Circumcision

One would think it obvious that human beings come in two sexes only—male and female. In the 77 generations from Adam to Jesus the human genome got plenty mixed as far as genes from Adam and from Eve. But usually the sex of a child is plain to see at birth.

We are about 50 more generations from Jesus today. The human genome is incredibly complex but the sex-determining chromosome always comes from the father.

It should also be obvious that men and women are identical in spirit (the spirit is our core identity as persons)—but men and women are different in soul and body. Jesus saves and makes whole, members of both sexes, by somewhat different paths, and the end result is complimentary not sameness.

For now, forget that we are fallen boys and girls in a confused world, living in a bad time history. None of us asked to be born nor did we chose our parents.

Circumcision is a guy thing. Male babies have extra skin over the front end of their penises from birth. The foreskin can be cut off or left intact. This is often done soon after birth—so men don’t always have a choice in the matter. But infant circumcision is minor surgery almost always. Some men are proud to be uncut or they may elect surgery as adults. To cut or not to cut is not a big deal Biblically speaking.

But it turns out that circumcision as an inner issue is of major importance—physical cIrcumcision is only a shadow. The inner meaning “Circumcision of the Heart” is a neglected issue in churches and schools today. It’s time to reboot and rediscover truth about ourselves and our Maker that has been overlooked for several generations.

The physical rite if circumcision itself seems to have been originated by God at one special stage of Abraham’s spiritual development.

Start reading at Genesis 12 to see the whole story of this man’s life as he journeyed from Ur in Southern Iraq where his whole family knew only the Babylonian moon god [Al Illah]. Abraham, responding to the call of the one true God, Yahweh Elohim, became the spiritual father of nations.

Genesis 17 gives us the full details:

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 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. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.

Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

Most of us guys wince we we think of any cutting or amputating or hurting us in our private parts (where there are lots of nerve endings and an abundant blood supply). Something private and Holy is violated when we are touched inappropriately “down there” even when we may have no idea who God is.

Even before Jesus was born, the notion that true circumcision was a matter of the heart was well known among the Jews. The following short pape (from Jews for Jesus) summarizes all this Old Testament history and moves on to introduce the radically new truth on the subject by the Apostles of Jesus.

Circumcision of the Heart (from Jews for Jesus)

“A bris in the heart!” Sounds strange. Maybe even a bit ridiculous to modern ears, doesn’t it? Yet God Himself speaks of circumcision of the heart in the Jewish Scriptures. And strange as it may seem, it holds as deep a meaning for us today as it did when God first gave circumcision in Abraham’s time.

To understand circumcision of the heart, we first must look at the rite of circumcision of the flesh.

The record begins in the 12th and 15th chapters of Genesis. God made unconditional promises to Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky; that through his descendants all the nations would be blessed; that Abraham’s people would be given a great land to occupy and that all who blessed them would in turn be blessed.

Then, in the 17th chapter of Genesis, we read:

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.

And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.

A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.”
-Genesis 17:10-13

What is Circumcision All About?

The key here is that circumcision was to be a “sign of the covenant” that had already been given, with no strings attached, to Abraham.

The rite of circumcision was made a part of the Law of Moses several hundred years later when God gave instruction concerning the birth of a male: “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3).

This practice was continued generation after generation, but when the nation of Israel was forced to wander 40 years in the wilderness the rite of circumcision temporarily ceased.

Some authorities believe God demanded this generation died out because of their refusal to believe Him when He told them to enter the promised land (Numbers 14:32-35). And so a rejected generation no longer practiced circumcision.

The disobedient nation of Israel, roaming like lost sheep in the wilderness, were momentarily taken out of the covenant. They had refused to believe God’s promise when He told them to take the land, and now they were paying for their rebellion...

Yet with God’s punishment comes God’s love, for when the 40 year journey was ending, the covenant—and all its blessings—returned.

As soon as the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan into the land of milk and honey the Lord God immediately gave a command to Joshua: “At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.’ ” (Joshua 5:2.)

Now that they were in the land, back in the place of faith enjoying obedience and fellowship with God, the practice of circumcision was restored and the people of Israel were blessed by God.

Israel has always had a special place in the sight of God. He chose the nation to point the way to Himself and to spread His love among all the nations. Since circumcision was the sign of the covenant which involved this universal blessing, it had significance beyond its observance as a national rite.

Beyond the Physical

Practically, we can’t show the world we’ve been circumcised, but God’s covenant extends further than just the physical realm. A way has been provided in which our words and actions can show the nations God has touched us. We read His promise in Deuteronomy 30:6:

“Moreover, 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, in order that you may live.”

This type of circumcision, by definition a circumcision of the spirit and not the flesh, goes to the heart of a man, to his soul, his essence, his attitudes and relationship with God. Because this theme of an inner circumcision is so important, God repeats and stresses it, as in Deuteronomy 10:12-16:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

And to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.

Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.

Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.”

The Inner Man/Woman

Over and over again God probes the inner man, the real person. His discerning eyes won’t allow us to hide behind social facades, adopted mannerisms or walls of materialism. Before God each man is seen just as he is. His innermost thoughts, thoughts he may wish to hide from the world, are exposed by the light of God.

God requires us to keep all His statutes and laws, and yet which one of us can possibly keep all of them all the days of our lives? The prophet writes:

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
-Isaiah 64:6

On one hand God tells us to keep all His statutes. On the other the prophet recognizes the human condition: we all fall short of perfection and therefore cannot possibly keep all the Law all the time.

Yet, as we read in Deuteronomy 30:6, God does not expect us to circumcise our own hearts. He says He will do that. But how? And what does He expect from us? Let’s look at Leviticus 26:40-42:

“If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—

I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity,

Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.”

Just Once a Year?

Ah, is that it? Must we confess our iniquity and rebellion against God? Fine, maybe we do this once a year at Yom Kippur. But, in addition to confession, our uncircumcised heart must become humble.

This appears to be a spiritual operation, but we sense within ourselves that we lack the divine power necessary to perform this—to change our own heart. Then we remember this is an operation God said He would perform.

But how?

King David knew the secret, for after he had sinned against God by taking Bathsheba, he pleaded, in Psalm 51:10-12:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.”

David said, “Do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.” The Holy Spirit, the Ruach Ha’kodesh of the ages is the renewing force. It was the Holy Spirit of God which brought peace, comfort and joy to David. He knew what it was like to live both with and without God’s Spirit dwelling within him.

It’s this very Spirit which David called upon to create a clean heart within him—to renew him. In other words, it is the Holy Spirit of God which performs the circumcision of the heart.

From Abraham to David to you, the inner circumcision continues.

Today we have a promise from God, a promise He always keeps. He has promised for every person who places his trust in the Messiah, in the Anointed One of Israel, this Holy Spirit will indwell him and circumcise his heart, making it right with God.

At some point we all face God as uncircumcised, unrenewed searchers after truth. We stand as animated beings of flesh without God’s Spirit inside us. We seek our own truth and walk our own paths.

Perhaps you’ve searched and walked and questioned without finding the heart-changing, spiritual answers you’ve known are there but have never discovered.

You Can Do This Right Now...

Maybe now God is telling you that by placing your faith in Messiah Jesus His Spirit will circumcise your heart and refresh you today and forever.

As you confess Messiah Jesus as Lord and Savior, the One promised by the ancient prophets of Israel, the sacrificed Lamb of God, you too will be able to stand with other believers in Him and fully appreciate the words of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, an ancient scholar of Israel who became the apostle Paul, writes of an eternal circumcision of the heart:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Messiah.

For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form.

And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah.

Having been buried with Him in baptism (of the Spirit), in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.

Having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:8-9, 11-14 New Testament)

We pray you, too, will seek, find and be refreshed by His Spirit.”


Reality for today’s world

To get intensely practical, our sexual drive and sexual life achieves the design goal of God only when each male surrenders his instincts and desires to the interior rule of Jesus Christ.

Boys are usually ok until puberty. Then suddenly all sorts of physical changes occur, and powerful emotions and desires spring to life, like sleeping dragons aroused. This is the time boys need a dad most of all. But loving fathers are almost unknown today—so most boys get their first sexual education from the boys’ locker room, by self discovery, by experimentation with peers, by predators male and female. Movies and readily available porn only fan the flames.

Many assume that marriage fixes everything but this is seldom true.

It is an monstrous lie that abstinence from sex if one is unmarried is undesirable and unattainable! Jesus as a single man knows better. Jesus is looking forward to His Bride, the true church, and his life lived out among us when He was here was without spot or blemish.

The solution for us is restored inner mastering of all our emotions and desires. The process can, for a young man, be like wrestling a wild animal or taking on a ferocious dragon. But with Jesus in full control as Captain of the armies of God, every boy is on the winning team of life.

By nature, boys are made to be fighters and soldiers and conquerors! The interior contest in each of us is usually projected out into the world but dealing with interior matters is where victory is won.

...Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:16-20)

The Proverbs of Solomon are intensely practical:

My son, give attention to my words. Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:20-27)

God told the young prophet Jeremiah to tough it out with His master:

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, Then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, In which you trusted, they wearied you, Then how will you do in the flooding of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)

The battle to be fought and won is not about outer space but about inner space!

Think of the following as more about mastering one’s inner dragons than winning at chess or competing in a wrestling match.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...” (Ephesians 6:10-19)

Wimps and sissies and girlish boys have never won any popularity contents. Wholeness in a man is a matter of discipleship with Jesus—life makes it obvious who are the men, who are the boys, who are the drop outs!

“I beg you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove (in experience) what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27)

Convinced? There is much more that can be said about being a whole man in God through an interior training regimen led by Jesus Christ.

The Commander of the Army of the Lord

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”

So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”

Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)

General References

Wikipedia: Circumcision in the Hebrew Bible

Charles Wesley: The Circumcision of the Heart

Primitive Circumcision still goes on in certain remote tribes

It’s a tourist attraction in many places in fact!

Supplemental Reading for the Biblically illiterate

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
(Ephesians 5:1-21)


Question: "What is circumcision of the heart?"

Answer: The idea of “circumcision of the heart” is found in Romans 2:29. It refers to having a pure heart, separated unto God. Paul writes, “A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” These words conclude a sometimes confusing passage of Scripture regarding circumcision and the Christian. Verses 25-29 provide context:

“For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Paul is discussing the role of the Old Testament Law as it relates to Christianity. He argues that Jewish circumcision is only an outward sign of being set apart to God. However, if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is of no avail. A circumcised body and a sinful heart are at odds with each other. Rather than focus on external rites, Paul focuses on the condition of the heart. Using circumcision as a metaphor, he says that only the Holy Spirit can purify a heart and set us apart to God. Ultimately, circumcision cannot make a person right with God; the Law is not enough. A person’s heart must change. Paul calls this change “circumcision of the heart.”

This concept was not original with the apostle Paul. As a Jew trained in the Law of Moses, he was certainly aware of this discussion from Deuteronomy 30. There, the Lord used the same metaphor to communicate His desire for a holy people: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Physical circumcision was a sign of Israel’s covenant with God; circumcision of the heart, therefore, would indicate Israel’s being set apart to love God fully, inside and out.

John the Baptist warned the Pharisees against taking pride in their physical heritage and boasting in their circumcision: “Do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).

True “children of Abraham” are those who follow Abraham’s example of believing God (Genesis 15:6). Physical circumcision does not make one a child of God; faith does. Believers in Jesus Christ can truly say they are children of “Father Abraham.” “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

God has always wanted more from His people than just external conformity to a set of rules. He has always wanted them to possess a heart to love, know and follow Him. That’s why God is not concerned with a circumcision of the flesh. Even in the Old Testament, God’s priority was a spiritual circumcision of the heart: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done” (Jeremiah 4:4).

Both Testaments focus on the need for repentance and inward change in order to be right with God. In Jesus, the Law has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17). Through Him, a person can be made right with God and receive eternal life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). As Paul said, true circumcision is a matter of the heart, performed by the Spirit of God.

Recommended Resource: A Godward Life by John Piper


Mail: lambert@ldolphin.org

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March 26, 2019