Circumcision represents entry into God’s covenant with Abraham

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Lord’s mysterious words in Sunday’s first reading — Jos 5:9a, 10-12 — may raise more questions than they answer. What is this reproach of Egypt? How has the Lord removed it?

God speaks these words right after the rite of circumcision has been performed on the males who had been born during the 40-year journey from Egypt, which has just concluded:

“None of those born in the desert during the journey after departure from Egypt were circumcised” (Jos 5:5). They are preparing to celebrate the Passover. Only males who have been circumcised are allowed to take part in the celebration, according to Ex 12:44-48.

Since circumcision involves removal of the foreskin, the statement “I have removed the reproach” functions well as a comment on what has just happened.

The Law of Moses requires circumcision for every male of the people of Israel: “On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lv 12:3). Circumcision marks the male as taking part in the covenant between God and Abraham:

“This is my (God’s) covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gn 17:10). We should remember that Jesus, since he belonged to the people of Israel, was himself circumcised:

“When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21).

Among the people of Israel, circumcision ordinarily took place within eight days after the birth: “Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised” (Gn 17:12).

Why, then, this delay which is witnessed to in this reading from Joshua? Why were the male babies born during the journey from Egypt not circumcised eight days later, as customary, but only after arrival in the Promised Land, which could be years later?

We should remember that the feast of Passover celebrates liberation from bondage in Egypt and entry into the Promised Land.

The first observance of Passover takes place on the eve of the Israelites departure from Egypt. Now, this observance of Passover recounted in the reading from Joshua takes place as the Israelites enter the Promised Land.

All this happens because of the covenant that God has made with the people of Israel. It is appropriate that this mass circumcision accompany the first observance of Passover in the Promised Land. 

These young Israelites enter into the covenant, just as they are entering into this new land.

It is indeed reason for them to celebrate.

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