“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”—Genesis 17:10–11
At the very foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith is the concept of the covenant, or brit In Hebrew. The Bible teaches us that God chose and initiated a covenantal relationship with us — one that defines events of the past and assures us of promises for the future. This is one of six devotions related to these divine contracts that eternally bind us with God.
Did you know that circumcision was the first commandment given by God to Abraham, the first Jew? In establishing the covenant with Abraham, God, for His part, promised to make Abraham into a “mighty nation.” Abraham not only would be the father of one nation, but a “multitude of nations.” God would give Abraham millions of descendants. (See Genesis 17:1‑6.)
For his part, Abraham was required to follow the terms of the covenant, which included circumcision. So at age 99, Abraham was circumcised, and all males in his household were circumcised as well. It is a sign of the covenant which has become central to Judaism.
Circumcision was an act of total obedience. More than anything else, circumcision set God’s people apart from their pagan neighbors. It was the sign of belonging to the covenantal people. And in Abraham’s day, it was essential to developing the pure worship of the one true God.
It’s important to note that the act of circumcision itself does not make a person Jewish. Rather, it gives testimony that, through obedience of the parents, the child is now covenanted with all the children of Israel — past, present, and future — and with God. It is a sign that the Lord who called Abraham, our father, calls us, Abraham’s seed, and bids us to accept the covenant for ourselves and for our children. It is a sign of the partnership between God and Israel.
And so, at brit milah ceremonies, we give God the gift of our sons, and we give our sons the promise and hope of God. As Rabbi Shai Held, a noted lecturer and adult educator, writes, “Circumcisions are still painful to watch. But perhaps that is as it should be. If we succeed in raising our children to love what is good and just, and to pursue what is holy and of ultimate value, then we will undoubtedly see them hurt and disappointed time and again.”
In what ways can we demonstrate our commitment to God’s covenantal relationship with us?
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