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Joined: 2003/7/18
Posts: 6566
Reading, UK

 Abraham, My Friend_36

Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_36

Why circumcision?

I promised I would return to the account of the birth of Ishmael but I have been somewhat reluctant to start on this devotional, simply because of the propriety of the topic. In many ways the Bible is a very primitive book and issues which would not usually be discussed in mixed company are to be found within its pages. The Song of Solomon, for example, was traditionally forbidden to boys under a certain age, but circumcision is such a foundational issue in both testaments that we must seek a way to address the Bible’s teaching on the issue.

This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. (Gen 17:10 KJV)

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: (Col 2:11 KJV)

I am going to leave out many things I see in this practice and trust our readers to ‘read between the lines’ with a heart open before God. If aspects of what I say trouble you, please leave the devotional and perhaps come back to it at a later time. According to God’s word to Abraham circumcision was… a token of a covenant betwixt me and you. (Gen 17:11 ASV) That ‘you’ may be significant; it is in strong contrast to the many ‘thees’ of the earlier part of the chapter. This is a family token for a family covenant; This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. (Gen 17:10 ASV) It is surprising how little is said about circumcision during the giving of the law. There are just two references and both presume the fact of circumcision rather than command it. [Ex 12:44,48. Lev 12:3] In the second giving of the law, Deuteronomy, the references are only ever to ‘circumcision of the heart’ [Deut 10:16, 30:6.] In that sense the Law was given to a people who ‘were already circumcised’. Circumcision is not a sign of the Sinai Covenant but of the Abrahamic Covenant; Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. (Joh 7:22 KJV) Circumcision is much older than Israel.

Why did God institute, what to many is, a barbaric ritual? There is a interesting reaction to circumcision in the story of Moses and Zipporah. When Zipporah realised the necessity of this practice her reaction is one of disgust; Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. (Exo 4:25 KJV) Zipporah’s feelings would be shared by many today. Why circumcision? There are many areas in which the symbolism is very instructive and I will share what has come to my own heart as I have meditated for decades on this issue…

Abraham lived approximately 1800 to 2000 years before Christ. Archaeologists know this period of time well. Among the many religions of the day there is one overwhelming evidence of a religion which, and is, world-wide. It is sometime known as ‘fertility religion’; it was the worship of power. (beware the worship of power!) Paul tracks the degeneration of the human race as it refused God’s truth; Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Rom 1:21-22 KJV) Paul links rejection of God with idolatry, and with idolatry he links sexual obsession which developed into sexual perversion; Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: (Rom 1:24 KJV).

A humanity which had rejected divine revelation saw still power all around. They saw the power of wind and sun and water, but above all these they saw the power of the seasons. The year sank into winter’s death and was revived with the coming of spring. They saw the power of reproduction accomplishing the same results, and they came to believe that these powers were connected. They came to believe that human sexual activity could assist the process of the seasons, and that the gods required human participation in such activity to aid them in their ‘divine’ struggle against winter and death. The universal religion of the world has been the worship and participation in reproductive power, and they worshipped a symbol of this power. The evidence is worldwide in ‘standing stones’ which are to be seen on every continent of the world. In every place, on every high hill, these grotesque symbols declare man’s worship of the most elemental power of all, the power to reproduce. In the land of Canaan the God who represented the concentrated energy of reproductive power was known as Baal and the ‘standing stones’ littered the land and polluted it to such a degree that ultimately God empowered the land to cleanse itself of its pollution; And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. (Lev 18:25 KJV)

In many ways this is the ultimate folly of the human race, to think that we are necessary to God, and to think that our human powers are necessary to the accomplishing of God’s purposes. In spite of all that Abraham had learned in his walk he still succumbed to this thinking in the fathering of Ishmael. His human energies would be focused to bring the will of God into being. In seventeenth chapter of Genesis we find Abraham pleading with God to ‘bless’ the result of this blasphemy, and the amazing thing is that God does bless it and makes it fruitful. This is sobering Bible truth; He blesses it but He cannot own it. And Abraham said unto God, Oh that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. (Gen 17:18-21 ASV) Ishmaels can never become Isaacs, no matter how much prayer or attention we may labour on them; That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6 KJV)

The natural power of man will have to come under symbolic execution before the work of God can be accomplished, and forever after God’s people must bear the scars of the execution as a constant reminder that God’s work must can only ever be accomplished in God’s way; Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of Jehovah unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts. (Zec 4:6 ASV) Centuries later Paul expounded the symbolism of circumcision in writing to the Philippians; For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: (Phi 3:3-4 KJV).

It is worth pausing a little while to consider the elements of truth that Paul highlights here; for we are the circumcision, who by the Spirit are serving God, and glorying in Christ Jesus, and in flesh having no trust, (Phi 3:3 YLT). Mere external circumcision, says Paul, is mutilation. Then he describes the truth of which circumcision was the symbol. The true circumcision ‘serve God in the Spirit’. The word ‘serve’ here is to serve as priests, λατρεύω (latreuō). The true ‘circumcision’ are the genuine servants of God. They do not serve their own agendas with their own energies, but they belong to another and his brandmark is upon their bodies. Secondly, the true ‘circumcision’ only boast in Jesus Christ. The boast is not in their own abilities or prowess but in His, and finally… and this could be taken as bible definition of the word ‘circumcision’… they have no confidence in the flesh. That is what circumcision was originally, a vote of no-confidence in the flesh. Abraham’s covenant and God’s purposes would be symbolised by a man on his face, crippled in his elemental strength, not by the arrogant energy of ‘standing stones’. The natural man must be reduced to impotency to make room for God’s power.

The truth is eloquently illustrated again in God’s sending of Moses to Egypt and the strange happenings in the inn. [Ex 4:18-26] We know that Moses had two sons (Gershom and Eliezer), and yet Zipporah only circumcised a single son according to the narrative. What is happening here? The most likely scenario is that of the males in this group two were already circumcised; Moses and Gershom. However for some reason, and we will return to this in the next devotional, the younger son Eliezer was uncircumcised. Moses had previously tried to liberate the Israelites by use of his own strength and failed; For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. (Act 7:25 KJV) This time however it was by direct command of God and was to be plain for all to see that it was not by might, nor by power, but by God’s own outstretched arm; Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: (Exo 6:6 KJV) It is impossible to calculate the age of Eliezer but his presence in the party represented man’s un-crippled energy and that could not be tolerated. God moved against Moses and it was only the reluctant but prompt action of Zipporah which saved him.

Let’s take one more illustration. When Joshua and his armies crossed the dry bed of the Jordan into the Promised Land they were poised to conquer everything before them. However, the conquest of the Promised Land would not be attributable to the strength or cunning of Joshua and his armies. It was to be God’s power and God’s conquest, consequently there was a mass circumcision at Gilgal. The whole of the new generation born in the wilderness were without this mark of ‘no confidence in the flesh’. [Joshua 5:2-10] This is a unique way of conquest; cripple your army for a few days. There is a fascinating postscript to this event in the Septuagint version of the burial of Joshua; And they buried him by the borders of his inheritance in Thamnasarach in the mount of Ephraim, northward of the mount of Galaad: there they put with him into the tomb in which they buried him, the knives of stone with which he circumcised the children of Israel in Galgala, when he brought them out of Egypt, as the Lord appointed them; and there they are to this day. (Joshua 24:30 LXX) It is not in the original Masoretic text but it stands as a testimony to the perceived importance of Joshua’s action in Gilgal; he was buried with the tools of the nation’s circumcision. It could only be a people with ‘no confidence in the flesh’ who would triumph in Canaan.

Gilgal become Israel’s base in the conquest of the Promised Land. Frequently we find them ‘back at Gilgal’; [Joshua 9:6, 10:6, 10:15, 10:43] There is a lesson here that we will need to learn. God will constantly lead us back to Gilgal; the place of crippled human energy. Particularly when we have known His power in victory we shall need to return to Gilgal. In truth, in all our outward movement for God we must learn to abide in the place of impotence. It is part of God’s unchanging conditions; no flesh shall glory in His presence. [1 Cor 1:29]

Ron Bailey

 2004/9/15 11:25Profile

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