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Why is circumcision so important in the Old Testament?

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 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. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14

God made it clear in Genesis 17 that circumcision was a sign of the covenant, a signature on the dotted line agreeing to the contract. It was a physical agreement to the promises God made to Abraham to create a great nation. In the time of Noah and the tower of Babel, humanity spread evil when they were all together. Now God needed to separate a group from the rest and make a specific contract with them. He chose Abraham to begin that process.

Circumcision is symbolic.
  • It is a fleshy reminder of a spiritual promise.
  • It signifies a legacy, since it is the porthole of future children.
  • It signifies righteousness, since it can be abused for unrighteousness.
  • It is a branding, indicating who one belongs to.
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. Romans 2:28-29

It is also the slicing away of an unnecessary part of the body, just as our sinful flesh should be circumcised (cut away from our lives) when we received Christ. When we are circumcised of the heart, we are cutting away the unnecessary worldly matters that corrupt our allegiance to God.

So circumcision is unnecessary today. It was instituted as a practice to point to a spiritual truth. Today when we ask Jesus “into our heart” we are removing the instincts of the flesh and inviting in the matters of the spirit.