What Is the Deal with Circumcision?


Now there’s a fun topic!

The Bible talks about circumcision fairly often. It is mentioned close to one hundred times in different contexts…in both the Old and New Testaments.

But it is one of those biblical subjects that is rarely spoken about…or even understood.

Could you imagine a youth devotional on circumcision? Or a Sunday morning sermon? Or a children’s video?

The very thought makes us uncomfortable.

And maybe it should.

Maybe that is part of the purpose.

Circumcision first appears in the Bible in Genesis 17. God makes an unconditional covenant with Abraham to bless him, give him the land of Israel, and to give him a multitude of descendants, including a Seed that will bless all the families of the world.

Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:17-18)

The “seed” ultimately refers to one person. The Seed. The Messiah.

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

So the first purpose of circumcision is as a sign of the covenant, a sign of the promise of the Messiah, one who would be born from the lineage of Abraham.

Still, it is a strange sign.

Can you imagine when Abraham first heard these words from God?

This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. (Genesis 17:10-11)

Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he heard these words from God. That’s not the time to be talking about circumcision!

“Excuse me, God, would you consider a different kind of sign? A tattoo maybe? Or wearing a yarmulke?”

Circumcision was not completely unknown in Abraham’s day. There is evidence that it was practiced occasionally in other ancient cultures. So Abraham probably knew exactly what God was talking about.

The surgical removal of the foreskin around the male reproductive organ…without anesthesia!

The very thought had to make Abraham shudder. He would take the knife to himself…or have someone else take the knife to him. To cut the most intimate part of himself. To create pain, searing pain, in one of his most sensitive parts.

Bloody. Painful. Intimate.

Something cut off.

A permanant change.

A sign of the covenant.

The sign matched the promise. The nation of Israel, and the physical lineage of the Messiah, would come through sexual reproduction.

Every time a Jewish man and woman had sexual relations they would be reminded of the covenant…reminded of the promise….reminded that they were set apart as a nation.

And every time a Jewish man was tempted to go outside the covenant relationship and have an immoral sexual encounter, he would see the sign cut into his flesh and know that he was violating the covenant…both with God and with his wife.

The woman, particularly if she was a foreigner outside the covenant community, would certainly notice and probably ask, “Hey, why are you cut like that?”

Which would hopefully cut to his heart.

And that’s where circumcision ultimately aims.

The Old Testament mentions circumcision in other contexts besides the surgical procedure that we normally associate with it.

Moses talked about having uncircumcised lips (Exodus 6:12, 30).

The Israelites were rebuked for having uncircumcised ears (Jeremiah 6:10).

And God pleaded with His people to circumcise their hearts.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! (Jeremiah 4:4a)

In these passages, circumcision refers to the removal of whatever hinders a person’s relationship with God or His purpose for them.

Moses couldn’t speak. He had some kind of speech impediment. And his lips needed to be circumcised to remove this barrier so that he could be an effective prophet for the Lord.

The Israelites were stubborn. They didn’t listen. Their ears were blocked up. And they needed their ears to be opened, to be circumcised, in order to hear.

And ultimately they all had stubborn hearts. Hearts that were cold. Unresponsive. Blocked. Walled up. And they needed their spiritual barriers cut away so that they could love the Lord without hindrance.

Moses promised a circumcised heart as the way that God’s people would truly love Him completely.

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

A circumcised heart.

What a graphic picture when you think about it.

Bloody. Painful. Intimate.

Something cut off.

A permanant change.

In other words, our hearts are born with a covering, a barrier, a hindrance. And that barrier must be removed before the heart can truly be exposed, vulnerable, and able to love God.

This is where the New Testament steps in.

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Colossians 2:11-13)

In Christ, our hearts have been circumcised. The flesh has been cut away. The barrier has been removed. The walls have been taken down. All sins have been forgiven. The heart has been brought into union with God through Christ.

We are able to love Him because He first loved us.

And this happened through the circumcision of Christ.

Bloody. Painful. Intimate.

He was cut off.




So that there could be a permanent change in our relationship with God.

He bore the surgery so that we could experience the healing.

The covenant comes with a cost.

I admit, there is still much I do not understand about this picture. I am still trying to understand it, process it. But I think there is more here than we are often willing to explore.

Perhaps the pain and uncomfortableness surrounding circumcision teaches us another truth.

Healing often requires a deep surgery that cuts us in the deepest, most sensitive, most intimate parts.

The one place that you don’t want to go is often the very place that you need to go.

Our hearts easily grow cold. We build walls to self-protect. We erect barriers to feel safe. We stay busy or blame others or nurture bitterness in order to avoid God’s knife.

But God wants to cut these things away so that we can truly love again. Truly be vulnerable again. Truly be human again.

The process is painful.

It cuts.

It hurts.

It seems unnecessary…even cruel.

But God’s heart is good.

And the end always brings blessing.

Please follow and like us:
This entry was posted in Tough Questions of Faith. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What Is the Deal with Circumcision?

  1. Cathi smith says:

    Excellent! Thank you! First time ever hearing this topic explained so beautifully. 👍

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *