AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
In Genesis 17, Yahweh appeared to 99 year old Abraham and established a covenant with him. What was that covenant about? Yahweh said:
“As for Me, My covenant is with you: you will become the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you. I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:4-8)
Here God is promising childless Abraham (who is still going by the name Abram) that he’s going to have many descendants. In other words, Abraham’s family line will continue on and on—it won’t be some flash in the pan that disappears from the history books after a few generations. Notice how God promises Abraham will end up the father of both nations (signifying great numbers) and kings (signifying importance). So Abraham’s descendants aren’t going to just be a bunch of nobodies—some great men will come from his line. Of course Abraham will be long dead before any of this happens, but in Abraham’s culture, it’s extremely comforting to think that your family line is going to continue long and strong. So God is putting out promises that have a very positive psychological impact on Abraham.
Yahweh also promises that Abraham and his future heirs will inherit a particular patch of land—Canaan, aka “The Promised Land”. Yahweh also says that this circumcision thing is such an important concept that anyone who doesn’t participate is going to be considered in violation of the covenant, and rejected by Yahweh.
“If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Gen. 17:14)
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin around the end of a man’s penis. Yahweh said that infants should be circumcised when they were eight days old. Clearly this was not something women could participate in, so did that mean Yahweh wasn’t inviting women to participate in His Covenant? Not at all. Yahweh loves both genders equally, but He is working with male-dominated societies in which the men were considered the rulers of the home. In practice, women actually had major clout in the home, and we find evidence of them wielding their power over men all throughout the Old Testament, but culturally, men were viewed as the lords and masters. If the man declared the household to be followers of Yahweh, that’s what they were.
CIRCUMCISION IN PERSPECTIVE
Now let’s put circumcision in perspective. At eight days old, little Joshua isn’t making an informed decision about who he wants his God to be. Jewish men didn’t choose circumcision, it was forced upon them by their parents. After this conversation with Yahweh in Genesis 17, Abraham is going to go home and start clipping every male in his vast household: adults and babies alike. This is the kind of power the man had over the people underneath him. If Abraham orders you to drop your drawers and get snipped, you don’t have the option of saying “no”. The father’s command was to be treated as law by both sons and slaves alike. This is how the culture worked.
Understanding what an involuntary thing circumcision was for Jewish males helps us understand that this act in no way caused a soul to be saved in the eyes of God. Salvation has always been a result of an individual soul personally submitting to God and willfully choosing to align with His demands. Spiritual salvation can’t be obtained through physical rituals. Circumcision was something God used to physically set His chosen people apart. But it was also a very private sign. Yahweh was anti-streaking in public, so if you were honoring God in life, no one but your wife and parents should ever see evidence of your circumcision. But you would certainly see it, and that physical symbol would hopefully become a daily reminder to you that you were one of Yahweh’s chosen people. This was the original plan, but it didn’t work out, because we find circumcised Jews spitting in Yahweh’s face all throughout the Old Testament.
Now because Yahweh uses forever language when discussing circumcision with Abraham, it’s easy for Christian men today to get concerned.
“I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you.” (Gen. 17:7)
“If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Gen. 17:14)
We certainly don’t want to be cut off by Yahweh just because we didn’t do some simple snipping, and when Yahweh starts talking about everlasting covenants, it sounds like this circumcision thing is still in force. And yet it’s not.
Here’s where we have to remember that our Gods are wild and unpredictable. They make promises, and They break them. They draft covenants, and later They scrap them. There is nothing preventing Yahweh from introducing an entirely different covenant tomorrow, in which He says, “You know how I didn’t tell any of you about Jesus for thousands of years? Well, I’ve got more secrets to reveal. There’s actually a fourth God that I’m about to introduce, and unless you all submit to Him as well, I’ll take your salvation away from you. The Covenant I introduced through Christ is now null and void—I’m changing the rules up again and you all had better keep up.” God gets to do whatever He wants whenever He wants. When He established a Covenant with Abraham, Yahweh made the circumcision ritual a requirement. Later on when He introduced the Sinai Covenant through Moses, He kept the circumcision requirement and added on hundreds of new rules and rituals. But then when Christ came, there was a radical shift. Circumcision, intercession, sacrifices, and dietary laws were all thrown out. The New Covenant is quite a departure from the two previous Covenants because of its shocking lack of rituals. Jesus introduces the concepts of Communion and baptism, but nowhere does He say that if we don’t do these things God will take major offense. The current Covenant has a shocking lack of focus on religious rituals, and there is an important reason for this.
CHOSEN VS. SAVED
Christians today have a poor understanding of what it did and didn’t mean to be one of God’s “chosen” people under the Old Covenant. When we read too much into this label, we end up very confused about how salvation worked under previous Covenants.
Under the Old Covenant, being “chosen” had nothing to do with being in a right relationship with Yahweh. You should think of “chosen” as a synonym for “spiritually illuminated” or “informed.” The Jews were Yahweh’s “informed” people. He had given them special education about who He was and what He wanted. Each individual Jew then decided how he would respond to this information. Those who chose to blow off the illumination they’d been given ended up in Hell. Those who cherished the illumination and earnestly desired to please God in their souls ended up in Heaven. So you see, merely being “chosen” didn’t get anyone saved. Salvation has always depended on how our souls respond to God internally.
Now more education results in greater accountability. The Jews didn’t ask to know about Yahweh, He came to them and voluntarily downloaded volumes of illumination into their brains. That decision on God’s part suddenly made the Jews extra accountable to Him. To eat blood when you don’t even know who Yahweh is won’t get you into trouble with Him. But to eat blood after Yahweh has specifically commanded you not to—well, that becomes willful defiance. Because they were so informed about what Yahweh wanted, the Jews got in extra trouble with Him for defying Him. This is why we find Yahweh reaming them out so much in the Old Testament. He’s extra mad because their defiance of Him is extra pointed. Yahweh didn’t consider any of the little jerks to be saved while they were spitting in His face. Only those who sincerely sought Him were in for eternal rewards. It is the Jews Yahweh is speaking about when He says:
“Truly they love to wander; they never rest their feet. So Yahweh does not accept them. Now He will remember their guilt and punish their sins.” (Jer. 14:10)
“Israel, you recognize what is right, but you refuse to act on it. You hear, but you refuse to listen.” (Isa. 42:20)
Simply being “chosen” or “informed” does not give people a free pass to sin without consequences, yet this is how the Church tries to present the “chosen” concept today, which is why you’re taught to suck up to Israel—that “chosen” nation who can do no wrong in the eyes of God. This is utterly absurd. When people who know better spit in God’s face, they will receive a much harsher judgment than those who sin out of ignorance. God is a fair Judge (see Understanding God’s Justice: Inequality in Hell).
BEING CAST OUT OF THE COMMUNITY
Now once we understand what “chosen” meant under the Old Covenant, we can get a more accurate understanding of what Yahweh meant when He threatened to cut off anyone who didn’t get circumcised. When God refers to “My people” in the Old Testament, what He usually means is: “The people I have blessed with extra illumination about who I am and what I want.” This is entirely different than saying “The people I am currently pleased with.” An individual Jew could be chosen by God and disgusting Him at the same time.
Now God used the term “Israel” to refer to the large group of people who had received extra illumination from Him—specifically, an understanding of His Old Covenant requirements. Anyone could become an “Israelite” or a “Jew” by converting over to Judaism. In the story of Esther we find this interesting statement:
And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. (Esther 8:17)
So the term “Jew” was not limited to meaning “a genetic descendant of Jacob.” Sometimes it was used that way, but other times it just meant, “someone who has converted to Judaism.”
Now as we read through the tenants of the Old Covenant, we find Yahweh putting out a long list of crimes which can cause someone to be “banned from the community” or “cut off from his people.” These laws are about trying to protect Yahweh’s “chosen” or “informed” people from negative spiritual influences by driving away those who were flaunting their willful defiance of God. An examination of Yahweh’s Old Covenant Laws reveals that not every sin resulted in being driven out of the community—only certain sins which Yahweh had decided were symbols of persistent soul rebellion. For example, it wasn’t hard to get circumcised in ancient Israel. This was a very simple procedure and when your whole country practiced it, you could easily find someone to help you with the snipping. So let’s say your parents were defying Yahweh and they didn’t circumcise you as an infant. Yahweh doesn’t blame you for this. He waits until you grow old enough to understand what He requires of you, then He makes sure you are taught that He orders all of His male followers to get circumcised. When you are exposed to this information as an adult male, you can easily choose to correct your parent’s negligence by getting yourself circumcised. If you really cared about God, you would do this—especially once you learn how strongly Yahweh feels about it. But if instead you shrug the whole thing off with a “who cares?” attitude, then clearly you are not bothered by the idea of being cast out of Yahweh’s “chosen” nation. Why doesn’t this bother you? Because you don’t care about pleasing Yahweh. Well, this is willful defiance, and Yahweh doesn’t want your foul attitude to drag others down, so He commands that His obedient followers drive you out of Israel. The goal here is to remove your negative influence from the community. Now Yahweh doesn’t say that once you’re gone you can’t come back. If you get your act together, get circumcised, and return with the appropriate sacrifices and a repentant heart attitude, Yahweh will accept you. If you remain sincere in your desire to please Him, you’ll end up in Heaven. Salvation has always been about soul attitude and has never been obtained by clipping foreskins. Yahweh invented these kinds of rituals under the Old Covenant to help identify willful rebellion and drive it out of a community of people who had received extra illumination from Him.
Now it’s critical to remember that “chosen” doesn’t mean “saved.” It’s also important to realize that the Jews didn’t choose Yahweh—He chose them, and His interest in them was not reciprocated.
When they were suffering as slaves in Egypt, the Jews were worshiping a whole pantheon of Egyptian gods. Sure they cried out to Yahweh for help—but they would have been crying out to their other gods as well. It was a very unusual thing for Yahweh to haul a huge mob of people out into the wilderness and basically coerce them into a relationship with Him. The Old Covenant functioned like an arranged marriage. By the time the Jews were stranded in a wilderness with limited supplies and one God who is promising all kinds of miraculous help if they agree to His Covenant, we can hardly say their submission to Him was sincere. Sure they verbally vowed to obey Yahweh—but then they went into their tents and worshiped their Egyptian gods as well.
Yahweh reached out to the Jews, but very few Jews actually took His hand. Most just gave Him lip service. Circumcision quickly became nothing more than a cultural tradition—it had nothing to do with sincere soul submission to Yahweh. Now when Yahweh first introduced circumcision to Abraham, and Abraham went home to snip himself, Abraham was engaging in a ritual that had great personal significance to him because Abraham was sincerely devoted to Yahweh in his heart. But when Abraham then ordered all of his servants to get clipped, they weren’t going along with it because they cared about Yahweh. They were getting forced into it as a consequence of living in Abraham’s household. Later on, Jewish boys were forced into circumcision by their parents, and the ritual became devoid of all personal meaning. “I circumcise my sons because that’s my cultural tradition,” is entirely different from, “I circumcise my sons because I really want to be pleasing in God’s sight.” Once our religious rituals become meaningless routines, they lose all purpose and they actually start getting in our way. Throughout the Old Testament, we find Yahweh complaining about His people doing rituals that He ordered them to do because He could see their hearts just weren’t in it. The rituals were supposed to lead souls to God, but instead they became meaningless. How annoying is it to see your wife wearing her wedding ring when you know she’s sleeping with another man?
Circumcision was supposed to be a symbol of sincere commitment to Yahweh, but for most Jewish men, it just didn’t turn out that way. They didn’t choose to get circumcised, and when they grew into adults, they decided to commit themselves to demonic idols instead of the one true God. Circumcision then became a farce—a physical sign of dedication to Yahweh that no one really meant. Well, after centuries of this hypocrisy, Yahweh decided He was fed up. So when He drafted His New Covenant, He threw out the concept of His people going through certain behavioral rituals in order to showcase their devotion to Him. Under the New Covenant, Yahweh doesn’t require any kind of anatomical changes. Instead, He focuses on the only thing that has ever mattered: our soul’s response to Him. He demands our sincere, reverential submission to our three Creators: Himself, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He eliminates the concept of conditional salvation. Under this New Covenant, you’re either in or you’re out. Yahweh has revised His definition of “My people” so that it can no longer include anyone who He has not eternally accepted.
Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh demanded that the Jews demonstrate their commitment to Him through circumcision. Under the New Covenant, He demonstrates His commitment to us by having the Holy Spirit permanently indwell in us after salvation. The Old Covenant worked like a marriage that could end in divorce. The New Covenant works like a permanent adoption. The Holy Spirit doesn’t drift in and out of us. Yahweh has changed the way that He handles the atonement of our sins. Through the sacrifice of Christ, He declares that ALL of our sins—past, present and future—are permanently atoned for once He accepts us as His kids. He promises that He will NEVER cast us out—that our adoption is a permanent, eternal deal. Then the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us in order to eliminate all fear of being cast out. Under the New Covenant, circumcision has no meaning whatsoever. It is God who seals us as His own—we do not need to keep His seal intact with external behaviors.
When properly understood, the New Covenant brings great joy, peace, and rest. God’s permanent adoption of us inspires us to want to pursue Him with all that we are. Under the New Covenant, intimate communion with our Creators is the new, thrilling theme. We no longer need priests to educate us on all the rituals Yahweh demands of us—instead the Holy Spirit whispers God’s will directly to our souls. We don’t have to keep away from Yahweh’s Presence in the Holy of Holies while some priest intercedes with God on our behalf. Instead, Yahweh invites us each to speak directly to all three of our Creators in the privacy of our own souls. Everything is up close and personal in this New Covenant. Everything is gloriously simple. Circumcision is gone, the rituals are gone: it’s just us and Them, and They promise that if we sincerely want to succeed with Them, They will make sure that we do.