Genesis 17:11-13, “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 throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.”
Remember that the apostle Paul establishes a link between baptism and circumcision (Col. 2:11–12). We do well therefore to keep in mind our studies on the covenant practice of circumcision in preparation for our study of baptism next week.
In the ancient world, circumcision was not limited to ancient Israel as many other cultures practiced a similar rite. The timing of its performance, however, was unique. Most other societies circumcised males at puberty, but for the nation of Israel, infants received the covenant sign and seal (Gen. 17:12).
As we saw yesterday, knowing why Israelite infants were circumcised helps us to better understand the Lord’s relationship to the children of the covenant. Perhaps even more important is what the Israelites were to remember every time they witnessed circumcision. The sign marks the male genitalia (v. 11) and serves as a reminder to the people of God of His covenant faithfulness to successive generations. Unless God blessed the union of husband and wife, a holy line to defeat Satan (3:15) would not follow. Moreover, as this rite involves pain and the drawing of blood, it may foreshadow the pain necessary for the seed to crush the serpent.
Circumcision also reminded the people of their covenant obligations. This permanent mark displayed the need to maintain sexual purity. Furthermore, the rite is instituted in the midst of the Creator commanding His people to “keep covenant” (17:10), thereby reminding the nation of its need to obey the Lord. One commentator notes that the simplicity of circumcision (it is one commandment, not many) shows that obedience is primarily a heartfelt loyalty to the Master, which later flows forth in a way of life. In other words, works follow faith (see James 2:14–26).
We conclude today with comments by John Calvin on the command to circumcise everyone in Abraham’s household (Gen. 17:12–13). He writes, “For every family of the pious ought to be a church. Therefore, if we desire to prove our piety, we must labor that every one of us may have his house ordered in obedience to God.”
Like the rainbow given after the great flood, circumcision testifies to the Lord’s gracious salvation from judgment. The rainbow guarantees God will never totally flood the earth again and will thus preserve a portion of humanity from destruction. Circumcision reveals that God Himself, by grace, provides the only perfect man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who can rescue us from damnation. As you read Genesis 17, reflect on our Creator’s faithfulness in Christ Jesus.
Native and Foreigner, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.