“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 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. 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. 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.” Genesis 17:10-14
There is an abundance to write about the covenant of circumcision. I will touch on some of it here, and I am covering the matter more thoroughly in an essay which should be available for your reading soon under “Essays”.
At the start of Genesis 17, we notice God commanding Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless. This is the first time that a covenant with God is requiring something of man. When God made the covenant with Noah (and all living things), it was one-sided; a promise to be kept by God regardless of what man does. This is different. In addition to the call to be blameless before God, a physical act is also required: circumcision. And so circumcision requires action on the part of man. Radak said “Such closeness can be achieved only through man’s own efforts.”
It is curious that God is commanding man to remove a natural part of him which he has had since birth. This is an interesting parallel to the concept of original sin, in that we are born with something which God does not want to impede our relationship with Him.
When I meditate on what the circumcision means symbolically, I believe it is this: To make an obvious change to one of your most private parts. This fits in conceptually with the idea of a circumcision of the heart; for our heart is so private that only us and God know it. The New Testament writings mention the inward circumcision of the heart, but even before that, the concept of an ‘uncircumcised heart’ is mentioned in Leviticus 26:41, and so God was concerned about the inward change of the heart and not just the outward sign of the covenant, even prior to the coming of the Messiah.
The inclusion of both Hebrew and foreign slaves to be circumcised in the command to Abraham is foretelling of the inclusion of the gentiles into the Kingdom of God.
The penalty for not following the circumcision was severe as we see in verse 14 – being cut off from your people. But do we do this today in the church? . Consider 1 Corinthains 5, where a man was involved in sexual immorality. Paul urged the church in Corinth to have the man “removed from your midst.” (1 Cor. 5:2) This is a case where a man is going to church and acting as if he is a follower of Christ, but is involved in such serious sin that it is obvious he is following his fleshly nature. In short, it does not appear he has had a true circumcision of the heart. Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:5 that he has delivered “such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”