Did Circumcision in the Old Testament Have Medical Benefits?

Many of us have heard the some of the ‘strange’ laws in the Old Testament about what to eat, what to sacrifice, etc.  While those that don’t understand many of these laws may just think circumcision was just another one of those strange laws too, there may be more to it.
From a medical perspective, John Hopkins University researchers, here
studied the economic impact of males who were and were not circumcised.

A 20-year decline in male circumcision has cost the country $2 billion in medical costs that could have been prevented, Johns Hopkins researchers say in a study released Monday.

Research has found that circumcision reduces the number of infant urinary tract infections. Men who are uncircumcised are more at-risk for cancer-causing HPV, HIV, herpes, bacterial vaginitis and other sexually transmitted diseases, studies have found.

Really?  So medically there is a benefit to being a circumcised male?  Who would have guessed God would ask the Israelites in the Old Testament to do something that would be for their spiritual benefit and medical benefit?  If we look at the Old Testament God institutes his covenant with Abraham in Gen 7:1 and 7:10-11

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”

10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

Jesus then fulfills this covenant down the line.  Actually this covenant with Abraham has been a pointer to Jesus since it was instituted.  God says Abraham, if you “Walk before me blameless” I will “multiply you greatly”.  You hold up your end of the bargain Abraham and I will hold up mine, God says.  Now, to a fatherless 99 year old guy who in this society would have valued children like we value Ferrari’s and a mansion on the beach, this would have seemed so incredible Abraham may have even doubted it, (though we see later in the text he did not doubt this promise).

Now we all know, none of us today and no human even recalled in the Old Testament was ‘blameless’ or without sin.  So how does this point to Jesus?  Well first of all, God is giving a people to Himself.  Abram, this nomadic pagan wandered who is also fatherless, is called to bring about the nation of Israel, or the group of people God sets aside for himself.  Secondly this perfect work of being ‘blameless’ is a thorough failure just looking at the Israelites (reference the rest of the OT).  Even Abraham has some failures, but Jesus fulfills this ‘be blameless’ portion.  He is without sin and He is blameless.  Jesus actually by His blood brings, God’s people to spiritual restoration (now and for eternity in Heaven) in a way people could never fulfill this physically.
Paul says it well

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:11-14 ESV)

This uncircumcised heart of the people becomes circumcised and truly pleasing before God when are made clean “through faith” in Christ.  So yes, God cares about the physical and medical benefits to circumcision, but he cares most importantly about the spiritual, our hearts.  The physical was a pointer to the spiritual.  And “God made us alive together with him” by fulfill both parts of the covenant — the numerous generations He promises Abraham and walking blameless before Him


Ultimate Answer

“Apologetics is not the ultimate answer. Apologetics is only a means to gain respect to be heard and observed. What is going to change their life is not the brilliance of your answer, that may just open up the avenue. Ultimately the changing of the heart is God’s work in the individuals life. Sometimes it’s a gentle word, sometimes it’s the love of Christ, sometimes it is the way you have handled the question and retained the dignity of the moment. In India they have a saying that once you cut off a persons nose, there is no point in giving them a rose to smell, and apologetics can slice off a persons nose. You’ve got to know how to answer and when to back off.”

-Ravi Zacharias, 7/27/12 Just Thinking podcast.