Genesis 17

Genesis 17:1 walk before me, and be thou perfect
We usually associate the Savior’s invitation to be perfect with the New Testament. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the higher law with “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48). This seemed to be the quintessential requirement of the higher law. Certainly, we wouldn’t expect to find it in the Old Testament, but here it is. Most of the principles of the higher law are indeed found in the Old Testament; they are just scattered throughout and harder to find. God was asking for perfection from Abraham but what does that mean?
“Through all generations, God has commanded his children to be perfect. His mandates to Abraham, ‘Walk before me, and be thou perfect’ (Gen. 17:1), and to the Israelites, ‘Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God’ (Deut. 18:13), were one with his charge, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48; cf. 3 Ne. 12:48).
“Although the Savior's injunction is an unequivocal call to perfection, Latter-day Saints recognize that only he was totally without blemish or stain and was perfect in an infinite and absolute sense. ‘And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him’ (Heb. 5:9).
“Human beings are required to seek perfection in certain respects that are attainable in mortality only through Christ. The New Testament refers to "them that are perfect" (1 Cor. 2:6; cf. Matt. 19:21; James 3:2; Heb. 12:23), and the Greek word teleios, meaning ‘perfect,’ also means ‘complete, whole, fully initiated, mature.’ Such maturity and completeness consist of receiving the fulness of the gospel, walking by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of one's sins, receiving necessary ordinances, being faithful to covenants with the Lord, obeying the Lord and submitting to his will, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and having charity, ‘the bond of perfectness and peace’ (D&C 88:125).
“Latter-day prophets have taught that men and women can become perfect ‘in the spheres in which [they] are called to act…[and that] we may become as perfect in our sphere as God is perfect in his higher and more exalted sphere’ (Smith, p. 252; cf. JD 6:99; 2:129; 10:223). Mortal beings have the comforting assurance that God ‘giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them’ (1 Ne. 3:7).” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1074)
Genesis 17:4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee
God chose Abraham to be his prophet in language that is quite unique, “As for me, I choose you.” Of course, this covenant is made because Abram had already shown his devotion to the Lord. Let’s take a moment to consider the greatness of Abraham and the greatness of the blessings given him.
The Lord gave Abraham every blessing a man could want. Abraham had it all.
  • Wealth: Abraham already had riches at the time the covenant is made and so this blessing is not mentioned
  • Beautiful wife: Sarah may have been the most beautiful woman on earth—at least she was in Egypt.
  • Real Estate: This is one of the specific blessings of the covenant—Abraham is to get “all the land of Canaan” v. 8
  • Posterity: This is one of the specific blessings of the covenant, but Abraham had to have faith for this one as he was childless until Hagar bore him Ishmael. He was still waiting for a child by Sarah
  • Eternal Life: This is not mentioned in the Genesis account but is one of the specific blessings of the covenant, “as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world [his seed] should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars… and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father… Abraham… hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.” (D&C 132:30-31, 29)
  • Fame: Muslims, Jews, and Christians all call Abraham their father. While Joseph Smith was told his name would be had for good and evil throughout the world, the name of Abraham is universally had for good. No one can be critical of Abraham. He was the prophet for all seasons.
  • Righteousness: Abraham was so righteous that God chose to call His name by Abraham. God became known as Abraham’s God or the God of Abraham. That in itself is quite a compliment. It is remarkable that the Lord doesn’t want his church to be named after Moses (3 Ne. 27:8) but He is fine with his name being identified with Abraham. Paul praised Abraham for his faith (Heb. 11:8-19); God praised Abraham for his works (D&C 132:29, 32). In the faith v. works debate, Abraham had it all. He is the only prophet other than Jesus Christ who has a gospel named for him. We speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ but there is a “gospel of Abraham” (D&C 110:12). Many prophets brought forth a dispensation; Moses can boast a law; but only Abraham had a gospel.
The amazing thing about Abraham’s blessings is that we are entitled to them, “the promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham” (D&C 132:31) Abraham had it all, and we can have it all if we just “do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32)
Bruce R. McConkie
In the full sense this promise is fulfilled for those only who enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and thereby gain a continuation of the family unit in eternity. Abraham's seed is promised eternal life, and eternal life comes to those who live everlastingly in the same kind of a family unit as does the great Elohim… By doing the works of Abraham they inherit for themselves the same blessings he received. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 38)
Genesis 17:5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham
We will see in this chapter that covenants are associated with a new name, new commandments, and new tokens. This is the pattern of all covenant making with the Lord: names, signs, and tokens. It seems that Abram received his new name directly from the Lord, “thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name” (Isa. 62:2; Rev. 3:12)
“In many parts of the ancient world there are accounts of men receiving new names in place of their former designations. This act of renaming often occurred at a time of transition in the life of the one renamed and frequently carried with it special privileges and honors for the one receiving the new name. The person who gave the new name was usually in a position of authority and could exercise power and dominion over the individual named. fn Dependence was sometimes, but not invariably, implied in renaming, since, as Otto Eissfeldt has noted, ‘Renaming can also indicate a kind of adoption into the household which is equivalent to conferring on them a high honor.’ This ‘adoption’ would carry with it the idea of responsibility as well as inheritance.
“Abram and his name change is usually the first to come to mind in the Old Testament. The act of changing Abram's name to Abraham begins with the introduction of God: ‘I am the Almighty God. . . . 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’ (Genesis 17:1, 5). The new name given to Abraham was intimately connected with the covenant he received from God.” (John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 1: 505)
Genesis 17:8 I will give unto thee… all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession
No land on the planet has been more coveted or fought for than the land of Canaan. In general, it is the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. At the time Abraham was promised it, it was sparsely inhabited, but Abraham’s posterity would make it great. His descendants Moses and Joshua would take control of it for the 12 tribes. His descendant Jesus Christ would make it a holy land for all Christians. And Abraham himself would make it a holy land for Muslims by obedience to God in offering his son Isaac (although Muslims believe it was Ishmael that was to be the sacrifice). The crusades were fought for it and the current Middle Eastern tension revolves around who should have it. Well, in the end God gets to decide who lives there.
Bruce R. McConkie
A lesser part of the covenant is that the seed of Abraham have the Millennial destiny of inheriting as an everlasting possession the very land of Canaan whereon the feet of the righteous have trod in days gone by. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 505)
Bruce R. McConkie
It is clear; it is plain; it is certain: God gave ancient Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel, of whom the Ten Tribes are the dominant part. It is their land, in time and in eternity. It is their land now whenever they are worthy to tread its blessed surface. And it shall be theirs again in that everlasting eternity that lies ahead. "It is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it," in that celestial day when it shall be crowned with the presence of God, even the Father. (D&C 88:17-19.) Where else, then, would we expect to see the Ten Tribes return? Where else would we expect them to assemble to worship the God of their fathers and to be inheritors of the promises made to the ancient ones whose seed they are?
Thus it is that we see why the revelations speak of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth into the Church and kingdom of God on earth, and also of the leading of the Ten Tribes from the land of the north back again to their promised Canaan. The gathering of Israel is one thing, the return of the Ten Tribes to a specified place is another; and Moses gave to men in our day the keys and power to perform both labors. (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 322)
Genesis 17:10 Every man child among you shall be circumcised
The symbolism of circumcision is to help the recipient remember the covenant of eternal increase but also to separate himself from the world, distinguish himself as a follower of God as was Abraham, and circumcise his heart in turning from the world to God. See Bible Dictionary: “Circumcision.”
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah (Jer. 4:4)
Joseph Smith
The covenant of circumcision made with Abraham, and practiced steadily up to the departing of Israel out of Egypt, was abandoned in the wilderness, forty years—and renewed by Joshua after he passed over Jordan, and encamped at Gilgal, where he made sharp knives and circumcised the whole male portion of the church. (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings, edited by Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q.Cannon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], “Circumcision”)
Bruce R. McConkie
One of the provisions of this law of circumcision was that it should be practiced by the chosen seed, to identify and distinguish them, until the day of the mortal ministry of Christ. From Abraham to the meridian of time, the gospel and such of the laws of salvation as were revealed in any period were reserve almost exclusively for the seed of Abraham in whose flesh the token of circumcision was found.
But beginning in the meridian of time the Lord's eternal plans called for sending the gospel to all the world; the Gentile nations were to be invited to come to Christ and be heirs of salvation. The laws of salvation were to be offered to those in whose flesh the token of the everlasting covenant was not found. (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 143)
Genesis 17:15 thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be
Sarah means “princess.”
“Establishing the covenant with Abram and Sarai commenced with their receiving a new identity, which is symbolized in changed names. Abram became known as Abraham, and Sarai was called Sarah (Genesis 17:5, 15). The significance of these new names was not so much in changed meaning but in the fact that God assigned them. Under the covenant, ‘father’ Abraham and ‘princess’ Sarah accepted a new responsibility and relationship with God, the definitive Father and King. (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 222-225)
“The Talmud records the opinion that Sara’s name change symbolized the end of her barrenness.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 117)
Genesis 17:16-17 Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed… Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old?
“The biblical text is delightful in this regard. When God revealed to Abraham that Sarah would bear a son in her old age, Abraham ‘laughed’ (Genesis 17:17). When Sarah overheard the three holy men tell Abraham that she would yet bear a child, she likewise ‘laughed’ (Genesis 18:12-15). Wanting everyone to join the rejoicing at this miracle, Abraham and Sarah chose to call their son Isaac, a name derived from the same Hebrew root meaning ‘laugh’ and ‘laughter’ (Genesis 21:3-6). This Hebrew word reflects a harmony of rich emotions—including smile, jest, sport, and play—sparked by an unexpected, unbelievable, and yet pleasant turn of events. The Joseph Smith Translation renders the word simply as rejoice (JST Genesis 21:5; KJV Genesis 17:17).” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 41)
Genesis 17:21 my covenant will I establish with Isaac
The covenant is established with Isaac! We all accept this as the natural course of events. Of course, Isaac continued in the covenant of his father, but he wasn’t Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael was. Shouldn’t Ishmael have been the covenant son? Many Muslims think so. They believe that it was Ishmael not Isaac that Abraham took to sacrifice on the altar.
“Jews, Christians and Muslims agree; Abraham, the friend of God, is an example of pure and unconditional righteousness and faith. The love that Abraham displayed towards God is clearly seen in Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only beloved son. All three religions do not dispute this fact. Where they do disagree on, however, is the identity of the sacrificial child. The Bible states that this child was Isaac:
"After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’." (Genesis 22:1-2, R.S.V.).
"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son ..." (Hebrews 11:17, R.S.V.).
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up his son Isaac upon the altar?" (James 2:21, R.S.V.).
“Muslims on the other hand feel that Ishmael was the one offered up by Abraham. They believe that the Holy Bible supports this by its declaration that Abraham offered his only son (see above verses). Ishmael was Abraham's only son for over 13 years, which would make it impossible for Isaac to be the child of sacrifice. (Cf. Genesis 16:16, 21:5).
“Muslims believe that scribes later corrupted the original reading from Ishmael to Isaac.
Since this idea stems from the Muslim misunderstanding of the phrase ‘only son’… the Quran never mentions the name of the sacrificial child; amazing indeed considering how overzealous some Muslims have been in their attempts to prove that Ishmael, not Isaac, was that son. (LINK)
Before you discount the Isaac versus Ishmael debate as trivial, you might want to consider the growth of the Church among Muslim countries. While they may be the last of all the countries to allow proselyting, it is coming soon. What would you say to a Muslim who says that Ishmael was the chosen son? You might want to read him this passage out of Genesis 17:21. Then, perhaps you should read him the following passage out of the Quran:
“[Abraham] was of our believing servants.
And we announced Isaac to him – a Righteous Prophet—
And on him and on Isaac we bestowed our blessing.” (The Koran, 37:111-113 [London: Everyman Publishing, 1994] p. 300)
Bruce R. McConkie
All of the promises given to Abraham were centered in due course in Sarah's son. "My covenant will I establish with Isaac," the Lord said. (Genesis 17:21.) And also: "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." (Genesis 21:12.) Why Isaac? Because he kept the commandments and did everything he was counseled to do by his father. And so, in due course the Lord came also to Isaac and renewed upon his head all the promises given to Abraham. "I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven," was the divine word to Abraham's son, "and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 26:4.) And as it was with Isaac, so with Jacob. "Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth," the Lord promised Jacob, who would be the father of all Israel; "in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 28:14.)
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—our patriarchal fathers—are the patterns and types for all their seed. The tribes of Israel were the Lord's ancient chosen and covenant people. In one of them the Lord Jesus himself was born. Those among them who served Jehovah with Abrahamic zeal received the same blessings bestowed upon their fathers. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 37)
Genesis 17:23 Abraham… circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him
Spencer W. Kimball
There are many examples of Abraham’s obedience to the Lord’s will. In Genesis we learn that God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his household. Upon receiving that commandment, Abraham did not say, “Yes, I will obey the Lord, but first I must move my sheep to another pasture, and mend my tents. I should be able to obey by the end of the week, or by the first of next week, at the latest.” But instead of so procrastinating his obedience, Abraham went out and complied “in the selfsame day.” (Gen. 17:26.)
A similar, but even more impressive, example is Abraham’s obedience to God’s command that he sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham could have put this abhorrent task aside or even chosen to ignore the commandment entirely, but instead he arose early the next morning and began the journey to the appointed place.
How often do Church members arise early in the morning to do the will of the Lord? How often do we say, “Yes, I will have home evening with my family, but the children are so young now; I will start when they are older”? How often do we say, “Yes, I will obey the commandment to store food and to help others, but just now I have neither the time nor the money to spare; I will obey later”? Oh, foolish people! While we procrastinate, the harvest will be over and we will not be saved. Now is the time to follow Abraham’s example; now is the time to repent; now is the time for prompt obedience to God’s will. (“The Example of Abraham,” Ensign, June 1975, 4)
Genesis 17:23 Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised
Genesis 17:25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised
“Father! What are you going to do to me? Why do we need to do this? Why would the Lord want this?” These might have been the questions Ishmael asked of his father. What 13 year-old wouldn’t be terrified at the suggestion that he was to be circumcised? “Careful with the knife, Dad! Have you ever done this before?” The experience must have been frightening to say the least.
In spite of any emotional trauma, it appears that Ishmael continued the tradition with his posterity. As the father of the Arab nations, he made sure his posterity was circumcised as well.
“Today Muslims are the largest religious nation to circumcise their male offspring. This ritual shows their belonging and closeness to their spiritual ancestor and the physical forefather, Prophet Ibraheem (peace be upon him).

“Because circumcision was also practised by all prophets, traditionally it has been in practice throughout the history among the followers of Prophet Ibraheem and establishes an Islamic connection to the ritual.” (LINK)
“The Qur'an itself does not mention circumcision. The ritual dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. In the time of Muhammad, circumcision was carried out by most Arabian tribes, among them pagan Arabs as well as Jews and Christians for religious reasons. According to tradition Muhammad was born without a foreskin (aposthetic.) Many of his early disciples were circumcised to symbolise their inclusion within the emerging Islamic community… So, despite its absence from the Qur'an, it has been a religious norm from the beginning of Islam.” (LINK)