25 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
(Jeremiah 9:25-26 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, the Lord contrasted the achievements of humanity with the character of God. The people thought they had bragging rights from their accomplishments; the Lord said their only boasting was to know and understand Him and His character and attributes.
Today’s passage takes one more argument of self-praise away from the people of Judah: the practice of circumcision. The practice of circumcision was not limited to the descendants of Abraham. Other nations mentioned in verse 26 also followed this practice.
Notice that the Lord listed Judah among the other nationalities that practiced circumcision but whose hearts were far from Him. Even Israel was listed as circumcised in body but not in heart (v. 26). This reference is a throwback to chapter 4 verse 4, where the Lord warned His people to circumcise their hearts, not physically, but spiritually.
When we go back to Genesis 17:9-14, we understand what the Lord intended. Circumcision was never to be a “get into heaven” rite of passage. Rather, circumcision was meant to be an outward sign of the inward covenant made and kept between God and the descendants of Abraham.
The Lord warned His people of making circumcision other than what He intended it to be. Listen to the words of the Lord to His people:
12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fearthe Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve theLord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens,the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of godsand Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
(Deuteronomy 10:12-17 NIV, underlines mine)
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul makes this same case for the circumcision of the heart vs. the body:
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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.
(Romans 2:28-29 NIV)
In his letter to the Philippian believers, the Apostle Paul calls those who demand circumcision as a condition of salvation “mutilators of the flesh”:
3 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
(Philippians 3:1-3 NIV)
As we look in the mirror of our lives, may we remember not to look on the outside, but rather, look on the inside to our heart and soul. For it is in the heart and soul that the Lord searches to find our true spiritual condition.
And may we see others from God’s point of view – not viewing the outside only, but looking into their hearts.
May we resist the urge to judge the gift on the inside from the wrapping paper on the outside.