Many biblical covenants between God and men have some sort of visual “sign” and “seal” accompanying them. The Noahic covenant was given the rainbow to show that God has made a promise not to curse the world through rain ever again; it is a sign pointing to a promise, and it is a seal guaranteeing its reality. It’s like God saying, “See that rainbow? I’ve put it in the sky both to remind you of my promise (sign) and to guarantee its fulfillment, because as surely as it is real and shown to you, so too is my promise real for you (a seal).”
In Genesis 17 Abraham is told to circumcise himself and his whole household: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (17:11). In other words, forgetful and fickle Abraham could look at his circumcised body and see in it God’s promise to bless him and make from his seed a great nation. In like fashion, today we give wedding rings to illustrate (as a sign) a covenant between a husband and wife. When a woman sees the ring on her finger, she is reminded of her husband’s vows that he will love her and be faithful to her at all times. Likewise, that ring is a seal in that when it’s put on the bride, the promises are not only pledged but enacted; the man now has become her husband, and the ring assures her of this.
Because this covenant was not with Abraham alone, but with all his offspring, God demanded that his whole household, including infants (Note this!) and foreigners, be circumcised (17:12). God’s promise was to bring about blessing through Abraham’s children—a blessing that would one day be for “all the families of the earth” (12:3). Even in later years, after the Exodus from slavery in
But receiving the “sign of circumcision” and entering
In Romans 4:11, we also see that circumcision is also said to be a “sign” and a “seal,” guaranteeing to Abraham the reception of the promises given to him. “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul’s point is that it isn’t circumcision or any ritual that justifies anyone; bearing the marks alone of inclusion into
In the next posts, I will attempt to explain how baptism is the New Covenant replacement of circumcision, and what that means for our lives.