Summary: God could have had Abraham put a tattoo on his arm or any one of a thousand other signs, but instead He chose the sign of circumcision? Why in the world? And, beyond that, what relevance does that have for Christians today?
OF ALL THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS FOR A SIGN TO THE ISRAELITES, WHY DID GOD CHOOSE CIRCUMCISION? The promise was a miraculous physical child that would be the father to a physical people, so the sign had to do with sex.
- Notice in these verses all the physical signs:
- v. 4 – “father of many nations” – a physical promise.
- v. 5 – new name: “father of many.”
- v. 6 – “nations” and “kings.”
- v. 7 – “your descendents.”
- v. 8 – “whole land of Canaan” – a physical place.
- v. 9-10 – “you and your descendents.”
- v. 10-13 – the physical sign.
- v. 13 – “My covenant in your flesh.”
- It’s an obvious point, but one that needs to be made here: the covenant that God is bringing forward here is to create a physical people, who would primarily continue through birth.
- This is opposed to God establishing a philosophy and inviting all who wanted to do believe and follow.
- This is opposed to God establishing a teaching and inviting all who wanted to follow it to do so.
- This is opposed to God establishing an ideal and inviting all who wanted to shoot for it.
WHTA WAS THIS INTENDED TO BE A SIGN OF?
1. The sign of circumcision is a sign of new identity.
- Genesis 17:5, 11-14.
- It is significant that God gives Abram a new name here.
- In v. 5, He changes his name from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of many”). Of course, in the Bible names are far more meaningful than they are today. God was telling Abraham that his new identity was one that would involve God’s miraculous fulfillment of this promise of a child.
- Further, in vv. 11-14, God lays out His expectations for this new people that will come from Isaac.
2. The sign of circumcision is a sign of the miracle of new life.
- After the incredibly long wait, God was actually going to bless them with a child. And that child would be the father of a great nation.
- That child represented the miracle of new life.
- As I said a moment ago, because God’s plan to give Himself a people involved the physical descendents of Abraham, it makes sense that the sign (of circumcision) had to do with sex.
3. The sign of circumcision represents a removal of reproach.
- The disappointment and discouragement that Abraham and Sarah had endured for all those years undoubtedly left a scar. The presumption back then was that barrenness was a sign of disapproval from God.
- Abraham speaks to this in v. 17 when he laughs at the thought that this burden he’s been bearing can now be rolled away. How can it happen when he’s 100 and Sarah is 90? Verse 18 indicates that he was banking on Ishmael as the avenue of God’s answer.
- We see something similar happen in Joshua 5:2-9. Israel is coming up out of Egypt and the people are uncircumcised. After they are circumcised, God says in v. 9 that doing that has “removed the reproach of Egypt.”
- That is, it’s a sign of the removal of the disappointment and discouragement that the Israelites had experienced in the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
- In both cases – Abraham’s son and Israel entering the Promised Land – it’s a sign of the removal of the disappointment and discouragement.
4. The sign of circumcision is a sign of higher expectations.
- Genesis 17:1, 9.
- God has spoken several times to Abraham about the promise of what He intends to do through him. In v. 1 we see the first time that God places an expectation on Abraham: “walk before me and be blameless.”
- We see this also show up in v. 9 that God has expects Israel to fulfill this covenant – there again an expectation of obedience.
- We know that one of God’s frustrations with Israel down through the years was their failure to consistently fulfill the covenant. He was frustrated over that because He expected them to fulfill the covenant.
- This represents a moment of God asking more of His people – in this case Abraham. He has higher expectations.
5. The sign of circumcision is a sign of promised abundant fruitfulness.
- God is promising enormous physical blessings and fruitfulness through Abraham:
a. v. 4 – “father of many nations.”
b. v. 5 – new name meaning “father of many.”
c. v. 6 – “very fruitful,” “nations,” “kings.”
d. v. 8 – “whole land of Canaan.”
- God isn’t just promising a little move of His power, but something far-reaching and lengthy.