The promise renewed. — V.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. Twenty-four years Abram had now been a stranger in Canaan, thirteen years had elapsed since the birth of Ishmael, and still the patience of Abram and Sarai was sorely tried, still no child came to gladden their hearts. But the Lord now appeared to Abram once more, calling Himself the almighty God, and bidding His servant walk before Him, lead his entire life so as to be without reproach. Every one that is justified by faith will so conduct himself in his entire life and actions as to give all honor to God and to place all trust in Him, even if He should delay in the fulfillment of some promise. V.2. And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. The promise of an innumerable progeny, as based upon the covenant of God, is here repeated and intensified, particular stress being placed upon the exceedingly great number of descendants. V.3. And Abram fell on his face, in the humility of his faith and of overpowering joy. And God talked with him, saying, v.4. As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. The covenant was not here established, for it was already in power, but it was now to be realized, the Lord on His part decreeing that Abram was to be the father of a multitude of nations. The almighty Lord always fulfills in due time what He promises to His children. V.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. Thus Abraham is again shown the great nation which through his Seed, the Messiah, was to be gathered out of all nations, the great congregation of all the believers. Rom. 4, 17. In token of this double promise God changed the name of Abram, “exalted father,” to Abraham, “fat her of a mass, noise, tumult of nations,” Himself explaining that He had set him to be the father of a multitude of nations. V.6. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. Tribes and people, exalted, mighty, and rich kings were among the descendants of Abraham; and the promise is again so wide and all-encompassing that It must be taken to include especially the spiritual blessings assured to those who are the descendants of Abraham in faith. V.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. Here also the fact that God, in the realization of the covenant, will be an everlasting Source and Fountainhead of goodness and mercy to the real offspring of Abraham, is emphasized V.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. The continual repetition of the emphasis upon the everlasting covenant and the everlasting possession shows that the covenant and the promised inheritance included the spiritual seed, the sum total of those that would accept God with the faith of Abraham, and also the heavenly Canaan, with all the blessings assured to US by the merits of Christ, in whom alone God is our God.
Circumcision instituted. — V.9. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep My covenant, therefore, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations. The promise of goodness and mercy on the part of God imposes an obligation on man to keep the provisions of His covenant. V.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. So circumcision, the operation by which the foreskin of the flesh is removed, is not a mere hygienic measure, but a religious rite, a part of God’s covenant, a sacrament of His mercy. V.11. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you. V.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. V.13. He that is born in thy house, and he that in bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. V.14. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut oft from his people; he hath broken My covenant. Thus circumcision was a sacrament, a means of grace, in the Old Testament, a rite through which the Lord transmitted the blessings of His covenant to the children of Abraham. Its provisions were simple, the act itself being plainly indicated, the purpose being the sign of the covenant, the time being eight days, or the eighth day after birth, the extent making it include not only male children, but also slaves, both those born in the master’s home and those bought elsewhere, and the inviolability of the act being such as to cause every male that had not submitted to this provision of the covenant to be cutoff by an act of divine judgment or by an early death. The significance of the sacrament consisted in this, that the descendants of Abraham were to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, be a holy people unto the Lord, Deut. 10, 16. But above all, circumcision was the seal of the righteousness of faith, Rom. 4, 11, and a type of Holy Baptism, the corresponding sacrament of the New Testament. Through the water of Baptism, as an external sign, the righteousness of God, the forgiveness of sins, is sealed unto us.
A child promised to Sarah. — V.15. And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. This change of names is significant, for the wife of Abraham, heretofore known as Sarai, “the princely,” “heroine,” was hereafter to be called Sarah, “princess,” as the ancestress of princes and kings. Thus the promise of God narrowed down, first from a member of Abraham’s household to a son of his own body, and now to his own son by Sarah, his wife, not by some slave woman. V.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 emphasis is expressly laid upon the fact that the happy event of the birth of a son to Sarah is a result of the blessing of God. For whereas this is true in the case of every wife, it was particularly true in the case of Sarah, upon whom the Lord had laid the cross of barrenness. V.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? The marvel of such a promise in the circumstances as Abraham knew them, himself a man of a hundred years and Sarah ninety years old, and yet they should become parents, this filled him with such awe that he sank to the ground, and with such joy that he was constrained to laugh. He was filled with adoration and praise of the power and mercy of God. V.18. And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before Thee! This was not spoken in the fear that the Lord would now cause Ishmael to die, but as a prayer that Ishmael might have part in the blessings of the covenant. V.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. The Lord emphasizes that the son of Sarah should be the bearer of the covenant, he whom Abraham should name Isaac (he that laughs); he was to transmit the Messianic promise to his children after him, a promise which would not concern their temporal welfare so much as their spiritual blessings, and would therefore be of interest also to the spiritual descendants of Isaac. V.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. Ishmael had been begotten after the flesh, and could therefore not be the bearer of the promise, Gal. 4, 30. He was to be blessed most richly with blessings of this life: twelve princes were to be his descendants, and the number of his offspring would be exceedingly great. V.21. But My covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. God had, even now, appointed the time when Isaac should be born. And this child of promise should be the bearer of the Messianic promise. For since it stands to reason and clearly follows from the Scriptural account that Abraham taught all his children the fear of the true God, we must conclude that the special progeny of Abraham and Isaac to which the Lord here refers must be the sum total of that spiritual offspring, all men who by the faith of Abraham become the children of Abraham, Rom. 4, 11–17. V.22. And he left off talking with him. And God went up from Abraham. After God had given all the necessary commands to Abraham, the vision came to a close.
Abraham’s obedience — V.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. The prompt and literal obedience which Abraham rendered is an evidence of his faith; for that very day he performed the rite of circumcision upon Ishmael and upon all his men, whether born while in his possession or bought with his money, and upon himself. V.24. And Abraham was ninety years old and nine when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. V.25. And Ishmael, his son, was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. V.26. In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised and Ishmael, his son. V.27. And all the men of his house, born in the house and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him. Thus was the first congregation under the Old Testament covenant organized.