Read: Deuteronomy 9:1-6; 10:12-22
Consider: In today’s reading from Deuteronomy 9 the Israelites were about to cross the river Jordan to take possession of the promised land. God told them that he would go before them (9:3) and that it was only through his strength that they would take possession of the land. Knowing the character of the Israelites he said to them: After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (9:4-5). God knew that when things went well for the Israelites they were prone to congratulate themselves for their victories. The temptation was also for them to think that they had somehow won God’s favour because of their own righteousness. In other words they could think that they were chosen by God because they deserved to be!
Yet despite the people of Israel being undeserving of God’s favour, they become the focus of his favour. Notice what God says about the Israelites in Deuteronomy 9:6 – ‘… you are a stiff-necked people’. This is a charge made against the people of Israel throughout their wanderings in the wilderness and is repeated throughout the Old Testament record. It even continues into the New Testament where we see Stephen making the same charge against the Jews (Acts 7:51). Being stiff-necked carries with it the meaning of being haughty (proud), stubborn and obstinate.
It is easy to read these accounts in the Bible and to think that these people were rightly charged with being stiff-necked and that we today wouldn’t be like that. Unfortunately history teaches us that human nature hasn’t changed and there is still a stubborn and obstinate streak in each of us. There is also a pride in our own achievements that leaves little room for God. This is what it says in Deuteronomy 10:12, 16 – And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul …
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
For the Jews circumcision is an outward sign that a person belongs to God (is one of his chosen people). So when God speaks of circumcision of the heart it is an inward sign that a person belongs to him. In Romans 2:28-29 Paul describes circumcision in this way: A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
Pray: Father, forgive us when we show stiff-necked tendencies to submitting to your rule and authority. May we truly circumcise our hearts as a sign that we belong to you and may we willingly submit to you. Amen