The Covenant of Circumcision
(Shadows of the Coming Messiah)
Introduction: I have to admit that there are times I find it hard to put together a whole sermon on a particular passage. But then there are times when I have only a couple of verses and I mourn over how much I have to leave out.
Every sermon I type is the same length so that it will take about the same amount of time to preach. But sometimes I wish I could go on for hours about a subject. Today is one of them.
The topic of circumcision is so vast and so important that we could be here until late tonight going over different avenues that it takes in the Bible. I apologize, in advance, for all we will skip over concerning the subject.
Text Verse: Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My fury come forth like fire,
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings.” Jeremiah 4:4
You see, even in the Old Testament, circumcision was more than a physical sign. It was something that was to be accompanied with an internal change of the heart – away from the world and directed toward God and so… May God Speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. The Covenant of Circumcision
Mention “Jim the anabaptist fireman.”
Last week we went over Genesis 17:1-8. Let me read those verses to you again so you have a context for today’s sermon –
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”’”
So Abraham, with his new name and his new identity has had the promise from 25 years earlier restated once again with new details added. The Lord is moving in His perfect timing and He is preparing a great new beginning for His chosen servant.
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
In our sermon verses last week, verse 4 said, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,…” After saying this, the Lord renamed Abram to Abraham and restated and refined His promises to him. In the process, we read the word “my” or “I” seven times. This was the Lord’s promises and His vow.
Now He says to Abraham, “As for you…” The conditions God expects are laid out in verses 9-14. The very first thing we see though is that the conditions apply not only to Abraham, but to his descendants after him through 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…
Circumcision is the sign of the covenant that God mandates. Last week we established that we are heirs of Abraham and we are his spiritual descendants by faith. If this is so, then what God mandates to Abraham could be interpreted as being mandated to us in the church as well.
The question before you is this: “If we are Abraham’s descendants by faith and all of Abraham’s male descendants must be circumcised, then are we in the church required to circumcise our male children in the flesh? It is a confusing issue for many.
In fact, certain denominations and sects, without taking the time to understand our position in Christ, do mandate that their followers be cicumcised. Can you defend why this is wrong? Pay attention today and hopefully you’ll understand where the error in this lies.
Remember our great rule of interpretation – context, context, context. If we keep things in context, we’ll keep from the error of heresy. And mandating circumcision to meet the requirements of the law is, according to Paul, heresy.
Just so you know what a heresy is, I’ll explain it to you. Bad doctrine isn’t always a heresy. The difference is that bad doctrine doesn’t keep someone from being saved, but heresy does. Bad doctrine can lead to a loss of joy or simply looking stupid, but heresy will lead to hell. And teaching a heresy doesn’t keep someone from being saved; it keeps the next guy from being saved.
Now, let’s take a minute and think about the covenant God made with Noah and see the difference between that and the one made with Abraham. Noah’s covenant was one-sided and unconditional. The sign of it was a natural phenomenon, the rainbow. A rainbow comes about without any help or intervention from man.
In the same way, the land covenant to Abraham’s descendants was given on an oath. The physical descendants of Abraham are the recipients of the covenant. Regarding the land, there were no strings attached to it. However, God is now making a condition to the people who would receive the promises made to Abraham.
This doesn’t change the land covenant, but it defines those who will qualify to receive it. So let’s think of it like this to help you understand. A jillionaire comes to me and says, “I am giving to you and to your descendants the island known as Siesta Key.” This is unconditional and one sided. This is what has come about since chapter 12 of Genesis with the land promise.
Later the same jillionaire comes to me and says, “This is the sign of the covenant. Every one of your male descendants will have a beard. Anyone without a beard is excluded from the promise.”
The land promise hasn’t changed. The land is still given to me and my descendants, but those who are actually entitled to it have certain obligations. If only one of my descendants grows a beard, then only one will get the land, but the land still belongs to me and my descendants. If they all grow a beard, they all can live here.
I hope this clears this up. Unlike the promise to Noah which was unconditional, and the earlier promises to Abraham which were also, this clarification of the promise defines the parameters. And they are voluntary.
In this verse, there is a responsibility in the individual toward the word of promise. An assent to the promise allows its fulfillment.
If one of my descendants doesn’t want to be handsome like me, Then he doesn’t get to live on beautiful Siesta Key.
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.
Circumcision for the purposes of the covenant is to be in the flesh of the foreskins. This sign then is what brings males into the covenant and it is the longest continuously practiced ceremony pertaining to a covenant on the earth today. It is so inextricably tied to the covenant that in the book of Acts, Stephen calls it the “covenant of circumcision.”
But there is something to note. Not everyone who is circumcised is a member of the covenant. There have been and there are even today other groups of people who circumcise their children, but they don’t qualify. We’ll discuss why in the coming verses.
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.
Muslims circumcise their children, but they are not inheritors of the promise. Does anyone here know why? There are a couple reasons. First, the promise was later given to Isaac, not Ishmael and then to Jacob, not Esau. Only this line receives the promises.
But even if some of them did descend from these two, they still wouldn’t be entitled because muslims circumcise their children without regard to a specific age. They do it anywhere from birth all the way up to 18 years old. They are excluded from the promise because they don’t participate in it.
For the covenant sons of Abraham, circumcision of the foreskin isn’t just mandated to bring someone into the covenant, but there are specific procedures which accompany the rite. The first is that it is to be accomplished on the child when he is eight days old. The number 8 in the Bible consistently signifies “new beginnings.”
For example, there were 8 people on the Ark of Noah, all of which entered the new life – a picture of the resurrection and a new beginning. The covenant with Abraham is brought up 8 times and the 8th occurred at the binding of Isaac when he was asked to sacrifice him, a picture of the resurrection – the new beginning.
Joseph had 8 specific times he communicated with his brothers. The 8th time is when his brothers met with him in Genesis 50 – another veiled picture of a new beginning. We could go on with the number 8 for hours and hours, but it’s clear that the number 8 has a special spiritual significance – new beginnings.
However, the 8th day also has physical significance – something not discovered until the 20th century. The Apologetics Press reports the following from 1953: “Holt Pediatrics observed that a newborn infant has ‘peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life… Hemorrhages at this time, though often inconsequential, are sometimes extensive; they may produce serious damage to internal organs, especially to the brain, and cause death from shock and exsanguination.” Obviously, then, if vitamin K is not produced in sufficient quantities until days five through seven, it would be wise to postpone any surgery until some time after that. But why did God specify day eight? On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present actually is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal—and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak.’”
Dr. McMillen observed that “We should commend the many hundreds of workers who labored at great expense over a number of years to discover that the safest day to perform circumcision is the eighth. Yet, as we congratulate medical science for this recent finding, we can almost hear the leaves of the Bible rustling. They would like to remind us that four thousand years ago, when God initiated circumcision… Abraham did not pick the eighth day after many centuries of trial-and-error experiments. Neither he nor any of his company from the ancient city of Ur in the Chaldees ever had been circumcised. It was a day picked by the Creator of vitamin K.”
Even in the seemingly bloody ritual of circumcision we have a display of the wisdom of the Creator and His tending to the health and welfare of His covenant people. If this is how God treats the physical nature of His people, how much more sure and reliable will He treat the spiritual promises that He has made to us!
But there is something important for us to consider in circumcision that can help us with our own Christian families. Starting with Abraham, but following through every generation since, the parent…the parent is the one responsible for circumcising their child. The child is a passive recipient of the rite.
If we look at this example of the Hebrews, we can understand why they’ve held together and prospered for the past 4000 years. It’s because they are acknowledging their responsibility to the covenant and demonstrating a hope in the promises it holds.
If we, as faithful Christians, act in the same responsible manner, we can trust that our families will be equally blessed. This isn’t talking about physical blessing, but the blessing of knowing that our children will be a part of the spiritual heritage which Christ established for us.
We have the responsibility to raise our children in a godly manner, just as the Hebrews were to faithfully circumcise their children. When we do, we have the hope that Christ will take hold of them and carry them through to His eternal dwelling.
There are no ultimate guarantees because every person is an individual with free-will, but by following the guidelines of the Bible, we have a much stronger hope than if we neglect our responsibility as Christian parents.
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.
Him-owl yim-owl y’lid b’tekha or “in circumcising shall you circumcise.” This repetition was given to denote the absolute necessity of doing it and the care to be followed in the practice. There was to be no uncircumcised male among the people.
Every male born in the house and every person who came into the house as a servant or a slave was to be circumcised. Unless you understand what circumcision symbolizes, this passage doesn’t make much sense, but when – in a few minutes you learn – it will be something I hope you never forget.
This rule is the same concept of rule that’s given by Jesus when He said that we were to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It is for this reason that many churches base membership on having been baptized… and that by full immersion. Unfortunately too many churches put the cart before the horse and baptize infants as a sort of New Testament substitute for circumcision.
But… these children aren’t members of the covenant of faith, nor are they members of Israel – which is a covenant in the flesh. Baptism can in no way be considered a replacement for circumcision in the family life of Christians as you’ll see.
The only way to become an adopted child of God is by the mental assertion and vocal pronouncement that Jesus is Lord. Only after this is baptism a recognizable tenet of the inner conversion. The only thing baptism of infants does is promote false security in a person that may not have accepted Jesus as Lord.
A second problem with comparing infant baptism with circumcision is the obvious overlooking of women in the rite of circumcision. If we were to carry the concept through as much of the church has done, then we would simply skip the baptizing of women. But this would be as unscriptural as baptizing infants.
The entire purpose of circumcision has a greater fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ and looks forward to Him. It, therefore, cannot be equated with infant baptism. To understand this ancient rite more fully pay attention in a few minutes and we will discover the symbolism which points back to the Fall of Man and forward to the restoration from that Fall in Jesus Christ.
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.”
The law for the people was circumcision, but it was the parent who had the child circumcised on the 8th day. In this verse, we see the consequences of the parents’ decision affecting the children and the owner’s decision affecting the servant.
In such a case, we’d also see the failure of the society at large because anyone who knew the child was uncircumcised, including the priests who were to perform the rite, would be guilty of negligence. This is actually a way of keeping the entire corporate body accountable to each other.
And this, once again, finds a parallel in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians in particular addresses the handling of people within the church that aren’t meeting the requirements that have been laid out. There is in the church a corporate responsibility of ensuring that we act in the manner that the Lord has laid out for us.
About this verse, Adam Clarke says, “it was impossible for a person who had not received the spiritual purification to enter into eternal glory. The spirit of this law extends to all ages, dispensations, and people; he whose heart is not purified from sin cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
II. Shadows of the Coming Messiah
The questions that we should ask now are, “Why was there no requirement on women?” “Why is circumcision given and it only pertains to men?” “What is God doing this for?” In other words, “Why wasn’t a physical sign given that could have been more obviously seen by others like a tattoo or a certain hairstyle and why cut males only and in such a personal way?
The answer to this goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, a verse known as the Protoevangelium, or the “First Gospel.” When God cursed the serpent, He said this to him –
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
We learned right in the first pages of the Bible that a human being would come to redeem man, but that He would be from the seed of the woman. What is implicitly stated here and explicitly stated in the book of 1 Corinthians is that sin came from one man. What is implicit in circumcision is that it also comes through man. In other words, sin is transferred to us from Adam through man.
By cutting the male organ in the rite of circumcision, a picture was being made of the cutting away of sin. This is why even those who were purchased as slaves were to be circumcised. It was a picture of cutting away the transfer of sin within the covenant community.
But as like so many things in the Bible, this is only a picture. The sin still transfers from father to child. And all people – males and females alike inherit that sin from the father – thus the need for a Father without sin in order for there to be a Child without sin.
This is the reason for both the virgin birth and the incarnation. If these didn’t come about, then there would be no salvation – ever – for any human. Man would be eternally lost and separated from God. But God in His infinite wisdom solved the problem.
Sin transfers through the man, but Jesus was born sinless because He was born of God the Father and Mary. However, in order to prevail over sin, He would have to live a sinless life as well. If He failed, He wouldn’t have been a qualified substitute for Adam.
It is the resurrection that proves that Jesus was born of God. It also proves that He was not only was born sinless, but He also lived a sinless life, fulfilling the law. You see, the resurrection is 100% conditional upon the virgin birth.
No virgin birth equals no resurrection. We can know this – 100% – because babies that die don’t resurrect. If this weren’t true, then babies, who have never sinned when they died, would come back to life. Sin is inherited from the father.
However, the virgin birth doesn’t guarantee the resurrection. Nor does living a sinless life if one isn’t virgin born. Both the virgin birth and a sinless life are conditions for the resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, then He would have inherited Adam’s sin. But even though He was born of a virgin, He still needed to live perfectly sinless throughout His entire life.
1) The resurrection is conditional upon a sinless life.
A sinless life is conditional upon the virgin birth.
Therefore, the resurrection proves the virgin birth.
2) The resurrection proves the virgin birth.
The virgin birth proves Jesus was born of God and of Mary.
Therefore, Jesus is God’s Son – the God/Man.
If you can grasp this, then you can see why God gave the people who would usher in the Messiah a picture of what was coming –
One who would be born without sin. And hopefully you can see why baptism did not replace circumcision as a sign for the covenant community and why infant baptism is a pointless gesture.
As one final validation of this, that infant baptism is not a New Testament sign comparable to circumcision, all we need to do is go to 1 Corinthians 10 – “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
Paul says that these Hebrews, whose men were circumcised, were also baptized into Moses. Therefore these are two distinct and separate concepts and baptism cannot be a replacement for circumcision.
Both men and women come from Adam and received his sin through their father, and therefore both men and women receive baptism and that – only after accepting Christ as Lord. Children of believers are already sanctified by their believing parent according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:14.
As Peter states in his 1st epistle when speaking of the regeneration by the Spirit, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,…” (3:21)
Baptism – the regeneration of the human spirit by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – is what saves us. Water baptism is a picture of this regeneration and so it comes after accepting Christ, not before. If you’ve never been baptized since your conversion, now might be a good time to think about it.
Paul sums this up in Colossians chapter 2 –
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, 12 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. 13 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, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
III. The Blessedness of Grace through Faith
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 1 Corinthians 7
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:29
Stand fast… Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5:1-6
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (and isn’t infant baptism such confidence!), 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish (skybala – dung), that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:2-11
The Covenant of Circumcision
God said to Abraham, this is what He did say
As for you, you shall keep my covenant, this you shall do
You and your descendants, every generation shall obey
All of those in your house who are coming after you
This is My covenant which you shall perform
Between Me and your descendants in every coming year
Every male child, yes everyone bought or born
Shall be circumcised, make sure you get this clear
And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin
It shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you therein
He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised
Every male child in your generations
This is the rite that shall be exercised
And thus you will be holy among the nations
He who is born in your house or one bought for a price
Even if he is a foreigner and not your descendant
Both alike shall be circumcised the command is precise
And on this rite the covenant for you is dependent
Any uncircumcised male child that you have around
That person shall be cut off, on this you must stand your ground
Such a person shall be cut off from the people
He has broken My covenant and must be put away
Pass on this rule, shout it out from the steeple
The rule must not be broken, you shall do as I say
You see, the rite looks forward to the coming One
The Messiah of the world will be born free from sin
I am sending through your line My only begotten Son
To reconcile the world to me for fellowship once again
This rite is a picture of the Incarnation you see
When God will be clothed in robes of humanity
And He will walk among the people to fulfill the law
And in Him will be perfection, there will be no flaw
Jesus our God it all points to You
Every word and picture in the sacred scroll
All praise, honor, and glory – You alone are due
And so we proclaim Your worth with all our heart and soul
Hallelujah and Amen…