There’s certainly no delicate way to ask that question, is there! My little sister Cassandra sent me a text today asking what was the significance of circumcision in the Bible. I’m sure she’s not the only one who’s asked that, so I thought I’d share my thoughts…
So far as I know, no one really knows for sure what circumcision was originally all about. But there are two parts to my best guess, and I think they’re both pretty legit.
First, God’s promise to Abraham – many descendants – certainly required the full functioning of his “object of circumcision.” So when God told him to take a knife to it, I’m sure it was a serious test of faith. God was calling Abraham to potentially jeopardize the mechanism of God’s promise being fulfilled. It’s similar to when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God was making sure Abraham believed that nothing could stop God from being faithful to his promise. So firstly, it was a test of faith.
Second, it’s possible that circumcision was practiced by pagan religions in Abraham’s world as a profession of faith in pagan fertility gods. For Abraham to obey Yahweh’s (note the intentional anachronism in Genesis) command to be circumcised showed that Abraham’s faith was only in this God, the One revealing himself as the True God of All. It’s almost certain that when God called Abraham, Abraham believed in and worshiped many gods. That’s how it worked back then – worship the god of rain to get rain, the god of wheat to get wheat, the god of sex to get babies, etc. God had to teach Abraham that he was to look only to God for all of his needs.
So basically both of them boil down to the shaping and refining of Abraham’s faith. This would make sense in context because it comes right after Abraham and Sarah try to fulfill God’s part of the covenant in their own creative way (through Hagar).
Sometimes the process of learning to trust God is quite painful, I suppose.