On Genesis, Part 27: A Father of Nations

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On Genesis, Part 27: A Father of Nations

Discussing Genesis chapter 16 we described The Vanity of Ishmael, which shall continue to be manifest as we proceed through these subsequent chapters, and as we hope to discuss later in this commentary on Genesis, it is also manifest in history unto this very day, once his descendants are properly identified in the modern world. In that last presentation, we had postulated that the first aspect of Ishmael’s vanity was that he could never fulfill the role for which Abram and Sarai had believed he would be born, which was to be Abram’s heir, the seed of the promises which Abram had from God. So while the plan for his birth had originally belonged to Sarai, Yahweh God clearly had another plan, as we shall see here in Genesis chapter 17, and here His plan shall finally be fully revealed to Abram and Sarai. This is another example of many in Scripture, that Yahweh provides information to men only on a need-to-know basis, as He sees fit, and in any event, the actions of men fulfill His will whether or not that process can ever be perceived by the men themselves. The prophecies exist only so that men may look back and see that Yahweh is God.

As we proceed here, Ishmael continues to be a subject of Genesis and shall remain in our discussion, and while Hagar had already received a promise of her own, that her seed through the unborn child in her womb would become a great nation, here we shall see that Abraham was destined to be a father of many nations, and Ishmael had no share in that promise or in subsequent related promises. Another aspect of the vanity of Ishmael, the fact that all of his seed would apparently be, or become, bastards, we may not discuss again until later chapters of Genesis, where both his descendants and those of Esau are described in Genesis chapters 25, 28 and 36.

Where Hagar had been told, and where Ishmael shall be told again here, that he would become a great nation, the word for great is גדול or gadol (# 1419), which is generally translated as great in any sense, and here it seems to indicate only large or numerous, since no great deeds are ever attributed to the Ishmaelites, or prophesied concerning them. The Ishmaelites practically disappear from the historic records of Scripture after Judges chapter 8, where Israel, in the time of Gideon, had overcome Midian and there were Ishmaelites who were in league with the Midianites. Then later, in the 83rd Psalm, Ishmaelites are accounted among the enemies of Israel along with Edom, Moab, and the Hagarenes or Hagarites, an obscure tribe who were not necessarily related to Hagar the mother of Ishmael, and only mentioned elsewhere in 1 Chronicles chapter 5. The words Hagarenes and Hagarites both being from the same Hebrew word (# 1905), neither Strong’s, Gesenius nor Brown-Driver-Briggs connect them to Hagar, and neither should we make that connection. In later writings, those of the prophets, Ishmaelites are only referred to by the names of those cities which were evidently the most prominent settlements of his sons, or by the name of his firstborn son Nebaioth, in Isaiah chapter 60, which identifies the Nabataean Arabs who had later occupied the land of Edom, after the Edomites moved north into the void which was left by the captivities of Israel.

So with this, we shall proceed with Genesis chapter 17:

1 And 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.

Since Abram is 99 years old here, then it is 13 years since Ishmael was born, and that is also the length of a gap here in the account of Abram’s life, since in the final verse of Genesis chapter 16 where Ishmael was born Abram was only 86 years old. Now Sarai would be 89 years old.

The word translated as perfect here is תמים or tamim (# 8549), which Strong’s defines as “entire (literally, figuratively or morally)” and therefore “also (as a noun) integrity, truth.” Gesenius has “perfect, completeperfect, whole, sound” and then morally, “whole, upright in conduct, blameless” and then he adds both integrity and truth with examples of certain narrow uses of the term. [1] As David had professed in the 143rd Psalm, addressing Yahweh God, “in thy sight shall no man living be justified”, and while only Yahshua Christ was perfect in the flesh, Paul of Tarsus had explained in chapters 6 and 7 of his epistle to the Romans, that man is nevertheless summoned by God to strive for the ideal. However the admonition to “be thou perfect” here could only be understood on the basis of what Abram had already known, which we ourselves cannot determine beyond the instructions which he had been given as they are recorded throughout these chapters of Genesis, and we must consider his own pagan background in spite of his evidently noble upbringing. So it seems that the admonition to “be thou perfect” is in reference to the instructions which Abram is about to receive, since thus far nothing has been required of him but to depart from Haran as he had done when he was first called by God.

[1 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 867.]

So now those instructions follow, along with additional promises, but these promises do not change or detract from anything which Abram had already been promised. As Paul of Tarsus had said in relation to these promises in chapter 6 of his epistle to the Hebrews, it is impossible for God to lie, and He swore upon Himself that the unconditional promises would be fulfilled. So all of those promises must be fulfilled unconditionally wherever they were given without condition, except that as we proceed, some of these later promises do have conditions attached to them:

2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.

Formerly, Abram was promised only that his seed would be a great nation in the land which he would be shown, in Genesis chapter 12 (12:1-2). But now he is given a promise which transcends even that, which is that he would be the father of many nations. So for that reason, Yahweh continues and says:

5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

The name Abram means exalted father, but Abraham can mean father of a multitude, and apparently both terms accurately describe the newly-renamed Abraham. But here we are also given a reason for the name change which describes that multitude, where it states “thou shalt be a father of many nations”, and the word for nations is גוים or goyim, the plural form of גוי or goy (# 1471), which is literally a nation. So Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations, and not merely a multitude of people within a single nation.

Most denominational Christians seem to stop here, at least quite often, and in their resulting doctrines they imagine that Yahweh God has made many nations Abraham’s seed. However that is not how the promise was written. Rather, Yahweh had made Abraham’s seed into many nations, and those nations survive as particular nations in the world today. Those nations may indeed be found by studying ancient history together with Scripture, and we have done that study. However if we trust the apostles of Christ, we should be able to determine their identity without researching all of the ancient history.

For example, in Acts chapter 22, when Paul was arrested he had a brief opportunity to describe his experience to the people of Jerusalem who were opposed to him, and explaining what Christ had told him, he said in part “21 And He said to me ‘Go, because I shall send you off to distant nations.’” At this point, the crowd in Jerusalem wanted to kill him, since they evidently did not want to see Christianity spread to any other nations, whether or not they had accepted it themselves. But perhaps nearly two years later, speaking before king Herod Agrippa II and many of the Judaeans, Paul made a defense of his ministry and said in part, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 26: “6 And now for the hope of the promise having been made by God to our fathers I stand being judged, 7 for which our twelve tribes serving in earnest night and day hope to attain, concerning which hope I am charged by the Judaeans, King.” So for this, the Judaeans in Jerusalem wanted to kill Paul as it is described in Acts chapter 22, which we have just cited.

But those Judaeans, according to Scripture and historical sources, represent only a small portion of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. However Flavius Josephus counted those in Judaea as only two tribes, as he had written in Book 11 of his Antiquities that “wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.” [1] Earlier in the same work, and with a somewhat faulty chronology, Josephus made the same profession where he wrote in Book 9 “So the ten tribes of the Israelites were removed out of Judea nine hundred and forty-seven years after their forefathers were come out of the land of Egypt, and possessed themselves of the country, but eight hundred years after Joshua had been their leader, and, as I have already observed, two hundred and forty years, seven months, and seven days after they had revolted from Rehoboam, the grandson of David, and had given the kingdom to Jeroboam.” [2] But Josephus also did not reckon the 46 fenced cities of Judah which had been taken into captivity along with Israel. There Josephus counted all the land of Israel as Judaea, because that is what it was called in Roman times. While the Scripture assured that Benjamin would be left with Judah, and since Josephus himself professed to having been a Levite, perhaps he did not count Levi, believing that most of that tribe had gone away into captivity with Israel.

[1 Antiquities of the Judaeans, Flavius Josephus, Book 11 section 133; 2 ibid., Book 9, section 280.]

So sometimes, since a portion of Levi also remained in Judaea, writers divide them as nine-and-a-half and two-and-a-half tribes. But most writers, at least, seem to have done like Josephus, and divided Israel into ten tribes and two, as we see in the prophecy of the divided kingdom made to Jeroboam in 1 Kings chapter 11: “31 And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee.” This division is also found in chapter 13 of the apocryphal book known popularly as 2 Esdras. There we read, in part:

39 Whereas you saw that he gathered to himself another multitude that was peaceful, 40 these are the ten tribes which were led away out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmananser the king of the Assyrians led away captive, and he carried them beyond the River, and they were taken into another land. 41 But they made this plan among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go out into a more distant region, where mankind had never lived, 42 that there they might keep their statutes which they had not kept in their own. 43 They entered by the narrow passages of the river Euphrates. 44 For the Most High then did signs for them, and stopped the springs of the River until they had passed over. 45 For through that country there was a long way to go, namely, of a year and a half. The same region is called Arsareth. 46 Then they lived there until the latter time.”

A prophecy found in Isaiah chapter 66 explains that most of these people would be sent by Yahweh to places in Europe, once we identify the nations involved, where we read: “19 And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the [Nations].” So ultimately, the children of Israel in the Assyrian captivity would be spread out from Assyria itself and throughout Anatolia and into Europe as far as Iberia. These are the Germanic tribes of later history, who had appeared in all of these places within no more than three hundred years of the time when Isaiah had written those words, and in many cases even sooner.

The Greek word Γαλάται or Galatae was used of all the Germanic peoples to the north and west, and also for the Galatians that are known from Scripture, the people of Anatolia whom Paul had once visited, and also had addressed in an epistle. So he wrote in chapter 3 of that epistle, addressing the Galatians: “24 So the law has been our tutor for Christ, in order that from faith we would be deemed righteous.” Then, in chapter 4: “1 Now I say, for as long a time as the heir is an infant, he differs not at all from a bondman, being master of all; 2 but he is subject to guardians and stewards until a time appointed by the father. 3 Just as we also, when we were infants, we were held subject under the elements of the Society. 4 And when the fulfillment of the time had come, Yahweh had dispatched His Son, having been born of a woman, having been subject to law, 5 in order that he would redeem those subject to law, that we would recover the position of sons.” These words were meant to explain to them that they had once been under the law, and because Israel had been put away for their sins, then Christ had come to redeem them. Paul, an apostle of Christ, did indeed understand the identity of the Galatians as having been a portion of Israel in captivity.

However there were other nations of Israel, who had migrated away from ancient Israel by sea long before the Assyrian captivities, of which the Scriptures of the Old Testament are mostly silent while there are only hints and allusions in the words of the prophets. The words of the prophets do explicitly state that the children of Israel were to be blind in their punishment, and forget their past and their identity, as a result of their punishment. Two of these nations are the Romans and the Dorian Greeks, a portion of whom are represented by the Corinthians. In his epistle to the Romans, in chapter 4, Paul had referred to “our forefather Abraham”, although some later manuscripts and popular translations have only “father”, and he went on to explain that on account of the faith which Abraham had, “then the promise is to be certain to all of the offspring, not to that of the law only, but also to that of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all”. Here Paul was explaining that the promise was certain to all of the descendants of Abraham in accordance with the faith of Abraham. The faith of Abraham, which is properly a reference to what Abraham had believed, as it is revealed in these chapters of Genesis as well as by Paul in that chapter of Romans, is that he believed Yahweh God when He told him that his own offspring would become many nations. Paul’s words would mean nothing to the Romans, unless they were one of those nations.

Then, writing the epistle which we now know as 1 Corinthians, in chapter 10 Paul informed his Dorian Greek readers, in part: “1 Now I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all had passed through the sea. 2 And all up to Moses had immersed themselves in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all had eaten the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of an attending spiritual rock, and that rock was Christ.” So like the Romans and Galatians, the Corinthians, who were Dorian Greeks and one of the “far off nations” to which Paul had been sent according to his own words in Acts chapter 22, were also of the twelve tribes for which he struggled, according to his own words in Acts chapter 26.

In chapter 15 of his epistle to the Romans, Paul expressed a desire to go to Spain, although he was never freed after his arrest in Rome, and Spain was settled primarily by Phoenicians in ancient times, who were Israelites of the northern tribes who migrated through the ancient city of Tyre, which was located in the territory of Asher. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 Paul called his ministry a “ministry of reconciliation”, and the Gospel of Christ the “word of reconciliation” while explaining to the Hebrews in chapter 2 of that epistle that the purpose of Christ was “to make reconciliation for the sins of the people”, and this only makes any sense if all of the intended readers of those epistles were descended from the ancient Israelites, who were reconciliation in the words of the prophets. In chapter 1 of his epistle to the Colossians, Paul informed his readers that they had been alienated from God, but that in Christ they had been reconciled, and therefore they also must have been of Israel.

In Romans chapter 4, Paul explained this promise which was made to Abraham, and he wrote in part of “16 … Abraham, who is father of us all; 17 (just as it is written, ‘That a father of many nations I have made you,’) before Yahweh whom he trusted, who raises the dead to life, and calls things not existing as existing…” When this promise here in Genesis was made to Abraham, there were no Germanic tribes. There may be findings of ancient settlers in Germany, but they were not the ancestors of modern Germans. There were no Galatae, and where they appeared to the north of Italy in the late 5th century BC, the Roman historian Livy had described them as a “strange race, new settlers” [3]. Furthermore, when this promise was made there were no Romans, a city which is said to have been founded around 752 BC. Ancient accounts inform us that the Romans themselves had come to Italy from Troy after its fall, in the first half of the 12th century BC. According to the Greek poets such as Homer, Dardanos, the son of Zeus and ancestor of the Trojans, had migrated by sea to found what had later become known as the Troad only four generations before Priam, who was the king of Troy during the Trojan War. [4] While other tribes of Greeks and Lydians and others were already in both Anatolia and in Italy, Livy also mentions several colonies which had come to Italy from the Trojans [5]. The Trojans were defeated in that war by Danaans, who were Greeks, but they were also not native to Greece, but who were said to have come to Greece after having fled Egypt, for example, in a story told in Suppliant Maidens, a play written by the tragic poet Aeschylus in the 5th century BC. This is the Israelite tribe of Dan, and they are identified as such in Ezekiel chapter 27. By all ancient Greek accounts, the Dorians did not arrive in Greece until several generations after the Trojan War, in the late 12th century BC, before which they were known only as having settled in Crete. But they were not original inhabitants of Crete, and had obviously had come from elsewhere. There were people in Greece before them, but they are the Ionian Greeks or Pelasgian Greeks, and neither Danaans or Dorians.

The nations of later Christendom, nearly two thousand years after these promises were given, did not exist when these promises were given, and neither did their ancestors, the Trojans, Romans, Dorian and Danaan Greeks, and Galatae or, as the Romans had called them later, Gauls and Germans. Neither did the Keltic people of the west, who descended primarily from the Phoenicians, the northern tribes of Israel, even if some Japhethite tribes had preceded them. Then, where Yahweh said to Abraham that “thou shalt be a father of many nations” and “a father of many nations have I made thee”, Paul understood that implication and therefore in connection with these promises, he explained in Romans chapter 4 that Yahweh “calls things not existing as existing.” In other words, Yahweh stated as fact the existence of these nations long before they would actually come into existence, because He knows that He will fulfill His promises. While the land masses existed, and while other peoples may have inhabited certain portions of those land masses in diverse times and places, the nations themselves, which are the people groups who came later and developed as nations within those land masses, which are now the nations of modern Christendom, did not exist at the time of Abraham, because they came from Abraham’s loins. Thus, as Paul also attested in that chapter of Romans, the promises were all fulfilled “as it is written” here in these chapters of Genesis.

Therefore, while we cannot repeat here all of the history proving that all of these tribes had originated in ancient Israel, trusting the apostles we should be able to ascertain that they must have been of Israel, as the apostles had assured them that the word of God is fulfilled in them. So the apostle James had written his only surviving epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”, as he also addressed only the descendants of the children of Israel, all twelve tribes, in spite of the fact that there were only two of those tribes in Judaea. So now we shall continue with this new promise to Abraham as it is written in Genesis, where Yahweh further tells the newly-named Abraham:

[3 History of Rome, Livy, 5.17.6-10; 4 Iliad, Homer, Book 20, Lines 215 ff.; 5 Livy, 1.23.1 ff.]

6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

Later, after the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus as it is recorded in Acts chapter 9, a man named Hananias was sent to him, to whom Christ had also appeared, and who would then act as a second witness to Paul, instructing him in the purpose of the ministry which he would conduct where we read:

10 And there was a certain student in Damaskos named Hananias, and the Prince [or Lord, referring to Christ] said to him in a vision “Hananias!” And he said “Behold, it is I, Prince!” 11 And the Prince said to him “Arising you must go to the street called ‘Straight’ and inquire at the house of Iouda for a Saulos named ‘of Tarsus.’ For behold, he prays 12 and has seen a man in a vision named Hananias entering and laying the hands upon him that his sight may be restored.” 13 And Hananias replied “Prince, I have heard from many concerning this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem, 14 and thus he has authority from the high priests to bind all of those being called by Your Name.” 15 But the Prince said to him “Go! For he is a vessel chosen by Me who is to bear My Name before both the Nations and kings of the sons of Israel. 16 For I shall indicate to him how much it is necessary for him to suffer on behalf of My Name.”

Because the New Covenant is only intended for Israel and Judah, which is prophesied in Jeremiah chapter 31, a prophecy which is repeated by Paul in Hebrews chapter 8 and mentioned again in Romans chapter 9, then unless Paul is a liar, those nations and kings of the sons of Israel to whom Paul was sent to preach the Gospel of Christ must have been among the same nations and kings here which are promised to come from of the seed of Abraham, and Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans explaining that very thing around 57 AD, or just over nineteen hundred years after these very promises were made.

Now where Yahweh continues, it must be noted that while these promises certainly do build on previous promises which He had made to Abraham which are recorded in chapters 12 and 15, those promises are already sealed, their unconditional fulfillment having been assured by Yahweh when He passed through the pieces of the sacrificial animals in His earlier covenant. So these promises augment the earlier ones, but they do not replace them or change them. So we read:

7 And 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.

This cannot be the same covenant as that found in Genesis chapter 15, which was already sealed and which therefore cannot be changed. But these promises, which elaborate upon those which were previously made to Abraham, are also entirely unconditional. So is the one which follows, in spite of the intervening history:

8 And 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.

Yahweh had already given the land to Abraham unconditionally, in Genesis chapter 15 (15:18). But while the covenant later made with Israel where they would possess Canaan was conditional, here as it was given to Abraham, it is not. So it is certain that Abraham will possess the land forever, although Israel had failed to maintain the conditions by which they would have kept it in the Levitical kingdom, and for that reason Abraham cannot possess it again until the return of Christ at the Resurrection.

Now a condition is placed upon Abraham, but that cannot change the unconditional nature of the promises which were made before this. So if Abraham’s descendants fail to keep this condition, that does not change the unconditional nature of the promises made to Abraham up to this point. For that reason, because Israel had failed, we read in the announcement of the New Covenant and the purpose of Christ in the words of Zacharias as they are recorded in Luke chapter 1, in part: “68 “Blessed is Yahweh the God of Israel, that He has visited and brought about redemption for His people, 69 and has raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant, 70 just as He spoke through the mouths of His holy prophets from of old: 71 preservation from our enemies and from the hand of all those who hate us! 72 To bring about mercy with our fathers and to call into remembrance His holy covenant, 73 the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, which is given to us.” Where it says “given to us”, that is an explicit reference to Israel. So the original and unconditional promises to Abraham were not superseded by any later promises or covenant, and they could not be, since Yahweh had sealed them with an oath. Therefore, as it is stated there in Luke, Christ had come to grant mercy to Israel, so that He could keep those original, unconditional promises. Once again, for that same reason, Paul wrote in Romans chapter 15: “8 Therefore I say, Yahshua Christ came to be a minister of circumcision in behalf of the truth of Yahweh; for the confirmation of the promises of the fathers; 9 and the Nations for the sake of mercy honor Yahweh; just as it is written, ‘For this reason I will profess you among the Nations, and I will sing of Your name.’” If Paul was spreading the Gospel of Christ in confirmation of the promises made to the fathers, then the nations to whom he brought the Gospel of Christ must have been the same nations which resulted from these promises made to Abraham, the same twelve tribes for whom Paul himself had professed that he labored.

Now the one condition given to Abraham is set forth:

9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

The token of the covenant with Noah was a rainbow, and the token of this covenant with Abraham is much more personal, being the circumcision. This is the first time in receiving any of these promises, that anything is required of Abraham. Here in the wording of this additional covenant, it seems that the circumcision is connected to the occupation and keeping of the land, that Abraham and his house would have to be circumcised if Yahweh was going to ensure that his descendants occupy the land, which was full of Canaanites, Kenites, and various tribes of Nephilim. Later, where it is codified into the law, the maintenance of the kingdom of Israel in Palestine is conditional upon whether the children of Israel would keep the law, including the circumcision, which is evident from Exodus chapters 19 through 23, and also throughout the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

While we can only speculate as to the reasons for the circumcision, it is generally evident where in the historical books of the Old Testament, circumcision is often referred to as the one feature which most distinguished the children of Israel from the other races of Canaan, where they were often referred to colloquially as the “uncircumcised”. So evidently, circumcision helped pious Israelites distinguish themselves from the heathen, and preserve their virtue against the wiles of the uncircumcised, which would in turn help to preserve the race and to keep it pure. The act itself was not as barbaric within the context of the ancient world as it seems to be today, especially once it is realized that the original circumcision was not as complete nor as damaging as the medical procedure which Jewish sorcerers have made popular in the so-called medical profession of modern times.

The Hebrew word translated as circumcise in these verses is מול, mawl or muwl (# 4135), and Strong’s defines the term, basically and in part, as “to cut short, i.e. curtail”. We would assert that it is an antecedent of our English word maul, which can mean to mutilate. The same Hebrew word, without the definite article, appears as cut in Psalm 58:7 in the phrase “cut in pieces”. In Psalm 90:6 it is cut down in relation to the grass, where it reads “in the evening it is cut down.” Here its meaning is unclear until the command is clarified in verse 11 where it says “ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin”. In the Greek of the Septuagint, the word was usually translated in the context of circumcision as περιτέμνω, which is literally to cut around, and which, like the English word circumcision, is an interpretation as much as it is a translation.

The word does not by itself mean to cut around, but only to cut off or to shorten or curtail, and the commandment does not necessitate the complete removal of the foreskin, as the enemies of Yahweh God both practise and attempt to impose on others in the name of “science” today. In fact, in Book 12 of his Antiquities, Flavius Josephus explained that in the gymnasium, where men exercised in the nude, certain Judaeans had “hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks.” [5] It was to this practice that Paul had alluded in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where using a verb ἐπισπάω, which means “to draw or drag after one… to pull to… to draw on…” and then in the Medium Voice, as Paul had used it, “to draw on, allure, persuade”, according to Liddell & Scott [6]. So in that chapter Paul had written in part: “18 Being circumcised has anyone been called? One must not be induced.” While the word ἐπισπάω may literally refer to the drawing forward of what is left of the circumcised foreskin, so as to appear not to be circumcised, as Josephus had explained, it is induced in our translation, or it may have been persuaded, since we are certain that Paul was making a play on words which is lost in modern English. Under the New Covenant, a man should not try to hide his circumcision if he is circumcised, and a man should not be persuaded if he is not circumcised.

[5 Antiquities of the Judaeans, Flavius Josephus, Book 12 section 241; 6 An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Clarendon, 1889, 1999, p. 301.]

Now the circumcision is imposed in much the same manner as it would later be codified in the law:

12 And 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. 13 He 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.

In verse 6 of this chapter, Abraham was already made a father of many nations, without condition, and that is in agreement with the earlier, unconditional promises which Yahweh had sealed as a binding covenant, even if it is an elaboration. But now, from verse 7, Yahweh makes an additional covenant and promises that “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.” This is an additional covenant, and this is the covenant for which Yahweh seems to be imposing circumcision upon Abraham and his descendants. Now we see the penalty if a man of Abraham’s house fails to keep this additional covenant:

14 And 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.

Here we see that the man who is not circumcised would be cut off from his people, which may also necessitate his removal from the land of the promise, but that does not mean that he would be cut off from the earlier promises to Adam, Noah and Abraham, especially where they were all made without condition. Neither is the man cut off from God, so that he still would have reconciliation in Christ. This also helps to corroborate our interpretation, that the circumcision only pertains to this particular promise to Abraham that he and his seed would inhabit the land forever. Ostensibly, an uncircumcised man would be cut off as a natural result of his failure to comply with the circumcision, as he would be unable to find a wife among his own people, their fathers naturally expecting suitable mates to be circumcised.

Finally, Yahweh reveals to Abraham the seed of the promise, in the fact that Sarah would have a role in producing that seed:

15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16 And 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.

The Hebrew word שרי or Sarai (# 8297) is, according to Strong’s, dominative, but where it appears as the name of a man in Ezra 10:40 Strong’s defines it disparagingly as hostile (# 8298). The Hebrew word שרה or Sarah (# 8283) is defined by Strong’s as mistress, where he refers the reader to a common noun (# 8282). The root of each of these words seems to be שרר or sarar or sharar (# 8323), which both Strong’s and Gesenius define as to have dominion. But Gesenius defines שרי or Sarai as “my princes”, for which he expresses uncertainty, or “nobility”, which seems reasonable. [7] Gesenius defines the word Sarah as “princess, noble lady” [8].

[7 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, p. 795; 8 ibid., pp. 794-795.]

17 Then 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?

With this it is evident that by the time of Abraham’s generation., perhaps men were again more quickly, as they were also dying at younger ages. However his immediate fathers had indeed sired sons at ages of a hundred years or greater. Furthermore, here Abraham laughed, evidently being incredulous in regard to the statement that Sarah would have a son at such an advanced age. The Hebrew verb for laugh is the word צחק or tschaq which means to laugh (# 6711), and here it is accompanied with a י or yodh as prefix meaning he, but the pronoun is omitted in the translation of the King James Version. The Hebrew name for Isaac is יצחק or itschaq (# 3327), which literally means he laughs. So while later on in Genesis chapter 18 Sarah is singled out by Yahweh for having laughed, Abraham himself had laughed here, and that seems to be the reason why his son would be named Isaac. The prefix for she before a verb is different, where we would see a ת or tav rather than a י or yodh.

Now Abraham must have realized the implications of this promise for Ishmael, and he must have loved his older son, so now he further responds by pleading on his behalf:

18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

Now where Yahweh God responds, He seems to further illustrate the fact that Isaac would have precedence over Ishmael:

19 And 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.

This promise for Sarah, which Yahweh expresses to her personally in Genesis chapter 18, was mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in Romans chapter 9, and although there he was contrasting Jacob and Esau, it just as well applies to Ishmael here. So now we shall present and discuss the opening verses of Romans chapter 9 in relation to this promise, Where Paul began by having written: “1 I speak the truth among the Anointed, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that grief for me is great, and distress incessant in my heart, 3 for I have prayed that I myself would be accursed from the Anointed for the brethren, my kinsmen in regards to the flesh; 4 those who are Israelites, whose is the position of sons, and the honor, and the covenants, and the legislation, and the service, and the promises…” Since Paul, at the very end of Romans chapter 8, had professed that nothing could separate Christians from the love of Christ, it is unlikely here that he is using the term χριστός in relation to Christ personally, but rather, as he does elsewhere, he more likely uses it in relation to the collective body of Christ in this context. But that is immaterial, as the result is the same. Here Paul also professed that the covenant and all other things related to it, such as the so-called “adoption” or position of sons, are exclusively for Israel, whom he calls his “kinsmen in regards to the flesh”, or as the King James Version has it, his “kinsmen according to the flesh”.

As he continues, he expounds on that with a clarification: “5 whose are the fathers; and of whom are the Anointed in regards to the flesh, being over all blessed of Yahweh for the ages. Truly.” Here once again, we interpret χριστός to be a reference to the body of Christ, which is the collective people of the children of Israel. Yahshua Christ is Yahweh GOD incarnate, and the pronoun describing that collective body, translated as whose here in the phrase “whose are the fathers”, is a plural pronoun.

Now Paul offers further clarification, explaining why he only prayed for those in Israel who were his kinsmen according to the flesh, his actual genetic family, where he wrote: “6 Not, however, that the word of Yahweh has failed; since not all those who are from Israel are those of Israel…” From 125 BC, the Judaeans under John Hyrcanus had begun to subjugate their Edomite neighbors in Judaea, and forcibly convert then to Judaism. The Edomites accepted this fate, at least publicly, and Flavius Josephus attested “that they were hereafter considered to be Jews” [9], or Judaeans, just as the people of Judah in Jerusalem were called Judaeans. Some years later, as Josephus also explained, a successor of Hyrcanus named Alexander Jannes continued that policy and converted Edomites and others in at least thirty other towns and regions of Judaea. [10] So as Paul had said, “not all those who are from Israel are those of Israel”, and because a great number of them were actually Edomites, which included Herod the king and all of his officials, here in this chapter he goes on to compare Jacob and Esau.

But first, he describes the predicament which Ishmael is in here, and in which Esau shall be found later in Genesis, where he continues: “7 nor because they are offspring of Abraham all children: but, ‘In Isaac will your offspring be called.’ 8 That is to say, the children of the flesh, these are not children of Yahweh, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” So according to Paul, the children of Esau and Ishmael, and even the later children of Keturah, may be children of the flesh of Abraham, but they were not children of the promises of Yahweh which He had intended for Abraham. So the children of the flesh were not counted as children of God, but only the children of the promise to Isaac, which was passed on to Jacob but not to Esau. While Esau was a son of Isaac, the reasons for his failure to inherit those promises are manifest later in Genesis.

But they are also manifest in Genesis chapter 28, where we read that Isaac had commanded his son Jacob: “1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother. 3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; 4 And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” So Jacob complied, and even later in Genesis, in chapter 35, Yahweh Himself confirmed these words of Isaac.

Therefore Paul now explains that promise, citing the promises of Yahweh to Sarah where he continued and wrote: “9 Indeed this word of promise: ‘At the appointed time I will come, and there will be a son for Sarah.’ 10 And not only, but Rebekka also had conceived from one, by Isaak our father. 11 Then not yet having been born, nor having performed any good or evil, (that the purpose of Yahweh concerning the chosen endures, not from rituals, but from the calling,) 12 to her it was said, ‘the elder will serve the younger:’ 13 just as it is written, ‘Jakob I love, and Esau I hated.’”

Saying those things, Paul referred to the promise to Sarah here in Genesis chapter 18, the promise to Rebecca relating to Jacob and Esau in Genesis chapter 25, and the prophecy of Malachi found in the opening verses of the first chapter of his writings. Therefore Paul had explained, as it is found in Genesis, that the children of the flesh of Abraham have no part in the inheritance of blessings of Abraham, unless they are children of the promises which were passed down through Jacob exclusively. Much later, the pharisees who confronted John the Baptist were evidently confident in their own righteousness because they were of the flesh of Abraham, and John rebuked them in part by saying that Yahweh God “is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”, as it is in Matthew chapter 3 in the King James Version. While of course it is possible that Yahweh could do such a thing, that would not make the children of stones children of the promises, and neither were many of those who had confronted John, whom he had also called a “generation of vipers”, which in the Greek words of the passage is literally “offspring of serpents.” The explanation for that is indeed found in later chapters of Genesis. The children of Ishmael are in the same position as the children of Esau, and Paul made that clear in his analogy of Hagar in Galatians chapter 4, which we have already discussed in The Vanity of Ishmael. GALATIANS 4:30 those words are in the NT.

[9 Antiquities of the Judaeans, Flavius Josephus, Book 13 section 257; 10 ibid., Book 13 sections 395-397.]

So although Ishmael is not included in the promises and inheritance of Abraham, perhaps out of mercy for Abraham Yahweh leaves a promise for Ishmael, repeating and augmenting the promise which He had made to Hagar in the wilderness as He had her return to Sarah:

20 And 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.

As we have said, these descendants of Ishmael are described later, in Genesis chapter 25, and we shall defer our commentary on them until we reach that point in Genesis.

Now that Abraham has been consoled concerning Ishmael, Yahweh once again stresses the significance of His plan for Isaac:

21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. 22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

It may only be conjectured as to why Hagar, an Egyptian woman, was rejected in the original plan which Sarah had for her, except to say that perhaps because she was a daughter of Ham, Yahweh did not want to glorify Ham, who had sinned against his father, while Sarah was a daughter of Shem.

However there is an even greater example made here, which Paul had also explained in Romans chapter 4 where he wrote that Abraham trusted in “Yahweh … who raises the dead to life, and calls things not existing as existing” and further that Abraham’s faith was “contrary to expectation”, but he “18 … in expectation believed, for which he would become a father of many nations according to the declaration, ‘Thus your offspring will be:’ 19 and he not being weak in the faith, nor having considered his own body by this time being dead, being about a hundred years old, and the deadness of the womb of Sarah, 20 but at the promise of Yahweh he did not doubt in disbelief, rather he was strengthened in faith, giving honor to Yahweh, 21 and having full satisfaction that what He has promised, He is also capable of doing; 22 for that reason also ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” So apparently, Paul was also making an analogy there, that Sarah having a dead womb which produced life was a also type which testified of the ability of Yahweh God to raise men from the dead.

Now Abraham responds to the words in the conditions of this last covenant:

23 And 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. 24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

So Ishmael accepted the circumcision, but according to Flavius Josephus, perhaps the Ishmaelites who came after him did not maintain it. The 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus mentioned in his Histories that the Phoenicians and the “Syrians of Palestine” were circumcised [11], as well as others, and Flavius Josephus had cited that remark and answered it in his treatise Against Apion, where we read that:

His words are these: “The only people who were circumcised in their privy members originally, were the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians; but the Phoenicians and those Syrians that are in Palestine confess that they learned it from the Egyptians. And for those Syrians who live about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, and their neighbors the Macrones, they say they have lately learned it from the Colchians; for these are the only people that are circumcised among mankind, and appear to have done the very same thing with the Egyptians. But as for the Egyptians and Ethiopians themselves, I am not able to say which of them received it from the other.” This therefore is what Herodotus says, that "the Syrians that are in Palestine are circumcised." But there are no inhabitants of Palestine that are circumcised excepting the Jews [Judaeans]; and therefore it must be his knowledge of them that enabled him to speak so much concerning them. [12]

Perhaps Josephus did not realize it, but Herodotus on several occasions had called the Judaeans by the label “Syrians of Palestine”, and that is clear from the context of the phrase where he used it on a few other occasions elsewhere in his writings. In one place, he refers to the battle between Josiah king of Judah and pharaoh Necho of Egypt, in which Josiah was killed, but only named him as the king of the “Syrians of Palestine”. Furthermore, and as a digression, Herodotus did not understand the full history of Egypt or Ethiopia, and the fact that he encountered black Egyptians because both Egypt and Ethiopia had been overrun by Nubians three hundred years before his own time, and Egypt had a dynasty of Nubian pharaohs for about ninety years from about 744 BC. [13] So perhaps for that reason, because Herodotus had heard that the Colchians were related to the Egyptians, he also imagined them to have been black like the Egyptians [14], not knowing that the more ancient Egyptians were White, and they were the Egyptians to whom the Colchians of his own time must have been related. But the value in his testimony in this instance is what he knew personally, that the Phoenicians were circumcised just like the “Syrians of Palestine”, by which he means the Judaeans. While the Philistines were related to the Egyptians, they were never circumcised, according to many passages in Scripture, but the Phoenicians were actually the children of Israel, who according to Judges chapter 5 had inhabited the port cities of Asher, and who from the time of David had possessed the coast of Palestine as far north as “the entering in of Hamath”, the Mediterranean ports of Hamath, a city in Syria far to the north. [15] Once this is understood, and the ancient Phoenician colonies are identified from Classical literature, as they stretched from Cilicia to Cornwall, the way by which Abraham was made a father of Nations is evident to an astonishing degree.

[11 The Histories, Herodotus, Book 2 section 104; 12 Against Apion, Flavius Josephus, Book 1 sections 168-171; 13 Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-fifth_Dynasty_of_Egypt, accessed August 25th, 2023; 14 Herodotus, Book 2 section 104; 15 1 Chronicles chapter 18, 2 Chronicles 8:1-5, 2 Kings 14:25-28.]

Finally, Abraham completes the commandment to circumcise all of the men of his household:

27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

This in itself is a testimony to Abraham’s character as well as his faith, that he was able to circumcise what must have been upwards of five or six hundred grown men and boys, which is an estimate rather roughly calculated from the size of his contingent where he had defeated the kings of Elam and Mesopotamia as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 14.

This concludes our commentary on Genesis chapter 17.

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