To return to the issue of covenants, the phrase of the promise in Genesis 17:7 states that the bond will continue between God and Abraham — it then says — and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant — the part about the offspring isn’t a throw-in statement. It was clear legal terminology from that era. They have discovered Law codes from that era, and learned that there were limitations as to how property could pass down before it reverted to some king or prince who laid claim to that land. By including those words ― and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant — it legally meant that Abraham‘s descendants kept that property, and could continue to hand it down, without any restrictions. So, understand, this was legal terminology, not hyperbole.
Now also understand what this new covenant of circumcision means. In the first covenant with Abraham — which God just said remains fully intact — Abraham was just a passive participant. He didn’t have to do anything. But, in the new covenant he made, meant for Abraham‘s offspring, there was an obligation: circumcision was a sign for anyone who chose to participate in the Abrahamic covenant; which involved, giving their loyalty to the God of Abraham. Now, this covenant of circumcision is required of those who will be called ― the line of promise. Hebrews, which eventually lead to the Israelites.
Each male following Abraham, who expected to be able to partake in the blessings of the covenants that God gave with Abraham, must, as an obligation, be circumcised. That is, active participation is required.
Now, I don‘t need to get overly graphic about circumcision, because this procedure of removing the males‘ genital foreskin is a common practice today in most societies, and as such, is widely known. And, usually it is done by non-Jewish families simply for medical and sanitary reasons. Although, to this day, Jews have a bris, a circumcision ceremony, for each male child, on the 8th day after his birth.
The practice of male circumcision existed long before this instruction from God to Abraham — it wasn’t a new invention, any more than the covenant ceremony God participated in with Abraham was a new invention. Many cultures of that day used such procedures as either part of the marriage ceremony or, more typically, as a sign of entrance into puberty. God merely removed the trauma out of it by having it performed not on young teenage boys, but on an 8-day-old baby. Plus, Yahweh used this existing rite, as a sort of loyalty oath; and He added special meaning to it. Just as with stars and planets, or a rainbow after the flood, Yahweh used things from nature to create a sign to illustrate a principle or a promise.
But, here‘s the deal: the standard covenant protocol always required the shedding of blood, typically animal blood, and the cutting of flesh, usually animal flesh, and separating that cut-up meat into two groups. With circumcision, the covenant procedure occurred using the male body as the sacrificial flesh; they cut the flesh, shed blood, and the cut-up tissue was separated; one part buried in the ground, the other remaining on the body. Quite literally, Abraham and his male descendants wore the covenant and were the covenant.
The penalty for refusing the circumcision covenant was stern: you were to be cut-off from your people. Being cut-off was both spiritual and literal. When a male descendant of Abraham refused circumcision, or when a parent refused to have their boy-child celebrate a B’rit Milah on the 8th day after birth, they were physically separated from the clan, and spiritually separated from God. They were no longer Hebrews and could claim no right to any of God‘s promises.
This is why God, through Paul, explained that His true desire was circumcised hearts, not circumcised flesh. God wanted our hearts to accept and wear the covenant that came to us at such a high price.
By accepting Christ, Paul says we have our hearts circumcised: we are very literally receiving God‘s covenant protocol on ourselves. And, since the advent of Jesus, and the New Covenant He established, we find ourselves in the same position as Abraham: either we are circumcised by accepting the New Covenant which is the blood of Christ, or we refuse it. Those are our only choices.
If we accept it, we are perpetually united to the chosen of God. If we refuse, we are cut-off — separated — from God‘s people, and from God Himself. While that may startle some of you, Paul‘s words probably knocked some of those Jews he was speaking to, to their knees. I can say that because the people hearing those words understood very well all the ins and outs of covenant ceremony and symbolism. But, because the Church has, for so long, turned our backs on the Jewish nature of the Bible, the impact of things like the act of covenant making hasn’t been understood.
For further reading, grab The Blood Covenant by E.W. Kenyon; The Power of the Blood Covenant: Uncover the Secret Strength of God’s Eternal Oath by Malcom Smith; and The Blood Covenant by H. Clay Trumbull
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