September 10, 2017

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session

Genesis 17:1-14

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“Circumcision and Risk”

As a public school teacher, I like to take a few moments, step back, and observe how my students are interacting with one another. I take note of who refuses to play with whom, who is talking with others, and who is always in the hallway laughing together. Relationships among peers are essential to students’ social development. I am given consistent reminders by my superiors that students with best social-emotional control are the ones who achieve academic success. In extreme cases, students who lack the ability to control their emotions face consequences such as being assigned to alternative instructional settings, and if their behaviors persist, eventually they are cut off from society in general.

As Christians, we worship the Creator God for whom relationships with human beings are also crucial. The manner in which this God relates with human beings is through the act of descending from heaven to Earth to initiate and live in covenants with people (Genesis 17:1-2). We read that El Shaddai (Hebrew for “God of many breasts”) eschews divine privilege in favor of a loving bond with an elderly Chaldean nomad named Abram. God, as the Nurturing Parent of the many, chooses to work with one family and one ancestral lineage for the sake of all nations (Genesis 17:4). Throughout many biblical narratives, God in all of God’s majesty practices self-giving for the sake of love. In this ancient Near Eastern context, God worked with a people group in which men were viewed as the loci of society. The practice of circumcision as a way of Abraham’s descendants keeping their end of the deal gave precedence to men. Even in what was a form of exclusion, God still makes room for those on the margins; not only do Abraham and his progeny have to be circumcised, but the mark of the covenant is also applied to the enslaved persons from foreign lands who live among them. God’s covenant from the very beginning was always meant to be open to outsiders.

Brave women like Zipporah (Exodus 4:24-26) remembered God’s promise to Abraham about the uncircumcised being cut off from God’s covenant; otherwise, the biblical story of Exodus could have had a different ending. The status of being an uncircumcised male was once a barrier to having a proper relationship with God. Jesus’ resurrection yielded a new, better covenant (Hebrews 8:6); better only because God has included more people in God’s promise of abundant life. Yet, many believers view the good news more like the exclusive sign of circumcision, choosing to make statements about which neighbors they wish not to fellowship with while cities here in Texas are drowning. Like Zipporah, we all must remember that we worship a God who confronts us face-to-face and that our “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 KJV), whether it is the midwife or a one-time prince of Egypt, such as her husband Moses.

Questions for reflection

  • What are the barriers that keep believers from fellowshiping with one another?
  • Why is exclusion still a problem for the church?

—Rod Thomas,

© 2017

Rod Thomas is a child-centered, fair-minded academic; a Christian who sometimes writes; and an aspiring preacher and layperson at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is actively involved in his congregation’s homeless and children’s ministries and is a syndicated blogger for MennoNerds.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

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