In last week’s blog post on Abraham and the law of circumcision, I touched on the symbolism of circumcision from ancient Hebrew. This week I’ll conclude the topic by going into the meaning of tokens, the transition of circumcision, and the uncircumcised.
Some years ago while studying the scriptures one day, I noticed the word ‘token’ and wondered what the real meaning of the word was.
The first instance of the word appears in scripture related to God promising Noah he would never again flood the earth.
Genesis 9:12. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
Webster’s 1828 defines a token as a sign, mark, or memorial, something intended to represent or indicate another thing or event.
Thus, a token in scripture is a sacred sign or memorial representing something.
Things got more interesting when I looked up the Hebrew meaning of the word. In Hebrew, the word for token is:
Reading from right to left, that’s aleph-waw-taw. Numerically, these are the first, sixth, and last (22nd) letters of the alphabet. In Hebrew, these have numerical values of 1-6-400. The waw in the middle is a joining component. It takes two things that were separated and brings them together. In this case, it is bringing the beginning and the end together. The first and the last.
The beginning, aleph, is represented in ancient Hebrew by a bull’s head. It does not represent God directly, but a strong head, a leader, an origin point outside this world. It’s a unity but in the character of the aleph shown in the image above on the right (Hebrew reads from right to left), we see a sort of mirror of opposition along the sides of the diagonal line. There is a marking in the upper right and lower left that parallel each other. It is a unified opposition, like holding things in balance, before the duality of the 2 enters the world.
The end, taw, is represented by a sign of the cross in ancient Hebrew. It is the purpose of all suffering which takes us to the very end. Beyond it is the 500 which is not represented in language because it exists outside this world as well. It cannot be “clothed” in language and expressed in written word.
Thus a token, connects our origin, with completion of our course and death.
The pronunciation of this word in Hebrew is literally “oath,” and means to consent or agree. It is not the word for oath which is pronounced “sheb-oo-aw” and means to swear an oath or curse.
Extrapolating a little, in scripture, a token is a sign of an agreement between God and man that connects the beginning to the end, our origin to our final suffering in the world which can be seen in the fullest expression of taking the name and cross of Christ upon us. Tokens are serious business.
There are 28 verses in the scriptures that use the word token (but quite a few more where the same Hebrew word is translated as “sign(s),” “ensign(s),” “miracles,” or “mark.”
The first instance is in Genesis 9 at the conclusion of the flood. The Lord put a “bow in the cloud” as a sign he would never again destroy the world by flood and said it would be a “token of the covenant” between him and all flesh on earth. We know this is a rainbow, though the word used in Hebrew is bow, like an archer’s bow, which is the shape of a rainbow.
Perhaps the reason for it is a sign of heavenly strength. Bending a bow requires strength and bending light in the heavens is a beautiful metaphor for God’s strength. He had power to flood the earth, and now promises to withhold such destruction from the earth and never do it again by water.
The second instance of a token in scripture is that of circumcision which is introduced to Abraham in Genesis 17.
Why did the Lord initiate this practice with Abraham after 2,000 years of righteous patriarchs on earth? Surely his progenitors who were righteous were entitled to all the blessings of eternal life that Abraham was partaker of, so why the new practice?
Perhaps it was the symbolism of Abraham’s life. Recall from last week’s post that Isaac was an impossible child. Abraham was going through the eye of the needle to enter a new world. He and Sarah were beyond the ability to have a child, just as a virgin birth was impossible. Their son Isaac would be a symbol of the redeemer who would be born 2,000 years later through miraculous means. Thus the token of circumcision is connects the physical act of the covenant and removing the barrier to physical seed, to the birth of Christ who would connect all life to it’s origin point through going to the cross. This great and last sacrifice would redeem all mankind and bring about the seed of Christ and eternal increase.
Isaiah 53:10. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
I mentioned Frederick Weinreb in last week’s post and he explained this concept of eternal seed in a fascinating way. In Hebrew, the concept of man is represented in the 3, and woman in the 4. The concept of child is seen in the 5, not that 3+4=5, but 3 squared, plus 4 squared, equals 5 squared (picture a right angle triangle where the 2 sides are lengths 3 and 4, the hypotenuse is a length of 5). There’s an extensive writeup about this which I’m dramatically shortening. The fullest extension of the man and woman in life is 300 and 400 respectively. The ultimate union of man and woman is seen in the 500 (300^2 + 400^2 = 500^2). The 500 is beyond this world and happens to be the sum-total of the Hebrew numeric parts of the phrase “be ye fruitful and multiply.” It is eternal seed out of this world. It is beyond the last character of the alphabet, the taw or 400. We cannot reach it in this world and it requires the 300 and 400 brought together to achieve it. I would even say it requires a covenant relationship.
Random thought: As I’m thinking about this, the 3 is represented by a triangle (which holds the shape of a compass when we remove one equilateral side) and the 4 by a square. Those are the foundation tools of a builder. The man and woman build a family which brings about the 5. Symbolically, the 3 has a meaning of perfection and completion. The 4 has a meaning of God’s creations, harmony, divine revelation, and mankind. In the 5 we have the concept of atonement and temple which is pointed to in the compass and square.
After finishing this article but before publicizing it, I happened upon a reference to the Joseph Smith Translation of this chapter and turned to it. It offers the actual explanation for circumcision starting now with Abraham. It was because the people had strayed from the ordinance of baptism and the understanding that children are not accountable until 8 years old. Circumcision would thus be a reminder of this until Christ brought the new covenant explained in the next section below.
The number 8 is significant in Hebrew and means a new beginning. Baptism at age 8 is a new beginning for children who enter into the covenant, just as circumcision is at 8 days old.
Here is the JST version of Genesis 17:4-7, 11-12, from this website that will one of these days get integrated into the Scripture Notes app.
4) And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers;
5) And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;
6) But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of children, and the blood of sprinkling;
7) And have said that the blood of the righteous Abel was shed for sins; and have not known wherein they are accountable before me.
11) And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know forever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.
12) And thou shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.
While the law of circumcision was a token of a new covenant started with Abraham that God would multiply his posterity, the Lord had other imagery in mind for all men and women. It was to remove the outer layer of the heart and be open to fully love the Lord without restriction. There are 4 references in the Bible to this transition.
Deut. 10:16. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.
Deut 30:6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
Jeremiah 4:4. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
Romans 2:29. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
We see that to circumcise the heart is the higher law and the command of God. God’s purpose for us is to bring us into at-one-ment with him by fully opening our hearts to him. We can only do that by cutting away the barrier of our hearts and joining our origin point to our fullest development (1-6-400) which is the purpose of the token.
Those who fail to make this inward circumcision, have no part in the Lord’s kingdom. It is likened to being stiff-necked and seeking the praise of men instead of God.
Circumcision was the sign of the covenant, and Abraham was commanded to shun the uncircumcised.
Genesis 17:14. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
Even uncircumcised strangers were to be circumcised if they were to partake of Passover with those of the covenant so they did not mingle the sacred tradition with the uncircumcised (Exodus 12:48). Can you imagine? “Thank you for coming to Passover! Now let me explain what’s going to happen before dinner…” :)
The disciple Stephen chastised the Jews saying:
Acts 7:51. Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
An uncircumcised heart rejects the promptings of the Spirit, or truth. He called them murderers of the prophets and then the scriptures reveal:
Acts 7:54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
Interesting that with uncircumcised hearts and ears, they couldn’t hear, until one testified of their sins and then they heard and felt the power of the word and attacked and brutally killed the messenger. Being circumcised in the flesh is meaningless as a token unless the inward circumcision is made equal to it. Paul later taught this concept to the Roman saints.
Romans 2:25. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
He even went further stating that if the uncircumcised of flesh keep the law of God, it will be counted to them for inward circumcision and righteousness.
Romans 2:26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
Paul continued this theme with other saints in other cities. In one example to the Galatians he wrote:
Galatians 6:15. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Circumcision is all about the heart, doing away with the natural man, and giving ourselves over to Christ.
The same concept was taught in the Book of Mormon. The prophet Jacob taught:
2 Nephi 9:33. Wo unto the uncircumcised of heart, for a knowledge of their iniquities shall smite them at the last day.
The prophet Nephi wrote:
Helaman 9:21. …O ye fools, ye uncircumcised of heart, ye blind, and ye stiffnecked people, do ye know how long the Lord your God will suffer you that ye shall go on in this your way of sin?
We see here a concept of uncircumcised eyes, being blind when the truth is presented right in front of you.
When we circumcise our hearts, the Lord has promised to “remember” the covenant of Abraham and bring us into those promises.
Leviticus 26:41. And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
42. Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
The latter-day promise of this covenant was taught by Isaiah. He wrote it would be a requirement to building Zion.
Isaiah 52:1. Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God. Circumcision of the heart is the path. When we love God with unrestricted love, our hearts will be filled with a desire to serve him and his children. There will be no more burdens but we will do things with a joyful heart, only desiring more energy to perform the things we are asked to do.
If you would like to study the topic yourself, here are the verse searches I did in Scripture Notes to research the topic. You can find the Hebrew meanings of words using the link icon to go directly to Blue Letter Bible, and find other translations of verses using the link icon to go to Bible Hub.
These were a few unique uses of circumcision in the verses I found.
Exodus 6:30. And Moses said before the Lord, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
This is an interesting use of the concept. The Hebrew word used here literally means “having foreskin” or being uncircumcised. In essence, Moses was saying there was a covering layer from getting his speech out properly.
In the Joseph Smith translation of this verse, he changed “uncircumcised” to “stammering” but other translations of the Bible use phrases like “am unskilled,” “am a poor speaker,” “speak with difficulty,” and “faltering lips.” However, most translations at Bible Hub show “uncircumcised lips.”
Jeremiah 6:10. To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
The faithful are to have circumcised ears to hear the word of the Lord. It is a blessing of the covenant people.
Leviticus 19:23. And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
24. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the Lord withal.
25. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the Lord your God.
Commentaries differ a little on this but the basic idea is give the tree a rest for 3 years to establish itself in the soil and let the branches receive some strength. I assume they would thin off the fruit or blossoms so it doesn’t stress the branches too soon. Then in the 4th year all the fruit is dedicated to the Lord and eaten with the poor and needy. It’s the first fruits of the harvest of that tree and given as an offering or tithe. Thereafter it will produce in strength for the benefit of the orchard owner.
(Featured image by Kumruen Pakorn at 123rf.com)