Genesis 17:11

11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.

Genesis 17:11 Meaning and Commentary

Genesis 17:11

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin
Or "the foreskin of your flesh" F21; by an hypallage F22, the manner in which this was performed may be seen in the Jewish writers F23, as well as the cure of the wound made, is particularly described by Leo Modena {x}, and which when performed, they used to provide a dish full of sand to put the foreskin into; which was done, as Buxtorf F25 relates, to show that their seed should be as the sand of the sea, and to call to mind what Balaam said of them, ( Numbers 23:10 ) ; and with respect to the old serpent that deceived man, whose food is the dust of the earth, ( Genesis 3:14 ) : the instrument with which this operation was performed, according to the Jewish canons, was as follows F26,

``they may circumcise with anything, with a flint, or with glass, and with anything that cuts, excepting with a cane or reed, because of danger; but it is best to circumcise with an iron instrument, either with a knife or a razor; all Israelites use a knife.''

The persons who might perform it, according to their rules, are these;

``all are fit to circumcise (says Maimonides F1), even an uncircumcised person, and a servant, and a woman, and a little one may circumcise where there is no man, but a Gentile may not circumcise at all; and if he does circumcise, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise a second time.''

It is a little differently expressed by another F2 writer of theirs,

``all are fit to circumcise, even a servant, a woman, and a little one, and an uncircumcised Israelite, whose brethren died through circumcision; but it there is an Israelite grown, and knows how to circumcise, he is to be preferred before them all; (some say a woman may not circumcise;) but an idolater, though he is circumcised, may not circumcise at all; but if he does, there is no need to repeat it, and to circumcise else a second time:''

and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you:
of the promise of God to Abraham, that he should be the father of many nations. The apostle explains it, ( Romans 4:11 ) ; to be a seal, or what gave assurance to Abraham, or was a sure token to him, that righteousness would be wrought out by Christ, by his obedience, and the shedding of his blood, which is received by faith; and that this was imputed to him while he was uncircumcised, ( Genesis 15:6 ) ; and that this also would "be in the uncircumcision", or uncircumcised Gentiles that should believe as he did, and be imputed to them, as to him, and so he would appear to be the father of them all. Moreover, this was a sign or token of that part of the promise or covenant, which gave to his seed the land of Canaan: this was a seal of the lease of that land, which was made while Abraham was in it, and which the Israelites were obliged to submit to, upon entrance into it in Joshua's time, as a token of it; and which they were to observe while in it until the Messiah's coming, and by which they were distinguished from other nations, and kept a distinct nation, that it might appear he came of them: and to use the words of Tacitus {c}, this rite was instituted "ut diversitate noscantur", that they might be distinguished and known from others; it was typical of Christ, the end of it, who submitted to it, that it might appear he was really man, a son of Abraham, and a minister of the circumcision, and was made under the law, and so laid under obligation to fulfil it; and that he was to satisfy for the sins of men by the effusion of his blood, and endure pains and sufferings, signified thereby: it was also an emblem of spiritual circumcision, or circumcision of the heart, which ties in the putting off the body of sin, in renouncing man's own righteousness, and in his being by the grace of God, and blood of Christ, cleansed from the impurity of his nature, propagated by carnal generation, in which the member circumcised has a principal concern.


F21 (Mktlre rvb ta) "praeputium carnis vestrae", Drusius, Piscator.
F22 According to E. W. Bullinger, "hypallage" "relates to an interchange of construction whereby an adjective or other word, which `logically' belongs to one connection, is grammatically united with another, so that what is said or attributed to one things ought to be said or attributed to another".
F23 Maimon. Hilchot Milah, c. 2. sect 2. Schulchan Aruch, par. 2. Jore Dea Hilchot Milah, c. 264. sect. 3.
F24 History of the present Jews, part 4. c. 8. p. 206.
F25 Synagog. Jud. c. 4. p. 104, 105.
F26 Maimon. ib. c. 2. sect. 1. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. 2.
F1 Maimon. ib. Schulchan Aruch, ib. sect. l.
F2 Schulchan Aruch, ib sect 1.
F3 Hist. l. 5. c. 5.

Genesis 17:11 In-Context

9 God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring.
13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.