God informs Abraham that "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you." (Genesis 17:10-11 NIV)
There are other people groups which practice circumcision. However, in Abraham and his descendants' case, it would have a particular meaning not shared by other groups:
- Circumcision would signify Abraham's/his descendants' absolute loyalty and commitment to God.
- Only God would be worshiped, trusted and served. There would be no other 'gods'.
- This was another self-maledictory oath. Remember before, when God cut the covenant with Abraham the first time? (Read about it here) God had walked between the halved portions of a number of animals, signifying that if He did not keep His part of the covenant, the same should be done to Him. (Genesis 15:9-21) Well, now, by the practice of circumcision, Abraham and his descendants after him would be saying something like, "May God cut off me and my offspring if I do not remain loyal and obedient to the Lord."
- Even those who were not Abraham's direct offspring, but were born into his household or bought from foreigners were expected to be circumcised, for they were considered to be part of Abraham's household. (v.12,13,23,27) These 'others' were graciously included in the covenant blessings. Also, this would prevent a situation in which Abraham's descendants might be worshipping God while nearby, servants might be offering worship to an array of various other 'gods'.
- This covenant of circumcision would be everlasting and exclusive. God said, "My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Genesis 17:13-14 NIV)