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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 17

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-17

Abram and Sarai Greatly Enlarged

Genesis 17:1-17


We have passed by the sixteenth chapter of Genesis, it behooves us, therefore, to give some striking suggestions relative to Sarai and Hagar, which will link us on to the present study.

1. Sarai's unbelief. Sarai had grown quite old. She had lived many years expecting a son in fulfilment of God's promise. Now, in her old age she proposed to Abram that he marry her maid, Hagar. All of this was a mere subterfuge, trying to help God out, and Sarai had not yet learned the lesson of perfect trust in abiding God's time.

"God's plans, like lilies pure and white unfold,

We must not take the close, shut leaves apart,

Time will reveal the calyxes of gold."

The message of the Lord commands us to wait patiently on the Lord, to trust also in Him; then, He will bring it to pass. When we rush impetuously ahead of the Lord, we only bring disaster to our lot. Let us learn to sit still and bide the time of God's deliverance and conquest.

2. Hagar's flight. It seemed the proper thing to Sarai that Abram should marry Hagar, but when the marriage was consummated and Hagar knew she would have a son, she became proud and arrogant, and refused to submit herself to Sarai's headship. Soon Sarai appealed to Abram, and Abram gave Sarai permission to deal with Hagar as she desired. Thus Sarai dealt hardly with Hagar and Hagar fled. Out in the wilderness by a fountain of water, the Angel found Hagar, and said unto her, "Whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?" Then the Angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress and to be submissive to her. The story of Sarai and Hagar only goes to prove the utter folly of getting out of the will of God.

Much of our suffering and of our bitterness of soul comes from our breaking loose from the will of God. We want to take things into our own hands and do this and that, without consultation with the Lord; and often even against the Word of the Lord. The result is always disastrous. It is a happy day in the life of a believer when he finds out that he cannot order his own steps.

3. The Angel's promise. The Angel of the Lord who spoke unto Hagar, was, we believe, none other than Jehovah. Students have discovered that Christ in the Old Testament is often so called. Never as "an angel," but as "The Angel of Jehovah." It was in this form that He appeared to various saints.

The Angel of the Lord told Hagar that He had heard her affliction, and that her son should be a wild man, his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him.

4. God's refusal to accept man's compromises. God made it plain that Hagar's son should not be Abram's heir. The same God who had refused to accept Eliezer's son as Abram's heir, refused likewise to accept Abram's son by another wife than Sarai.

When will men learn to walk by faith and not by sight? When will men learn to keep their hands off of the pilot wheel? Does the Omnipotent God need the aid of impotent man His wonders to perform? Cannot God work out His will?

I. THE GOD WHO IS ENOUGH (Genesis 17:1-2 )

1. An aged servant. Abram had reached his ninety-ninth year. Perhaps, as this ripe age came to him, he was musing on the thus far unfulfilled promise of God concerning the birth of his promised son. During the years, on at least two occasions, he had sought to sidestep God's pledge by helping God out of a seemingly impossible position, accruing from Sarai's age and barrenness.

Abram had believed God, however, on the whole. And as he sat now before the Lord, without human hope of a son and heir through Sarah, he, in hope, believed against hope.

2. An Almighty God. As Abram's family conditions made a son and heir daily more humanly impossible, God's power became more and more ready to operate. The Lord appeared to Abram in the hour of his acknowledged helplessness, and said, "I am the Almighty God," that is, "I am the God who is enough." In your weakness I will prove My power; in your impotency, I will exert My omnipotency; in your nothingness, I will be your almightmess.

It is always so. Man's extremity proves to be God's opportunity, It was when Elijah came to the end of his way, that God met him. It was when David's foes seemed to be certain of victory against him, and when all help failed him, that God rescued and enthroned him. It was when Paul and the mariners, swept before a Euroclydon on the Mediterranean, had given up all hope that they should be saved, that the Lord spoke saying, "Fear not, Paul."

3. A call to faithfulness. To Abram God said, "Walk before. Me, and be thou perfect." God was watching this man who was chosen and precious in His sight. The Lord had undertaken for Abram, and promised him much in every way. There was, however, some things which were rightly expected of Abram. God pity us when we use our standing in Christ as an excuse for carnal living. Gratitude alone should lead us to faithfulness.


1. How to come into the presence of God. Abram is an example to us of self-humbling. He fell upon his face. He manifested no careless and unseemly familiarity with Deity.

We may draw near to God in the full assurance of faith, but we may not draw near pleading our value or valor. We may come to the Father as a son, yet, as a son recognizing the Father's supremacy and power. In our prayers there should be nothing of command, as though we could order Jehovah to do our will, and hear our cry. We are suppliants and servants and not lords.

2. How God speaks to the humble soul. Abram fell at the Lord's feet not as a cringing slave filled with fear, but as a worshipful servant giving a loving obeisance. The result was that God spoke to him, as one who speaketh face to face.

He that humbleth himself shall be exalted. The dependent servant of the Lord will not be left to serve his Master independent of his Lord's aid and guidance.

God began to talk to Abram in a wonderful way. He promised to undertake for him, to bless him, and to make him a blessing. Why? Because Abram was a prepared recipient of God's favors.


1. What is there in a name? Perhaps there is little by way of significance in most personal names today. Names, with God, however, carried significance. Abram signified "exalted father"; the placing of the Hebrew letter "H" in the middle of his name signified Abram as "Abraham the father of multitudes."

This was most meaningful. Abram was an exalted father, in the birth of Isaac. But Abraham was a father of many nations through added grace. Isaac could have been born, and have died childless; or Isaac's posterity might have been lost mid the sweep and sway of nations. Not so, however, for God undertook for Abram, and pronounced him Abraham.

Abram stands for grace, Abraham for multiplied grace. Abram stands for life, but Abraham for life more abundant. Is this not God's desire for each of us? He wants grace and peace to be multiplied unto us. He wants us to become a great multitude, through our spiritual children.

2. True increase and blessing belongs to God. How the words do ring out, "I am the Almighty God; * * I will!" "A father of many nations have I made thee." "I will make thee exceeding fruitful." "I will make nations of thee." "I will establish My covenant between Me and thee." "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land."

Whom God will, He sets up; and whom He will, He puts down. We do not mean that God, in His dealings, does not weigh man's humility, and spirit, and purity; we do mean that God is sovereign in all of His dealings, and that apart from Him we cannot attain any place or power among men. Do what we may, try as we may, we can do nothing apart from Him.


What we wish just now is to examine the extent of God's covenant with Abram. What were the things that God said He would undertake for him? Let us mention them one at a time.

1. "I will * * multiply thee exceedingly" (Genesis 17:2 ). This was the meaning of Abram's new name. However, the multiplying might have been in many ways. God could and did multiply Abram in his cattle, and lands, and in all of his possessions. He multiplied him in his power and prestige with the people. We shall see, however, a fuller meaning to the word, "multiply."

2. "Thou shalt be a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4 ). This was a multiplication of his seed, and of their establishment in places of authority in the earth. It anticipated, not alone from Isaac, but also from Ishmael, the formation of great governing peoples upon the earth. From Abram sprang the nation of Israel, of Ishmael, of Midian, of Arabia, etc.

3. "I will establish My covenant, * * for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:7 ). Here was a promise that reached down throughout all ages. The covenant was not to Abraham alone, but also to his seed forever.

How marvelously has this promise been fulfilled. Until this day the Hebrews are a strong and a mighty people. They have, because of their sins, been scattered among the nations, but they shall yet. be forgiven, restored to their land and kingdom. They may have been swallowed for a season, but God will not forget His covenant made that day to Abraham, and for His Holy Name's sake He will bring them out from the nations whither He has driven them and build them up, never to be scattered again.

4. "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land, * * for an everlasting possession." Thus, in the archives of God it is recorded that the promised land belongs to Israel. Any nation who dares to place its foot in that land to seek a possession shall surely be driven out. The land is Israel's. To Israel the land shall shortly be restored, and God's nation shall inherit their properties forever.


The provisions of the covenant were not made in order to make the covenant valid, but in order to place upon Abraham and his seed personal responsibility. There were, also, other reasons for this covenant's provisions, as we shall see.

1. God's call to Abraham was to walk before Him and be perfect. This plea was afterward extended to Abraham's sons, and then to Israel. When God chose Israel as a peculiar people, and a special people unto Himself, He knew that the world would at once cast its eyes on her, and judge His Name by her conduct.

In after years God wrote through His Prophet, Ezekiel, "Mine holy Name, which the House of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went." Even in Israel's earlier history, when the Children of Israel were smitten before the people of Ai, Joshua fell upon his face and. cried, "O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! * * and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great Name?"

Let this weigh heavily upon our hearts. We too are a special people unto our God, that we may be unto Him for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory; let us beware lest we, the Church, fail our God and likewise blaspheme His Holy Name.

2. God's call to Abraham was the sign of circumcision. This was to be a physical mark to establish Israel's separation unto God. Along the same line was the Nazarene vow which was voluntarily taken by many in order to designate that they were wholly the Lord's.

Unto this day God's covenant sign is universally enforced among the Children of Israel. The Jews, in all of their wanderings and sins, have never forgotten that they are Abraham's seed, and that to them belongs the covenant and the promises.


1. The meaning of this change of names. The addition of the letter "h," the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is similar to the addition of the same letter in Abram's name, when God changed it to Abraham.

The letter "h" stands in the Hebrew for grace, and suggests increase. Thus, when Moses sent the spies to spy out the land we read, "And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua" (Numbers 13:16 ).

Thus Sarah was to be enlarged, God was to give her a son, and she was to be the "mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her."

2. How God works His wonders to perform! Thirteen years had passed since Sarah had given her handmaid, Hagar, to be wife to Abram. Every day Sarah had aged, and the promise of God to her seemed daily vanishing. However, the good time had come at last Isaac was to be born.

The world waited for four thousand years for the birth of Jesus Christ. As the centuries ran into millenniums it seemed that the promise made in the Garden of Eden to Eve, and restated to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and David, would never be realized. Nevertheless, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law.

Wonderful was that day when Isaac was born; more wonderful was that day when Christ was born.

Mark the difference between Abraham and Sarah. When the great news of Isaac's birth was thus definitely heralded, Abraham fell down on his face and laughed. Nothing of this is said of Sarah.

We wonder as Abraham laughed if he did not see Christ's day? We know that "Isaac" means "laughter."

When Christ was born there was joy in the hearts of those who awaited Him.


We feel that we have a Scripture that will prove suggestive as a close to this marvelous Genesis study.

1. All good things promised by the Almighty will come to a happy fruition. What God has promised He will do. We have lived in a day marked by many marvelous fulfilments of God's promised, prophetic Word. As we look back over the centuries we see many more such fulfilments.

Now, as we turn our face toward the future we know that what God hath said, must come to pass. We are unwilling to discount any of His pledges. We are continually lifting our faces toward the heavens, if perhaps we might catch a glimpse of His face as He descends from God to the upper skies. We know not when we may go, we know that go we shall. And it cannot be long.

2. God can perform His promises. God is able to do. He speaks and the heavens bend their heads to fulfil His will. The physical universe is held in the word of His power. Innumerable hosts of angels stand ready to obey His voice.

3. God must perform His pledges. God is true and cannot lie. He is true. He is the unchangeable, ever faithful God.

He who builds upon God's Word builds on an impregnable rock. Gibraltar may crumble and fall, the earth may pass away with a great noise, but His Word shall never pass away. Abraham found God true so will we.



"' Chrysostom hath the following comparison: "A smith that taketh up his red-hot iron with his hands, and not with his tongs, what can he expect but to burn his fingers?" So we destroy our souls when we judge of the mysteries of faith by the laws of common reason,' Common enough is this error. Men must needs comprehend when their main business is to apprehend. That which God reveals to us is, to a large extent, beyond the reach of understanding, and, therefore, in refusing to believe until we can understand, we are doing ourselves and the truth a grievous wrong. Our wisdom lies as much in taking heed how we receive as in being careful what we receive. Spiritual truth must be received by a spiritual faculty; namely, by faith. As well hope to grasp a star by the hand, as Divine Truth by reason. Faith is well likened to the golden tongs, with which we may carry live coals; and carnal reason is the burned hand, which lets fall the glowing mass, which it is not capable of carrying.

Let it not, however, be thought that faith is contrary to reason. No: it is not unreasonable for a little child to believe its father's statements, though it be quite incapable of perceiving all their bearings. It is quite reasonable that a pupil should accept his master's principles at the beginning of his studies; he will get but little from his discipleship if he begins by disputing with his teacher. How are we to learn anything if we will not believe? In the gloriously sublime truths of Godhead, Incarnation, Atonement, Regeneration, and so forth, we must believe, or be forever ignorant: these masses of the molten metal of eternal truth must be handled by faith, or let alone." C H. S.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Genesis 17". "Living Water". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/genesis-17.html.
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