Ro 4:11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well
Abraham is absolutely the father of all who believe, both circumcised and uncircumcised, it is true – but in making scriptural comparisons we must look at the entire story. Abraham had eight sons in all – one by Hagar, one by Sarah and the rest by Keturah, the wife he took after Sarah’s death. Of these sons, seven were circumcised at birth and one was not – namely Ishmael – but none remained uncircumcised. Ishmael was simply circumcised later. I believe that this shows us the pattern for the sons of Abraham, that there is no shame in having not been circumcised at birth, but once we are ready (by we I obviously don’t literally mean we because I lack the necessary plumbing) I believe that it is incumbent to become like a son of Abraham and take that final step of Covenant loyalty.
Why was this important? Because as we see in the prohibition of the consumption of the Passover Lamb, if there is no circumcision then there is a legal barrier between the rights (not salvation, but legal rights) of the sojourner (believing foreigner) and the native born. It is the only legal barrier between circumcised and uncircumcised, and if we want everything, if we want absolute full citizenship with nothing held back – if we want to be considered as the native born of the Land in every way, shape and form then it requires circumcision. Not the circumcision of the House of Shammai Pharisees that made one a Jew, but the biblical circumcision that made one and one’s children inheritors of the covenant with Abraham.
The circumcision isn’t a mere cutting of flesh, an empty ritual – it is the crowning glory of Genesis Chapter 17, the sealing of the Covenant promised in Gen 12, and made in blood in Gen 15. Genesis 17 is the account of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of MANY nations; it is when his name is actually changed to Abraham. Abram was uncircumcised, but Abraham was circumcised. Not a Jew, certainly, but circumcised. And we are called to be the children of Abraham, not Abram. Like Abraham, many of us were not born into the Covenant and had to learn to walk it out first (as Abraham did for 24 years and Ishmael for 13 years). The children of Israel in the wilderness walked it out for 40 years without circumcision (Josh 5:5). BUT if we are to be called the children of Abraham, we should follow his example or else we are simply planning to be forever the children of Abram. Why do I say that? Because we see from the life of Abraham that circumcision will only be delayed, not avoided altogether. We are saved without circumcision, undoubtedly, but are we children of the Abraham who walked in fullness of obedience?
How do we temper this with compassion in light of the circumstances of the first century? Do I believe that Cornelius was ever circumcised? Probably not, at least not until he was too old for anyone to know. Why? Because circumcision for a Roman Centurion meant treason, and would have resulted in his death as well as the potential death of his household – hardly conducive to the prophesied in-gathering of the nations into the Covenant in the context of the first few centuries. Circumcision meant to join yourself to a people group which was exempted from military service and who did not accept Caesar as a god. The Jews had a special status in the empire based on their established ancestral religion, but denying Rome and becoming officially circumcised when you weren’t born that way was seen as rejection of Pax Romana.
Cornelius was in a tight spot – for him circumcision was not a matter of faith but a matter of suicide. We do not live in such times and circumcision comes with no threat of loss of life unless one is a hemophiliac. Now there are those who say that circumcision is only for the Jews – but circumcision is an affirmation of the covenant in Gen 17, that Abraham will be the father, not only of the Hebrews but also many nations, and that his seed will inherit the Land. Abraham was not a Jew, nor was his son or grandson.
“And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 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. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
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. 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 (an eternal Land Grant Covenant – completely distinct from salvation); and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
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. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
Circumcision isn’t the act of being legalistically branded, it says, “I believe that the Covenant made between God and Abraham is absolutely true and that through His seed Yeshua (Jesus) I am a son of that Covenant. I believe in the in-grafting of the nations, I accept the God of Abraham as my God and I believe that the Land is the inheritance of his seed who are commanded to keep the covenant that was renewed by Messiah.”
It’s about full citizenship, with absolutely nothing held back. What it isn’t about, is entrance into the Body of believers – after all, Cornelius was righteous (a “sojourner” who kept the Torah commandments – the constitution of God’s Kingdom – but was not a Jew), his heart was already circumcised, and when he accepted Yeshua as Messiah and received the seal of the Holy Spirit he was given the baptism that was in those days reserved for someone who was already circumcised as a basic entrance requirement into the body of Judaism.
Why did Paul say, Galatians 5:
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”
In context of the entire book of Galatians, there were Messiah-following Jews telling the non-Jews that they had to become Jews in order to be full members of the Body of Messiah. To this, Paul said (I am paraphrasing a bit from a number of his letters), “Poppycock! God didn’t create Judaism – God created a Kingdom with a Constitution (the Biblical laws), and an Heir to administrate it (Yeshua the Messiah). If you become a Jew then you are bypassing the Heir, who although born into the tribe of Judah is not subject to Judaism – true Judaism is subject to Him! To subject yourself to a religion instead of directly to the Heir obligates you to loyalty to that religion which is sometimes at odds with the Heir. One cannot serve two masters. If you were not born a Jew, then you should not become one!”
Abraham was accepted (a word that has connotations of relationship, of eating together) without circumcision, promises were made and he was blessed before circumcision – and we can be blessed and accepted without it too. But is it enough? Is it enough to simply be blessed and accepted? I want to be a native-born Israelite, with inheritance rights in the Land upon the return of Yeshua. I don’t just want to be a pre-pubescent child of Abraham after the order of Ishmael, uncircumcised, or the child of unruly parents wandering in the wilderness – I want to be a child of promise – not a Jew, but a child of promise.
Like the children of Israel crossing over the Jordan who took onto themselves the sign of the Covenant, I want the Land. I want the Passover. I want it all. And we can have it all – with circumcision but without becoming Jews.
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