Circumcision of the Heart (Deuteronomy 30)

Leading up to Deuteronomy 30, the author lets us know the 2nd generation (those who left Egypt) would fail. Their continued disobedience eventually led to exile, which is what makes the opening verses so fascinating. Read 30:1-5.

Moses prophecies of the future of Israel. A time of restoration and redemption. The LORD will be merciful and bring His people back from foreign lands to the country of their fathers. But it is the next verse I would like for us to think about.

Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (emphasis mine)

But what is this circumcision of the heart? Of course, circumcision was the… gulp… removal of a male’s foreskin. This was to be done 8 days after birth. It was connected with the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14) and ones identity with Yahweh.

Yeah, but that is different than a circumcision of the heart. Absolutely! And that is the point. The Apostle Paul takes on this theme in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 2:25, For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 

Circumcision loses its value if one choses not to obey God. Remember, it is connected to the covenant Yahweh made with Israel. The fact that one is circumcised proves they know the Law and sin out of disobedience. In my last blog, we noted the people had no excuse for not knowing the LORD’s instructions. Yet, just because someone was circumcised didn’t mean they would live a life of trust in God. Paul references Jeremiah 9:25-26. The problem was the heart. The 1st and 2nd generation has put this dilemma on display. What they really need is a circumcision of the heart.

Romans 2:29, But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (emphasis mine)

Now we are getting somewhere. God’s Law is holy, righteous and good. Anyone who says differently is wrong! The apostle backs up that statement (Rom. 7:12). However, it doesn’t have the ability to change the heart and love Yahweh with every fiber of our being. This is why Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 31:31-33, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (emphasis mine)

A new covenant! It is different than the one made at Sinai. It will not be made on tablets of stone, but the heart. The 10 Commandments did not empower Israel to follow God. In fact, they were breaking His 1st command before it came down the mountain. Through the new covenant, Yahweh will not only forgive sin but cast them out of mind (Jer. 31:34)!

So how does humanity come into this new covenant with God?

Through the sacrifice of Jesus (Lk. 22:20). The Apostle Paul said the Colossian believers had received Christ’s circumcision of the heart through their baptism (Col. 2:11-12). God doesn’t give more Laws, His gives the Spirit! Israel showed us more laws doesn’t change people. Moses longed for a day like this (Num. 11:29). You can read my blog on this verse here.

When would this happen?

Deuteronomy 30, as many passages, contrasts the giving of the covenant at Sinai and the new covenant. There will be another mountain moment with Israel. Here is an interesting question, can we know when the first one occurred? Yes. Study up on Exodus 19:1-3. Moses goes up on Sinai the 50th day, after leaving Egypt. This is the day Pentecost is celebrated. Fast forward to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost. We find Sinai language in the opening verses – powerful wind and fire. Rather than Yahweh coming down to a single person – the Spirit comes down and fills many. All who repent and are baptized in Jesus’ name, will received the gift of the Spirit. Second Sinai! The Spirit has come, the new covenant in Christ, and God’s people are empowered with a desire to love God and follow Him. Read Paul’s writing in Romans 8 and Galatians 5:22-23.

Let’s turn back to Deuteronomy 30 for more climatic language. You guessed it, the story of Eden.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (emphasis mine)

Do you see it? The 2nd generation stands between the metaphorical tree of life and the tree of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). The Word of the LORD has spoken. Israel is given the good land to enjoy – it flows with milk and honey – yet they are commanded to not partake of certain things (Gen. 2:16-17). Like Adam and Eve, they must chose between good and evil and life and death. God’s Word is the means to what is good and preserves life. It is the way for humanity to return to a semblance of Paradise. Moses employs the people to love Yahweh and walk in His ways. Walking with God was something Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall (Gen. 3:8). Others after them were blessed with goodness and life because they had walked with God – Enoch (Gen. 5:22-24; Noah (Gen. 6:9); Abraham (Gen. 17:1). In Deuteronomy 30, keeping God’s covenant was the means of walking in his ways. It is a place of blessing – long life in the land for you and your offspring. In other words, they would be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land (Gen. 1:28).

They will fail, but the time would come when humanity would be able to live in love and obedience to Yahweh. The Messiah would bring the Spirit and circumcise the heart.

We are now in that time.

**All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version

**Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer;

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