Looking for churches in Peoria, AZ that provide in-depth Bible teaching? Dr. Stephen Isaac digs deeply into God’s word and presents it in context with direct application to our daily lives. This series, “Now I Know”, examines the life of Abraham, and his faith-testing journey from Abram to Abraham, the father of many nations.
Test Six: God tells Abraham to circumcise himself at an advanced age.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
“22 When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”
Introduction – Our Church in Peoria AZ is learning about the tests of faith, as illustrated through the testing of Abraham.
Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God appears to Abram again to renew His covenant with him (Genesis 17:2). He repeats the promises He has made with Abram and then changes Abram’s name to Abraham. God adds circumcision as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:11) and instructs Abraham to circumcise every male in his household, relative and servant alike.
After establishing circumcision as the sign of the covenant, God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. He says that she will bear the son God promised in Genesis 15:2–4. When Abraham objects and asks that Ishmael be the heir to the promise, God emphasizes that Abraham will have a son with Sarah and says that they should name him Isaac. God reassures Abraham that He will also bless Ishmael but that His covenant will continue through Isaac, who will be born in one year. Abraham responds in obedience by circumcising all members of his household.
The Covenant Promise and the Circumcision of Genesis 17
God appears to Abram, and for a second time in thirteen years, God establishes a direct covenant with Abram (the first was in chapter 15). Verses 1-3 of chapter 17 begins with Abram’s age (99 years old). Chapter 16 concluded by saying that Abram was 86 years old when Hagar (Sarai’s servant) gave birth to Ishmael. If we remember, Abram was 75 years old when he left Ur (his homeland) for Canaan (Genesis 12:4). So, 24 years have passed since he first received God’s Covenant promise. During that time, God repeated various aspects of His promises to Abram several times, each time giving more specific details. In this appearance, however, God will require circumcision as a permanent outward physical act of obedience used to symbolize the spiritual significance of God’s covenant promise on the heart of Abram’s generational offspring. As God appears, Abram falls on His face in fear and reverent worship of God Almighty.
Ironically, when God tells Abraham to be circumcised, he was past the age of bearing children and his wife, Sarah, was incapable of having children – they are old. Nevertheless, it would be through Sarah’s womb that God would fulfill his promise to the generations of blessed offspring of Abraham. Important to remember, because of their age and circumstances God’s covenant with Abraham could only be realized by supernatural intervention.
The miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth is the key to understanding circumcision as the sign of the covenant. God’s intention to reveal His righteous promise and eternal covenant had to begin with cutting away the unrighteous flesh (heart and desire) of His people. After God made His promise to Abraham, every male member of Abraham’s household would be required to be circumcised. What God commanded Abraham was obeyed but not yet understood.
God reconfirms His blessings and favor over Abrams’s offspring. God also becomes more specific about what those blessings might produce and how they will impact a thousand generations. In verses 4-5, God says to Abram, “My covenant is with you, and you will father a multitude of nations.” God goes on, “You will no longer be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”
In these two verses, we can begin to understand that God remarkably intends to narrow his plan for the world to a specific family – a chosen people. As we now know, His plan would lead to blessing and covenant for all people through Abraham’s offspring. In Hebrew, the name Abram [Abrim] means “exalted father,” and Abraham [Ahvrahim] literally means “father of multitudes/father of nations”.
God Reiterates His Promises of Offspring and Land. Though Abram has been waiting thirteen years since God’s covenant promise, He is learning to fear God and trust in Him fully for all things. He goes to his face before God, and God responds with details and insight into what the future will look like under the covenant promises of God. The land, the blessing, Kings, and the patriarchal headship to his children and his children’s children… By the promise of God, a blessed and chosen people.
God Commands Circumcision as the Sign of His Covenant with Abraham. The literal physical circumcision of the men and the subsequent male offspring of Abraham was the outward sign of the inward work of God’s favor and grace. Eventually, this covenant and its requirements would be replaced in true fulfillment through Yeshua – Christ Jesus the Messiah. This was truly a “cut covenant.” Everyone now knew that circumcision was connected to Abraham’s righteous fear of the Lord, and his complete trust in His covenant promise to him. However, the physical act of circumcision would not make any sense until Sarah became pregnant. Isaac – the son of promise. God seals and reveals to those who are willing to wait and obediently endure.
God personally promises Abraham a son by Sarah as the child of promise. Abraham and Sarai have been sitting in God’s waiting room for thirteen years. Waiting on the promise – waiting on God. In the meantime, the outward sign of circumcision marked their righteous fear of God and their full and complete trust in Him. Who could or would have dared to imagine something so odd, strange, or foolish would be intentionally chosen to signify His eternal promise to Abraham, Sarah, and their offspring for a thousand generations? This was going to hurt, but the wait and the blessings and promise of God would be worth it.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Abraham Circumcises Ishmael and All the Men of His Household. Being faithful in God’s command to circumcise becomes a significant threshold for Abraham to cross in order to establish three essentials for all those who believed and called on the Name of the Lord.
The Fear of God – Complete Trust in God – and Unwavering Faith in God
Mulah [Circumcision] and ‘Yada Karat B’riyt [A Cut Covenant]
Let’s start with a literal definition of circumcision.
The practice of cutting away the foreskin of male children, usually within a short time of birth (on the 8th day for Jews). In the OT, the practice would become an outward sign of Jewish heritage and covenant belonging to the Biblical people of God. The New Testament makes it very clear that Christians are under no obligation to be physically circumcised.
Circumcision is a topic mentioned nearly 100 times in the Bible. It is a central focus for Old Testament and New Testament theology (Romans 4:9–12; Galatians 2:1–12; 5:1–10). Before going forward there is the matter of context for the usage of the term and the application of the practice. Obviously, the literal usage and application were first attached to the outward sign, which signified the covenant between God and Abraham – and Abraham’s male offspring. That practice has been in place since God first commanded Abraham to do so. The figurative usage and application for the term and practice of circumcision is spiritual and should be understood as the actual inward work of God’s Spirit cutting away the sinful flesh of the human heart. This spiritual work is done through faith in God and the righteousness and sacrifice of Yeshua – Christ Jesus. Christ alone is now the cornerstone of our New Covenant with God.
In the OT, the physical act of circumcision is seen, as we said, as an outward sign of one’s belonging to Israel and the people of God. As part of the covenant that God established with Abraham in Genesis 17:10–14, every male living with Abraham, “both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money” (17:13 ESV), was to be circumcised. In this way, the covenant was “cut in [their] flesh” (17:13 ESV). In addition, every newborn male was to be circumcised on the eighth day (17:12; also Leviticus 12:3). Circumcision was ultimately a sign of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham and his offspring and, of course, the blessing God promised with it. Carried forward, the Law of Moses specifies that males must be circumcised in order to participate in the Passover, and male slaves and resident aliens could participate in the Passover only after they had been circumcised (Exodus 12:43–49). This statute is reinforced in Joshua 5 when Joshua circumcises all the uncircumcised Israelite males prior to observing Passover in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2–12).
Any Israelite male who was not circumcised was to be “cut off” from the “kin of his father” for breaking the covenant of God (Genesis 17:14). Those outside the covenant were described as “the uncircumcised”—the godless, wicked enemies of God (Judges 15:18; 1 Samuel 17:26. Goliath and all of the Philistines are described as uncircumcised (1 Samuel 17:36; 18:25)
A word study of the Hebrew word yada’shows it as a common root in the Semitic languages with expansive meanings relying on the word’s use and context. If you pair yada’ with the Hebrew phrase karat b’riyt, it means to know (as in a relationship). Karat literally means to cut or make a covenant. B’riyt is the Hebrew word for covenant and means to select the best. So, the definition of the Hebrew word yada’ karat b’riyt. It is fascinating how this phrase will subtly (but meaningfully) shift based on the context and intent of who, how, and when.
Amazingly, the context of the cut covenant for the relationship between God and Abraham is that of the Yada’ Karat B’riyt.
Circumcision of the Heart and The New Covenant Relationship in Christ Jesus
On its own (apart from God’s promises), the physical sign of circumcision is no guarantee of finding blessings or favor in the sight of God. As the physical act of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision was intended to be the outward sign of an inward covenant consecration and was accompanied by repentance, fear of God, and willful obedience. Under the new covenant in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul stresses that physical circumcision brings no entitlements or special privileges upon individuals; it is faith in God, rather than any outward sign, that ensures that believers and those who fear God are standing in right relationship with Him.
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 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, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
I Corinthian 7:17-19
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
Galatians 5:2; 5-6
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
THERE ARE OUTWARD PRESENT-DAY SIGNS, MANIFESTATIONS, AND EVIDENCES OF GOD’S INWARD WORKING OF HIS SPIRIT, GRACE, AND RIGHTEOUSNESS IN US. BAPTISM, WORSHIP, AND GODLINESS SHOULD CERTAINLY BE CONSIDERED AMONG THOSE EVIDENCES OF A RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. WE ARE LEARNING THAT IT IS OUR RIGHTEOUS FEAR OF GOD AND OUR LOVE FOR HIM AND ONE ANOTHER THAT GIVES WITNESS TO THE WORLD OF WHO GOD IS AND WHO WE ARE AS HIS COVENANT PEOPLE. JESUS SAID, “WHAT DEFILES A MAN COMES FROM WITHIN HIS HEART.” SO WE PRAY – CIRCUMCISE AND CHANGE OUR HEART O’ GOD AND RENEW A RIGHTEOUS SPIRIT WITHIN US. CUT AWAY EVERYTHING THAT OUR FLESH DESIRES THAT REBELS AGAINST YOU, BRINGS SHAME TO YOUR NAME, AND IS A REPROACH TO YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS IN US THROUGH CHRIST JESUS. WE WILL FEAR AND WORSHIP YOU ABOVE ALL, AND WE WILL PUT OUR TRUST IN YOU ALONE.
Join us this upcoming Sunday at our church in Peoria, AZ for the next in-depth teaching on faith and faithfulness, as we examine the next test of Abraham’s faith. You can also tune in to our livestream on Facebook and YouTube. Just click below to get connected. You can also download the sermon series notes HERE.
AVAILABLE ON GOOGLE PLAY OR APPLE – JUST SCAN QR CODE BELOW