circumcision

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Today’s Bible readings are Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law. Number 2 is true but impossible because of number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people--no matter how minor they seem to us--would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word. Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people--Old or New Testament--have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Psalm 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Psalm 16.

This devotional is about Genesis 17.

Two major events in Israel’s history were recorded in this chapter. First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (v. 5). Second, God commanded Abraham and his descendants to obey the covenant of circumcision (vv. 9-14). Of all the commands God gave to Israel throughout the generations, this is the only one that they obeyed faithfully. The generation that entered the promised land had not been circumcised by their fathers, but that appears to be the only time when this covenant was not practiced faithfully (see Joshua 5:2-8).

Circumcision created a permanent, physical mark on a man’s body that separated him from people in other nations and specified that he belonged to the nation of Israel. That was important for preserving the unique ethnic identity that God wanted. The Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaites, and later the Philistines and many others had their own identity for a time, but then were absorbed into other nations and ethnicities. Circumcision set God’s people apart from these other nations.

But the covenant of circumcision had a much greater importance than just creating and preserving a national identity for Israel. God told Abraham here in Genesis 17:7 that the purpose of the covenant was, “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Although it was a physical mark, it had a spiritual purpose. Faithfully marking each man physically, apart from the spiritual purpose, made it an empty ritual.

Rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faithful church attendance, and Bible reading and prayer are some of the ways in which God’s grace helps us to grow in Christ. But you can observe these rituals without God actually becoming “your God.” And, even as Christians, we can lose focus on our walk with God while continuing to practice these rituals; our practice of them becomes work that we do by habit or by willpower or because we think they earn merit with God rather than expressions of our love for God. Is there anything you’re doing as a Christian that is expected of Christians but that does not come from your heart? Ask God to re-ignite your passion for him so that you become again a person who walks with God faithfully from the heart.