30 Days in the Bible, Day 2: Deuteronomy 10:12-17
The way this passage deals with circumcision may be startling to some readers, and I’m sure it was striking to the Israelites when they first heard it. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant between the Lord and His people, from the time of Abraham onward. Even before there was anything resembling a nation of Israel, this sign was given to show that a boy (or a male convert) was a part of the covenant people of God.
To this day circumcision remains an important religious sign for the Jews. While circumcision is practiced by those who are not Jews (often for medical, not spiritual reasons), it has a special meaning for the Jewish people. There is a ceremony, the bris, which is observed whenever a Jewish baby is circumcised. The physical sig of circumcision is as vitally important to Jews today as it was in ancient Israel.
Yet Moses doesn’t refer to the physical act of circumcision as he urges Israel to serve their God. Rather, he tells them to circumcise “the foreskin of their heart.” This is a call for the Israelites to remove not part of their body, but anything spiritual that gets in the way of their service to the Lord. The external sign was an important step of obedience, but it made no difference if the one who was circumcised would not honor and serve the Lord.
This “circumcision of the heart” is contrasted with stubbornness. The people of Israel had already shown themselves time and again to be hard-headed and hard-hearted when it came to following the Lord. When the going got tough, they got to complaining. This stubbornness was a sign that their hearts were not fully devoted to serving God. There was still much that the people harbored inside that kept them from fully trusting and serving the Lord.
We as Christians have our own sign of becoming part of the people of Jesus Christ, baptism. It is important for every believer to follow the command of Jesus to be baptized as a symbol of our faith. Yet, as with Israel and circumcision, baptism doesn’t mean anything if we just go through an external ritual with no change in our heart. Baptism does not save us; it only shows our confession of our salvation through Jesus. To have meaning, baptism must be preceded and accompanied by a heart that has been surrendered to the Lord in repentance.
When our hearts have been renewed by the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are then free to truly serve the Lord. We can leave behind our stubborn desire to have our own way and seek to learn and follow the way the Lord has for us. When the external symbol is matched by an internal change, we start on our way to becoming the people God created us to be.
Baptism is important. If you are a believer in Jesus and have not yet followed His command to be baptized I encourage you to do so. But more importantly, has your heart been “baptized” and changed to a repentant and obedient heart? Only then does the symbol have true meaning, and only then is our service to the Lord pleasing to Him.