Lesson 24: Genesis 17
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“Lesson 24: Genesis 17,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 24,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 24

Genesis 17


The Lord had previously explained to Abram the covenant He would establish between them (see Genesis 12; Abraham 2), and He reassured Abram that the promised blessings would be his (see Genesis 15). In Genesis 17 we learn about further promises and responsibilities the Lord revealed pertaining to the Abrahamic covenant. In connection with this covenant, the Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Circumcision became a sign or token (a reminder) of the covenant between God and Abraham. The Lord also promised Abraham and Sarah that in their old age they would have a son, whom they were to name Isaac.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 17:1–8

The Lord covenants with Abraham

Before class begins, write the following questions on the board:

What do you want to do when you are an adult?

What do you want to be when you are an adult?

As you begin the lesson, ask students to discuss with a partner the difference between the two questions on the board. When they have finished, ask a few students to share their thoughts with the class.

Invite a student to read Genesis 17:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord wanted Abram to do and be. Ask students to report what they find.

  • What do you think it means to “walk before” the Lord?

  • What do you think it means to be perfect? (You may need to explain that the command to be perfect refers to becoming like Heavenly Father. This is an ongoing process that will extend beyond this life and can only be accomplished by drawing upon the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ through diligent efforts to live His gospel.)

Invite a student to read Genesis 17:2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord planned to do with Abram. Ask students to report what they find. You may want to suggest that they mark the phrase “I will make my covenant between me and thee.”

Invite students to open their class notebooks or scripture study journals to the page with the chart listing the responsibilities and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. (They created this chart when they studied Abraham 2 and Genesis 12 in lesson 20). Ask students to use the list they created to review the responsibilities Abram had as part of the covenant. You may want to invite students to add the commandments from Genesis 17:1 (walk before the Lord and be perfect) to their list of responsibilities of the covenant. (You might also refer students to the entry “Abraham, covenant of” in the Bible Dictionary.)

Explain that as part of establishing His covenant with Abram, the Lord did something to remind Abram of the promised blessings. Invite a student to read Genesis 17:3–5 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what the Lord did.

  • According to verse 5, what did the Lord do as a reminder of the covenant?

Explain that in Hebrew the name Abram means “exalted father” and Abraham means “father of a multitude” (see Bible Dictionary, “Abraham”). Both names represent what was possible for Abraham to become because of the covenant—an exalted being, like God. You may want to suggest that students write the meaning of these names in the margin of their scriptures.

Invite a student to read Genesis 17:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify promises the Lord confirmed upon Abraham that correspond to this new name. Invite them to share what they discovered.

Invite students to review the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant they listed on the chart in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.

  • As you look at the chart and consider the promises given to Abraham, what do you think the Lord was preparing him to become? (Through this covenant, the Lord was preparing Abraham to become like God, an exalted father with innumerable posterity.)

Media Icon
To further emphasize that the Lord kept the covenant He made with Abraham and Sarah, you may want to show the video “Abraham” (00:58). This video can be found on Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs and on

Invite a student to read Genesis 17:7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who else the Lord is willing to establish the Abrahamic covenant with.

  • According to verse 7, who else does the Lord say He will establish the Abrahamic covenant with? (Abraham’s seed, or posterity.)

You may want to explain that because of the scattering of Israel, most people in the world are likely the literal seed of Abraham. However, to help students understand what is required to receive the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, whether a person is a literal descendant of Abraham or not, invite a student to read the following from True to the Faith:

“To be counted as Abraham’s seed, an individual must obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Then the person can receive all the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, even if he or she is not a literal descendant of Abraham” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 5).

Explain that this means we can receive the same spiritual blessings the Lord offered to Abraham.

  • What would we need to do in order to receive the same blessings promised to Abraham? (We too must covenant with the Lord and take upon ourselves the same responsibilities as Abraham. This begins with baptism and includes each of the saving ordinances of the gospel.)

Write the following on the board: As we , then we become heirs to the responsibilities and blessings given to Abraham. Invite students to complete the principle. The following is one way students may phrase this principle: As we make and keep covenants with the Lord, we become heirs to the responsibilities and blessings given to Abraham.

To help students further understand this principle and how they can receive the promises given to Abraham, invite a student to read aloud the following prophetic explanations. (You may want to provide a copy for each student.)

Nelson, Russell M.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified: “The ultimate blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are conferred in holy temples. These blessings allow us to come forth in the First Resurrection and inherit thrones, kingdoms, powers, principalities, and dominions, to our ‘exaltation and glory in all things’ (D&C 132:19)” (in “Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2001, 7).

McConkie, Bruce R.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “When he [or she] is married in the temple for time and for all eternity, each worthy member of the Church enters personally into the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. This is the occasion when the promises of eternal increase are made, and it is then specified that those who keep the covenants made there shall be inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 508).

  • What blessings will we inherit if we make and keep these sacred temple covenants? (You might give students a moment to consider the blessings they have listed in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.)

Explain that our making and keeping this covenant of exaltation can also bless our posterity. Invite a student to read Genesis 17:7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord promised to do for Abraham and his seed. Encourage them to add any new promise they find to their charts.

  • What did the Lord covenant to do for Abraham’s seed?

  • What do you think it means that the Lord will be a God to Abraham’s posterity?

Testify that throughout the history of the Old Testament, it is evident that the Lord extended His arm of mercy to Abraham’s seed. Even when they strayed from the truth, the Lord made every attempt to bring them back, honoring the covenant He made with Abraham.

  • In what ways can your decision to enter into covenants with the Lord bless your future children?

  • In what ways have you seen the lives of children affected by their parents’ making and keeping covenants? (You might want to share your own experience or an example here.)

Point to the questions on the board from the beginning of class, and ask:

  • What does the Lord want you, as the seed of Abraham, to do?

  • What does He want you to be?

Encourage students to keep the covenants they made at baptism and to look forward to making and keeping the other covenants available only in the temple.

Genesis 17:9–14

Circumcision is a token of the Abrahamic covenant

Summarize Genesis 17:9–14 by explaining that as a token or reminder of the covenant God made with Abraham, He commanded that Abraham and all male members of his household be circumcised. This symbol would act as a reminder of the responsibilities and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, which includes the promise of eternal increase, dedication to God, and separation from sin and the world. (See Bible Dictionary, “Circumcision.”) The Joseph Smith Translation helps us understand that the people of Abraham’s day had gone astray from God’s ordinances and turned away from the proper performance of baptism, even participating in a form of infant baptism. Circumcision of a male child when he was eight days old was to be a reminder to parents that children need to be baptized when they are accountable at eight years of age. (See Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 17:3–7, 11–12 [in the Bible appendix]; see also Genesis 17:12). Circumcision as a token of the Abrahamic covenant was no longer required after Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry (see Moroni 8:8).

Genesis 17:15–27

The Lord promised Abraham that Sarah would have a son and that he should be named Isaac

Ask students to raise their hand if they have ever had a prayer answered in a way that was different from what they had expected.

Remind students that Abraham had desired and prayed for children. Because his wife, Sarai, was not able to have children, she gave her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham to also be his wife and to bear him children. Hagar had a son named Ishmael. (See Genesis 16.)

Explain that Abraham may have considered Ishmael to be the answer to his prayers for children, but the Lord planned to fulfill His covenant with Abraham in an additional way. Invite a few students to take turns reading Genesis 17:15–22 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord further kept His covenant with Abraham.

  • Notice how the Lord changed Sarai’s name to Sarah as a part of the covenant. What did her new name mean? (See Genesis 17:15, footnote a.) What did the Lord reveal would happen to Sarah?

  • What was Abraham’s reaction? (You may need to explain that laughed means “rejoiced” [see Genesis 17:17, footnote a].)

  • In what way might this revelation have surprised Abraham?

  • Through whose lineage did the Lord reveal the covenant would be continued?

  • What principle can we learn from Abraham and Sarah’s experience about how the Lord will fulfill His promises? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: God will fulfill His promises, though it may not be in the way or at the time we might expect. You may want to write this principle on the board.)

To help students understand and feel the truth and importance of this principle, invite them to ponder experiences they have had when the Lord has fulfilled a promise to them or answered a prayer in a way that was different from what they were expecting. After students have had time to reflect, invite a few to share their experiences with the class. You may also wish to share an experience of your own.

  • How can experiences like these influence our trust in the Lord?

To conclude the lesson, invite students to review the elements of the Abrahamic covenant and share their feelings about it and its blessings. You may also want to share your feelings. Encourage students to choose one thing they can do to more fully live up to their covenants with God so they can receive His promised blessings.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 17:1. “Be thou perfect”

Jehovah (Jesus Christ) commanded Abraham to be perfect (see Genesis 17:1). During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ restated this command to “be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). For Abraham to become perfect, he would need to become like God. Modern revelation confirms that Abraham eventually received the fulness of God’s blessings and “hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29). Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob also received of the fulness of Heavenly Father’s blessings and “sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37). For more information about what it means to become like God, go to Gospel Topics on and search for “Becoming Like God,” “Eternal Life,” or “Exaltation.”

President Lorenzo Snow taught how we can obey the command to become perfect:

“We learn that the Lord appeared to Abraham and made him very great promises, and that before he was prepared to receive them a certain requirement was made of him, that he [Abraham] should become perfect before the Lord. And the same requirement was made by the Savior of his Disciples, that they should become perfect, even as He and His Father in Heaven were perfect. This I conceive to be a subject that concerns the Latter-day Saints; and I wish to offer a few remarks by way of suggestion, for the reflection of those whom it concerns. …

“… The Lord … has not made a requirement that cannot be complied with, but on the other hand, He has placed for the use of the Latter-day Saints the means by which they can conform to His holy order. When the Lord made this requirement of Abraham, He gave him the means by which he could become qualified to obey that law and come up fully to the requirement. He had the privilege of the Holy Spirit, as we are told the gospel was preached to Abraham, and through that gospel he could obtain that divine aid which would enable him to understand the things of God, and without it no man could do so; without it no man could arrive at a state of perfection before the Lord. …

“… It requires time; it requires much patience and discipline of the mind and heart in order to obey this commandment. And although we may fail at first in our attempts, yet this should not discourage the Latter-day Saints from endeavoring to exercise a determination to comply with the great requirement. …

“… When we experience trying moments, then is the time for us to avail ourselves of that great privilege of calling upon the Lord for strength and understanding, intelligence and grace by which we can overcome the weakness of the flesh against which we have to make a continual warfare” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow [2012], 95–97).

“Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today. The temptations that perhaps partially overcome us today, let them not overcome us so far tomorrow. Thus continue to be a little better day by day” (Teachings: Lorenzo Snow, 103).

Genesis 17:7. “I will establish my covenant [with] thy seed after thee”

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how we enter into the same covenant as Abraham and how that covenant can bless our children:

“At baptism, we covenant to serve the Lord and keep his commandments. When we partake of the sacrament, we renew those covenants. We may receive covenants of the priesthood and the crowning blessings of the endowment, the doctrine, and the covenants unique to the holy temple.

“The new and everlasting covenant of the gospel allows us to qualify for marriage in the temple and be blessed to ‘come forth in the first resurrection’ and ‘inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, … to [our] exaltation and glory in all things’ [D&C 132:19].

“Children born to parents thus married are natural heirs to the blessings of the priesthood. They are born in the covenant. Hence, ‘they require no rite of adoption or sealing to insure their place in the posterity of promise’ [James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (1977), 446].

“Rewards for obedience to the commandments are almost beyond mortal comprehension. Here, children of the covenant become a strain of sin-resistant souls. And hereafter, … other children of the covenant, and ‘each generation would be linked to the one which went on before … [in] the divine family of God’ [Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1950, 13–14]. Great comfort comes from the knowledge that our loved ones are secured to us through the covenants” (“Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995, 33–34).