Circumcise Your Heart
We are commanded by God to circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). How does one go about fulfilling this injunction? What is the meaning of this metaphor?
In the language of Scripture, the heart is the seat of understanding. Just as the eye sees and the ears hear so does the heart understand and know (Isaiah 6:10). Scripture employs the metaphor of uncircumcision for the ear (Jeremiah 6:10). The uncircumcised ear cannot listen or hear. It would then follow that the uncircumcised heart cannot know or understand.
This interpretation is reinforced when we consider the context of the two passages in which our metaphor appears (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). In both instances Scripture employs a different metaphor as a parallel to the metaphor under discussion. In Deuteronomy the Scripture speaks of ceasing to stiffen our necks. Throughout Scripture a stiff neck is a reference to stubbornness and a refusal to obey and submit. This would be parallel to a heart that refuses to acquire understanding that would necessitate a change in attitude.
In Jeremiah the prophet encourages us to plow our fallow ground and not sow among the thorns (Jeremiah 4:3). The context implies that the prophet is encouraging us to break the hardness of our heart, which would be compared to the unbroken thorny ground, before we plant with prayer, study of God’s word and practice of good deeds.
Leviticus 26:41 speaks of our uncircumcised hearts being humbled through the suffering of exile. This passage further reinforces our interpretation. The arrogant heart is set in its ways and its world view is not open for negotiation. The messages that God sends through His prophets and through the events that He is orchestrating do not move the uncircumcised heart because the uncircumcised heart is closed to the truth.
The call to circumcise our heart is a call to humility, a call to open ourselves up to new understanding. When God commands us to circumcise our heart He is encouraging us to let go of our preconceived notions which prevent us from comprehending His truth.
This activity is not an “all or nothing” proposition. There are many different levels of openness and acceptance of God’s truth. On the one hand you find people who cling so tightly to their world-view and completely close their hearts to the words of God that might overturn the beliefs that they cherish. These people will rehash their own doctrines, endlessly quoting the same few passages that they see as supportive of their creed, and refuse to interact in a meaningful way with the passages of Scripture that would force them to see the world in a new light.
On the other extreme you find people who made life-changing decisions because they opened their hearts to God’s truth. These people are willing to consider the fact that they are human and could make mistakes and their hearts remain open and accepting.
Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. We may hesitate to consider inconvenient truths but we also do not completely shut up our ears and hearts. Circumcision of the heart is a path of growth. We can all grow in our willingness to accept God’s truth and the injunction of Deuteronomy 10:16 is commanding us to move ever-forward on the path of humility and acceptance.
As human beings our activities are always limited and the scope of our understanding will always be nothing more than a dot against the background of God’s eternal truth. We can never fully open ourselves up to God’s truth on our own because our hearts are human and our abilities are inadequate. Indeed, God promises that He will intervene and circumcise our hearts to the degree that God’s truth becomes an integral part of our beings (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). But God also tells us who it is that He will circumcise. God will circumcise the hearts of people who have already opened their hearts to Him (Deuteronomy 30:2). He will write His Law on the hearts of a people who are already carrying His Law in their heart (Isaiah 51:7).
If you want to circumcise your heart then you need to walk in the path of David, Israel’s King. He spelled out this path in Psalm 119. Begin with prayer and supplication to God, because our capacity for self-delusion is so deep. And do not just begin with prayer, but pray from beginning to end. But don’t just pray with your lips, pray with your heart and with your actions. Read God’s word, not to confirm the worldview that you already possess, but rather, allow God’s word to refine your worldview and even to shatter it. Open your heart to God’s truth and listen to His word. With God at your side you have nothing to fear.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal