You and Your Offspring
“This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. 17:10).- Genesis 17:10
John Calvin comments on Genesis 17:9 with words bearing equally on verse 10. He writes, “Since circumcision is called, by Moses, the covenant of God, we thence infer that the promise of grace was included in it.” With this remark, Calvin reflects Paul’s teaching that to be outside the covenant is to be without hope (Eph. 2:11–12). As the Lord’s covenant is the primary arena of His salvific grace, and as this bond is equated with circumcision in Genesis 17:9–10, circumcision therefore symbolized a time of special grace.
When an old covenant member was circumcised, God was uniquely present with that person. This is mysterious; nevertheless, the Lord did manifest Himself in this special way. As the sign involved cutting (v. 11), the sacrament of circumcision reminded the Israelites that the Creator had cut them out of the world in order to have an intimate relationship with them. His promise to be their God was attached to the sign (vv. 7–8), and in experiencing the cutting, or in seeing others being cut, the faithful Israelite had his confidence in the Almighty’s salvation renewed and his commitment to grateful, obedient love reinforced. Calvin also says all sacraments “have the word of God annexed to them, by which he testifies that he is propitious to us, and calls us to the hope of salvation; yea, a sacrament is nothing else than a visible…image of that grace of God, which the word more fully illustrates. If, then, there is a mutual relation between the word and faith; it follows, that the proposed end and use of sacraments is to help, promote and confirm faith.”
Finally, believing Israelites and their children were circumcised (v. 10). Children born into the covenant community are in the arena of special grace and are set apart to the Lord (see 1 Cor. 7:14). But eternal salvation only comes to those who individually grasp the sacrament’s promise by faith (Luke 3:8; Rom. 2:25–29). Otherwise, a person can be a member of the visible church only and see certain benefits of grace without ever trusting God. But such benefits will lead to hard hearts in all those who refuse to join the invisible body of true believers through repentance and faith (9:6–13; Heb. 6:4–8).
The believer’s children are set apart unto God. They will be the recipients of greater blessings than those outside the church, but they will also be held more accountable for their service to Christ (Luke 12:35–48). Are you raising your children to fear the Lord? Do you pray with them, read Scripture, and take them to worship? If you have children at home, make sure to do these things. If not, contribute time and resources to the educational ministry of your church.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chron. 30:6–9
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