Summary: Circumcision was the "trade mark" of the Old Covenant. But what difference could that make to us? We're no longer commanded to be circumcised as they were back then.
Back in the 1990s, Reader’s Digest told the story of a soldier who was serving as a guard through the night. Early in the morning, he reported to his commanding officer who demanded, “Did you sleep well while on duty?” “What made you think that I fell asleep?” asked the surprised soldier. “Look in the mirror,” replied the officer. As the guard stood before the mirror he saw on his forehead the imprint of the Mercedes Benz logo from the steering wheel of his truck. The trademark of Mercedes Benz was embedded in his forehead (in other words - he'd been asleep).
You know, companies spend 1000s upon 1000s of dollars on trademarks that can be recognized and associated with their product. (I had a screenshot of numerous logos from different companies shown on the screen). Here are just a few of the ones you would probably recognize. And you know a trademark is successful if everybody KNOWS who you are when they see it!
In our text today… God tells Abraham about a trademark that He’s about to institute: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be THE SIGN of the covenant between me and you.” Genesis 17:10-11
Circumcision was the SIGN of the covenant. It was TRADEMARK that would identify Abraham’s descendants as the people of God. And God was so invested in this trademark that He declared: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be CUT OFF from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:14
In fact, God said that when Israel celebrated “the LORD’s Passover… NO UNCIRCUMCISED MALE may eat of it.” Exodus 12:48
So essentially, Circumcision was the TRADEMARK that declared that the people of Israel belonged to God.
Now, as with any Biblical doctrine, there are people out there who’ll ridicule it. In the short internet search I did for this sermon, I read several people who objected that this practice was barbaric and cruel… and even sexist. They asked: “Why aren’t girls circumcised???” (Long pause) Seriously? Like that would be an honor that everyone would line up to have done to their bodies? (https://www.massbible.org/exploring-the-bible/ask-a-prof/answers/why-circumcision)
As with all such objections – the critics hadn’t done their research. Just for the record, Islam requires women to be circumcised and there is NO excuse for it being done to girls. It’s a practice that is nothing less than cruel mutilation without any known valuable purpose or benefit to the girls.
ILLUS: But, by contrast, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the health benefits of circumcision for newborn males outweigh the risks. Among those benefits: A decreased risk of urinary tract infections; a reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases in men; and protection against cancer of the male “part” and a reduced risk of cervical cancer with women with whom they have relations. (https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/circumcision)
Now, that being said, that’s NOT why God instituted circumcision. God didn’t say to Abraham “Hey, I’ve got a great health tip for you!” What He said was this “will be THE SIGN of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:11) And it remained a sign of the covenant all the way up thru the days of John the Baptist (Luke 1:59); Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:5); and even Jesus (Luke 2:21). Each of them was circumcised on the eighth day after their birth because they were Jewish born men covered under the Old Covenant.
Now, circumcision was purely an Old Covenant “trademark.” God made the change and Acts 10, 11 and 15 made it clear that God made it clear that circumcision was not going to continue to be the sign of the NEW Covenant. God declared that circumcision was NOT going to be required of Christians. We don’t have to do it anymore.
But one of the things I wrestled with (as I prepared the sermon) was this: “Why did God require circumcision as the mark in the old covenant to begin with?
One resource I read tried to explain it this way: “God gave Abraham and his descendants the mark of circumcision as a physical reminder that they were CUT OUT from the world, that is, set apart to serve the one, true Lord.” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/circumcision-heart/)
I liked that! It kinda makes sense. Just as a piece of flesh was cut away from men of Israel, so also (if they loved God) they were to be cut out from the world to serve God. I like that, and there might even be some truth to it. But there’s one small problem with it… it’s not the explanation God gave of circumcision’s purpose.
What the Bible DOES say about circumcision is a little different. As early as the book of Deuteronomy God says “Circumcise your hearts...” Deuteronomy 10:16