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After reminding Abram of His covenant promises, God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. (Read: Abraham–A New Name for A New Man) God then “sealed” his covenant with a “token,” also called a sign.  This sign would be a symbolic act that Abraham would perform.  And it would be an act of faith that his descendants would also perform. 

Genesis 17:-14

And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations

10 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.  11 And ye shall circumcise [cut away] the flesh of your foreskin, and it [the circumcised flesh] shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.  13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

God clearly told Abraham that he was to circumcise every “man child” over the age of eight days. This would include every male relative, friend, and servant in his household.  And any newborn baby boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day.  Today, we know why God prescribed the eighth day for the circumcision of baby boys.  Because, on the eighth day after birth, vitamin K reaches the level needed to regulate and control the important clotting factors.  God, in His perfect wisdom and design, gave instructions for the time to circumcise for the child’s safety.

From the day that Abraham circumcised his household, circumcision became the sign of a man and his household being under God’s covenantal promises to Abraham.

Why Circumcision?

So why did God require circumcision as the sign of the covenant?  Why didn’t God choose a different act that would not have been as strange, or as difficult, and certainly not as painful?  The answer is simple.  We do not know. God does not clearly tell us why He chose circumcision.  However, in the symbolism of this act, we might find reasons that answer our questions.

1. First, life is of ultimate importance to God and life is in the blood.  

The cutting away of the foreskin on the male reproductive organ was a practice in which human blood was shed.  And in Leviticus we are told that the “life of the flesh is in the blood” and that “blood makes an atonement for the soul” (Lev 17:11).  This removal of the foreskin and the shedding of blood can be seen as a sacrifice (an atonement for sin).  Symbolically, it was a “dying” — a being “cut away”/separated from the world — that allowed them to enter into the household of Abraham.  Also, in a symbolic way, a circumcised male (adult or child) would be standing “bare” before God, separated from the world to be prepared for His service.  

2. SECOND, circumcision can also be seen as a choice to follow God.  

When Abraham circumcised his household, each adult male made a choice to do as God commanded, indicating their free-will choice to obey God. And for each male child, the parents made the choice thereby surrendering their child to God’s will and consecrating their child as member of Abraham’s household. 

3. Most importantly, the significance of an unconditional covenant with God.

The Abrahamic Covenant was guaranteed because it was based on the faithfulness of God alone. Animals were sacrificed and their shed blood served as an atonement for sin. However, animal blood is never sufficient to pay for man’s sin.  Only man’s blood could pay for man’s sin and enable man to enter into the household of God as God’s child.  Yet, God would never ask for human sacrifice of those whom He created in His image.  And so, His covenant with Abraham and his household was completed (ie. sealed) with man’s blood by circumcision.  

Similarities to the New Covenant

Just like the animals were cut/broken, and God walked through the sacrifice alone, and then required man’s blood in the act of circumcision, Jesus’s body was also cut and broken. And in darkness, God “walked through,” pouring out His wrath in judgment. And then, God required the only perfect man’s blood, the only pure, sinless blood of man — the blood of Jesus.  Jesus’ blood was the atonement, the payment, for the sins of the whole world.  And then Jesus declared “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The parallels between the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant and the unconditional New Covenant are amazing.  Both are “unbreakable” because both are based on God’s faithfulness. 

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There is much to be learned from those who have gone before us in the faith.  Check out our Cloud of Witnesses category that features the words of departed saints who are now with the Lord in glory.  Their words equip and encourage us even to this day.  Take a few minutes to hear...

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  7. Understanding the Everlasting Arms of God, by J.R. Miller (1840–1912)
  8. 24 Reasons Why I Love America, by John Wayne (1907-1979)
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  10. Abide with Me, by James Smith, 1859

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