Genesis 17


וַיְהִי אַבְרָם בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל אַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִיאֵל  17:1

שַׁדַּי הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים

Gene. 17:1  And Abram was ninety-nine years of age when the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk about before Me and be pious.”

It can be presumed, and is by some, that God appears to humans primarily (except only for Moses) in dreams (see the preceding chapter), although it isn’t always stated explicitly in the text.  However, there seem to be times when God does appear as if not in a dream, but in “person.”  Aside from this, what does it mean to be pious?  Does God tell Abram what it means?  Or is this another of the scribe’s slips?  The scribe surely knows what pious means, but, as far as we know, Abram has not been told.

וְאֶתְּנָה בְרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וְאַרְבֶּה אוֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד  17:2

Gene. 17:2  “And I will make My covenant between Me and you and enlarge you with exceeding abundance.”

וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָם עַל פָּנָיו וַיְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ אֱלֹהִים לֵאמֹר  17:3

Gene. 17:3  And Abram fell on his face as God talked with him saying,

אֲנִי הִנֵּה בְרִיתִי אִתָּךְ וְהָיִיתָ לְאַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם  17:4

Gene. 17:4  “I, behold, My covenant with you, that you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.”

וְלֹא יִקָּרֵא עוֹד אֶת שִׁמְךָ אַבְרָם וְהָיָה שִׁמְךָ אַבְרָהָם כִּי אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ  17:5

Gene. 17:5  “So your name will no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for the father of a multitude of nations have I set you.”

The name Abraham can mean (among other meanings) father of a multitude

וְהִפְרֵתִי אֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְגוֹיִם וּמְלָכִים מִמְּךָ יֵצֵאוּ  17:6

Gene. 17:6  “And I will make you exceedingly greatly fruitful, and I will make you into nations; and kings shall come forth from you.”

וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם לִבְרִית עוֹלָם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים  17:7

וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ

Gene. 17:7  “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you for their generations for an everlasting alliance to be God to you and to your seed after you.”

וְנָתַתִּי לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֵת אֶרֶץ מְגֻרֶיךָ אֵת כָּל אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן לַאֲחֻזַּת עוֹלָם וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם  17:8


Gene. 17:8  “And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be God to them.”

In these verses, 17:6 to 17:8, is God referring to nations other than Israel and Judah?  In v. 17:5 He refers to a multitude of nations.  But in this verse He is referring only to the Isrealite nations.  What does this mean?  Are we being exposed here to a prophecy that is far from having been fulfilled?  Shall there be a multitude of successive nations, all of the seed of Abraham, occupying the land of Canaan before history plays itself out?

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל אַבְרָהָם וְאַתָּה אֶת בְּרִיתִי תִשְׁמֹר אַתָּה וְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם  17:9

Gene. 17:9  And God said to Abraham, “And you shall keep My covenant, you, and your seed after you for their generations.”

זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְרוּ בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ הִמּוֹל לָכֶם כָּל זָכָר  17:10

Gene. 17:10   “This is My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you which you shall keep:   Every male of yours is to be circumcised.”

There’s some interesting and revealing grammar in this verse.  In the phrase “between Me and you,” the you is plural, and in the phrase “Every male of yours,” the yours is plural.  The other second-person pronouns (in “your seed after you”) are singular.  This strongly emphasizes that God is addressing future generations by the first you and the last your, as well as Abraham by the first your and and second you.  See how meaning can be lost in the English translation?  See more about this below and elsewhere later.                            [Return to Exod. 4:26]

Another remark:  This is the first commandment meant only for the seed of Abraham to appear in the bible.  That, I think, makes it profoundly important, probably one of the most important of all of God’s commands to us Jews.

As this is the first bible commandment, I want to to state at this point that I will interpret commandments that are not self-explanatory.  And I will use a number of criteria to aid in my interpretation and understanding.  They are:

    1.  If a commandment can be translated or interpreted in more than one way, I will endeavor to

         follow all translations and interpretations or if that is not possible, I will follow the most restrictive


    2.  If a commandment should require interpretation, I will try to apply logic and the support for it.

    3.  If a commandment has a “physical” sense and a “spiritual” sense, I will try to show if both should

         be observed and why.

    4.  God must be involved in every interpretation and explanation.

וּנְמַלְתֶּם אֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלַתְכֶם וְהָיָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם  17:11

Gene. 17:11   “And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin that it shall be for a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

All the second-person pronouns in this verse are plural.  It confirms that God is addressing future generations, all the seed of Abraham.  From this may we conclude that circumcision is not just for Jews, but all the seed of Abraham? Although Muslims don’t see circumcision as the sign of a covenant with Allah, most of their sons are circumcised!  Thus vss. 17:10 and 11 turn out to be a prophecy that was fulfilled at least two thousand years later.

                                                                                                                                      [Return to v. 17:21]

וּבֶן שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים יִמּוֹל לָכֶם כָּל זָכָר לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם יְלִיד בָּיִת וּמִקְנַת כֶּסֶף מִכֹּל בֶּןנֵכָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא  17:12

מִזַּרְעֲךָ הוּא

Gene. 17:12   “And a son of yours of eight days shall be circumcised, every male, for all your generations, born in the house or bought for money from any stranger who is not from your seed.”

Of the three instances of your(s) in this verse, the first two are plural and the last is singular.  So God is still addressing future generations except when he refers to Abraham, with a non-Jewish slave or adopted son not being “from your [Abraham’s] seed,” that is, not being born to any of Abraham’s descendants.  So this verse presents several caveats.  It can be separated into two individual commandments.

הִמּוֹל יִמּוֹל יְלִיד בֵּיתְךָ וּמִקְנַת כַּסְפֶּךָ וְהָיְתָה בְרִיתִי בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם לִבְרִית עוֹלָם  17:13

Gene. 17:13   “He who is born in your house or is bought for your money must surely be circumcised, so My ordinance will be in your flesh to be an everlasting covenant.”

The first two second-person pronouns in this verse are singular, but the last your is plural.  I think here God is telling Abraham that he must circumcise every male, even a non Jew, in his house, and their circumcisions will be for an everlasting covenant.  As this verse is merely directed at Abraham, it does not constitute a commandment according to my criteria, i.e., it is not perpetual (see

וְעָרֵל זָכָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמּוֹל אֶת בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעַמֶּיהָ אֶת בְּרִיתִי הֵפַר  17:14

Gene. 17:14   “And an uncircumcised male who will not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, then his soul shall be cut off from its people; he has broken My covenant.”

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל אַבְרָהָם שָׂרַי אִשְׁתְּךָ לֹא תִקְרָא אֶת שְׁמָהּ שָׂרָי כִּי שָׂרָה שְׁמָהּ  17:15

Gene. 17:15   And God said to Abraham, “Sarai, your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”

The name Sarah means noblewoman.  So Sarah gets promoted from a princess to a noblewoman.  Does this indicate that she will bear a child soon?

וּבֵרַכְתִּי אֹתָהּ וְגַם נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנָּה לְךָ בֵּן וּבֵרַכְתִּיהָ וְהָיְתָה לְגוֹיִם מַלְכֵי עַמִּים מִמֶּנָּה יִהְיוּ  17:16

Gene. 17:16   “And I will bless her that I have also given a son to you from her, and I shall bless her that she shall be for nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

Now in this case, God is referring only to Jews, since Sarah’s only son is Isaac.  So far there have been three nations from her, ancient Israel, Judah, and modern Israel, but many kings.

וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָהָם עַל פָּנָיו וַיִּצְחָק וַיֹּאמֶר בְּלִבּוֹ הַלְּבֶן מֵאָה שָׁנָה יִוָּלֵד וְאִם שָׂרָה הֲבַת תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה  17:17


Gene. 17:17   Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a hundred year old, and shall Sarah, a woman of ninety years, bear?”

                                                                                                                       [Return to Gene. 18:15]

וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים לוּ יִשְׁמָעֵאל יִחְיֶה לְפָנֶיךָ  17:18

Gene. 17:18   And Abraham said to He Who is God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Abraham seems certain at this point that Ishmael will be his only son.  Does this say something about his faith?  He most certainly appears to be doubting what God tells him in v. 17:16.  See Gene. 15:8.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֲבָל שָׂרָה אִשְׁתְּךָ יֹלֶדֶת לְךָ בֵּן וְקָרָאתָ אֶת שְׁמוֹ יִצְחָק וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתּוֹ  17:19

לִבְרִית עוֹלָם לְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו

Gene. 17:19   And God said, “But Sarah, your wife, shall bear a son for you and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.”

וּלְיִשְׁמָעֵאל שְׁמַעְתִּיך ָהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתִּי אֹתוֹ וְהִפְרֵיתִי אֹתוֹ וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֹתוֹ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר  17:20

נְשִׂיאִם יוֹלִיד וּנְתַתִּיו לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל

Gene. 17:20   “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and I will make him fruitful and I will multiply him very greatly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will set him for a great nation.”

וְאֶת בְּרִיתִי אָקִים אֶת יִצְחָק אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד לְךָ שָׂרָה לַמּוֹעֵד הַזֶּה בַּשָּׁנָה הָאַחֶרֶת  17:21

Gene. 17:21   “But I will establish My covenant with Isaac whom Sarah shall bear for you at this appointed time in the next year.”                                        [Return to Gene. 21:3

So now the situation is clarified.  God will multiply Ishmael, but He will establish His covenant with Isaac.  Thus God’s covenant with the seed of Abraham appears to be only for Israel.  See v. 17:11.

                                                                                                             [Return to Gene. 22:2]

וַיְכַל לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ וַיַּעַל אֱלֹהִים מֵעַל אַבְרָהָם  17:22

Gene. 17:22   Then He finished talking to him and God withdrew from Abraham.

וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ וְאֵת כָּל יְלִידֵי בֵיתוֹ וְאֵת כָּל מִקְנַת כַּסְפּוֹ כָּל זָכָר בְּאַנְשֵׁי בֵּית  17:23

אַבְרָהָם וַיָּמָל אֶת בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתָם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ אֱלֹהִים

Gene. 17:23   And Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all born in his house, and all bought of his money, every male among the men of the house of Abraham, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in that same day, as God had commanded him.

וְאַבְרָהָם בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים וָתֵשַׁע שָׁנָה בְּהִמֹּלוֹ בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ  17:24

Gene. 17:24   And Abraham was ninety-nine years of age on his circumcising himself in the flesh of his foreskin.

Now that’s faith!

וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ בֶּן שְׁלֹשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בְּהִמֹּלוֹאֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ  17:25

Gene. 17:25   And Ishmael, his son, was thirteen years of age on his circumcising the flesh of his foreskin.

The first instance of the two pronouns “his” in the phrase “on his circumcising the flesh of his foreskin” refers to Abraham while the second refers to Ishmael.

בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִמּוֹל אַבְרָהָם וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ  17:26

Gene. 17:26   In that same day Abraham was circumcised, as well as Ishmael, his son.

וְכָל אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ יְלִיד בָּיִת וּמִקְנַת כֶּסֶף מֵאֵת בֶּן נֵכָר נִמֹּלוּ אִתּוֹ  17:27

Gene. 17:27   And all the men of his house, born in the house or bought for money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.


Torah Commandments in this Chapter:

1.   Every male in your family and of your descendants must be circumcised.  V. 17:10

2.   Every Jewish newborn male shall be circumcised at age 8 days.  V. 17:12

3.   Every male born of a non Jew in your household or bought from

      a non Jew must be circumcised at age 8 days.    V. 17:12


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