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Circumcision Then and Now

Monday, February 27, 2023

Abraham was chosen for a purpose. In Genesis 18.19, God took counsel with Himself concerning Abraham,

“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has promised him.”

God did not say this about Sarah, though she was an essential helper to Abraham in this mission. God spoke to the fathers, and the fathers, then, carried the responsibility of teaching God’s word and God’s ways to their households.

God wants a righteous and just people, and Abraham’s responsibility was to guide his family along that righteous way. But it was for a singular purpose: so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has promised him.

What Had the Lord Promised?

A Multitude of Nations!

Part of the promise is found in Genesis 17.4: “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” And in 17.6, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.”

A Land!

Another part of the covenant is found in Genesis 17.8: “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

A Seed!

A third and the greatest part of the covenant is found in Genesis 22.18: “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

How Does Circumcision Fit?

In Genesis 17, God gave Abraham the sign of the covenant—circumcision.

Often I have wondered why God chose this as the sign. Noah’s sign was a rainbow in the heavens. Abraham’s sign was trimming the foreskin off the male organ. The first seems wonderful, grand, and glorious; the second seems a tad barbaric.

But observe the significance of the sign; it has to do with the male organ which passes the seed along. All the promises to Abraham had to do with bearing a son, who would bear more sons, who would eventually become a great nation. God desires godly offspring (Malachi 2.15).

In the New Testament, Paul writes of circumcision being a “putting off the body of the flesh” (Col. 2.11); in other words, the cutting of the flesh symbolized purification, a removal of sin. To Abraham and the Israelites, circumcision signified keeping the seed-line pure, anticipating the growth of their nation and eventually their coming Messiah.

Circumcision also points back to God’s original mandate to mankind in general: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Circumcision Today

In Deuteronomy, twice God speaks to Israel about circumcising their hearts.

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deut. 10.16)

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30.6)

The New Testament continues the idea of circumcising the heart. In the face of intense opposition, Stephen bravely dressed them down, saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7.51). Paul wrote of those who were truly Jews: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Rom. 2.29). In Philippians 3.3, he distinguishes between those who simply mutilate the flesh and those who walk by faith: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Colossians 2.11 may be the clearest of his teachings on the spiritual nature of circumcision today:

“In Him [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2.11–14).

So there remains a parallel sign today for the Christian, and that sign is baptism, the sign of the New Covenant. Baptism signifies a washing away of sin (Acts 22.16; 1 Cor. 6.11) and a death, burial, and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6.1–4; Col. 2.12).

The sign of the Old Covenant pointed forward to the Seed of Promise, to Christ, and the sign of the New Covenant points backward to the work of Christ in the cross and His resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins.

In every case it’s about Christ Jesus our Lord!