A Stiff-necked People
..’ And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ..
In the previous article we saw that the true Jew was one who has had their heart circumcised, one who worships in the spirit, having no confidence in the flesh and has had the body of sins put off. We also mentioned that having a circumcised heart was in fact, in the Jewish scriptures (the OT) and it is to this we know turn our attention.
C6.1 Stiff-necked in heart
That the Jews had known the metaphor of a circumcised heart is clearly seen from scripture. Stephen in his so called ‘defence’ (he wasn’t defending himself but bringing accusation against the nation of Israel for their rejection of the promised Messiah) uses this picture in his summing up:
Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
Stephen argues that despite God’s promise to Abraham and deliverance by the hand of Moses and all that God did for them the nation turned to other gods. And that the present generation were just like their forebears.
Stephen equates being stiff necked and uncircumcised to resisting the Holy Spirit. The prime example being their refusal at Kadesh – Barnea to enter the promised land after the report of the twelve spies. (cf. Num.13-14; Heb.3-4). They preferred to put their trust in the flesh rather than have confidence in God.
This heart condition not only led to open rebellion against God in the wilderness, but also to idolatry in the Land of Canaan, the slaying of God’s messengers and ultimately the crucifixion of the Son of God. (cf. Mtt.21:33-46. Matthew in his gospel account puts in the comment that the Pharisees perceived that Jesus spoke of them)
But this, their apostasy, was in fact foretold even before Israel entered the promised land!
For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.
C6.2 Circumcise your hearts!
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the LORD thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.
In his final address to Israel, before his death and their entry to Canaan, Moses recounts their journeyings, gives the Law a second time and and leaves them with further instructions. Here Moses says there are these things they need to do.
1. Fear the Lord
2. Walk in His ways (remember Col.2:6!)
3. Love Him
4. Serve Him with all their heart and soul
5. Keep His commandments
6. Keep His statutes
7. Circumcise the foreskin of their heart
The point to make here for our purposes, is that God told the Jews to do the circumcising of their hearts! It was a recognition to them that they could not keep God’s ways unless the heart was dealt with. The people were the ones who were instructed to do it at this stage!
But as the years and the centuries unfolded the history of the OT is plain for all to see, they could not do it! Israel could not keep God’s ways and they were unable to circumcise their hearts.
C6.3 The Word of faith is near
Now we turn to a later chapter, and the NT commentary on it.
…..that then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. 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. …….. If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. The Choice of Life and Death. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply…………………….
For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Towards the end of his final discourse Moses talks of the time when the curses of God will come upon Israel for their disobedience. He says that after being exiled for their disobedience, the time would come when the Lord their God would bring them back to the land.
Then Moses says something remarkable, whereas before Israel was commanded to circumcise their heart, now God would do the circumcising. Evidently the people could not do it themselves!
We then have a passage which Paul quotes in Romans which Paul applies directly to Christ. Thus we have from the mouth of Moses a truly Messianic prophecy.
The thrust of the argument is that we don’t need to do this or that to bring Christ down or up, rather the word is near us in our mouth.. All we need to do is to believe God, just as Abraham did. We cannot do anything for our salvation it has to be all God’s doing. All we need do is believe with our hearts!
Just a further remark in passing. There are many in these days who insist that to get God’s blessings one has to do this or that, travel here or there, exert much effort one way or the other. Jesus said there be those who will say Lo! Christ is here or there, believe them not. (Mtt.24:22f). Paul says the word of faith is in thy heart, not in some other place that is out of reach!
Indeed Christ in you the hope of glory! Col.1:27
But the question from these thoughts is: why could not the Israelites, or any of us for that matter, circumcise our own hearts so that it was necessary for God to take it upon Himself to do so? We shall examine this further in the next article