Genesis 069 – The Reality Behind the RitualGenesis 17:9-14 • Dr. Andy Woods • February 6, 2022 • Genesis
Alright! Well, good morning everybody. Appreciate everybody coming out in the midst of all of this global warming today (laughs). Genesis chapter 17, taking a look at this morning at verses 9 through 14. The title of our message this morning is “The Reality Behind the Ritual”, the reality behind the ritual; and if you’ve been tracking with us, we have been journeying verse by verse through the book of Genesis, having already covered chapters 1 through 11 (Gen 1-11), part one of the book, which features four events that we’ve studied in detail:
Creation, fall, flood and national dispersion and yet through it all a promise is being traced. There’s a Messiah coming. He is announced for the first time in Genesis, 3, verse 15 (Gen 3:15) and by the time you get to chapter 12, there’s some tension because we don’t know through which nation the Messiah is going to come and God says, don’t worry about that, I’ve got everything under control, I’m going to start a new nation, the nation of Israel. So once you get to chapter 12 through the end of the book it is all about the formation and then ultimately the preservation of Israel, featuring four people, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. It all begins with this man Abram, whose name as we saw last week was changed to Abraham and so we have been carefully tracing the life of Abraham and we have to spend some time on this because he is a foundational character in the Bible. If God had not done providentially what He did in and through the life of Abraham, the nation of Israel wouldn’t exist and with no Israel there’ll be no Messiah. 2:27
So we move into chapter 17 now, which is all about something called circumcision. Wow! How many churches do you go to and you can hear something about circumcision? Well, here in chapter 17, the Covenant is restated.
We saw that last week verses 1 through 8 (Gen 17:1-8) and now we move today into the Covenant token which is the ritual called circumcision, verses 9 through 14 (Gen 17:9-14). Here is our outline that we’re going to follow this morning as we try to navigate our way through this passage.
The first thing that we see here is an obligation and notice if you will, verse 9 (Gen 17:9): God said further to Abraham, Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant… One of the things that’s important to understand is when God told Abraham, Abram now Abraham, I want you to keep my Covenant, He was not telling him to keep the Covenant so he could get the Covenant, He was not telling him to keep the Covenant so he could retain the Covenant because getting and receiving the Covenant from God that we call the Abrahamic Covenant is already a done deal. It’s a unilateral Covenant going all the way back to Genesis, 15; and so if that Covenant is already a done deal, why does God tell him to obey? Is He telling him to obey or else he’s going to lose it? Is He telling him to obey to get it? And none of those things are true. He is told to obey because his identity is different now. God made it different. God decided unilaterally and providentially to execute this Covenant through Abraham and what He’s telling Abraham to do is now act your age, act like a grown up because that’s who you are. 4:42
What you see in the Bible is the same principle applied to us. The story of the Bible is not what man does for God. The world of religion will tell you that but that’s not what the Bible is about. The Bible rather is about what God has done for man. God has given to us, in the person of Jesus Christ, an indescribable gift and what we are told now is to act like people that have received this gift. Don’t act like you used to act because your behavior should be different because now your identity is different. This is Paul’s whole point in Romans, 12, verse 1 (Rom 12:1) where he says: Therefore I urge you, brethren… Christians in other words… by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship… He doesn’t say here, you’d better act right so you can get salvation, you’d better act right so you can keep salvation. What is saying is you should behave correctly under God’s resources and power because you have salvation. That’s why he says before he gives this exhortation to present your bodies as a holy sacrifice, acceptable to God… He says: …you should do so, brethren by the mercies of God… Now what mercies of God is he talking about?
Well, this comes in Romans, 12. So the mercies of God must refer to something he described earlier which is Romans, 1 through 11. Romans, 1 through 11, he outlines the plan of salvation. He gives a greeting and then he tells us why we need salvation and then in chapter 3, verse 21 (Rom 3:21) through the end of the chapter he describes salvation and then in chapter 6 through 8, he describes the resources that we have to live for God and then, in chapters 9 through 11, he says, you can bet your bottom dollar that God is going to keep all of His promises to you because He’s going to keep His promises to Israel and it’s only at that point that you get the word “Therefore” and the exhortation to present your body as a living and holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. There are many, many people in the world of religion that would not have wanted this order. They would have wanted Romans, 12, verse 1 (Rom 12:1) first. So you can get everything else mentioned on the list but Paul, of course, does not do that. He explains that the story of the Bible is not what man does for God, it’s what God has done for man and once you begin to understand this indescribable gift you live and act differently. You live according to your new position. You don’t live under threat that, Oh my Gosh! It’s going to be ripped out from under me at any point, but it’s just a reasonable thing to do. It’s a logical thing to do considering what God has already done for us. 8:17
“It is the same principle in salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, not based on works. Once saved, believers retain salvation unconditionally; but in response to God’s love for them, believers are expected to keep His commandments. However, whether believers keep them or do not keep them, their salvation is secure.”
Arnold Fruchtenbaum puts it this way, concerning what God just said to Abram about verse 9 (Gen 17:9), keep My Covenant. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says: It is the same principle in salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, not based on works. Once saved, believers retain salvation unconditionally; but in response to God’s love for them, believers are expected to keep His commandments. However, whether the believer keeps them or not… decides to keep them or does not keep them, their salvation is secure… The truth to the matter is the Covenant was entered into in Genesis, 15 and Genesis, 16 as we’ve studied, Abram did not act his age. He got involved in human manipulation and scheming and unbelief, even today what we would call sexual immorality and yet, through that entire experience, the Covenant still remained his. He just wasn’t acting like a person that had received a Covenant from God in chapter 16. So now in chapter 17 God reiterates to Abram, I want you to act age appropriate, don’t act like you did in chapter 16 but act like someone that just received a Covenant from God Himself and that’s the content of chapter 17. You’ll notice what Dr. Fruchtenbaum says here: …Once saved, believers retain salvation unconditionally… Jesus made this statement in John 10:27 through 29 (John 10:27-29): My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me; I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish ; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand… Once a person places their faith in Christ for salvation, they are kept not just by the Son but by the Father. They’re in what I like to call the double grip of grace and once you’re in the double grip of grace nothing and you’ll see there in brackets that I’ve got the Greek translation of “never perish”, it’s a negation, a dual negation which is the strongest negation you can have in Greek and then you’ll see in the brackets there the word “aiōnia” which means forever. I mean, a better translation of this, with all due respect, is they will never, never, never, never, never perish with fifteen exclamations points after it. That’s what it says in the Greek. No one will snatch them out of My hand. You can’t even snatch yourself out of the Father’s hand and the Son’s hand because you’re kept by grace. Grace means unmerited favor. You were brought in through unmerited favor and you are kept by unmerited favor. I mean, you couldn’t wiggle your way out of this if you wanted to and very… many religious institutions, churches are afraid to teach this doctrine because what they think is Gosh if you teach this, people are going to just live like the devil. I mean, if once saved, always saved is true… Gosh! They’re just going to go right back to the flesh now that the threat of hell is over and live the way they want and the truth to the matter is it’s the exact opposite. It’s hard to find people as sold out to the cause of Christ as people who understand the doctrine of grace, because once you understand the doctrine of grace that good works don’t get you in the door and good works don’t keep you in the door, you begin to understand what God has given you. You begin to understand your new identity and there’s just a logical and natural desire to live a life yielded to the things of God and thus, God tells Abram here, you shall keep My Covenant. 13:01
Now, there’s something coming in this passage called circumcision and it has nothing to do with the Abrahamic Covenant in terms of its reception. The Abrahamic Covenant was the reality. Circumcision that God is going to orchestrate here and ordain for Israel is just the ritual behind the reality and the world of Religion will always try to inverse or reverse the two. Paul was dealing with that kind of thing in his day in the first century, he was dealing with the Pharisees, a group of people called the Judaizers and they were running around telling people that you’d better be circumcised and you’d better submit to the Law of Moses or else you’re not a believer; and they were using that to try to undermine Paul’s doctrine that he taught in Romans, 4 of justification by faith alone and they were using Genesis, 17 to teach their man made works doctrine. So, Paul has to deal with this in Romans, 4 and verse 11 (Rom 4:11) where he quotes the passage: Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness… and then Paul says, Romans 4:10, How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but uncircumcised… In other words, if circumcision somehow gives somebody salvation, then why was Abram justified before God by faith alone before circumcision ever came into existence? Because circumcision is not something that God ordained until Genesis, 17, Abram salvation occurs two chapters earlier, Genesis, 15. Abram was saved before God before circumcision existed, before the Law of Moses given six hundred years ever existed and when Paul is wrestling with the legalists and the religionists, all he does is, he says: Read your Bible and read it in order… Cause it’s very easy to come in here to Genesis, 17 and try to make it sound like it’s some kind of works oriented religion but when you understand that Genesis, 17 wouldn’t exist unless there was a chapters 1 through 16 first, amen? One of those being chapter 15, it completely undoes what the religionist argues. 15:53
We have the same sort of struggle today concerning the ritual of baptism. There are many people that believe that unless you are baptized you are not a Christian. You have to be baptized to go to heaven. Those that baptize infants would say, you know, the path way to hell is paved through the skulls of unbaptized infants and what they are doing is they are confusing the ritual with the reality. Baptism is a wonderful thing but it doesn’t save anybody. There are many, many people trusting in their baptism for salvation and in fact, maybe it didn’t work in one instance so they go to the next instance and then they go to the next instance and they find themselves entering hell basically waterlogged because baptism was never designed by God to save anybody. Faith alone in Christ alone saves, so then why be baptized? It’s the reality or the ritual I should say behind the reality. The religionists always reverses the two and God will not accept salvation from people on the basis of works, any work, whether it’s circumcision or baptism. Why? Because if my salvation before God was contingent upon my baptism certificate, then I have something to boast about, don’t I? But God has designed salvation in such a way whereby boasting is excluded. Romans, 3 verse 27 (Rom 3:27) says: Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith… Thinking that you’ll arrive in heaven because you’ve been baptized would allow boasting. Thinking that you’ll arrive in heaven because of circumcision would allow boasting which God would not allow; and so this order that we’re teaching this in, you can see it becomes very important.
Back to verse 9 (Gen 17:9) it says: God said further to Abraham, Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant and your descendants after you throughout their generations… So what is about to be outlined here, what is about to be ordained is transgenerational. It is a practice for the nation of Israel, not just to be followed by Abraham, but by his descendants. So with the Covenant obligation now discussed, now we move into the actual token of the Covenant and you see that there in verses 10 and 11. Notice verse 10 (Gen 17:10): This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised… Uhm, dropping down to verse 11 (Gen 17:11): …And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign… Now you should underline that word sign there in verse 11… it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you… Every covenant has a sign attached to it. We’ve already studied Genesis, 9, the covenant that God made with Noah and its promises and of course the sign of that would be what? The rainbow. I’m sorry to be politically incorrect here but the LGBT Q U etc., etc., etc. movement did not invent the rainbow. The rainbow is God’s idea and it was a sign of the Noahic Covenant. The rainbow itself was not the covenant it was just a sign behind the reality.
The Abrahamic Covenant as we’re studying here has a sign to it, it’s circumcision. The Mosaic Covenant that’s going to be entered into by God in Israel six hundred years down the road at Mount Sinai has a sign to it, it’s called the Sabbath and then there’s the New Covenant where God promises to take His Laws and write them into the hearts of the Hebrews and based on how the New Testament cites that Covenant, we in the church age are partakers in it. We don’t take it over but we partake in it. The parts of it that relate to salvation, the inner work of the Holy Spirit through regeneration, being born again, we partake in that covenant and God in the upper room, Jesus in the upper room says, Here is the ritual that you are to practice in the church age of the reality of the New Covenant we just participated in it a little earlier, the ritual of communion, the Lord’s table. It’s a sign to that covenant. Just like Sabbath is a sign of the Mosaic Covenant, Circumcision a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, Rainbow a sign of the Noahic Covenant. 21:25
Circumcision when you study it, was really not something brand new. Other ancient people groups practiced circumcision as well. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says:
“Circumcision did not begin with Abraham; it was practiced by other societies before Abraham such as the Egyptians (Jer. 9:25–26). After Abraham, it was also practiced by Arabs, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites (Jer. 9:25–26). It was not practiced by Mesopotamians, Arameans, or Philistines (Judg. 15:18; I Sam. 17:26, 17:36). Mesopotamia and Aramea were where Abraham came from.”
Circumcision did not begin with Abraham; it was practiced by other societies before Abraham such as the Egyptians. After Abraham, it was also practiced by Arabs, Edomites, Moabites, and the Ammonites… And interestingly he says: …It was not practiced by the Mesopotamians or the Arameans or the Philistines… Circumcision couldn’t have been practiced amongst the Philistines because of what David said, remember? Concerning Goliath: Then David said to the men who were standing by him, What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and rids Israel of the disgrace?… David says: …For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he dared to defy the armies of the living God?… So circumcision is practiced amongst some groups in the Ancient Near East but not others. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says: …Mesopotamia and Aramea were where Abraham came from… So Abraham came from an area, we believe, Mesopotamia, the Ur of the Chaldeans where circumcision was not a normal practice. So God is revealing to Abram something that he really had no understanding of at this point and he has to walk by faith because it was a ritual that was completely brand new to him, although it wasn’t brand new to other people groups of the world. Again verse 11 (Gen 17:11) he says: you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign it should be a sign of the covenant between Me and you… Now, the foreskin of the flesh, once that goes through the ritual of circumcision, obviously there’s a little blood, some blood in the process and God set it up that way because the blood is a reminder that Abram was in a blood covenant with God. The covenant that God entered into with Abram in Genesis, 15, was very bloody because he was told to take animals and cut them in two and arrange them in two parallel rows and the great surprise in that chapter as we studied, is Abraham was put to sleep and God alone as represented by the oven and the torch pass through the animal pieces. There was blood, the blood of animals. The circumcision of the foreskin is a reminder of that blood. Circumcision as we all know, it’s done to the male reproductive organ. Why is God doing things that way? Because of the promise of many seed or descendants. Where does the seed come from? It comes from the sperm. Where does the sperm come from? It comes from the reproductive male organ; and so this ritual that now Abraham and all Israel is to practice is a reminder of the seed promises, many descendants and the little bit of blood that’s involved in it is a reminder of the blood covenant back to Genesis, 15. So you see that this is a ritual but there was an actual reality behind it. It wasn’t some sort of arbitrary thing that God decided just like today as we celebrated our participation in the New Covenant, the bread represents something: the body of Christ that was sacrificed in our place. The cup of Christ represents something: the blood of Christ that was spilled in our behalf and as we partake of that ritual together, we have sign reminders of what Jesus did for us. It’s the same kind of thing in a different sense that God is calling Abraham to here in Genesis, 17. 26:05
So we have the obligation, we have the token, now we have verses 12 and 13 (Gen 17:12-13) the inclusions. Who is going to have to be circumcised? Good question. Two groups: (1) Abraham’s seed and (2) Outsiders who have joined Abrahams’ group.
So Abraham’s seed is described there, his children, this is his physical descendants. It’s described there in verse 12 and before I do verse 12, one thing I wanted to say as a reminder back in verse 10 (Gen 17:10) it says, every male among you shall be circumcised. There is actually, when you read up on this, such a thing as female circumcision and God never called for that. This was something that He only called for in terms of the males. So what males have to be circumcised? Abraham’s natural seed and those that joined his entourage that were not his natural seed. So the natural seed is spoken of there in verse 12 (Gen 17:12): Every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations… Group (1) Your physical descendants. Now, you’ll notice there in verse 12 (Gen 17:12) this is to happen on the eight day. Circumcision was to happen on the eighth day following birth. I ran into this fascinating quote from a medical journal and perspective. I don’t claim to be any kind of medical authority, so I’m just going to read what they say here. But they talk here about the medical genius of God saying this concerning the eight day.
“Designating the eighth day after birth as the day of circumcision is one of the most amazing specifications in the Bible, from a medical standpoint. Why the eighth day?…Circumcision on the third day could result in a devastating hemorrhage. The intestinal bacteria finally start their task of manufacturing vitamin K, and the prothrombin subsequently begins to climb. On day eight, it overshoots to 110 percent of normal, leveling off to 100 percent on day nine and remaining there for the rest of a person’s healthy life. Therefore, the eighth day was the safest of all days for circumcision to be performed.”
“On that one day, a person’s clotting factor is at 110 percent, the highest ever, and that is the day God prescribed for the surgical process of circumcision. Today vitamin K…is routinely administered to newborns shortly after their delivery, and this eliminates the clotting problem. However, before the days of vitamin K injections, a 1953 pediatrics textbook recommended that the best day to circumcise a newborn was the eighth day of life.”
Quote: Designating the eighth day after birth as the day of circumcision is one of the most amazing specifications in the Bible from a medical standpoint. Why the eighth day?…Circumcision on the third day could result in a devastating hemorrhage. The intestinal bacteria finally start their task of manufacturing vitamin K… And here’s a word I can’t even pronounce here, some of you are a lot more knowledgeable in medicine than I am, I think that’s called… prothrombin, something like that? I’ll see, someone else come up here and preach the sermon (laughs) Prothrombrin, Okay or bin, whatever you can read it there …subsequently begins to climb… So I am a doctor but it’s not a medical doctor. My daughter says, I’m a Sunday School Doctor (laughs)… On day eight, it overshoots to 110 percent of normal, leveling off to 100 percent on day nine and remaining there for the rest of a person’s healthy life. Therefore, the eighth day was the safest of all days for circumcision to be performed… On that day, a person’s clotting is at a factor… it’s clotting factor is at 110% the highest ever and that is the day that God prescribed for the surgical process of circumcision. Today vitamin K is routinely administered to newborns shortly after their delivery and this eliminates the clotting problem. However before the days of vitamin k injections, a 1953 pediatrics textbook recommended that the best day to circumcise a newborn was the eight day of life… (close quote). 30:12
I love these kinds of titbits because it shows you that God actually put this universe together and knows what’s going on. He may not give all of the medical information that I just read there to Abraham, Abraham is to walk totally on faith here but God knows what He is doing and the Bible is true. The doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, the Bible without error, includes spiritual issues but it also includes medical issues, the Bible is not a medical textbook but when it touches on those issues, it’s accurate in what it says. The same with issues of history, the same with issues of archeology, the same with the issues of geology, the same with the issues of geography and that’s sort of the neat thing about becoming a student of the Bible. The Bible happens to brush on those other issues and you have to know a little bit about these other disciplines to validate whether God’s word is true or not. Jesus said, John 17:17, Thy word is truth… We believe here in full inerrancy. There are many who don’t believe that. They teach a doctrine of partial inerrancy. Oh, the Bible is true on heaven and hell and salvation and angels and demons and spiritual things that you can’t see but it can have mistakes in it when it comes to archeology, history, geology, geography, science, medicine, etc.… In fact, when I was thinking about going to seminary in southern California where I grew up, there was a seminary very close to where I live that looked like it might be a place for me to go but I decided not to go there for one simple reason. They did not embrace full inerrancy. They taught that the Bible can actually have mistakes in it concerning these physical matters and my thought process at the time was, well, if you can’t trust the Bible on the things you can see, how in the world are you supposed to trust it on the things you can’t see. I can’t see heaven, I can’t see hell, I can’t see Satan, I can’t see angels, I can’t see demons and yet, God expects me to believe what He says on those subjects and how can I ever do that if I thought the Bible had a mistake in it on something that I can see. So we here reject partial inerrancy, we believe in full inerrancy as I’ve tried to explain it, the fancy term for that is plenary inerrancy; and you see it with all kinds of interesting things right down to the eighth day of circumcision. Now, what about these outsiders that are brought in, second half of verse 12 and into verse 13 (Gen 17:12-13)? We know that males, Abraham’s seed, on the eighth day are to be circumcised. What about others? He says: …and a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants… Verse 13 (Gen 17:12-13): A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised… So those that have joined your entourage Abraham, that seek to identify with you, who are not your natural seed, they have to be circumcised also, not to give them the Abrahamic Covenant, everybody has that in and through this man Abraham, but rather as a ritual behind the reality. 34:27
So, as we’ve been traveling through the book of Genesis, there have been a number of people that have been brought in from the outside. Abraham traveled up to Haran early on and someone joined the party called Eliezer of Damascus Genesis 12, verse 5 (Gen 12:5) and he becomes a big deal in Genesis, 15, verse 2 (Gen 15:2) cause Abraham mistakenly thought that the Covenant was going to be fulfilled through him and God was very clear that no, the Covenant will not be fulfilled through Eliezer of Damascus, it will be fulfilled through an heir from your own body.
And as we’ve traveled through the book of Genesis, we remember chapter 12, verse 16 (Gen 12:16) where Abram lost faith in God in the midst of a famine and he went on a temporary sojourn into Egypt and God dealt with him there in Egypt and when Abram came out of Egypt, Genesis, 12, verse 16 (Gen 12:16) says: Therefore, He… that’s Pharaoh… treated Abram well for her sake… That’s Sarai… and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys, male and female servants and female donkeys, and camels… So Hagar joins the party as do other Egyptian males and so they had to be circumcised as well. Why is God having outsiders to the party circumcised here? I think it relates to the fact that when God gave Abram the Abrahamic Covenant it was intended to bless the world. The blessing was not just given to Abraham for the sake of Abraham but rather it was given for the purpose of God blessing Abraham who in turn would be a blessing to the world and this is sort of an outworking of it, as now outsiders joining the entourage are required to participate in the ritual of circumcision as a sign that they are identifying with the Covenant. Genesis, 12, verse 3 (Gen 12:3) says: I will bless those who bless you, And the one who blesses you…. the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed… God blesses so we can be a blessing to other people. When God gave you blessings, and you have some, we’re all blessed in different ways, whether it is temperament, skills, finances, time, talent, treasure. When God gives you something special, He doesn’t just have you in mind. He has in mind all of the people that He wants to bless through you. This is how God works and this is what God did with Abraham early on and that’s why these outsiders that have come in outside of Abraham seed, immediate seed, had to go through the ritual of circumcision as well. 38:09
Well, how long is this ritual of circumcision to be practiced for? Look at the second part of verse 13 (Gen 17:13): … And thus My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant… The Abrahamic Covenant itself is eternal. In fact, three times in this chapter, Genesis, 17, verse 7, verse 13 and verse 19 (Gen 17:7,13,19). This is called an eternal Covenant.
That’s how we know that the Covenant is unconditional and it rests for fulfillment totally on God’s shoulders because only an eternal God can enforce and keep an eternal Covenant and God is forever. Psalm, 90, verse 2 (Psalm 90:2) says He is forever: …from everlasting to everlasting, thou are God… Romans, 16 and verse 26 (Rom 16:26) talks about how God is the eternal one and so therefore the execution of the Covenant rests totally upon God. The Covenant is designed to last forever so therefore the ritual of circumcision, in terms of its duration, which is the sign pointing to the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the ritual behind the reality is to be practiced amongst Abraham’s descendants, physical descendants, forever. The ritual is eternal because it testifies to the Covenant and the Covenant itself is eternal. Which raises a very interesting question because we as members of the church are not Israel and if the Covenant is to be practiced and the ritual is to be practiced forever, is this still binding on the church today? I would say no in the sense that the church is an interruption. The fancy name for this is an intercalation in God’s past work and future work with Israel. We are so foreign to Israel’s program that the only name that Lewis Sperry Chafer could come up with to describe the church and its relationship to Israel is an intercalation, which essentially means an interruption. We are an interruption in God’s work with Israel, in the past sixty nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy and the future seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy in the seventy weeks and there’s the church, seemingly oddly inserted, almost a disruption.
Chafer called it an intercalation. We teach here the intercalation model of the church. The church is not Israel, Israel is not the church, we are a temporary interrupter, if you will, in God’s past work and future work with the nation of Israel.
We’re a peculiar man, a peculiar body, where Jews and Gentiles are together in this one new man having equal standing. That as Paul unfolds it in Ephesians, 2, in Ephesians, 3, is an idea that you will never find in the Old Testament. You see a few vague hints of it in the Gospels. The book of Acts chapter 2 is when it started. Paul in Ephesians, 2 and 3, didn’t start the program. He simply explained it from prison and so the church is not Israel and Israel is not the church so therefore, these provisions relating to Israel are non-binding on the church today. In fact, in the book of Galatians chapter 2, verse 3 (Gal 2:3) Paul was dealing with people who thought you had to be circumcised to be justified before God. Paul says in Galatians, 2, verse 3 (Gal 2:3) if that were true, why was not even Titus, who was with me, a Gentile, he goes on and says, though he was a Greek, why was he not compelled to be circumcised? So if the church is supposed to participate in this ritual of circumcision, certainly, Paul would have had Titus circumcised but he did not. Now, obviously, the ritual of circumcision is still practiced today for medical reasons, health reasons and that of course is completely legitimate but we don’t teach, Gosh! You’d better be circumcised because that’s what Israel’s called to do, because we are not Israel. 43:44
Arnold Fruchtenbaum puts it this way, and he has a little different take on it than I do.
“Circumcision is as everlasting or as long as the Abrahamic Covenant itself. Therefore, while today there is no basis for circumcision under the Law of Moses, there is a requirement of circumcision under the Abrahamic Covenant. It is still mandatory for Jews, which therefore includes Jewish believers in Jesus…In addition, indeed, the New Testament does not rule out circumcision for Jews; only circumcision for Gentiles is ruled out under the Mosaic Law (insofar as for religious reasons, although circumcision for health reasons is a separate issue).”
He says: Circumcision is as everlasting or as long as the Abrahamic Covenant itself. Therefore, while today there is no basis for circumcision under the Law of Moses, there isn’t a requirement under the Abrahamic Covenant. It is still mandatory for the Jews… And then he says: …which therefore include believers in Jesus. In addition, indeed, the New Testament does not rule out circumcision for Jews; only circumcision for Gentiles is ruled out under the Mosaic Law… And then he puts in parenthesis: …(insofar as for religious reasons, although circumcision for health reasons is a separate issue)… Close parenthesis, close quote. Translation, this is something that God gave to Israel and so it’s not something that a Gentile has to do to obey Genesis, 17. Now, they might want to do it for medical reasons and health reasons but that’s a different matter entirely. Fruchtenbaum though is of the belief that if you are a Jewish Christian today, you’re still bound by Genesis, 17. That’s where I would have a slightly different take on it because I think a Jew today, who is a believer in Jesus, is actually part of the church and this is not prescribed for the church. So, that’s the best I can do answering the question: Is this supposed to be practiced today? My answer is no. Fruchtenbaum’s answer is yes if you happen to be a Jewish believer. That’s the nice thing of being around two theologians as you’ll get five opinions about something (laughs) So I know that was probably about as clear as mud the way I’ve explained, right? Hopefully that clears up things just a little bit. 45:56
Well, if it’s not for salvation, then I guess it is not important, right? No, think again, because God here outlined a penalty for those that were supposed to practice this that didn’t and that penalty is described there in verse 14 (Gen 17:14): But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be… Wow, this is pretty strong here… shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant. Now, there’s a wordplay happening here. In Hebrew, Victor Hamilton describes this wordplay as follows:
“This expression undoubtedly involves a wordplay on cut. He that is not himself cut (i.e., circumcised) will be cut off (i.e., ostracized). Here is the choice: be cut or be cut off..”
This expression undoubtedly involves a wordplay on cut. He that is not himself cut (i.e., circumcised) will be cut off, meaning ostracized. Here is the choice: be cut or be cut off… It’s kind of a convenient way of summarizing verse 14 to Israel. Be cut or be cut off. What does it mean to be cut off? It could mean being ostracized from the community of Israel and it can also mean premature death. Now, there’s something very interesting that happens in the book of Exodus six hundred years later concerning Moses. It’s a passage that’s so strange, it’s easy to just rush over it and not absorb it’s import but it’s there in Exodus, 4, verses 24 to 26 as God is dealing with Abram, excuse me, Moses to be the deliverer of Israel and law giver. It says in Exodus, 4, verse 24 through 25 (Exo 4:24-25): Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him… This is the Lord meeting Moses …and sought to put him to death… God was about to kill Moses here …Then Zipporah… That would be Moses’ wife …took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me… So He, that’s God, let him alone at that time, at the time she said you are a bridegroom of blood to me, because of the circumcision. What in the world is going on there in Exodus, 4, verses 24 through 26 (Exo 4:24-26)? As God is raising up Moses to be the next instrument that He will use to liberate Israel from Egyptian bondage, there was a failure brought out in Moses’ life because his second son was not circumcised and consequently God was about to kill Moses, that’s what the Bible says. Moses was struck with a deadly illness. Why? Because of the failure to circumcise his second son. Moses’ wife intervened, the second son was circumcised and Moses’ life was spared. 49:44
Now, I don’t know at all how to interpret that particular passage in Exodus, 4, unless I have Genesis chapter 17, verse 14 (Gen 17:14) in my Bible, where God says: If you don’t practice this, you will be cut off… Your choice: be cut or cut off. Practice the ritual or be ostracized from the nation of Israel. Practice the ritual or your life could be terminated early and God was about to execute that through the person of Moses. This is all very interesting because it gives us a different perspective on the rituals of God. The rituals of God don’t save anybody. Yet we think in our minds that these rituals, I guess, if they don’t save, they are not important. Are you kidding me? They are very important. Moses himself almost lost his life over it. What does Paul say to the Corinthians concerning the ritual of the Lord’s table? He says in 1st Corinthians, 11, around the verses we’ve read earlier 23 and following (1 Cor 11:23): … a man ought to examine himself and he ought not to take of the Lord’s table, this is sort of a paraphrase, in sort of a casual light manner and that’s what the Corinthians were doing. They were practicing the ritual of the Lord’s table and yet they had turned into a pay to play operation, where you could only participate if you had resources which excluded the poor and was causing an unnatural division in the body of Christ. There were those that had turned the Lord’s table into just a common meal, a drive through. We might use that analogy today, just a casual meal. They turned the Lord’s table into something very casual. It had lost its sacredness and had become something common and this is the one that blows my mind, there were people showing up in Corinth participating at the Lord’s table in an inebriated condition, drunk, wasted and that’s how little respect the Lord’s table had gained in the church of Corinth and Paul says, you should examine yourself when you do this, because it’s for this reason many of you are sick and many of you have fallen asleep. God brought divine discipline into Corinth because of disrespect for one of his rituals in the church age. Now, whether they practiced it right or not, had nothing to do with their salvation. You say, well, how do you know that? Because they are called saints at the beginning of the book. You’re dealing with saved people and yet they weren’t acting very saintly. Instead of acting like saints they were acting like Ain’ts as J Vernon McGee says; and God was upset about it enough to the point where he brought divine discipline into Corinth including terminating, which I would call maximum divine discipline, the lifespan of some of those in Corinth as an example. What does that communicate? It communicates that to God, the rituals that He has ordained are very important. It’s true that they are not a reality, there’s a reality behind the ritual. They don’t save anybody but at the same time, you ought to think very circumspectly about them and never trivialize them because God thinks they are very important as is evidenced by His dealings with the Corinthians. This ritual of circumcision to Israel does not save. It did not give Israel the Abrahamic Covenant but God was willing to take the life of one of his choicest servants because, not of Moses’ lack of circumcision, but the lack of circumcision of his second son. 54:44
So think very carefully about these rituals. Not salvific, that’s true. Not important, I wouldn’t go there. If God wants some practiced, you’d better practice them with uprightness and the respect that they deserve. There’s a very interesting passage in 1st Peter, 3, verse 21 (1st Peter 3:21) concerning baptism, it says this: Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience— through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we preach over and over again baptism doesn’t save, baptism doesn’t save, baptism doesn’t save and Peter comes along and says, baptism that now saves you. What are you going to do with that one? Well, the short answer to that is we understand baptism as not something for justification but for sanctification. It is not something necessary for the first tense of your salvation but it is something necessary for the middle tense of your salvation. It is not something necessary for your birth but it is something necessary for your what? Growth. For many, many years, because of a sort of a conflict that I had with my father over this… I’m speaking of my earthly father… When I got saved, understood the Gospel and believed it, I wanted to get baptized. He did not like the idea. He thought I was joining a cult and he thought, here’s the family pictures of you getting baptized as an infant in the Episcopalian Church. You’ve already been baptized and I was trying to explain to him what baptism really is and he said, well just go talk to the priest about it. Now, what sixteen year old wants to go talk to a priest? And so, from about age sixteen to age twenty seven I did not get baptized. Partly because I was trying to avoid conflict in my household. Once I moved out that was different and I did get baptized, but I can testify that the moment I was baptized, almost to the day, opportunity after opportunity, after opportunity, almost like magic just opened up. Whereas before I had sought these opportunities but the door was locked. I don’t think baptism itself saves anybody but I do think it should not be dismissed, I do think it should not be trivialized because it’s necessary for one’s development in Christ. There are many, many people that are born but they’re not mature. We are not dealing here with a birth truth, how do you get born? We’re dealing here with a growth truth, how a person grows in Christ? And you cannot grow in Christ, you cannot reach full stature in Christ by having a disrespectful attitude towards the rituals that God has ordained in the church age whether it be baptism or the Lord’s table. In ancient Israel it was related to circumcision; and I think sometimes we’re so big on salvation is free, salvation is free, salvation is free that we almost look with disdain on these rituals. They almost become sort of like, in our thinking, second class citizens and I think when you look at passages like this, concerning Israel and circumcision, ritual not saving, but you see it’s extremely important to God and so as free grace people that believe in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, let’s be balanced in out thought process concerning these rituals. Let’s not trivialize them. Let’s not, if I can use that verbiage, push them to the back somewhere. Let’s not make these back burner issues. These are front burner issues, to the point where God was willing to bring divine discipline in Corinth because of some disrespecting it, to the point where He was willing to kill Moses because his second son had not been physically circumcised. 1:00:06
So, we’ve looked here at a wonderful development in the life of Abraham where he now is experiencing the Covenant token.
We’ve seen the obligation, the token itself, the inclusions, the duration and the penalty, but we’ve been clear that there is a reality behind the ritual; and there are people all over, particularly here in the Bible belt in the south, who think that because they come to church or because they took communion or because they were baptized, that makes them right before God and they are confusing ritual with reality, they are confusing sign with covenant. There’s only one way to experience the reality and the reality is by trusting in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did it all. All means all. His final words on the cross were It is finished. The religionist will insert ritual into reality because they want something to brag about. Hey God, you’ve got to accept me, cause look at the baptism certificate on my wall. When the truth to the matter is the baptism certificate on your wall means absolutely nothing if you are not saved. The baptism certificate on the wall is a ritual behind the reality, but you have to experience the reality first for the ritual to make any sense and so the reality is Jesus. He stepped out of eternity into time to do something that a human being can’t do, only the God man can do this, where He bridged the gap between sinful man and a holy God and He asks us to be made right with Him by trusting in what He did. That’s what saves. Period. That’s what causes a person to be born. Now after they are born then they need to grow, and to grow you start to respect the institutions and the rituals that God has ordained, but they don’t cause birth. They cause growth but they don’t cause birth and there’s just an awful lot of people out there that are confusing growth and birth. They are trying to do rituals to be born when those are rituals to grow and so if you’re in that condition we would invite you to, even as I’m speaking, place your personal faith in Jesus. Faith is another word of saying trust. You’re trusting in Him and Him alone for your salvation and for the safekeeping of your soul. It’s exactly what Abram did in Genesis, 15, verse 6 (Gen 15:6) looking forward before circumcision ever came on the scene, before the Mosaic Law ever came on the scene. That’s how God deals with us. He says I want you to trust in my provision and that’s what saves. The rituals will help you grow once you are saved but you need to get saved first and so, anybody that is within the sound of my voice that hears this and believes it can get saved now. Not through a ritual but by placing their own faith in Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. If it’s something that you need more explanation on, I’m available after the service to talk. 1:04:05
Shall we pray? Father we are grateful for this very special day where we celebrated the Lord’s table and also this very special day where we proclaim the Gospel separating birth and growth. Ritual and reality. I do pray that you’ll be with us as we fellowship together at the fellowship meal. Help us to walk these truths out this week as we seek to be your people living in a crooked and perverse generation. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said, Amen.