To: en & others
From: Su Min
My dearly beloved children
Today we read Genesis 17 and get a feel of what circumcision is like (in a theological sense, not a physical one!).
In 17:1, God appears to Abram and speaks to him. His call to Abram to walk and to be blameless seems to me to reflect the recognition that Abram has not been blameless over the last 99 years, and particular his dealings with Hagar were much less than perfect. But God in his love, chooses to overlook the shortcomings: God forgets the past errors, wipes the slate clean, and asks that Abram now walks before God and be blameless.
One of the great miracles of the Word of God is that it is timeless. It is true yesterday, today and forever. And so, even as we read Genesis 17:1, I believe we hear God say to each one of us, "come my child, I love you, walk before me and be blameless." Can you hear God saying that to you today? God forgets our past errors, wipes the slate clean, and asks that we now walk before Him and be blameless.
So God calls Abram, asks him to be blameless, and confirms his covenant. Abram's response is appropriate. Abram is not conceited. Abram is not full of self pride. Abram must have been filled with remorse. Abram must have seen that he was blameful not blameless. Abram falls face down, prostrate before the Almighty God in worship, and reverence. Perhaps it is good to think of adopting this posture physically as well as mentally and spiritually when we approach the Lord God Almighty, blam, flat on our face, in the oriental kowtow and bow and scrape demeanour.
In vs. 2-8 God redefines the promise to make Abram a great nation, (promoting Abram, exalted father, to Abraham, father of many) and covenanting that they will possess the promised land of Canaan.
In return, the people of Abraham are to mark their side of the deal by marking the most precious part of any man's body: remember the sex drive that we talked about in Gen 16. The part of the body that mistakenly went into Hagar? Circumcision was not invented for Abraham, because it was already part of puberty rites in the surrounding regions. But here God wants to establish a sacred rite as a mark of obedience.
Fortunately for us, Jeremiah 4:4 speaks of circumcision of the heart, showing that it is the will and mind that should be nicked and cut and marked (and not the foreskin) as a sign of obedience to God: the OT requirements have been reformed in the NT, and in Romans 2:25-29 reiterates Jeremiah 4:4 to identify circumcision of the heart, to teach us that obedience to God is more important than cutting off a piece of skin. In Colossians 2:11 we learn of the circumcision not done by hands. 1 Corinthians 7:19 says clearly "Keeping God's commandments is what counts!" and His commandments are summarised beautifully for us by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40.
As much as we of the NT are relieved of this bit of theology, leaving our private parts intact, so more so are we obliged to make that mark in our hearts and dedicate ourselves to God in obedience. Having established that Abraham and his descendants should circumcise as a mark of their covenant with God, God also speaks to Abraham about Sarai, renaming her Sarah, princess, and speaking of her son to be, and the nations and the kings that are to be from Sarah (Gen 17:15-16).
Next we see the first documented case of RTFL (compuspeak for roll on the floor laughing). Abraham falls on his face and laughs and talks to himself. Here we can see the wry Jewish humour. "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?" "Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" You can almost hear him continue, "Will pigs fly?" Abraham will not believe the Lord God Almighty. Abraham doubts the ability of He who created heaven and earth and all that is in it and all that is beneath it. Abraham already has a son Ishmael. So he asks that Ishmael be recipient of the blessings (Gen 17:18). God confirms that Sarah indeed will bear a son for Abraham and the boy will be named Isaac, "He laughs". Indeed God promises great things for Ishmael (Gen 17:20), but God covenants greater things yet for Isaac (Gen 17:19 & 21).
In acceptance of this covenant Abraham and all his household undergo the ritual of circumcision.
To us in 1995, we turn to passages of the NT such as Galatians 5:6 "For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value." (so those with their foreskins still intact need not feel so smug) "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." And again in Gal 6:15: "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, what counts is a new creation." So we know that we must express our faith by being new creatures, not full of selfish love but through selfless love, loving God and loving our neighbour.
Let us end today with Psalm 51, especially vs. 1&2 and vs. 17.: Amen !
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
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