Bible Readings for January 16th

Genesis 17 | Matthew 16 | Nehemiah 6 | Acts 16

In Genesis 15, Yahweh had cut a covenant with Abram by passing twice through the pieces of the animals who had been torn in two. In this, Yahweh was promising that his body would be broken like the animals if either he broke the terms of the covenant or if Abram (or Abram’s offspring) broke the terms of Yahweh’s covenant. In Genesis 17, God does not make a different covenant with Abram (whom God here renames as Abraham), but Yahweh adds circumcision as an assurance of what he had promised in Genesis 15.

So, God commands that Abraham and his offspring after him be circumcised as a sign of this covenant between God and them (Gen. 17:11). Every male who is at least eight days old shall be circumcised, whether that male is born to Abraham or bought from a foreigner to serve in Abraham’s household should be circumcised, so that every male in Abraham’s household would bear the mark of God’s covenant in their flesh (Gen. 17:12–13).

But why circumcision? This seems like one of the strangest possible covenant signs God could have chosen, and yet circumcision is a preoccupation of the whole Bible. There are many reasons why God chose this particular sign for his covenant, but we will talk about two here.

First, physical circumcision always pointed to the necessity of heart circumcision. God gave circumcision to be a picture of what he really wanted: that his people would cut away the sinfulness of their flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Rom. 3:29).

Second, circumcision pointed forward to Jesus in several ways. Remember that the promise of this covenant is that God would give Abraham offspring—and not just any offspring, but the offspring God had promised who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So, the sign of circumcision was placed on the male reproductive organ as a reference to the reproductive promises of God’s covenant. Ultimately, Jesus would be born by cutting away the male’s involvement completely, so that he would be conceived by a virgin, without a human father.

But also, the bloody nature of circumcision pointed forward to the way in which Jesus (the promised offspring) would crush the head of the serpent Satan. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil by shedding his own blood on the cross, and every bloody circumcision throughout the generations of Abraham anticipated what Jesus would do to purchase our salvation.

Circumcision was given to announce the gospel of Jesus in a symbol. We no longer need physical circumcision, but we still need what circumcision pointed toward: Jesus Christ and him crucified. We need our hearts to be circumcised, we need Yahweh to be God to us and to our children after us, and we need the covenant promises that were secured for us in Christ.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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