I First let’s take a look at what this ritual of circumcision actually entailed.
With every male baby, on the eighth day, a piece of the foreskin of the penis had to be removed. This was off course a painful thing to experience for the 8-day old boy. The piece of foreskin was then to be buried in the earth. It was not burned or thrown in the garbage. The little boy was left with a penis that was much more receptive to infections and was more sensitive than before.
Why did God choose this exact ritual to be the measure of who had entered into the covenant and who hadn’t? Well, one thing is sure. It was not at random that God wanted them to cut off a piece of skin instead of some hair. It was not at random that He chose for the Hebrews to have to cut off a piece of foreskin instead of a piece of the earlobe. It was not at random that they then had to bury the piece of skin instead of burning it or throwing it in the garbage.
The Hebrew word for circumcision means ‘to separate’. It is not like the cutting of a piece of meat or a piece of rope or any other kind of cutting. The word used for circumcision is one that is used also in the context of something that is being separated from God. Separated from His presence.
Another thing I have to point out is that the word for ‘flesh’ in English, Dutch and many other languages can mean both our physical skin and meat as well as the spiritual flesh, representing our own will, thoughts and desires. So whether I talk about my body or I talk about my flesh, or I talk about a piece of cow meat, it’s all the same word. Fleshly behaviour is also called carnal behaviour. Carnal carrying the word ‘carne’ in it, which also means ‘flesh’ or ‘meat’.
The bible says that flesh can not glory in God’s presence. Flesh was condemned to eternal doom, due to the fall of the flesh in the garden of Eden.
Flesh (our bodies) will eventually die and not remain eternally. The children of God will receive a new body. As Jesus had received a new and glorified body after His resurrection. Jesus did not come to this earth to save our physical bodies, but to save our souls. Flesh was condemned and Jesus never attempted to save it. That’s why the physical entourage of our Saviour, as Jesus of Nazareth, also could not escape the condemnation of God, which is death. But the spiritual Jesus, the Christ, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.
The same thing applies to our flesh. It’s been condemned since the beginning of times. It’s the rebellion to God that separates us from His presence. And here comes the first part in understanding the circumcision. The flesh of the foreskin was being ‘separated’ and then buried in the ground. In this way God showed the Hebrews His true intention for them. That they would consider their flesh as something that separates them from God. And that in order to get into His presence again, they should cut off, separate, remove their flesh from themselves and leave it for dead; to bury it.
God had made the covenant with Abraham and had already done his part of the duties that the covenant implied. He had walked Himself between the two halves of the sacrifice, even also on behalf of Abraham. To show him that the sacrificial part of justification can only be done by God. But here, with the circumcision, God asked of the Hebrews that now they shed some of their own blood and remove some of their skin (which is flesh in the literal sense) and suffer pain in order to enter into the covenant given by God and save their souls. It seems so insignificant to cut off a few centimetres of skin on a place that nobody really sees from the outside anyway. But if one would not be circumcised, the person would not enter into the covenant, and therefore would be separated from God’s presence completely. Like I said before, flesh (physically) is condemned from the beginning to be separated from God forever.
Stripping ourselves from our flesh is painful and not a pleasant thing to do. But in order to save our souls we have no choice but to go through this process. And afterwards, when the first pains have eased, we will find, like the little Hebrew boys, that we are much more sensitive than before. We are now detecting fleshly actions and motives much sooner. But our spiritual health is also very fragile. As infections could invade the little boys’ penis much easier after the removal of the foreskin, in the same way sin and flesh will infect our spiritual lives much sooner. Because we became more sensitive to even little sins, like wrong motivations and thought. We will also be more sensitive to God’s Spirit and the life that Jesus wants to live through us. Here is the thing to pay attention to: flesh is what we do for Him. Spirit is what He can do through us! Taking our flesh and burying it is something that happens internally and we often therefore consider it insignificant. We’d rather work at something that is visible to everyone. Yet, if we don’t strip off our flesh and bury it, and go through the pains of it, we did not enter in the covenant with God, and all of us will be considered flesh, and therefore will also be condemned to eternal separation of God.
Then last I want to focus on the fact that this whole ritual was done at the reproductive organ of the male. This is not insignificant either. God does not want any productions (deeds) in the flesh, but only in the Spirit. Because as any unremoved flesh in our lives brings on condemnation, so is anything we produce in the flesh condemned. It can not appear in God’s presence. If we never felt the pain of the circumcision of the heart, anything we do for God CAN NOT please Him, can not exist or remain forever.
It’s not the deed that determines whether something is flesh or spirit, it’s our heart’s circumcision or uncircumcision.