You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Genesis 17:11
Over the years, we’ve witnessed a recurrent story from the guys in our jail Bible study. When an inmate is released but then relapses and returns to jail, we always ask what happened. The story usually goes like this – I was doing well, staying sober, and then I met this girl . . . In pursuit of the girl, he abandoned his recovery and began drinking alcohol because of the girl. This isn’t the girl’s fault. She doesn’t have a problem with chemicals. The problem lies in the sex drive of the one telling the story. In his pursuit of sex, he put his sobriety and freedom in jeopardy. Now, he sits in jail recognizing that his penis once again got him in trouble.
What does this have to do with circumcision? In today’s passage, God promised Abraham that his offspring would become a great nation. He then commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and every male offspring throughout their generations. Why circumcision though? Why not cut off the tip of the left ear? Why the foreskin?
There are health benefits to circumcision that I’ll not go into, and maybe God had those in mind, but I think the reason God marked his men with circumcision had to do with the meaning of the penis in men’s lives. The story of Sarai’s servant provides an excellent example of how men go wrong in following their drive for sex and offspring. In that story – which I blogged about a few days ago – God promised Abram a son, but Abram got impatient. His wife was barren and so Abram impregnated his wife’s servant. This wasn’t God’s plan. It was Abrams’ plan, executed through sex, propagating conflict for generations. This, I think, is why God chose the sacrifice of circumcision to mark his people. God wanted Abram and his offspring to follow him with all of themselves. This included submitting their sex drive and their offspring to him.
What’s the application for us? This isn’t only about men and it’s not about physical circumcision. We may follow Christ without being circumcised. This is about circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). This is about submitting our entire lives to God, including our sex lives, our romantic relationships, and our children. When God asks us to follow him, he asks that we follow him completely. Circumcision was a symbol of man following God even with the most personal parts of his life. So, we too, must submit everything to God. That one thing we hold back for ourselves is often the one thing we need to surrender the most.