Bible Readings for June 6th
When God commanded in Genesis 17 that every male in the household of Abraham be circumcised, he never intended for circumcision to be merely a physical act. Instead, physical circumcision—the cutting away of the flesh—always pointed to a larger, spiritual reality. In Deuteronomy 10, we get our first glimpse of God’s overarching purpose for circumcision.
In this passage, Moses pleads with the Israelites: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut. 10:16). Circumcision, Moses explains, gives us a picture of what it looks like when the stubbornness of our hearts is cut away. When our hearts are circumcised, we are able not only to love God with all of our hearts and souls (Deut. 10:12–13) but also to love our neighbor as ourselves—especially our most vulnerable neighbors: the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner (Deut. 10:18–19).
What’s so fascinating about this story is the fact that Moses was speaking to a group of people who had not been physically circumcised. Deuteronomy is the final sermon Moses gives to Israel before he dies (Deut. 34:1–8). Under Moses’s successor Joshua, the LORD commands that the whole nation be circumcised, since no one who had been born during Israel’s wilderness wanderings had been circumcised (Josh. 5:2–9). In other words, the people listening to Moses’s sermon here were circumcised neither in their flesh nor in their hearts.
Circumcision was a non-negotiable part of being the covenant people of God, as Moses himself had learned when Yahweh approached Moses to put him to death for failing to circumcise his own son (Ex. 4:24–26). But for Moses, physical circumcision was never the chief priority, since circumcision was merely the sign—circumcision was not the ultimate reality that the sign pointed to. So, with his dying words, Moses begged Israel to circumcise their hearts so that they might not stubbornly disobey the LORD any longer.
What, then, does circumcision point toward? In the New Testament, we get a clearer explanation: physical circumcision points to the reality of heart circumcision, which corresponds to the theological idea of regeneration, or new birth in Christ.1 Through the redemption of Christ, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, God circumcises our hearts by giving us new life through the gospel. So, in Romans 2:25–29, Paul says that the true Jews are those whose circumcision is spiritual, the inward work of the Spirit, and in Colossians 2:11–15, Paul says that we received the circumcision of Christ through burial and resurrection with Christ in baptism.
The larger point behind all this, then, is that while Christianity has outward signs (e.g., baptism, the Lord’s Supper, formal church membership), the non-negotiable feature of Christianity is an inward work of the Holy Spirit. By the mercy of God, therefore, circumcise the foreskin of your heart.
1 James M. Hamilton, Jr., God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, NACSBT (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 2–3.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.