This is one of those chapters that strengthens my faith in the veracity of the Word of God. Let’s face it. No man would have decided circumcision was a requirement unless they had been commanded by God. Seriously, anthropologists tell us this ritual existed long before Abram and that he was likely first introduced to the practice when he lived in Egypt (in chapter 12).
Our pastor spoke this weekend about Jesus’s Sabbath-day healing of the man born blind in John 9. He talked about how we often dwell on the cause of our suffering, rather than God’s purpose for it. Although all suffering is the result of sin in the sense that the first sin introduced suffering to God’s perfect creation. The creation we live in is now broken, not as it was originally created, and not as it will one day be re-created to be. But God is able to take even this brokenness and give purpose and meaning, to bring something good out of something bad.
So in the context of Abram and the rite of circumcision, we may not fully understand why God chose to use this practice as a sign of His covenant with Abram. We may wonder if it offered practical health benefits in an era where basic hygiene was difficult. We may wonder why cultures as far-flung as Oceania and South America had similar rituals.
But there are several purposes this rite achieved:
First, it required Abram and each one who chose to submit to it to make themselves completely vulnerable and to trust God.
It set apart those who followed God in a physical, permanent way.
Similar to the Christian ritual of baptism, it illustrated dying to self and living anew according to God’s standards.
It’s important to note that, as hard a command as this might be, Abram followed it the same day. And he compelled every man in his household, including his thirteen-year-old son Ishmael, to do the same.
God often commands us to do far less and we balk at it. We delay or make excuses or ask for a sign that He really, REALLY wants us to do what He’s clearly told us in His Word. He's not asking us to cut off a piece of flesh, but we still find obedience difficult. Or maybe that’s just me.