In Genesis 17 God seals an important covenant with Abraham. “This is my covenant, which you shall keep . . . every man child among you shall be circumcised. . . . He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or any stranger not of your seed. . . . He that is not circumcised shall be cut off from his people; he has broken the covenant.” (Verses 10 – 14)
“And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.” (21:4)
Again and again throughout the Old Testament this covenant is mentioned, together with the seriousness of it in the sight of God. Why did the Lord ask for the covenant to be performed on babies at eight days? From a purely practical point of view, it would have made no difference at all if the rite was carried out on say the ninth day, the tenth, or any other day in the first month of the child’s life. Admittedly, before the eighth would be rather too soon after birth.
But this is to question the covenant as doctors might speak about it. We are not allowed to investigate matters in that way. When God singled out the eighth day He did so in accordance with a pattern. See how it permeated the whole of the Bible, well into the New Testament. Jesus was circumcised the eighth day, as may be proved by looking at Luke 1:59, 2:21. The Apostle Paul referred to the fact that he was circumcised the eighth day in his letter to the Philippians (3:3-5) Peter mentioned the subject in his speech recorded in Acts 7:8.
How do we reach a conclusion about the meaning of circumcision, and God’s insistence that it be performed on the eighth day? Circumcision is the cutting off of a small part of man’s flesh. What does that mean? The Bible uses the word flesh to represent the fallen nature. When a child is circumcised, he certainly does not lose his old nature. So the covenant was made to represent apurpose of God, part of His plan for humankind. At some stage in the progress of history, God plans to cut off the old nature of men, and this brings us to the subject of resurrection. Only by resurrection can we, as fallen human beings, lose that which we have inherited from Adam.
In order to establish the truth of what I have just said, it will be useful to read Jeremiah 4:4. The Lord was angry with His people in Jerusalem and Judah, and He said through Jeremiah, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” What could this mean in practice? I believe that Paul had the answer in Romans 4:11-12. “Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith he had whilst yet uncircumcised, that he might be father of all those who believe, though they be not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also . . . who walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith.”
This shows the reason why circumcision ceased to have any covenantal force in New Testament days. Literal circumcision could no more remove the old nature of man than an elephant attempting to fly. The covenant was made with Abraham on the basis of his righteousness by faith. Paul explained to the Philippians, “We are the [true] circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (3:3) That is the point. No confidence in the flesh, in the old nature. We may by faith receive the righteousness of God in this life, and walk by faith, well pleasing to God. But only in resurrection will the process become complete.
When did the Lord rise from the dead? It was early on Sunday morning. Sunday was the first day of the week, but as we have already seen, weeks follow one another in an unbroken sequence. Therefore Sunday may be seen as the eighth day. As such it speaks of a conclusion. Just as the singer reaches top Doh, and everyone knows that a conclusion has been reached, so also God reached a conclusion on that amazing Sunday. He had raised His Son to new life, to resurrection life, the firstfruits of those who sleep. All that which had gone before was a part of the sevenfold sequence of days, part of the Old Covenant. But on that Sunday the New Covenant was established by our Lord’s resurrection. It was the symbol of the flesh being cut off in its entirety. Even though our Lord’s earthly life was sinless, His transformation at resurrection became the guarantee that all the rest of us would eventually enjoy the same blessing because it was God’s purpose.
That is why circumcision was established on the eighth day. It couldn’t have been any other day, because it had to fit in with the symbolism and meaning of numbers. No one who studies Scripture can do so for long without realising that numbers and time periods all have deep significance.
To recapitulate what has been said, God instituted circumcision with Abraham on the basis of his righteousness by faith. All those who henceforth walked by faith were showing that they understood what God meant by this rite. Walking by faith is not a practice that stems from the New Testament, but has applied throughout all ages of human history. Hebrews chapter 11 is testimony to this fact. When Jesus rose from the dead on that Sunday morning, He completed that which His Father instituted with Abraham. The Covenant of Circumcision terminated on that climactic day. The Son of God stood in resurrection on theeighth day, and became the guarantee for the rest of creation to be raised in the eighth millennium. This important conclusion will be amplified in the next chapter.