Devotional & Reflection

Week 4, Mar 2002

Genesis 17:9-14: Circumcise What? What Circumcise!!!
By Pang Hee Hung, Director & Trainer, Katartizo Resources & Ezra Resources

Gen 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.
v10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
v11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
v12 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. ...
v14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Have you ever wondered what the Old Testament has got to do with the world today? If you have, you are like many of us who are hungry to live out God's word - in particular the Old Testament. In this passage, you would probably ask, "What has circumcision got to do with us Christians today anyway?"

To recap, there are three main markers in Abraham's 25 years recounted in Gen 12 till Gen 17: his Call (Gen 12), the Covenant (Gen 15) and Circumcision - A Sign Of The Covenant And Abraham's Commitment (Gen 17).

God in fact gave two signs of His covenant to Abraham when he was 99 years old. First, He changed Abram's name to Abraham. Abram means "exalted (as to his) father" which seemed to imply that Abram was of royal or noble lineage (Hamilton, Genesis and Bible Knowledge Commentary). But his new name, Abraham means "father of a multitude of nations." Imagine people smiling or even sneering at this 99-year old who calls himself a father of a multitude of nations. The other sign of God's covenant and promise is circumcision.

Circumcision was practiced in those days in the ancient Near East to mark one's transition into puberty and manhood (Kidner, Genesis). However, God gave a new spiritual meaning to this practice when he instituted his promise or when He cut a covenant with Abraham. The cutting of the covenant involved the cutting the male's foreskin at eight days old (17:12).

Circumcision symbolizes:
- A Mark of Possession - like branding. We are owned by God.
- A Sign of Commitment from God to us (17:7-8), and in response, from us to God.
- A Marriage Covenant like husband and wife whereby God is like a husband and God's people are like a wife. Hence, a wife who is not pure and loyal is deemed to have committed adultery (Hosea 2:16, 4:15).

Circumcision later symbolized the discarding of pagan ways (Jos 5:9) and one's natural self-will (Deut 10:16) in addition to our commitment to God (Jer 4:4) (Kidner, Genesis).

Circumcision then, in summary, is an outward sign of an inward heart commitment and devotion to God.

Notice the play of words on cut and cut-off. Those who do not cut (circumcise) are cut off (17:14). Cut-off may mean ex-communication or extermination / execution (Hamilton leans to the latter meaning).

In the New Testament after Jesus' redemptive work, the Jerusalem Council decided that physical circumcision was not necessary for salvation (Acts 15). Paul confirmed it in Gal 6:15. For Christians today, we may ask, "What do we circumcise?" or "Circumcise what?" Then, we can respond in amazement "What? Circumcise!!! What Circumcise!!!" or in obedience "Circumcise what in my life?"

We are challenged to circumcise our sinful nature (Col 2:11-12). Just as Abraham prepared for the fulfillment of the promise with circumcision during his period of waiting, we too are challenged to circumcise our hearts during our period of tiresome waiting.

1. What aspects of our sinful nature do we need to circumcise?
2. What aspects of our self-fulfilling nature e.g. ambitions, do we need to circumcise? What unseen sins do we need to circumcise e.g. greed, covetousness, lust, pride?
3. What non-sinful but non-beneficial and dissipating activities can we circumcise?

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