Gentile Proselytes and the Circumcision Covenant

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God's Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham - Genesis 17

Genesis 17 - God's Covenant of Circumcision With Abraham's Descendents

Abraham's Descendents to be Circumcised

Genesis 17: is a covenant between Abraham and God, and a covenant is what we'd call today a contract, and a contract is simply a legally enforceable agreement between one or more "parties". We might not think about it too often, but we all have contracts (legally enforceable agreements) with other "parties". We probably have contracts between us and our mortgage lenders, or if we rent, with our landlords. We have contracts with credit card companies, banks. You name it.

If you take a minute or two to read the fine print of a contract, like say a mortgage, they explain that both parties to the agreement, in the case of our mortgages us and the lender, have certain obligations (things that WE must do), in return for other things (the things that THEY must do). In the case of a mortgage for example, WE have an obligation to pay the right amount of money every month to the lender, and if we do this then, (and only then) after a certain period of time, the lender gives us complete ownership of the house. That's their obligation.

And God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 is no different in principle. Abraham has some obligations, and so does God, although the terms and conditions of this contract are a little bit more unusual than the terms and conditions of your mortgage.

God's Obligations Under The Genesis 17 Covenant

Genesis 17:1 ¶ And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. {perfect: or, upright, or, sincere} 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

Here God's outlining the first of a series of His obligations to Abraham, which are predicated upon the condition that Abraham "walks before God and is upright or sincere".

3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 ¶ As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. {many.: Heb. multitude of nations} 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. {Abraham: that is, Father of a great multitude} 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 ¶ And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

Ah, so its not just a question of Abraham following God's way of life, God requires that Abraham's DESCENDENTS will keep this covenant too, but given the term or duration of this agreement you'd expect that wouldn't you? That sums up God's side of the contract. God was promising some wonderful blessings to Abraham's descendents. Now let's read Abraham's and his descendents' obligations under the terms of this agreement.

Abraham's Obligations Under The Genesis 17 Covenant

Genesis 17:10 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 the flesh of your foreskin; and it 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. {he that is eight.: Heb. a son of eight days} 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.

OK so, certainly not your average contractual obligations on Abraham's and his descendants' parts, but some pretty spectacular obligations on God's part. But let's pause here for a minute and reflect on something.

This is probably one of the earliest recorded contractual agreements isn't it? That's something historic in its own right, but what's even more special about this is that the parties to this agreement aren't someone like you or I and our mortgage lender. This is a legally binding contract between Almighty God and Abraham, between the Creator of the Universe and the Father of the Faithful. In the context of WORLD history, this ranks up there as one of the most important ever contracts. God Himself is signing on the dotted line. Genesis 17 makes it clear to us why Jews have always viewed circumcision as something special.

Notice how on two occasions, God stipulates that the contract is everlasting, that's why it's between God on the one hand, and Abraham AND his descendents on the other hand.

Our kids tend to look like us don't they, some more than others. Your children probably look a bit like you, and maybe your children's children will look a bit like them and therefore a bit like you too, but as the generations go on, in say five or ten generations time, how would anyone be able to tell that your descendents are actually your descendents?

Conversely when we meet our great great great great great great great great grandfathers or grandmothers, it might not be quite so apparent that we are, in fact, part of exactly the same family, and that some of the thanks for the things we've inherited from our parents, (good and bad) are because all those generations ago, our ancestors passed on things to their children, including some possessions, some behaviours and some of our physical characteristics.

For Israelites and Jews Circumcision is Crucial to Their Identity - Like a Passport

For Jews then, circumcision is something that defines them; because it confirms that they've descended from Abraham, and their part in the blessings promised to Abraham in Genesis 17: and elsewhere. They have always believed, and believe today that circumcision fundamentally says who they are.

Ask any Jew what circumcision means to them. And they'll say, it shows that we are the children of Abraham, and have a part in God's Genesis 17: covenant with him. So its clear to see how the practise of circumcision by Abraham and his descendents is something that has inextricably linked his extended family together, not just UP through the generations to Abraham, but ACROSS to each other as an extended family that eventually became a multitude of nations and will continue to grow to become an innumerable multitude (as the sand of the sea-shore), just as God promised in his part of the contract.

For Israelites, (and more specifically for Jews) circumcision inextricably identifies WHO THEY ARE, and understanding THIS is CRUCIAL to understanding controversies like the Galatian Heresy in the New Testament.

TO FIRST CENTURY ISRAELITES /JEWS, CIRCUMCISION WAS LIKE A PASSPORT.

It was proof of their identity as physical descendants of Abraham, proof of their citizenship of the nation of Israel, and proof that they were party to the same contract. And this issue of being a physical descendent of Abraham was crucially addressed in Galatians by Paul.

Next: was the covenant of Genesis 17 really intended to be everlasting ?

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Even after the crucifixion, Paul kept Nazirite vows & offered sacrifices at the temple many christian theologians believe - so does Galatians really mean the Torah law is " done away"?