Genesis Day 31: The Grace that is Circumcision…It’s no Joke!
Let’s play a quick game. Let’s make a list of things that we all would agree are not great for casual party conversation. Most people say religion and politics. Let’s try and be more specific.
Would you add circumcision to that list? I would. I cannot picture myself walking up to someone and saying, “Hey, don’t you think circumcision is great!” Or, “What do you think about circumcision?”
I like church sermons. Not so much the ones I preach, but the ones I hear from others. I have quite a few that are memorable. Some because they cut me to the heart. Others because they opened God’s Word for me in a way I have not seen. And a few, a few, that were just downright funny.
One such sermon was on circumcision. And it was long. The preacher did a great job, but the congregation, let’s just say they were a bit uncomfortable. I stood next to our preacher at the door. You know, where we all shake hands and exchange a few words. I will always remember one mother, with her four children (two of which were young girls) saying, “Sunday dinner is at 2 p.m., my girls have been asking me exactly what circumcision is, we will have a place set for you.”
So, with that said, let’s jump in to this part of Genesis 17.
God’s unconditional commitment to Abraham has been made… he is looking for Abraham’s commitment.
Before we rush past this moment, let’s just think about Abraham. He is about to tell all the men under his control that they are about to have a rather painful procedure on a personal part—I expect they might ask him, “Abram, why?”
He starts, “First, God has changed my name to Abraham, for I am going to be the father of many nations. Next, because this will be a sign to many generations. God has established an everlasting covenant.”
Do you think some of them thought he was off his rocker? Might others have thought Abraham had become a joke? How can someone 99 years old have a child?
Yet, Abraham did not question God…God’s grace reached out far and wide…beyond human reasoning…to a family beyond comprehension…and the sign of this favor is circumcision…to be set on every male…please note, there were all sorts of people in Abraham’s clan…free and slave, from his clan and not.…the inclusiveness of God’s grace reaches all people…to babies even 8 days old.
While it is true that other cultures of the ancient world practiced circumcision, it was not known in Mesopotamia and would have been foreign to Abraham. Abraham and his group were not circumcised. Further, where it was practiced, it was a rite of passage to manhood, normally performed around age 13.
The point of this circumcision is different. And while mercifully women in God’s family were not subjected to cutting—then, or now—they are no less fully included… the family comes from their issue. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in some parts of the world female mutilation is done today, and it is quite brutal… please note the God of the Bible is not brutal.)
Back to the text. Note it was not optional…every male…symbolic of the covenant’s breadth…the breadth that a multitude of nations would come from Abraham.
I love that Ishmael is circumcised. We know that the promised multitude of nations will flow from Abraham to Isaac, yet God knows the love this father has for his son. The inclusiveness of this initial circumcision is emphasized in verses 22-27.
From this time on, every male child, at 8 days will be circumcised. Eight-day-olds have not been alive long enough to “do much to earn God’s love.” That is the point. God’s grace, and not human merit, undergird the covenant.
Yes, to practice circumcision, is a human work, but it is a work that is proclaiming God’s grace. Grace the is the foundation of those who practice circumcision. Grace that bounds us together, centered about Abraham, all those who believe (Romans 4:11). The righteousness granted Abraham preceded circumcision and the Law—it depended in the belief in God’s promises.