Notes for Gen Gen 17:1LEB

Heb "the son of ninety-nine years."


Heb "appeared to Abram and said to him." The proper name has been replaced by the pronoun ("him") and the final phrase "to him" has been left untranslated for stylistic reasons.


The name אֵל שַׁדַּי (’el shadday, "El Shaddai") has often been translated "Yahweh Almighty," primarily because Jerome translated it omnipotens ("all powerful") in the Latin Vulgate. There has been much debate over the meaning of the name. For discussion see W. F. Albright, "The Names Shaddai and Abram," JBL 54 (1935): 173-210; R. Gordis, "The Biblical Root sdy-sd," JTS 41 (1940): 34-43; and especially T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 69–72. Shaddai/El Shaddai is the sovereign king of the world who grants, blesses, and judges. In the Book of Genesis he blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises numerous descendants. Outside Genesis he both blesses/protects and takes away life/happiness. The patriarchs knew Yahweh primarily as El Shaddai (Exod 6:3LEB). While the origin and meaning of this name are uncertain (see discussion below) its significance is clear. The name is used in contexts where Yahweh appears as the source of fertility and life. In Gen 17:1–8LEB he appeared to Abram, introduced himself as El Shaddai, and announced his intention to make the patriarch fruitful. In the role of El Shaddai Yahweh repeated these words (now elevated to the status of a decree) to Jacob 35:11LEB. Earlier Isaac had pronounced a blessing on Jacob in which he asked El Shaddai to make Jacob fruitful Gen 28:3LEB. Jacob later prayed that his sons would be treated with mercy when they returned to Egypt with Benjamin Gen 43:14LEB). The fertility theme is not as apparent here, though one must remember that Jacob viewed Benjamin as the sole remaining son of the favored and once-barren Rachel (see Gen 29:31LEB; Gen 30:22–24}; Gen 35:16–18LEB). It is quite natural that he would appeal to El Shaddai to preserve Benjamin’s life, for it was El Shaddai’s miraculous power which made it possible for Rachel to give him sons in the first place. In Gen 48:3} Jacob, prior to blessing Joseph’s sons, told him how El Shaddai appeared to him at Bethel (see Gen 28 and promised to make him fruitful. When blessing Joseph on his deathbed Jacob referred to Shaddai (we should probably read "El Shaddai," along with a few Hebrew mss, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX, and Syriac) as the one who provides abundant blessings, including "blessings of the breast and womb" (Gen 49:25LEB). (The direct association of the name with "breasts" suggests the name might mean "the one of the breast" [i.e., the one who gives fertility], but the juxtaposition is probably better explained as wordplay. Note the wordplay involving the name and the root שָׁדַד, shadad, "destroy"GEN in Isa 13:6LEB and in Joel 1:15.LEB) Outside Genesis the name Shaddai (minus the element "El" ["Yahweh"] is normally used when God is viewed as the sovereign king who blesses/protects or curses/brings judgment. The name appears in the introduction to two of Balaam’s oracles (Num 24:4-6LEB) of blessing upon Israel. Naomi employs the name when accusing the Elohim of treating her bitterly by taking the lives of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20–21LEB). In Ps 68:14}; Isa 13:6}; and Joel 1:15LEB Shaddai judges his enemies through warfare, while Ps 91:1LEB depicts him as the protector of his people. (In Ezek 1:24}; Ezek 10:5LEB the sound of the cherubs’ wings is compared to Shaddai’s powerful voice. The reference may be to the mighty divine warrior’s battle cry which accompanies his angry judgment.) Finally, the name occurs 31 times in the Book of Job. Job and his "friends" assume that Shaddai is the sovereign king of the world (11:7; 37:23a) who is the source of life (33:4b) and is responsible for maintaining justice (8:3; 34:10–12; 37:23b). He provides abundant blessings, including children (22:17–18; 29:4–6), but he can also discipline, punish, and destroy (5:17; 6:4; 21:20; 23:16). It is not surprising to see the name so often in this book, where the theme of Yahweh’s justice is primary and even called into question (24:1; 27:2). The most likely proposal is that the name means "Yahweh, the one of the mountain" (an Akkadian cognate means "mountain," to which the Hebrew שַׁד, shad, "breast"GEN is probably related). For a discussion of proposed derivations see T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 70–71. The name may originally have depicted Yahweh as the sovereign judge who, in Canaanite style, ruled from a sacred mountain. Isa 14:13 and Ezek 28:14, 16 associate such a mountain with Yahweh, while Ps 48:2(LEB) refers to Zion as "Zaphon," the Canaanite Olympus from which the high god El ruled. (In Isa 14 the Canaanite god El may be in view. Note that Isaiah pictures pagan kings as taunting the king of Babylon, suggesting that pagan mythology may provide the background for the language and imagery.)


Or "Live out your life." The Hebrew verb translated "walk" is the Hitpael; it means "to walk back and forth; to walk about; to live out one’s life."Or "in my presence."There are two imperatives here: "walk…and be blameless [or "perfect"GEN." The second imperative may be purely sequential (see the translation) or consequential: "walk before me and then you will be blameless." How one interprets the sequence depends on the meaning of "walk before": (1) If it simply refers in a neutral way to serving the Elohim, then the second imperative is likely sequential. (2) But if it has a positive moral connotation ("serve me faithfully"), then the second imperative probably indicates purpose (or result). For other uses of the idiom see 1 Sam 2:30-35LEB, 1 Sam 12:2LEB (where it occurs twice).


Notes for Gen 17:2(LEB)

Following the imperative, the cohortative indicates consequence. If Abram is blameless, then the Elohim will ratify the covenant. Earlier the Elohim ratified part of his promise to Abram (see Gen 15:18–21LEB), guaranteeing him that his descendants would live in the land. But the expanded form of the promise, which includes numerous descendants and eternal possession of the land, remains to be ratified. This expanded form of the promise is in view here (see vv. 2b, 4–8). See the note at Gen 15:18} and R. B. Chisholm, "Evidence from Genesis," A Case for Premillennialism, 35–54.


Heb "I will multiply you exceedingly, exceedingly." The repetition is emphatic.


Notes for Gen 17:3(LEB)


Heb "And Abram fell on his face." This expression probably means that Abram sank to his knees and put his forehead to the ground, although it is possible that he completely prostrated himself. In either case the posture indicates humility and reverence.


Heb "Yahweh spoke to him, saying." This is redundant in contemporary English and has been simplified in the translation for stylistic reasons.


Notes for GEN 17:4LEB

Heb "I."


Heb "is" (הִנֵּה, hinneh).


Notes for Gen 17:5(LEB)

Heb "will your name be called."


Your name will be Abraham. The renaming of Abram was a sign of confirmation to the patriarch. Every time the name was used it would be a reminder of Yahweh’s promise. "Abram" means "exalted father," probably referring to Abram’s father Terah. The name looks to the past; Abram came from noble lineage. The name "Abraham" is a dialectical variant of the name Abram. But its significance is in the wordplay with אַב־הֲמוֹן (’av-hamon, "the father of a multitude," which sounds like אַבְרָהָם, ’avraham, "Abraham"). The new name would be a reminder of Yahweh’s intention to make Abraham the father of a multitude. For a general discussion of renaming, see O. Eissfeldt, "Renaming in the Old Testament," Words and Meanings, 70–83.


The perfect verbal form is used here in a rhetorical manner to emphasize Yahweh’s intention.


Notes for Gen 17:6(LEB)

This verb starts a series of perfect verbal forms with vav (ו) consecutive to express Yahweh’s intentions.


Heb "exceedingly, exceedingly." The repetition is emphatic.


Heb "and I will make you into nations, and kings will come out from you."


Notes for Gen 17:7(LEB)

The verb קוּם (qum, "to arise, to stand up") in the Hiphil verbal stem means "to confirm, to give effect to, to carry out" (i.e., a covenant or oath; see BDB 878-79 s.v. קוּם).


Or "as an eternal."

Heb "to be to you for Yahweh and to your descendants after you."


Notes for Gen 17:8(LEB)

The verbal root is גּוּר (gur, "to sojourn, to reside temporarily," i.e., as a resident alienLEB). It is the land in which Abram resides, but does not yet possess as his very own.


Or "as an eternal."


Notes for Gen 17:9(LEB)

The imperfect tense could be translated "you shall keep" as a binding command; but the obligatory nuance ("must") captures the binding sense better.


Heb "my covenant." The Hebrew word בְּרִית (bérit) can refer to (1) the agreement itself between two parties (see v. 7), (2) the promise made by one party to another (see vv. 2–3, 7LEB), (3) an obligation placed by one party on another, or (4) a reminder of the agreement. In vv. 9–10 the word refers to a covenantal obligation which Yahweh gives to Abraham and his descendants.


Notes for Gen 17:10(LEB)

Heb "This is my covenant that you must keep between me and you and your descendants after you."


For a discussion of male circumcision as the sign of the covenant in this passage see M. V. Fox, "The Sign of the Covenant: Circumcision in the Light of the Priestly ‘ot Etiologies," RB 81 (1974LEB): 557-96.


Notes for Gen 17:12(LEB)

Heb "the son of eight days."


Notes for GEN 17:13

The emphatic construction employs the Niphal imperfect tense (collective singularLEB) and the Niphal infinitive.


Heb "my covenant." Here in v. 13 the Hebrew word בְּרִית (bérit) refers to the outward, visible sign, or reminder, of the covenant. For the range of meaning of the term, see the note on the word "requirement" in v. 9.


Notes for Gen 17:14(LEB)

The disjunctive clause calls attention to the "uncircumcised male" and what will happen to him.


Heb "that person will be cut off." The words "that person" have not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.


The meaning of "cut off" has been discussed at great length. An entire tractate in the Mishnah is devoted to this subject (tractate Keritot). Being ostracized from the community is involved at the least, but it is not certain whether this refers to the death penalty.


Heb "he has broken my covenant." The noun בְּרִית (bérit) here refers to the obligation required by Yahweh in conjunction with the covenantal agreement. For the range of meaning of the term, see the note on the word "requirement" in v. 9.


Notes for Gen 17:15(LEB)

Heb "[As for] Sarai your wife, you must not call her name Sarai, for Sarah [will be] her name."


Sarah. The name change seems to be a dialectical variation, both spellings meaning "princess" or "queen." Like the name Abram, the name Sarai symbolized the past. The new name Sarah, like the name Abraham, would be a reminder of what Yahweh intended to do for Sarah in the future.


Notes for Gen 17:16(LEB)

Heb "she will become nations."


Heb "peoples."


Notes for GEN 17:17(LEB)

Laughed. The Hebrew verb used here provides the basis for the naming of Isaac: "And he laughed" is וַיִּצְחָק (vayyitskhaqLEB); the name "Isaac" is יִצְחָק (yitskhaq), "he laughs." Abraham’s (and Sarah’s, see 18:12) laughter signals disbelief, but when the boy is born, the laughter signals surprise and joy.


Heb "And he fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart."


The imperfect verbal form here carries a potential nuance, as it expresses the disbelief of Abraham.


Heb "to the son of a hundred years."


It is important to note that even though Abraham staggers at the announcement of the birth of a son, finding it almost too incredible, he nonetheless calls his wife Sarah, the new name given to remind him of the promise of Yahweh (v. 15).


Heb "the daughter of ninety years."


Notes for Gen 17:18(LEB)

The wish is introduced with the Hebrew particle לוּ (lu), "O that."


Or "live with your blessing."


Notes for GEN 17:19(LEB)

Heb "will call his name Isaac." The name means "he laughs," or perhaps "may he laugh" (see the note on the word "laughed" in v. 17).


Or "as an eternal."


Notes for GEN 17:20(LEB)

The Hebrew verb translated "I have heard you" forms a wordplay with the name Ishmael, which means "Yahweh hears." See the note on the name "Ishmael" in Gen 16:11}.


Heb "And I will multiply him exceedingly, exceedingly." The repetition is emphatic.


For a discussion of the Hebrew word translated "princes," see E. A. Speiser, "Background and Function of the Biblical Nasi’," CBQ 25 (1963): 111-17.


Notes for GEN 17:22(LEB)

Heb "And when he finished speaking with him, Yahweh went up from Abraham." The sequence of pronouns and proper names has been modified in the translation for stylistic reasons.


Yahweh went up from him. The text draws attention to Yahweh’s dramatic exit and in so doing brings full closure to the scene.


Notes for GEN 17:23(LEB)

Heb "Ishmael his son and all born in his house and all bought with money, every male among the men of the house of Abraham."


Heb "circumcised the flesh of their foreskin." The Hebrew expression is somewhat pleonastic and has been simplified in the translation.


Notes for GEN 17:24(LEB)

"the son of ninety-nine years."


Heb "circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin" (also in v. 25).


Notes for GEN 17:25(LEB)

Heb "the son of thirteen years."