9 And God said to Abraham: “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 child among you shall be circumcised;
11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.
12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.
13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
God here established a visible seal and sign of His covenant relation with Abraham’s physical seed. Those males who would participate in the covenant not only must be descended from Abraham in the line of promise through Isaac (v. 19), but also must be circumcised. This requirement was to apply not only to all male children born into the family, but also to those coming into the household as servants, along with any children born to them. This aspect of the covenant also was to be “everlasting” (v. 13).
At first, this requirement of circumcision seems very strange. To some extent, no doubt, sanitary and health reasons were involved. If the nation so formed was indeed to endure and to be a witness for God through all generations to come, then it must by physically strong and clean.
However, if this is a factor, it can be only incidental. God does not imply such a purpose; rather, circumcision was commanded strictly as a sign of the covenant. It thus must symbolize in some distinct way the purpose and results of the Abraham covenant.
The emphasis of the covenant, of course, was on the promised seed, and on the abundance of progeny which would accrue to Abraham. The male sexual organ is the remarkable, divinely created vehicle for the transmission of this seed from one generation to another. The circumcision (“cutting round”) of this channel would thus picture its complete enclosure within God’s protective and productive will.
Furthermore, it was primarily a sign only to the individual concerned, his parents, and his wife. It was not a sign to be shown to people in general, but was uniquely personal. To his parents it would confirm that they had been faithful in transmitting the seed to the son with whom God had blessed their union, and that they were trying to follow God’s will in training him. To his wife, it would give assurance that he indeed was a descendant of Abraham, to whom she could joyfully submit in the marriage relation, in faith that God would bless their home and their children. To the man himself, it would be a daily testimony that he and his family were consecrated to the God of Abraham and that they shared in his calling and ministry to the world.
The “cutting” of the foreskin spoke of a surgical removal, a complete separation, from the sins of the flesh so widely prevalent in the world around them, such sins largely centered in the misuse of the male organ in sin. As it directly, therefore, symbolized to the Jewish man that he was a member of an elect nation, a peculiar people, distinctly holy before God, in relation to sexual conduct, so it came indirectly to speak of holiness in every phase of life (note Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6, etc.).
To one who refused to submit to circumcision, there was no other concession to be shown. His refusal would demonstrate his overt unwillingness to follow God, and he must therefore “be cut off from his people.” — Morris, pages 333-334.
We are taught, in Romans 4:11, that circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of faith.” “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Being thus counted righteous, God set His “seal” upon him. The seal with which the believer is now sealed is not a mark in the flesh, but “that Holy Spirit of promise, whereby he is sealed unto the day of redemption. This is founded upon his everlasting connection with Christ, and his perfect identification with Him, in death and resurrection. as we read in Colossians, And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Colossians 2:10-13). This is a most glorious passage, unfolding to us the true idea of what circumcision was meant to typify. Every believer belongs to “the circumcision” in virtue of his living association with Him who, by His cross, has forever abolished everything that stood in the way of His Church’s perfect justification. There was not a speck of sin on the conscience, nor a principle of sin in the nature of His people, for which Christ was not judged on the cross; and they are now looked upon as having died with Christ, lain in the grave with Christ, been raised with Christ, perfectly accepted in Him,—their sins, their iniquities, their transgressions, their enmity, their uncircumcision, having been entirely put away by the cross. The sentence of death has been written on the flesh; but the believer is in possession of a new life, in union with his risen Head in glory. — Mackintosh, pages 190-192.
Circumcision [was] given by God as a rite or, as He otherwise designates it in v. 11, a “sign” of the Promise (i.e., “covenant” in the larger sense) that already exists between Him and His people Israel. — Wechsler, page 196.
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