This [is] my covenant
The token of it, for the promise itself was given before, which is more properly the covenant; circumcision is so called in an improper sense, being only the sign of it:
which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee;
which was to be observed by Abraham, and the males in his house then with him, as Ishmael, and those that were born in his house, or bought with his money, and by his posterity in succeeding ages, and it is what follows:
every man child among you shall be circumcised;
this was the first institution of circumcision, and it was an institution of God, and not of man. Indeed Herodotus says F13, that
``the Colchi, Egyptians, and Ethiopians only of all men circumcised from the beginning; and the Phoenicians and Syrians, which are in Palestine, learnt it of the Egyptians, as they themselves confess.''So Diodorus Siculus F14 speaks of circumcision as an Egyptian rite, and says there are some who make the nation of the Colchi, and of the Jews, to come from the Egyptians: hence he observes, that with these nations there is an ancient tradition to circumcise their newborn infants, which rite was derived from the Egyptians: but as the original of the Jewish nation is mistaken, so likewise the original this rite. And they may as well be thought to be mistaken in the one as in the other. Those in Palestine that were circumcised were the Jews only, as Josephus F15 observes; but they did not learn this rite from the Egyptians, nor do they ever confess it, but on the contrary suggest, that the Egyptians learnt it from them in the times of Joseph; for their principal lexicographer says F16, the Egyptians were circumcised in the times of Joseph, and when Joseph died they drew over the foreskin of the flesh. The Colchi indeed, who were a colony of the Egyptians, might learn it from them; and so the Ethiopians, who were their neighbours likewise, and agreed with them in many things. Artapanus F17, an Heathen writer, says, indeed, that the Ethiopians, though enemies, had such a regard for Moses, that they learned from him the rite of circumcision; and not only they, but all the priests, that is, in Egypt; and indeed the Egyptian priests only, and not the people, were circumcised. It is not very difficult to account for it, how other nations besides the Jews should receive circumcision, which was first enjoined Abraham and his seed; the Ishmaelites had it from Ishmael the son of Abraham; from them the old Arabs; from the Arabs, the Saracens; and from the Saracens, the Turks to this day: other Arabian nations, as the Midianites, and others, had it from the sons of Abraham by Keturah; and perhaps the Egyptians and Ethiopians from them, if the former had it not from the Israelites; and the Edomites had it from Edom or Esau, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham; so that all originally had it from Abraham, and he by a divine command. It is not so much to be wondered at, that Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, men either imposed upon by the Egyptian priests, as the former, or wrote in favour of that nation, as the latter, and wholly ignorant of divine revelation, should assert what they have done; but that Christian writers, who have the advantage of divine revelation, and have read the history of the Bible, such as Marsham, Spencer, and Le Clerc, should incline to the same sentiment, is amazing; and especially when our blessed Lord has expressly said in ( John 7:22 ) , that circumcision is "of the fathers", Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, first given to them, and practised by them. Even Theodotus F19, an Heathen writer, agrees with this sacred testimony of Moses, when speaking of the circumcision of Shechem, in the times of Jacob, he traces this rite to its original, and observes, that when Abraham was brought out of his own country, he was ordered "from heaven" to circumcise every man in his house. It may indeed seem strange how it should obtain in the islands of the West Indies, as in Jucatana, Sancta Crux, and others, where the Spaniards found in the beginning of the sixteenth century those isles inhabited by idolaters, who were circumcised F20.
F13 Euterpe sive, l. 2. c. 104.
F14 Bibliothec. l. 4. p. 24. & l. 3. p. 165.
F15 Contr Apion. l. 1. c. 22.
F16 Raal Aruch in Rad. (lm) fol. 91. 1.
F17 Apud Euseb. Evangel Praepar. l. 9. c. 27. p. 433.
F19 Apud Euseb. ut supra, (Evangel Praepar. l. 9.) c. 22. p. 428.
F20 Vid. P. Martyr. Decad. 3. lib. 10. & de Insul. Ind. Occident.