacked it was to be cut off from his people because he had broken the covenant.

17:15-16 The Lord decreed that Abraham’s wife Sarai was now to receive the name Sarah (“Princess,” which is an alternate form of Sarai). This “princess” would be given the privilege of producing nations; kings of peoples would come from her. During the OT period at least four nations came from Sarah’s womb: Israel, Judah, Edom, and the Amalekites. Over Israel and Judah collectively a total of forty-one kings reigned. Sarah is the only woman in the OT whom the Lord specifically indicated he would bless.

17:17-22 Undaunted by Abraham’s well-intended suggestion regarding Ishmael, God reaffirmed that Sarah would bear him a son who, appropriately, would be named Isaac—“He Laughs.” With Isaac God would confirm a permanent covenant—the Abrahamic covenant—that would continue with future offspring. Lesser promises were made for Ishmael. Though no covenant would be established with him, God would bless Ishmael, enabling him to fulfill humanity’s basic command to be fruitful and multiply . . . greatly (1:28; 9:1,7). No kings were promised in Ishmael’s lineage, but from him would come twelve tribal leaders (25:13-16), and his offspring would become a great nation.

The Lord’s amazing final statement named the child not yet conceived, confirmed a binding relationship between God and that son, and then set a date when the boy would be born to ninety-year-old Sarah. Dramatically, God then “ascended above” (CSB, withdrew from) Abraham.

17:23-27 Promptly after the Lord ascended, Abraham circumcised himself and all the males in his household. With the sign of the covenant now on his body, Abraham was qualified to father the covenant child.