When God instructed Abraham to circumcise his household, what was the significance? Is it moral or is it, as some say, the cruelest cut? We must not be mistaken about when circumcision started, because in the ancient world (around 2,300 BC), many nations performed this rite. It was very prominent in Egypt, as well as Edom, Ammon, Moab and the many tribes living in what was known as “the wilderness in distant places”. Throughout the ages, people have performed this rite for various reasons, such as for:
Judaism, Islam and parts of Christianity practiced circumcision on males soon after birth. The Jewish practice was on the 8th day because on this day the surgical procedure yielded the least blood. On this day (the 8th day from birth) the congealing of blood is the best. (Congealing means the blood turns from a liquid into a gel very quickly.) When circumcision is done when older (such as at circumcision schools or as an adult), the process could become more dangerous. Included here we find this rite practiced amongst pagan peoples too. This might be associated with forms of religion or it might signify something else.
Many people’s groups across the planet perform circumcision for hygienic reasons. Since HIV/AIDS made its entrance into the world, circumcision has increased significantly. Another reason is to prevent penile cancer.
Social or Societal Purposes
Many groups of people believe circumcision is the starting point in the transition from an adolescent into manhood. Amongst other things this would be a purpose of many “initiation schools”.
On purpose, I differentiate between “Religious Purposes” and “Covenantal Purposes” because “religious” could mean just about anything to anyone. Abraham is seen as the Father of Israel.
Ge 17:9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
God’s covenant with Israel is founded in the circumcision rite as a sign of the “Covenantal Relationship”. You will notice that this was for the generations to come (v9) and his descendants (v10) followed by the covenant being everlasting (v13).
A huge problem arose, though. Israel never practiced the rite correctly. Like today with many Christian rites, the practice was performed but the heart was not in it … meaning faith was lacking. This point becomes clear in Jeremiah:
Jer 9:25 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
God says it is useless to be circumcised in the flesh without being circumcised in the heart! You have heard the saying, “The heart of the problem is a matter of the heart”. The real purpose of Paul’s letter to the Galatians related to this very issue. It is known in theological circles as “The Galatian Heresy”. Under inspiration, Paul wrote informing the people who taught that faith in Jesus was insufficient … they needed the Jewish rite of circumcision too before they were “authentic Christians”. In teaching, they were so wrong that Paul goes as far as to say:
Gal 5:12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
It’s very important to grasp that physical circumcision is no more and no less spiritual than no circumcision. Unless the heart is circumcised, the physical is meaningless … and should there be no physical circumcision, without heart circumcision there is no salvation!
Ro 2:28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”
Now what does circumcision of the heart mean? The prophet Jeremiah is helpful here, reminding us:
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
The answer is God … and this is why God speaks of the circumcision of the heart. As with physical circumcision, a surgical procedure is required to remove “flesh” … so a spiritual surgical procedure of the heart is required to remove the heart of “stone” (bent on sin) and give you a new heart of “flesh” that is not hard and callous and stubborn … but soft and pliable and open to the work of the Spirit of God.
Eze 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
When you are born again, this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does in your life with the result being that you become a new creation in Christ!
Gal 6:15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
Have you had circumcision … of the heart?
Dear God, Thank You for the amazing way You work to bring us to faith in Jesus. Thank You that each one in Christ goes through the exact same process of spiritual circumcision of the heart, making us equal. Amen.