Circumcision? Why circumcision?


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Genesis 17:9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.

When I read this passage the first thing I think of is – why circumcision? I mean, when God made a covenant with Noah after the flood, the sign of the covenant was… the rainbow. Circumcision? Really? Here’s a note I wrote about this passage a few years ago which I found helpful to recall:

Fertility is the focal point of the promise God gave to Abraham, hence a scar on this part of the body. It reflects the nature of the covenant the scar represents. Covenants were made in blood. God had already instructed Abram to gather animals for sacrifice some years before this. Now, Abraham would shed a bit of his blood in circumcision. Hence, the covenant would be complete with both God and Abram shedding blood, resulting in a new identity for Abram and a new name – Abraham.

In a covenant two people (or two groups of people) become one. In ancient times, smaller tribes would enter into covenant with larger tribes to provide for their survival. In Abraham’s case he and his extended family were traveling into the land of Canaan where large tribes already lived. God had promised the land to Abraham and his descendants, yet left to themselves they had no chance to survive – much less take possession of the land. Therefore, the covenant with Yahweh (God) was important for Abraham.

But, dang. Circumcision?!

Two things come to mind for me personally today. First, I’m very glad that circumcision in recent times has generally been performed shortly after birth – resulting in no memory of the event later in life. Whew! Second, the scar of circumcision is a reminder of my complete dependence on God. Without God, and particularly without Jesus the Son, I have no hope. I am lost and condemned to sin and death. So God acted.

Remember, a covenant requires the spilling of blood. So in making a new covenant of grace through Jesus Christ, God spilled the blood of his own son. That means sinners like you and me are covered by the blood of Jesus. We are claimed as children of God and redeemed for all eternity. As I reflect on all my shortcomings today, I am incredibly thankful. And hopeful that the work begun in me will one day be brought to completion.

Heavenly Father, sacrificing Jesus is an incredible expression of your love for all people. Thank you for your love and mercy. Give me grace to live more and more into your dream for me. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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