9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Male circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. In the most common procedure, the foreskin is opened, adhesions are removed, and the foreskin is separated from the glans. Wikipedia
It was very hard for me to decide how to open this subject so I decided to present the Bible basis for discussion of it, and I did not rely on my own descriptive constructions to explain what circumcision is I am hoping that at the end of this blog you will have appreciation for what it represents and how it is connected to the New Covenant (Testament). It is a the sign of the covenant that God outlined for Abraham and all his male associates to submit to, all that were connected to the people group that Abraham is the patriarch of. If you read the passage above with care it instructs that even the servants, who might not be Jewish, were to be circumcised. The surgery was not optional. If any male was not circumcised, that person was disconnected from the promises and benefits of the community. A promise might look like a future possession of land and benefits might look like the provision, protection and blessing from God.
The New Testament makes specific mention that John (the Baptist) (Luke 1:59), and Jesus (Luke 2:21) were circumcised on the eight day of their lives. They were born while the Old Covenant was still in force. There is a good medical reason why the eighth day would be an excellent day for a procedure of this sort. The short and simple of it are that two blood clotting factors (vitamin K and prothrombin) are together in their maximum concentration in human blood. If you are curious about this and want to know more pull up vitamin K and Prothrombin on the internet; a little research for you. Abraham did not seem to have struck on this by trial and error or by the luck of picking a fortunate day out of a hat. According to Genesis 17 the day was not left to his discretion, God instructed that specific day. These kinds of details are a compelling reason to believe that the production of the Bible was guided by the mind of God who created us. He knows exactly how He built us and when would be the optimal day for circumcision.
Circumcision is still performed for religious reasons among practicing Jews and Muslims who count among them the descendants of Ishmael (Hagar’s son) and Isaac (Sarah’s son). Some stats say about one third of men worldwide are circumcised. There is debate about the ethics of circumcising baby boys but there seems to be certain health benefits to the procedure. In places where AIDS and venereal disease are epidemic it has an effect of reducing transmission because the foreskin not cleaned and maintained is a breeding ground for problems. There are other confirmed medical benefits but my aim is not to make the medical case here. Removal of foreskin does not affect the function of the member because skin is elastic. When the sign of the covenant (circumcision) was introduced every male of the extended household submitted to it. The event is called Brith, Berith, Bris, or Brit Milah which simply means ‘Covenant’.
In Genesis 34 there is an account of a rape which led to mass circumcision. This circumcision event of every male in the city left it defenseless for several days and in that time the city was set upon and every male was killed and the city was plundered. In Exodus 4 the Lord sought to kill Moses because he neglected to circumcise his son. In Joshua 5 before the nation of Israel attacked Jericho (the first objective in the land of Canaan after crossing the Jordan River) they were commanded to make sure everyone was circumcised, then they celebrated the Passover feast. The Romans valued the foreskin and passed laws prohibiting the removal of it. The laws were not enforced on Jews and their continued employment of the procedure made them obnoxious to others in Roman dominions; it set them apart. This created a problem for Hellenized (Greek culture) Jews. Many Games and athletic events were done in the nude and a circumcision would be obvious in those circumstances. For those who were active in sports this meant submitting to a tedious procedure to stretch the skin to restore some of the pre-circumcision look. A pious Jew should never think to be involved in sports because they did not want to have even to appearance of a foreskin and the nude look in public was not a thing to be proud of; it was a humiliation.
So I was thinkin’ this is sure an odd covenantal sign. It does involve cutting (see prior blog ‘Cutting’) but the thought of it can make a person shiver and move protectively. What message would be of such importance that a mandatory surgery at a vulnerable spot would communicate it best? One obvious message is in the passage itself. The cutting off of this useless flesh connected one to God’s blessing and God’s people. EVERY man who was not circumcised was no longer connected to God’s people. There is more to it than this though.
Bible Covenants are designed by God. There is no negotiation between the Creator and the created to establish mutual agreement because we are not on equal footing. The only power we have is to accept and act on the terms or to reject them. In the ‘Cutting’ blog God not only established the terms of a covenant with Abraham but He was the only one to walk between the cut animals because He was the only one who would perform the terms of it. In the covenant of circumcision God again sets the terms but this time the performance was to be by created beings. We have no say in what a relationship with God is to look like but we can be sure that God’s terms are in our best interest
Consider this: Circumcision is the removal of a piece of useless skin from an area that men get themselves in trouble with. A great deal of chemistry and biology is driven for and by that member. Some of our least spiritual, and most fleshly inclinations, are motivated by the animal demands of it. In Deuteronomy 10 Moses adds a spiritual dimension to the understanding of circumcision, “14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. 15 Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” Moses under inspiration instructs that a circumcision must occur where the thoughts and attitudes are formed. Eight day old sons are not up to that kind of insight but as they are raised they are taught the spiritual aspect of being set apart as God’s chosen people.
In Acts 7, at the end of the Deacon Stephens impassioned defense before his accusers, the Jewish authorities, Stephen used the words of Moses against them, “51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” He declared the guardians of the Jewish religious life to be stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, and for this he was rocked to sleep. To be circumcised in heart and ears is to listen to God, not our own intellect or group consensus, and be obediently responsive to what we ‘hear’.
There is yet a more interesting connection made in the writings of Paul, who we are introduced to at the stoning of Stephen. In I Corinthians 15 we read, “50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit imperishable.” Our body is pretty important to us right now but it is a temporary situation. When we die we will discard it…..like a useless foreskin. As long as we stay connected to it and its desires and impulses we will have to answer for our rejection of God to please our flesh. While we are alive and in the flesh we choose whether flesh, or spirit, govern our attitudes and actions. Galatians 5, “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” God is Spirit and not flesh (John 4:24). If we are to be His kids we must choose to walk by the Spirit. The complication is that we still live in this useless piece of flesh that exerts tremendous power over us and has already separated us from God because we all have tasted of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil and have become guilty of evil.
We live in a stressed-out world because of this battle within each person. By the time we grow old enough to glimpse behind the curtain where all of the shabbiness of humanity is revealed we have become part of the shabbiness. We all develop defenses when we see how far from righteousness (right thinking and acting) we have wandered because we have followed the demands of our flesh. For some self-defense looks like substance abuse, for others mental illness. There is a large group that lack insight and they press on into greater excess, their theory being that we should eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. The philosophy here is that life is futile, who can understand it? They imagine death to be nothingness and therefore relief from any sense of decay, shame or guilt. If there is no God, why not be self-indulgent. The human is just a wax candle and someday we will gutter out. All this defensiveness denies God and His power. By our words and actions we have injured someone who is created in God’s image and likeness because the demands of our useless flesh were more important than doing the right thing. This is God’s indictment against us.
In the Garden Eve was deceived when Satan appealed to her flesh. Here are her reflections on his appealing line of logic. Genesis 3, “6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate’…,.” John calls this rumination to disobedience Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the eye and the pride of Life. There is nothing spiritual about them. We consider and act on the demands of our useless flesh.
Justice is not rendered if a Judge forgives all the accused who come before them. When a Judge is perceived to have been over lenient there is public outcry. There really is no compensation or goodness that balances out the stain we have added to this world. It is a matter of righteousness that God renders a just sentence. As I compose these words there are things about my own life that put me right in the crosshairs of God’s righteous wrath. I can’t think about them very much without being overwhelmed with shame. God and I are not equals and there is nothing that I can offer Him to redeem myself. He knows this and He knows that I know it too. It is only good and just that I receive what is due me. My relationship to God is a miracle and it is based on a covenant that God established the terms of. It is a covenant that spiritually separates me from the consequence of my flesh because flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life. There is a circumcision that accomplishes this for me. God prescribed a surgery for everyone who wishes to escape from the certain doom that our flesh is due. There was a cut body and a sacrificial death to establish this covenant that applies to every human. God delivered on His part of the covenant. There is a circumcision that He has required, a circumcision of our useless flesh.
9 For in Him (Jesus Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.