What does the Bible say about circumcision? In part 1, we examined what the book of Genesis teaches us about it, and discovered that the first half of the book deals with Gentiles (non-Jews), and there were three specific Gentiles (non-Jews), all descendants of Seth, Adam’s third son, who were said to “walk with God,” prophesied, and experienced something miraculous in their life: Enoch, Noah, and Abram.
The second half deals with the descendants of Abraham. In this part, we noted that Israel came into existence when God renamed Jacob as “Israel,” and that the word “Jew” was not possible, until the birth of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, since it’s a shortened form that’s derived from his name. But the term “Jew” did not begin to be in use until the Babylonian exile, when those from the southern kingdom of “Judea” started being called “Jews.”
Finally, we concluded that Genesis taught that one did not need to be circumcised to be a worshiper of God, but it was required to be a part of the Abrahamic covenant, and to be ONE with the family of Israel. We are now continuing in our study through the rest of the Pentateuch.
CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS
— Israel’s Relationship with God
The book of Exodus builds upon what we’re taught in the book of Genesis. There’s a very interesting comment made at the end of Exodus chapter 2:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and GOD REMEMBERED HIS COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them. (Exodus 2:23-25; Emphasis Mine)
In Genesis 15, when God entered into covenant with Abram, He prophesied to him the events of the Exodus, and it was now time for God to make good His promise to bring the people of bondage and to take them to the land He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In other words, the Exodus didn’t just happen, but it was the literal fulfillment of what God verbally promised Abraham in Genesis 15 during his vision.
It should also be noted that there’s no example in the Bible of God beginning a relationship with the use of a covenant. Instead, our relationship with God begins with Him calling us to repentance, just as He called Abram to public repentance by leaving his old life behind: his country, his family and relatives, and his father’s house, all of which were involved in pagan worship and practices.
Once Abram repents by leaving it all behind, there’s a time when Abram gets to know God more BEFORE he enters into covenant with God in Genesis 15. One of the purposes of a covenant is to move the relationship to a deeper level, to intensify and strengthen it. God does not begin the relationship in Genesis 15, nor in Genesis 17, but He is moving it forward.
And just like God called Abram to repentance by leaving his old life behind, God requires the same of all his seed. And in the book of Exodus, God calls the children of Israel and the mixed multitude of Gentiles (non-Jews) who joined them to leave their old life in Egypt behind. There is a leaving that God requires of anyone who desires a relationship with Him. Therefore, it is critical that we understand that the purpose of circumcision was not to establish the relationship between an individual and God, but it was an outward sign that this individual had been sanctified, or set apart, for God’s use.
For example, in Exodus 4, look what God tells Moses he is to say to Pharaoh:
And the LORD said unto Moses, When you go to return into Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And you shall say unto Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, EVEN MY FIRSTBORN: (Exodus 4:21-22)
Notice that God identifies Israel as “My son, even My firstborn.” Obviously, for God to identify Israel as “My son, even My firstborn,” God must already be in an intimate covenant relationship with Israel. Many have been erroneously taught that Israel’s relationship with God began at Mt. Sinai, but this statement contradicts this teaching. Since God and Israel are already in a relationship, even before the ten plagues or the exodus from Egypt, then Israel’s relationship with God couldn’t have possibly begun at Mt. Sinai.
AN AMBIGUOUS PASSAGE
So Moses is to tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, EVEN MY FIRSTBORN“; however, the following verse, verse 23, is rather ambiguous as to who is being addressed. On the on hand, it seems to be a continuation of what Moses is to tell Pharaoh, but then we get to verse 24, and all of a sudden, verse 23 seems to indicate that God has changed the direction of the conversation, and He is speaking now to Moses:
And I say unto you, Let My son go, that he may serve Me: and if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your son, even your firstborn. And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. (Exodus 4:23-24)
As we can see, these two verses raise many questions: “Who is the ‘you’ here: Pharaoh or Moses?” “Who is the ‘him’ that the LORD met at the inn: Moses or his son?” “And why does the LORD seek to kill him?” Then in the next two verses, we read the following:
Then Zipporah [Moses’ wife] took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband are you to me. So He let him go: then she said, “A bloody husband you are, because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:25-26)
These two verses also raise questions: “Why did Zipporah circumcise her son? Why didn’t Moses do it?” It might be that since Zipporah and her family were descendants of Midian, who was the fourth son of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2), that they may have followed the practice of descendants of Ishmael, circumcising their sons at the age of thirteen, rather than at eight days old. But it’s apparent that Moses did not circumcise his son at the appropriate age. Also, we’re not sure if Zipporah circumcises her son to save Moses’ life or to save her son’s life. But this scene seems to suggest that by Moses not circumcising his son, he was keeping him from serving God. And it seems God was going to kill him for his disobedience.
And of course, this raises an important question, “If by Moses not circumcising his son could keep his son from serving God, then how does that fit in with the example of men from Seth to Abram who ‘walked with God,’ served Him, and were yet uncircumcised? The Bible does not give us an answer to any of these questions, but the narrative of the Exodus simply continues.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UNCIRCUMCISED”?
If the point of being CIRCUMCISED is to be a part of the Abrahamic covenant, to become ONE with the family (now tribes) of Israel, and to be an outward sign that we have been sanctified, or set apart, for God’s use, then what does it mean to have “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS“?
And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS? (Exodus 6:12; Emphasis Mine)
And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me? (Exodus 6:30; Emphasis Mine)
Certainly in making these statements, Moses is alluding here that there’s something even deeper about CIRCUMCISION than what we’ve learned so far. In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45); therefore, “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” is the result of an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART.” And we also see this in a passage in Leviticus:
If they confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary to Me; and that I also have walked contrary to them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their UNCIRCUMCISED HEARTS be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26:40-42; Emphasis Mine)
Here we can infer that an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART” is proudful, arrogant, stubborn, unyielding, unrepentant, and disobedient. Consequently, “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” would be those that speak words reflective of these attitudes. So if “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” reflect an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART,” then why would Moses, who is described in the Bible as the humblest of all men, describe himself as having “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” after Israel refused to listen to him?
I think many times we read over the biblical accounts, but we don’t stop to really consider what is being said and why. And as a result, we end up missing the deeper lesson that God has for us in these accounts.
PASSOVER – THE FULFILLMENT OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
I think it’s wondrous that the event that freed the children of Israel and the mixed multitude from slavery was the Passover. By having the Passover happen on the same night that Genesis 15 happened, 430 thirty years earlier to the day, God is connecting the two events.
Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, TO THE VERY DAY, that all of the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:40-41; Emphasis Mine)
Nor is this my interpretation of this statement. Paul also makes this connection as well in his epistle to the Galatians:
What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:17-18)
God keeps His promises. What He promised Abraham, He fulfilled to the very day. And we are taught in Scripture that Passover is one of the LORD’s feasts (Leviticus 23:2, 4-5), and it is to be observed FOREVER.
And this day shall be to you for a memorial; and you shall keep it A FEAST TO THE LORD throughout your generations; you shall keep it a FEAST by an ordinance FOREVER. (Exodus 12:14; Emphasis Mine)
Obviously, if it is to be kept as an ordinance FOREVER, then it could not have possibly ended at the cross, as many today teach.
PASSOVER AND CIRCUMCISION
And it is also during His instructions regarding Passover that God again gives instructions regarding circumcision.
And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no STRANGER [Heb. nekhar] eat thereof: But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when you have CIRCUMCISED him, then shall he eat thereof. (Exodus 12:43-44; Emphasis Mine)
- Nekhar (Strong’s #5236): That which is foreign, a foreigner, strange, a stranger. It is used of a foreign god, of feign altars, a foreign country, and everything foreign.
A FOREIGNER [Heb. toshav] and a hired servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth aught of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall you break a bone thereof. All of the congregation of Israel shall keep it. (Exodus 12:45-46; Emphasis Mine)
- Toshav (Strong’s #8453): A non-native settler, inhabitant, a foreigner, an alien, an emigrant. Someone who sojourned and inhabited in a foreign country where he was not naturalized.
And when a STRANGER [Heb. ger] shall sojourn with you, and will keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males BE CIRCUMCISED, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no UNCIRCUMCISED person shall eat thereof. ONE LAW shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns among you. (Exodus 12:47-49; Emphasis Mine)
- Ger (Strong’s #1616): It denotes a stranger, foreigner, alien, pilgrim, sojourner, guest, visitor. The patriarchs were called by this term while they sojourned in the land of Canaan, and the majority of their descendants were called by this term while they were in Egypt (Exodus 23:9). In fact, Moses named his son Gershom to commemorate his stay in Midian (Exodus 18:3). This classification meant that one enjoyed certain civil rights but not property rights. Much of the law of Moses applied to those who preferred to live among the Israelites.
Now in consideration of these three Hebrew terms for non-Jews, I found a couple of things interesting. (1) The terms Nekhar and Ger are translated by the same term, “STRANGER,” even though they are the furthest apart, and Toshav, which is closer to Ger, is translated as “FOREIGN.” (2) Regardless of the classification, God makes it clear that an “uncircumcised person [specifically a man, since women did not get circumcised] were not to eat the Passover sacrifice.
DID THE NEED FOR CIRCUMCISION END AT THE CROSS?
The majority of Christians would argue that the law, including the need for circumcision, ended at the cross; however, there’s a problem with that point of view. And that is, during the Millennial reign of Christ would Jesus is ruling on this planet and the physical presence of God will also be on this planet, dwelling within His Temple, the law, the Temple, the Levitical Priesthood, the animal sacrifices, the feasts, the Sabbath and new moon celebrations will all come back in full force, including the requirement of circumcision.
In fact, God is very specific in Ezekiel 44:9, that no uncircumcised person is allowed in His Temple:
Thus says the LORD God; NO STRANGER, UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART, NOR UNCIRCUMCISED IN FLESH, shall enter into My sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.
Now does this mean that Christians will not be in the Millennial Kingdom? No, we will be there, but it does mean that we have been circumcised, we will not be allowed into the Temple. We will be able to go as far as the outer courtyard, but no further. And we will not be able to eat of the Passover sacrifice, unless we have been circumcised. So ask yourself the question, if all these laws are in full force on earth when God and Jesus are in charge of everything – and everything is being done their way – then does it make any sense at all to say that Jesus died to do away with something that He’s only going to bring back when He returns? Jesus died to do away with the law of sin, NOT the law of God.
Our problem in Christian church is that we have looked back to the cross (which we should do), but we have failed to look forward to the coming Kingdom Age of the Millennium and to form doctrines that are consistent with these two ends of the spectrum. And there are many, many Christians who are continuing to do the same thing. And until we start looking at both ends of the spectrum, we will continue to get it wrong.
CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS
And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be CIRCUMCISED. (Leviticus 12:3; Emphasis Mine)
So again, here in the book of Leviticus, God is just re-affirming the fact that male infants are to be circumcised on the eighth day. But then, seven chapters later, we are met with another question: If UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS are words that come from an UNCIRCUMCISED HEART, then what does it mean to have UNCIRCUMCISED FRUIT FROM A TREE?
And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall count the fruit thereof as UNCIRCUMCISED: three years shall it be as UNCIRCUMCISED unto you: it shall not be eaten of. (Leviticus 19:23; Emphasis Mine)
Remember to be CIRCUMCISED is an outward sign that has been set aside for God’s use and purpose, so if the FRUIT OF A TREE is UNCIRCUMCISED, then it’s not been set aside by God to be used for His purpose. And as His people, we, likewise, are only to eat what He has declared to be CLEAN or CIRCUMCISED. If God does not permit us to eat it, then it is wrong for us to do so. He is the King; He sets the rules, NOT US.
CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
Now in the book of Numbers, there’s to be one practice regarding offering, whether they are made by Jews or by a STRANGER (or Ger):
And if a STRANGER [Heb. ger] sojourn with you, or whoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, or a sweet savor unto the LORD; AS YOU DO, SO SHALL HE DO.
After stating this, God proclaims this legislative policy to reaffirm the equality that’s to exist between the children of Israel and the non-native Gentile (or Ger):
ONE ORDINANCE shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns with you, an ORDINANCE FOREVER in your generations: AS YOU ARE, SO SHALL THE STRANGER [Heb. ger] be before the LORD. ONE LAW and ONE MANNER shall be for you, and for the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:14-16; Emphasis Mine)
Just as the Passover laws are to be the same for both the native-born children of Israel and the Ger (“Stranger”; Gentile, non-Jew), so we find the general principle here in regard to the other laws as well.
CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY
Then, finally, in the book of Deuteronomy, we again see the connection being made between CIRCUMCISION OF THE FORESKIN to be an outward sign of the CIRCUMCISION OF ONE’S HEART.
CIRCUMCISE therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. (Deuteronomy 10:16)
The opposite of having a CIRCUMCISED HEART is to be proudful, arrogant, stubborn, stiff-necked, unyielding, unrepentant, and disobedient. These are qualities and characteristics that take us away from God, NOT to God.
AN END-TIME PROMISE
Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, God gives the children of Israel and the mixed multitude of Gentiles with them a promise that God is still working on fulfilling today, but it will reach its complete fulfillment during the Millennium:
That then the LORD your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from ALL THE NATIONS, wherever the LORD your God has scattered you. If any of yours be driven out unto the THE UTMOST PARTS OF HEAVEN, from there will the LORD your God gather you, and from there will He fetch you: and the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers. (Deuteronomy 30:3-5; Emphasis Mine)
And the LORD your God will CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEART, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and that you may live. And the LORD your God will put all these curses upon your enemies, and on them that hate you, which persecuted you. And you shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all His commandments which I command you this day. (Deuteronomy 30:6-8; Emphasis Mine)
So in ending our study of CIRCUMCISION within the Pentateuch, we’ve discovered that it involves so much more than simply a surgical procedure. Men and boys who are CIRCUMCISED are identifying themselves with the Abrahamic Covenant, the family and people of Israel, but they are also identifying that they have been sanctified, or set apart, by God for His use and purpose, and are, therefore, pledging to live with CIRCUMCISED HEARTS AND MINDS (bare, open, soft and pliable) before God all the days of our lives. To do anything else would be to defile our CIRCUMCISION. The rest of the Bible may develop these ideas more, expound and elaborate upon them, and perhaps even add to them, but it cannot CONTRADICT them or OPPOSE them.
Now in saying this, some may wonder if I am saying that Paul was in error in his teachings about CIRCUMCISION? But as you will see, Paul’s position was as a result of things that were going on during the first century, C.E., which had nothing to do with what God taught in His Word here in the Pentateuch. And because most Christians do not study the Bible as a whole, since many believe that “the law” or the “Old Testament” ended at the cross, or is not to be a part of the Christian experience, they end up with a distorted view of Paul and his writings, as I will show when we get there.