Jews accept the fact that the rite of circumcision is an obligation for their sons, to be performed on the 8th day after birth, as taught in the Old Testament. Many contemporary Jews choose to observe the rite, but for convenience sake, have it done by a pediatrician/surgeon while the baby is yet at the hospital, somewhere between day 2 and 3. Those of the Orthodox and Conservative have their sons circumcised by a rabbi who has been as highly trained in the specialization of circumcision as is a surgeon. This rabbi is known as a Mohel, and the procedure is generally done on the 8th day, in the home, and in the presence of family and friends gathered together to celebrate the rite of passage into the Abrahamic Covenant. This Covenant can be found in the T'nach, in Genesis 17: 9-14:
"And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my commandment therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations This is my covenant that thou shalt keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is 8 days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations; he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger that is not your seed. He that is born in thy house, or bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised manchild whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."
Circumcision is more than a traditional rite...it is an edict from God, with severe penalty upon disregard. It was the sign symbolizing man's submission to God.. a sign ever present in his body to remind him of his responsibility to keep his relationship to his Creator.
This rite of circumcision was of fundamental importance to the religious existence of Israel, as seen in the historical account in the Book of the Maccabees, which tells of the horrible torture and murder of thousands of male babies, and their parents, because they would not obey the king's order to cease performing circumcision. King Antiochus tried to ban this rite, as did another ruler, Emperor Hadrian, both of whom tried to eliminate Judaism by virtue of eliminating circumcision, without which, no male was allowed to practice his religious rites or come before the Lord in the Temple for absolution, or even set foot upon the holy ground of the Temple site. To have succeeded in ending circumcision would have meant an end to Judaism, for without it, the Law forbids even the reading of the Torah, and without the knowledge of the Law, there is no access to God, for He is revealed through His word. However, in spite of continual persecution, the Jews continued to practice this rite of passage which came from the Abrahamic covenant. It was considered the beginning of man's spiritual relationship, and although the Bible relates many instances in their history of backsliding and idol worship, the practice of circumcision continued..a sign of distinction between the heathen, the pagan and the Jew..a symbol of separation unto a God Who had called them unto holiness as a role model before the world.
There is a beautiful spiritual analogy in the rite of circumcision, for it speaks of things greater than flesh, for both the Jew and the Gentile Believer. In the mind of God, circumcision was never to be viewed as only a physical ritual, but as a spiritual covenant as well, as He teaches them, through Moses, in Deuteronomy 10: 12,13:
"And now Israel, what doth the Lord, thy God, require of thee but to fear the Lord, thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command the this day for thy good."
What is the Lord requiring here of Israel? Vs 16 of the same chapter tells us: "circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked."
God was telling them that along with the obedience to His law, above all, He wants them to be motivated by a loving relationship of the mind and the heart. This very verse indicated that circumcision of the heart was a spiritual act, which they had not yet entered into, but would one day. Circumcision was a type,or a shadow, of another sign that a child of God, (whether Jew or Gentile ), would apply to his body in obedience in a new covenant that would identify them with God. When the fullness of time came, (a time God predicted would happen for the Jewish people), He revealed a New Covenant, just as foretold by the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah prepared the nation for a new work that God was going to do within their hearts and spirits that would expand the act and concept of circumcision:
"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.....After those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:31,33)
God was pointing to a day when the heart would be circumcised, cutting away from it the flesh of carnality and iniquity that separates man from God. A zealous rabbi, Saul of Tarsus, taught that in Messiah, we would be circumcised "... with a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ". How can you have a circumcision without hands? The rabbi explains, continuing "..buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith in the operation of God, Who hath raised him from the dead."(Colossians 2:11,12 )
In the New Covenant, baptism is as fundamental and necessary to relationship with God as circumcision was in the Old Covenant. Just as a newly born child is brought before the Lord in obedience, the newly spiritually born-again child is brought before the Lord in baptism. It is part of the basic rudiments of the New Birth experience. Circumcision of the flesh was the symbol..the type or shadow of entering into the Old Covenant, and baptism is the anti-type or the fulfillment for entering into the New Covenant.
To the Jew, circumcision of the flesh identified him with his God. Later years in his maturity, man would seek a deeper relationship through repentance and cleansing, through the cleansing waters of "mikvahs"..or baptism. To the man seeking a "new birth" cleansing and restorative relationship, the waters of baptism becomes the path to identity with the Lord, following repentance, in preparation for receiving the anointing of God in his life.
Biblical Judaism taught that without being circumcised, a Jew could not read the Torah, nor enter into the Temple, and would be cut off from the nation or family. The New Testament teaching expands this teaching, applying similar applications to baptism, (circumcision's counterpart), with instructions that "except a man be born of the water, (baptism), and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"(John 3:5); "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.." (Mark 16:16).
The history and ultimate teaching of circumcision, introduced through Abraham and redefined through Moses in the law, weaves its way through the pages of Judaic history, leading to a spiritual law which brings man to the fulfillment of the old law..and into a place in the nation of believers, and a relationship with the Messiah.
The Ritual of Circumcision...Brith Milah
In Orthodox circles, the 8 day old baby is circumcised in the home, with friends and family gathered to rejoice in this baby's passage into the Abrahamic Covenant. He is held in the arms of a person close to the family, an honored position called a Sandek, (in today's culture comparable to a Godparent). A blessing is invoked over the baby by the presiding Rabbi, known as a Mohel, who is a specialist in the field of circumcisions.
A candle is lit, representing the Eternal Light of God, and a portion of Psalms 119 is read, the Aleph.." blessed are they that keep His testimonies". A cup of wine is poured, 3 or 4 drops of which are given to the baby as an anesthetic as he is circumcised. The Sandek and the parents then share in the same cup, symbolizing the willingness to share the pain and sorrow, joys and happiness of the parents and child. The child's Hebrew name is then pronounced, and he is now officially in the Covenant of Abraham.
It is interesting to note exactly why God was so specific in His command about the age of the baby at the time of circumcision. Both in Genesis 17 and Leviticus 12, God commands the circumcision to be done on the 8th day. There has been controversy for years over why not the 2nd, the 4th or any other day (today, Gentile boys are circumcised on the 1st and 2nd days because it's more convenient to do it just before leaving the hospital.)) For hundreds of years, the Jews have practiced the Brith procedure, but most have never understood why it had to be on the 8th day..they followed the tradition by obedience to the law and the tradition. Circumcision, in itself, done on any day, promotes better health conditions in the life of the male,( and his wife), but God, having created our bodies, selected the 8th day for a medical reason, recently researched and exposed a few years ago. The medical community has given us an insight into God's concern for our well being; even Israel's 2nd King, David, wrote of God's creation, "I am wonderfully made". Laboratory research has proven that the essential clotting component of our blood, platelets, is very low at birth. Hematology studies indicate that with each progressive day after birth, the production of platelets increases. On day number 8, in the progress of a normal baby's life, the platelet count reaches its apex, and levels off, even to the point of diminishing a little. The baby's highest number of platelets will be on the 8th day. Until he is 8 days old, this baby will have less clotting potential to control bleeding than on the 8th day and thereafter! With less platelets, the body could hemorrhage during a surgical procedure or go into shock. This serves as a testimonial to a God Who tenderly cares and protects our physical natural bodies. How much more concern He has, and how much more He has provided for our spirit and soul. If we can trust Him for the 8th day, we can trust Him for eternity!
Just as in the Brith service, the spiritual steps of a new believer embraces the spiritual counterpart of circumcision, baptism..circumcision of the heart. Just as the baby received wine to help him through the rough part of this procedure from his Godfather, there is a beautiful type presented here in that the Holy Spirit of God is the wine of the New Covenant, to strengthen us against the rough places in life..to fortify us and insulate us against pain and suffering.
In the natural realm, the baby receives the wine from his Godfather; In the spiritual antitype, the believer receives the New Wine of the Spirit from his God, Father...Father of all creation. This is called the infilling of the Spirit, and at this time, being baptized and being filled with the Spirit becomes the passage into the New Covenant God prepared for His believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. Circumcision and the wine were the components that foreshadowed the Covenant of being Born Again; the antitype for the circumcision is the water of baptism, and the wine is the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant passage of Spiritual life in Messiah.
Pidyon ha-ben ( redemption of the first born)
Exodus 13: 2, 12, 13:
"Sanctify unto me all the first born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is mine." (vs 2). Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lords." (13) "...and all the firstborn among man among thy children shalt thou redeem."( 14)
Leviticus 12: 1-3; 6-8:
"and the Lord spoke unto Moses saying, speak unto to the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child; then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.( 1-3) " and when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation unto the priest: who shall offer it before the Lord, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or female. And she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring 2 turtles, or two young pigeons: the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean." ( 6-8)
The original concept and purpose of redeeming the firstborn was to sanctify them for their service to God. Note the first words of the above scriptures:
Exodus 13:2: " sanctify unto me..."
Exodus 13:12: " thou shall set apart.."
Leviticus 12:8: " and she shall be clean.."
In order for one to be used and blessed of God, one must be sanctified, set apart and clean before Him. It is the law of approach in God's economy! " For I am the Lord your God; ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy..." Leviticus 11:44
The child was brought to the temple 30-40 days after birth in order to present a sacrificial offering for both the mother's sanctification and the child's redemption. If finances would allow, they would bring a lamb, symbol of submissiveness, to sacrifice. If unable to secure a lamb, a substitute was used, according to their finances. A bible example of fulfilling this law is found in Luke 2:22-30, relating how Mary and Joseph brought Yeshua to the temple , "after the custom of the law". They were able only to bring the least of the offering, 2 turtle doves, ( pigeons), to pay the price of their child's redemption.
How ironic, that this Son, at Calvary, would become the fulfillment of this custom and law by becoming the ultimate sacrifice as the Lamb of God for the Jewish nation. These parents, who could not afford a lamb for God, came and presented He, Who would become the Lamb of God for all humanity! The young lamb that was sacrificed for the mother and baby, by virtue of shedding it's life's blood, purchased redemption and sanctification for that family...a type and a shadow of what God's Son fulfilled on the cross, according to Hebrews 13:12: " Wherefore Jesus, also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" ...outside the city gates, on a hill called Calvary. This same Jesus, as an infant, fulfilled the law of redemption in the temple..this same Jesus, as Messiah, fulfilled the sacrificial law of redemption on Calvary.
God, the Father of creation, has provided Salvation..a way by which we can be cleansed and redeemed, through His "pidyon Ha Ben"..the redemption of His first born and begotten a son, Jesus!