Bible Reading Blog — January 6, 2016

6 Jan

Today’s Readings — Genesis 12-17 & Mark 1:16-20

Let’s talk circumcision. You don’t read a blog opening like that every day, do you? Circumcision is introduced in Genesis chapter 17 as a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 which was affirmed in chapter 15 and re-affirmed in chapter 17. The interesting thing about the covenant God made with Abraham is that it was a one way covenant. God made the promises, God set the conditions, and God carried out the requirements of the covenant. The only thing required of Abraham was ongoing trust in God and His promises. This one way covenant is illustrated in chapter 15 by the vision Abraham had of the smoking torch and blazing firepot passing through the halves of slain animals that had been placed on the ground. This kind of slaying of animals and passing through them was a way of affirming a human covenant in the ancient world. Both parties passed through the animals to say in effect, “May what has been done to these animals be done to me if I break this covenant.” But in chapter 15, only the presence of God, symbolized in the torch and the firepot, passes through. It is a one way covenant.  What is Abraham’s response? Chapter 15 simply says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The nature of Abraham’s relationship with God is the same as we who believe in Jesus. God does the work, God makes and fulfills the promises, we trust in the promises and walk as those who trust the promises in our daily lives. Other ways of living are about what we do, Christianity is about what God has done.

Which brings us to circumcision. In Genesis 17, circumcision was added as a sign of the one way covenant. With chapter 17, the people of Abraham were to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant God had made with them. Thus there was now an outward sign of the inward faith which was the human requirement of the covenant with God. But even this sign gives away the true nature of life under the one way covenant. Not to get too graphic here, but apart from family and the immediate community, no one but the man himself knew whether he had been circumcised. Further, even after circumcision, the fact that a man had been circumcised was hidden as it were, a clothed and inward thing. In this way, circumcision was an appropriate sign of the covenant of faith. Faith likewise is inward. We can’t tell at first glance all those who have faith. Finally, circumcision was a sign which did not apply to half of the covenant recipients: the female descendants of Abraham. So it is clear that circumcision was not set up as a condition of the covenant but as a sign of the covenant. Of course, all who were of faith were to be circumcised, but not as a matter of rule-keeping but simply as a sign of the relationship with God which God had given to them, a sign which the New Testament points to repeatedly as signifying a heart of faith.

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