Genesis 17:11
And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
17:7-14 The covenant of grace is from everlasting in the counsels of it, and to everlasting in the consequences of it. The token of the covenant was circumcision. It is here said to be the covenant which Abraham and his seed must keep. Those who will have the Lord to be to them a God, must resolve to be to him a people. Not only Abraham and Isaac, and his posterity by Isaac, were to be circumcised, but also Ishmael and the bond-servants. It sealed not only the covenant of the land of Canaan to Isaac's posterity, but of heaven, through Christ, to the whole church of God. The outward sign is for the visible church; the inward seal of the Spirit is peculiar to those whom God knows to be believers, and he alone can know them. The religious observance of this institution was required, under a very severe penalty. It is dangerous to make light of Divine institutions, and to live in the neglect of them. The covenant in question was one that involved great blessings for the world in all future ages. Even the blessedness of Abraham himself, and all the rewards conferred upon him, were for Christ's sake. Abraham was justified, as we have seen, not by his own righteousness, but by faith in the promised Messiah.The sign of the covenant. "And thou." The other party to the covenant now learns his obligation. "Every male of you shall be circumcised." Circumcision, as the rainbow, might have been in existence before it was adopted as the token of a covenant. The sign of the covenant with Noah was a purely natural phenomenon, and therefore entirely independent of man. That of the Abrahamic covenant was an artificial process, and therefore, though prescribed by God, was dependent on the voluntary agency of man. The former marked the sovereignty of God in ratifying the covenant and insuring its fulfillment, notwithstanding the mutability of man; the latter indicates the responsibility of man, the trust he places in the word of promise, and the assent he gives to the terms of the divine mercy. As the former covenant conveys a common natural blessing to all mankind and contemplates a common spiritual blessing, so the latter conveys a special spiritual blessing and contemplates its universal acceptance. The rainbow was the appropriate natural emblem of preservation from a flood; and the removal of the foreskin was the fit symbol of that removal of the old man and renewal of nature, which qualified Abraham to be the parent of a holy seed. And as the former sign foreshadows an incorruptible inheritance, so the latter prepares the way for a holy seed, by which the holiness and the heritage will at length be universally extended.

It is worthy of remark that in circumcision, after Abraham himself, the parent is the voluntary imponent, and the child merely the passive recipient of the sign of the covenant. Hereby is taught the lesson of parental responsibility and parental hope. This is the first formal step in a godly education, in which the parent acknowledges his obligation to perform all the rest. It is also, on the command of God, the formal admission of the believing parents' offspring into the privileges of the covenant, and therefore cheers the heart of the parent in entering upon the parental task. This admission cannot be reversed but by the deliberate rebellion of the child.

Still further, the sign of the covenant is to be applied to every male in the household of Abraham. This indicates that the servant or serf stands in the relation of a child to his master or owner, who is therefore accountable for the soul of his serf, as for that of his son. It points out the applicability of the covenant to others, as well as the children of Abraham, and therefore its capability of universal extension when the fulness of time should come. It also intimates the very plain but very often forgotten truth, that our obligation to obey God is not cancelled by our unwillingness. The serf is bound to have his child circumcised as long as God requires it, though he may be unwilling to comply with the divine commandments.

10. Every man child among you shall be circumcised—This was the sign in the Old Testament Church as baptism is in the New, and hence the covenant is called "covenant of circumcision" (Ac 7:8; Ro 4:11). The terms of the covenant were these: on the one hand Abraham and his seed were to observe the right of circumcision; and on the other, God promised, in the event of such observance, to give them Canaan for a perpetual possession, to be a God to him and his posterity, and that in him and his seed all nations should be blessed. The flesh of your foreskin, i.e. by a usual hypallage, the foreskin of your flesh; and the word flesh is here put for the genital part, as it is Leviticus 15:2,19 Eze 16:26 23:20, and elsewhere. This part God singled out for this ordinance, because it is and was a great instrument both in the commission of actual sins, and in the propagation of original sin; and therefore it was very proper to apply to it the seal of God’s gracious covenant for the remission of sins past, and the extirpation of sin for the future.

It shall be a token of the covenant, i.e. a sign, evidence, and assurance, both of the blessing promised by that God who appointed this ordinance, and of man’s obligation to the duties required, which is signified by his acceptance of and submission to this ordinance. And here we have the nature and definition of a sacrament, viz. that it is a figure or token of God’s covenant. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin,.... Or "the foreskin of your flesh" (u); by an hypallage (v), the manner in which this was performed may be seen in the Jewish writers (w), as well as the cure of the wound made, is particularly described by Leo Modena (x), and which when performed, they used to provide a dish full of sand to put the foreskin into; which was done, as Buxtorf (y) relates, to show that their seed should be as the sand of the sea, and to call to mind what Balaam said of them, Numbers 23:10; and with respect to the old serpent that deceived man, whose food is the dust of the earth, Genesis 3:14, the instrument with which this operation was performed, according to the Jewish canons, was as follows (z),"they may circumcise with anything, with a flint, or with glass, and with anything that cuts, excepting with a cane or reed, because of danger; but it is best to circumcise with an iron instrument, either with a knife or a razor; all Israelites use a knife.''The persons who might perform it, according to their rules, are these;"all are fit to circumcise (says Maimonides (a)), even an uncircumcised person, and a servant, and a woman, and a little one may circumcise where there is no man, but a Gentile may not circumcise at all; and if he does circumcise, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise a second time.''It is a little differently expressed by another (b) writer of theirs,"all are fit to circumcise, even a servant, a woman, and a little one, and an uncircumcised Israelite, whose brethren died through circumcision; but it there is an Israelite grown, and knows how to circumcise, he is to be preferred before them all; (some say a woman may not circumcise;) but an idolater, though he is circumcised, may not circumcise at all; but if he does, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise else a second time:"

and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you: of the promise of God to Abraham, that he should be the father of many nations. The apostle explains it, Romans 4:11; to be a seal, or what gave assurance to Abraham, or was a sure token to him, that righteousness would be wrought out by Christ, by his obedience, and the shedding of his blood, which is received by faith; and that this was imputed to him while he was uncircumcised, Genesis 15:6; and that this also would "be in the uncircumcision", or uncircumcised Gentiles that should believe as he did, and be imputed to them, as to him, and so he would appear to be the father of them all. Moreover, this was a sign or token of that part of the promise or covenant, which gave to his seed the land of Canaan: this was a seal of the lease of that land, which was made while Abraham was in it, and which the Israelites were obliged to submit to, upon entrance into it in Joshua's time, as a token of it; and which they were to observe while in it until the Messiah's coming, and by which they were distinguished from other nations, and kept a distinct nation, that it might appear he came of them: and to use the words of Tacitus (c), this rite was instituted "ut diversitate noscantur", that they might be distinguished and known from others; it was typical of Christ, the end of it, who submitted to it, that it might appear he was really man, a son of Abraham, and a minister of the circumcision, and was made under the law, and so laid under obligation to fulfil it; and that he was to satisfy for the sins of men by the effusion of his blood, and endure pains and sufferings, signified thereby: it was also an emblem of spiritual circumcision, or circumcision of the heart, which ties in the putting off the body of sin, in renouncing man's own righteousness, and in his being by the grace of God, and blood of Christ, cleansed from the impurity of his nature, propagated by carnal generation, in which the member circumcised has a principal concern.

(u) "praeputium carnis vestrae", Drusius, Piscator. (v) According to E. W. Bullinger, "hypallage" "relates to an interchange of construction whereby an adjective or other word, which `logically' belongs to one connection, is grammatically united with another, so that what is said or attributed to one things ought to be said or attributed to another". (w) Maimon. Hilchot Milah, c. 2. sect 2. Schulchan Aruch, par. 2. Jore Dea Hilchot Milah, c. 264. sect. 3.((x) History of the present Jews, part 4. c. 8. p. 206. (y) Synagog. Jud. c. 4. p. 104, 105. (z) Maimon. ib. c. 2. sect. 1. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. 2.((a) Maimon. ib. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. l. (b) Schulchan Aruch, ib sect 1.((c) Hist. l. 5. c. 5.

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your {d} foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

(d) That private part is circumcised, to show that all that is begotten by man is corrupt, and must die.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. a token] i.e. an outward sign. Cf. the rainbow which was the token of the covenant of Noah, Genesis 9:12-13.Verse 11. - And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. עָרְלָה, ἀκροβυστία, membrum prveputiatum, from עָרַל, to be naked, bare, hence to be odious, unclean, impure, was regarded afterwards as unclean (Deuteronomy 10:16; Isaiah 52:3; Jeremiah 4:4), and is here directed to be deprived of the skin covering its extremity, not because through it sin first discovered its effects (Peele), and original corruption is still transmitted (Lapide, Augustine), or to promote cleanliness (Philo), or to express detestation of certain idolatrous rites which were paid to it by the Egyptians and other heathen nations (Lyra, Kalisch), but

(1) as a sign of the faith that Christ should be descended from him (Lapide);

(2) as a symbolic representation of the putting away of the filth of the flesh and of sin in general (Calvin). Hence it served a variety of uses:

(1) to distinguish the seed of Abraham from the Gentiles,

(2) to perpetuate the memory of Jehovah's covenant,

(3) to foster in the nation the hope of the Messiah,

(4) to remind them of the duty of cultivating moral purity (Deuteronomy 10:16),

(5) to preach to them the gospel of a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:11),

(6) to suggest the idea of a holy or a spiritual seed of Abram (Romans 2:29), and

(7) to foreshadow the Christian rite of baptism (Colossians 2:11, 12). And it shall be a token of the covenant - literally, for a token of covenant (cf. Genesis 9:12; Acts 7:8; Romans 4:11) - betwixt me and you. On the part of God אני placed at the beginning absolutely: so far as I am concerned, for my part) it was to consist of this: (1) that God would make Abram the father (אב instead of אני chosen with reference to the name Abram) of a multitude of nations, the ancestor of nations and kings; (2) that He would be God, show Himself to be God, in an eternal covenant relation, to him and to his posterity, according to their families, according to all their successive generations; and (3) that He would give them the land in which he had wandered as a foreigner, viz., all Canaan, for an everlasting possession. As a pledge of this promise God changed his name אברם, i.e., high father, into אברהם, i.e., father of the multitude, from אב and רהם, Arab. ruhâm equals multitude. In this name God gave him a tangible pledge of the fulfilment of His covenant, inasmuch as a name which God gives cannot be a mere empty sound, but must be the expression of something real, or eventually acquire reality.
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