God told Abraham that circumcision would be “a sign of the covenant “(Genesis 17:11). God had promised “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), and “you shall be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4). Henry Morris commented, “the emphasis of the covenant, of course, was on the promised seed, and on the abundance of progeny which would accrue to Abraham. The male sex organ is the remarkable, divinely created vehicle for the transmission of this seed from one generation to another. The circumcision (“cutting around”) of this channel would thus picture its complete enclosure within God’s protective and productive will” (The Genesis Record, p. 333). Circumcision was a reminder that through Abraham and his descendants would come nations, and finally a blessing upon all nations (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14 cf. Acts 3:25-26).
When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac a strange thing occurred. The servant swore to do his duty by putting his hand under the thigh of Abraham (Genesis 24:9 cf. 47:29). This seems to be a reminder of the covenant made which was to be fulfilled through the loins of Abraham.
The primary purpose of circumcision is clear. It was a sign of the covenant which was to be fulfilled through the loins of Abraham.
However, there seems to be an added benefit. S.I. McMillan, in his book, None of These Diseases, writes of the physical value of circumcision. (1) He cites several studies which show a much lower rate of cervical cancer among women whose mates are circumcised. He writes of a study in India. “Although the people there have similar racial background, eat the same types of food (there are some differences B.H.), and live in the same climate and environment, the population is divided into two religious groups (Hindu and Islam, B.H.). Those who (follow) Mohammed… practice circumcision. Among that group there is a much lower incident of Cervical cancer than among women of the same race who eat the same food and live in the same environment” (McMillian, None of These Diseases, p.18). He explains, “If the tight unretractable foreskin is not removed, proper cleaning cannot be readily performed (at least not easily B.H.). As a result, many virulent bacteria, including cancer-producing smegma bacillus, can grow profusely. During sexual intercourse these bacteria are deposited in the cervix of the uterus, if the mucous membrane of the cervix is intact, little harm results. However, if lacerations exist, as they frequently do after childbirth, these bacteria can cause considerable irritation. Since any part of the body which is subjected to irritation is susceptible to cancer, it is perfectly understandable why cervical cancer is likely to develop in women whose mates are not circumcised” (p. 19). (2) He also writes of penile cancer saying, “These bacteria not only produce cancer in women, but also irritate the male organ and may cause cancer of the penis” (ibid). He concludes, “We can say that circumcision is an almost perfect prophylaxis against this deadly cancer” (ibid).
While today circumcision is of no religious value (Galatians 5:6; 6:15; Romans 2:28-29; 1 Corinthians 7:18-19; Colossians 3:11), there is still a point to be made. The point is this: when one follows God’s teachings, there is often an added benefit. Even though the Israelites may never have understood it at the time, there was an added benefit to circumcision. God’s commandments are for our good (cf. Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:23; 1 John 5:3). Often, this good is not just spiritual in nature, but also physical. For example – when we get rid of envy and hatred we not only are doing what is spiritually right, we may be saving ourselves from potential harm. “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).