Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Circumcise yourselves to YHWH; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.
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.
(Please read the whole chapter for each of those verses to understand the full context. Click on each reference to access the chapters at Bible Gateway.)
But Paul Said…
Paul is often misunderstood to be against physical circumcision in all cases, but the full context of his letters show that can’t be the case. Rather, he is against circumcision in a misguided conversion to Judaism or the performance of any other rite or commandment as a condition for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.
Salvation is solely by the grace of God extended to those who put their faith in him. Circumcision is something that a believing man can do later if he is led to it by the Holy Spirit or if there is some practical reason, so long as he doesn’t believe it will make him more saved. There is no general command in Scripture for a grown man to be circumcised unless he is wants to eat the Passover, which is impossible to do outside of Jerusalem. Anyone external pressure for a grown man to be circumcised comes solely from other men, not from God.
If you’re not a priest going to serve in the Temple (you’re not), if you’re not going to eat a Passover lamb this year (extremely unlikely), and if you’re not an 8-day old baby boy (wow! reading already!?) then there is no good reason to get circumcised.
Now, having dispensed of that inevitable barrier to communication, let me get the actual point of this article…
What Does It Mean to Circumcise One’s Heart?
In Deuteronomy 10, Moses told the Israelites that, although God owns all of heaven and earth, he chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants as special objects of his love and attention. Because God chose Israel above all other peoples, he wanted them to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts “and stop being stiff-necked”.
He went on to say that God is mighty and awesome, above all other gods, and above all the petty bribery that the gods of the nations demanded from them. Yet, despite his awesome power and the universal scope of his awareness, he gives special attention to orphans, widows, and landless above the special attention he already gives to Israel.
Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The essence of heart circumcision seems to be in the humility to accept the attentions of the Almighty and to serve those who have the least power of all.
Because of Adam’s sin, our world can be hard and compassionless. It’s tempting to see all impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged people as deserving their state–an attitude encouraged by some of the world’s largest religions–and therefore also deserving lesser treatment by society and even by law.
While it’s true that poverty is perpetuated by bad choices, Scripture also tells us that we are all sinners according to God’s standards and equally deserving of death. A circumcised heart perceives its own unworthiness, but gratefully accepts and returns God’s love in spite of that. It not only loves God, who is infinitely more deserving, but also loves the poor, homeless, and even the criminal.
God wants us, who have received undeserved mercy, to extend undeserved mercy in turn, a mercy which enables the recipient to stand back up and try again and again to make better choices.
Be Holy, Even As I Am Holy
God wants us to be holy (set apart for sacred purpose) just as he is holy. In Leviticus chapters 11, 19, and 20, this means keeping God’s commandments, especially in regards to avoiding the pagan practices of idolatry, necromancy, disrespecting parents, sexual immorality, and eating animals whose meat God finds detestable.
Peter reiterated this expectation of holiness through obedience:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16
It’s clearly a good thing to keep God’s commandments, and while outward obedience will bring circumcision of the flesh (at least for boys born into the faith), it cannot, by itself, bring circumcision of the heart.
The truth is exactly the opposite. A hard heart is like a hardened clay soil that breaks ploughs and starves seedlings. The Word sprouts quickly but withers away because it can’t put down roots. It is a haven for brambles and wild grass, but hostile to anything that can produce good fruit. Only a circumcised heart can accept the seed of God’s instructions and allow it to produce a harvest worthy of the land owner.
So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision [of the flesh] be regarded as circumcision [of the heart]? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
The Hearts of Your Children
There is another important aspect of heart circumcision that I want to bring to your attention.
The manner of circumcision of the flesh was not arbitrary. God chose the skin that would be cut removed in part because it symbolizes one of the core promises of his covenant with Abraham:
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you….This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:7, 10-11
Abraham’s physical descendants all passed through the cut of his physical circumcision. All of his promised descendants inherit the covenant by which they were promised, but they are commanded to circumcise their sons in turn.
If you are a son of Abraham, then your sons must be circumcised on the eighth day. This doesn’t give them eternal salvation or forgive their sins, but it does make God’s promises to Abraham theirs to reject.
Circumcision of the heart follows the same pattern as circumcision of the flesh.
And YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Just as Moses told us to keep God’s commandments as we work to circumcise our hearts, he also told us to teach God’s commandments to our children.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Circumcision of the heart is a process that each person must take on for himself, but parents have a responsibility to set their children on the right path, to teach them to fear and love YHWH, to cherish his commandments, and to be kind to all people. In doing so, we enable them to inherit the New Covenant established in the blood of Yeshua.
How Does a Heart Become Circumcised?
Physical circumcision is relatively quick and painless. We circumcise our sons when they are eight days old, before they are old enough to remember the pain. Circumcision of the heart is a much longer and more painful process. It begins and ends with obedience, not for the sake of being righteous or special or staying out of trouble, but for the sake of the Law-Giver.
And now, Israel, what does YHWH your God require of you, but to fear YHWH your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
2 John 1:6
God wants our fearful devotion and our love. He wants to be the center of our thoughts, motives, and our entire lives. Such devotion requires the breaking of our pride, our independence, and even our very identity.
If a commandment is a burden, then it either hasn’t yet done its work on your heart, or you are keeping it for the wrong reason. A resentful or prideful obedience is not obedience at all. Refocus on the loving kindness of the Father who gave us the Law through Moses, of the Son who gave us his very life to enable our obedience without fear of condemnation, and of the Spirit who teaches us how to live, comforts us when we fail or are persecuted for our obedience, and guides us onto better paths.
As we learn to keep God’s commandments out of love for him, his Spirit works through our desire to obey to draw us closer to him. Through the keeping of commandments with a right heart, we are disciplined and pruned. The heart will become more right, and we will learn more perfect obedience, understanding that the heart of every commandment is love.
The secret to a circumcised heart, ready to receive God’s instructions, is in recognizing that we are no more deserving of his attention than anyone else, that nothing we could ever do could earn his affections, and yet God still loves us more than all the rest of creation. When we love him enough in return to submit to his commandments and when we see a reflection of his perfection and our own failures in the least of all people, we will be on the path.
For more information see this video from 119 Ministries…