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The Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14, 22-27)

July 19, 2021 | by: Gregg Hunter | 0 comments

Posted in: Genesis 17

Throughout Scripture, God makes promises with His people, and His people accept those promises by faith. Then, we demonstrate this inward faith through outward obedience, including through an outward sign. As believers, under the New Covenant, the outward sign that demonstrates our inward faith is baptism. Baptist does not save us—a person can go to heaven without being baptized, but baptism does demonstrate to the world that we have already been saved. Under the Old Covenant, that outward sign was circumcision.


Please read Genesis 17:9-14.

The language of this passage is interesting. God tells Abraham, “this is my covenant… every male among you shall be circumcised” (v. 10). This seems to indicate that Abraham’s role in the covenant was to get circumcised. But then God says of circumcision, “it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (v. 11). So which one is it? Were Abraham and his family saved by circumcision, or was it just a sign?

Obviously it was a sign. Think for instance of the women in Abraham’s household: they weren’t circumcised, but they were under God’s covenant. Furthermore, God has made His promise to Abraham of children and land three times already, and not once was it dependent on Abraham being circumcised. The Scripture clearly says that Abraham “believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6). It was Abraham’s faith in God that saved him, not the act of being circumcised.

This doesn’t mean that circumcision was of no value. For God commands that “any uncircumcised male… shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (17:14). Though saved by faith, failure to continue to exercise faith through obedience would result in a loss of the covenant promises.


Abraham responds to God’s command in verses 22-27. Please read them now.

Basically, Abraham did exactly what God told him to do. At 99 years old, he was circumcised! Ouch! Can you imagine? What about his teenage son? You think your teenagers have a hard time listening to you? Think about poor Ishmael being told he had to get circumcised when he was only just becoming a man—not exactly the bar mitzvah he was expecting! It was certainly painful, but Abraham and his entire household obeyed.

Just as circumcision was an outward sign of inward faith, so is its modern day equivalent: baptism. There is no reason why a Christian should not be baptized. Think of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s rhetorical question after getting saved: “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:37).

Baptism may not seem like a big deal to some. It may seem awkward or strange to you, but it’s nothing considering how circumcision must have sounded to the 99 year-old Abraham. Baptism is commanded by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (see Matt. 28:19). Once you have trusted in Him for salvation, one of your first steps in obedience should be to follow His command to be baptized.

If today, you have never been baptized, but call yourself a Christian, ask yourself why you are failing to obey Jesus as Lord. And if you have been baptized, then remember that it is an outward declaration of your inward faith. Continue to declare that faith each day through continued obedience to our Lord.