Theme: Circumcision and Faith
This week’s lessons teach the importance of Israel’s consecration before they began their conquest of the Promised Land.
As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.
When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
Now it’s worth thinking about these two acts of consecration. Circumcision was the sacrament that had been given to Abraham so many years before. It was the mark of being a member of the covenant people, and it was accompanied by the promises of God. In this particular covenant, it was a case of God establishing the terms by which He would be the God of the Jews and the Jews would be His people.
Later on there were covenants that, in technical language, are called bilateral. That’s to say there are agreements to be carried out on both sides. But the covenant made to Abraham was not bilateral; it was unilateral, which meant that God established it and Abraham had nothing to do with it. God said, “I’m going to be your God and I’m going to be the God of your descendants after you, and because I’m your God and the God of your descendants, you’re going to do certain things.” In response, Abraham believed God and obeyed, because that’s the only thing you can do when God establishes a covenant like that. God said, “As a sign of that covenant, you’re going to circumcise all of the males in your family, and this is going to be a mark upon you and your descendants forever.
In Abraham’s faith and obedience, he was receiving and acting upon the promises of God. You may recall that in this particular case it also involved the change in Abraham’s name. He had been called Abram before this, which meant “exalted father.” Yet he had no children. It must have been a great source of embarrassment to him to have to explain again and again when people asked, “How many children do you have?” that he actually didn’t have any. Of course, eventually he went on to become a father when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. But that did not happen until he was 86 years old.
God said in the context of the establishing of the covenant and the covenant sign, “You are to change your name from Abram to Abraham,” which is a form of intensifying it. It’s like saying instead of your name being “exalted father,” it’s going to be “father of a vast, vast multitude.” And Abraham did it. He did it because he believed God’s covenant promises, even though by this time he was 99 years old and still had one son.
Abraham would’ve gotten his great group of people together there at the oasis at Hebron. He would’ve announced the change of his name, and I suppose some of the servants, when they heard he was going to do that, would’ve laughed about it. When they first heard it, they might have said, “No wonder. A name like ‘exalted father’ brought all that ridicule all those years. Wonder what he’s going to change it to. Maybe he’s going to change it to ‘father of one.'” But instead of that, Abraham changed it to mean “father of a vast, vast multitude,” and it indicated his faith in God, his faith in God to keep His promises as the God of the covenant.
You see, when we come to God in faith, that’s what we’re believing. We’re believing that the God who had revealed Himself in history and, in our case, primarily in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a covenant-keeping God. Just as Abraham changed his name in his response to that covenant, indicating his obedience to what God said to do and indicating his faith in what God was going to do, so in a sense we also change our names. That is, we take the name of God upon us. We become Christians.
What is the difference between a bilateral and a unilateral covenant?
What did each of Abraham’s two names mean? What seemed strange about God’s command to Abram to change his name? What did this change signify?
To learn more about the biblical teaching of circumcision, study the following passages: Genesis 17:1-14; Romans 2:28-29; and Romans 4:1-12. What do they teach us about the spiritual significance of circumcision?