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The Sign Of The Covenant


What is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant? Circumcision.

"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; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 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. 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. 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." Gen 17:10-14

What is the sign of the New Covenant? Heart Circumcision.

"This is the (new) covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." (NT Ref: Heb 10:16-17; OT Ref: Jer 31:31-33)

Physical circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the male sex organ. It was widely practiced in the ancient world such as the Egyptian and Canaanite civilizations. Within these people groups, the ritual was performed at the beginning of puberty (about 12 years of age), in celebration of maturity from boyhood into manhood.

For the Jewish boys, circumcision was done eight days after birth. This ritual had a very significant meaning to them. It signified their responsibility and calling to be God’s holy people and His special servants in the midst of a pagan world. This action served as a sign of God s covenant relationship with His people.

In the first Biblical reference of circumcision, God instructed Abraham to circumcise every male child in his household, including servants, "in the flesh of your foreskins" (Gen. 17:11). The custom was performed on the eighth day after birth (Gen. 17:12). At this time a name was given to the son.

John the Baptist and Jesus were both circumcised and named on the eight day (Luke 1:59; 2:21). In the early history of the Jewish people, circumcision was performed by the father. But the surgical task was eventually taken over by a specialist.

Circumcision of the Jewish male was required as a visible, physical sign of the covenant between the Lord and His people. Any male not circumcised was to be "cut off from his people" and regarded as a covenant-breaker (Gen. 17:14). This sign was originated with the Abrahamic Covenant and not the Mosaic Law.

Although circumcision was required by the Abrahamic Covenant, it was eventually neglected during the days when the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness. This was a clear sign that His people had broken their covenant with God through their disobedience. Circumcision was restored when they entered the land of Canaan, with Joshua performing the ritual on the generation born in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2-3).

Moses has two sons named Gershom and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3-4). The Lord once sought to kill Moses because Eliezer had not been circumcised. But Zipporah, Moses’ wife, grabbed a sharp stone and immediately circumcised the young son (Exodus 4:24-26 TLB).

The Hebrew people came to take great pride in circumcision. In fact, it became their prized medal for their spiritual and superior nationality. This practice fostered a spirit of exclusiveness and elite-ness instead of a missionary zeal to reach out and bless other nations as God had intended. A common daily prayer of some strict ultra-Orthodox Jewish males was to thank God that he was not a woman, a Samaritan nor a Gentile.

The Jews often called the Gentiles as the uncircumcised, out of disrespect and disregard, treating the non-Jewish peoples as unblessed, outside the circle of God's love. The terms "circumcised" and "uncircumcised" became emotionally charged symbols to Israel and their Gentile neighbors even today. This thorny issue later brought great discord into the fellowship of the New Testament church.

Moses and the prophets used the term "circumcised" as a symbol for purity of heart and readiness to hear and obey. Through Moses the Lord challenged the Israelites to submit to "circumcision of the heart," a reference to their need for repentance. "If their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt," God declared, "then I will remember My covenant" (Lev. 26:41-42, Deut. 10:16)). Jeremiah characterized rebellious Israel as having "uncircumcised" ears (Jer. 6:10) and being "uncircumcised in the heart" (Jer. 9:26).

In the New Testament, circumcision was still faithfully practised by devout Jews, including Jesus and John the Baptist, as recognition of God's continuing covenant with Israel. But enormous controversy over circumcision divided the early church, building a wall of enmity between the Jewish and Gentile believers (Eph. 2:11-15).

The Gentile brethren regarded their Jewish brethren as eccentric because of their strict dietary laws, Sabbath rules, and circumcision practices. Jewish believers tended to view their uncircumcised Gentile brothers as unenlightened and disobedient to the law of Moses.

A crisis erupted in the church at Antioch when believers from Judea (known as Judaizers) taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1-2). In effect, the Judaizers insisted that a believer from a non-Jewish background (Gentile) must first become a Jew ceremonially (by being circumcised) before he could be admitted to the Christian brotherhood.

A council of apostles and elders was convened in Jerusalem to resolve the issue (Acts 15:6-29). Among those attending were Paul, Barnabas, Simon Peter, and James, pastor of the Jerusalem church. To insist on circumcision for the Gentiles Peter argued, would amount to a burdensome yoke (Acts 15:10). This was the decision handed down by the council, and the church broke away from the binding legalism of Judaism which taught not only the 613 written laws but also the other oral laws and writings by the rabbis over the years.

Years later, reinforcing this decision, the apostle Paul wrote the believers at Rome that Abraham, "the father of circumcision", was saved by faith rather than by circumcision (Rom. 4:9-12). He declared circumcision to be of no value unless accompanied by an obedient spirit (Rom. 2:25,26). Heart circumcision was the necessary requirement.

Paul also spoke of the "circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11), a reference to His atoning death which "condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3) and nailed legalism "to the cross" (Col. 2:14). In essence, Paul declared that the new covenant of Christ's shed blood has provided forgiveness to both Jew and Gentile and has made physical circumcision unnecessary for the Gentiles. All that ultimately matters for both Jew and Gentile, Paul says, is heart circumcision, a changed nature-- a new creation that makes them one in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14-18).

But if one chooses to be circumcised for reasons other than salvation requirements, like Timothy in Acts 16:1-3, there is no law against it. Everything the Lord proposed is good for human beings, including circumcision. The benefits of physical circumcision were recently brought to great light in face of pelvic and womb cancer.

The heart is the inner self that thinks, feels, and decides. It stands between the spirit and the flesh. It is the battleground of the soul of man where all emotions, such as love, hate, joy, sorrow, peace, bitterness, courage and fear, reside. It is also where our treasure is (Matthew 6:21).

The heart reveals the true character and personality of man. God knows the heart of each person (1 Sam. 16:7). Since a person speaks and acts from his heart, he is to guard it well (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:18-19).

With our hearts circumcised , we can then fulfil our most important duty as man - to love God with our whole heart (Matt. 22:37).

With our hearts circumcised, we can truly believe in Christ and experience both the love from God and the presence of Christ in our hearts (Rom. 5:5; 10:9-10; Eph. 3:17).

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). Only clean hands and pure hearts can ascend His Holy Mountain and stand in His Holy Presence (Psalm 24:3-4).

At Pentecost, God baptized us with the Holy Spirit and sealed us with His Holiness. This is the sign of our spiritual heritage. As the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham and to partake of the Abrahamic Covenant, we need to have circumcised hearts.

Source:
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary