WHEN GOD MADE A DEAL with Abraham—some call it a contract or a covenant— he didn’t ask Abraham to sign on the dotted line.
He asked him to cut on the dotted line.
And that leads to the Bible question of the week, coming from Robert Lee, who wins a free book for asking the question. He chose the Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Here’s how he put the question:
Have you come across an answer as to why God would choose something like circumcision to require of his chosen people?
Funny thing. That’s one of the 100 questions I tackle in my newest book, 100 Tough Questions About God and the Bible.
In a contract, God promised to give Abraham many descendants and to let those descendants—the Jewish people—live in what is now Israel. In return, Abraham promised to obey God and to do one thing in particular:
Every male among you must be circumcised. Cut away your foreskin to show that you are prepared to follow the agreement between me and you. From now on when a baby boy is eight days old, you will circumcise him.
Here’s a snippet of the response I give in 100 Tough Questions About God and the Bible.
It’s anyone’s guess why God decided on circumcision as a way to remind the Jews that they had a contract with him. Bible writers seldom explain why God does what he does—presumably because they don’t know.
A few guesses:
- Daily reminder. Every time a Jewish male made use of his plumbing, he was reminded of his covenant agreement with God.
- Context clue. The agreement guaranteed that God would make the people of the Jewish nation “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17). Cutting a reminder of the agreement onto the penis targeted the body part that would play a fairly important role in process. Circumcision was painfully logical.
- Holiness. Jews were taught that by obeying God’s laws, they could live holy lives—that their spirituality had the power to turn their physical lives holy. Putting the sign of the agreement with God on the lowly and usually hidden penis was a way of saying that even the most embarrassing part of the body could be used in a holy way. It also suggests that Jews should consider sexuality as sacred.
- Health concerns. It’s easier to keep a circumcised penis clean. Recent medical studies have shown that circumcised men are less likely to pass along diseases such as HIV, herpes, and HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.