What profit circumcision?

From a column I wrote last year at LiveAsIf.org 



What is the superiority of the Jew? What is the profit of circumcision? Paul asks these rhetorical questions in Romans chapter 3. Then he answers them in the following verses in stating that the Jews were trusted with the Word of God. Imagine how great a trust this was from God to these people.

God is no respecter of persons, yet He did choose Israel. He did give His words to Moses, He was a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day for 40 years. He performed miracles in the wilderness and in the Promised Land. He settled within the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and eventually in the Sanctuary built by Solomon. He has made Jerusalem the center of the universe virtually for all mankind down through the centuries. The advantages of growing up a Jew in the ages before Jesus rose from the dead were Spiritual, if not physical.

In a good Jewish home, the Mamma taught the babies about the LORD. Along about the age of seven, the Papa began teaching the son. Each child was bade to memorize the Scriptures. The Rabbi would teach not only Scriptures, but also the traditions. It was a reverential treatment of the Torah, the Songs, and the Prophets. So, when we find partial references to the Old Testament passages, it is not surprising because the few words of reference brought the whole passage to mind and all knew what the purpose of the scrap of quote pointed to in the whole scheme of things. Context, context, context was not an issue.

Tradition was an issue, though. The Sacredness of the Law was such that the elders of Israel put a hedge of protection around it so that no man could misunderstand and break the Law. Then the next generation put a hedge around that hedge, and again another hedge around that hedge on down through the centuries until the Tradition out weighed the Torah by 18 volumes of tiny type to one small volume held in one hand.

Deut 10:16  And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your neck any more.

Always the outward symbol of the covenant with God was circumcision. That one act of removal of the tough hedge around tender flesh was a blood covenant. It separated God’s Chosen from the goyim of the surrounding nations. It was the physical illustration of a Spiritual Truth. God wanted man to be sensitive to all things Spiritual. When God wanted the heart circumcised, He was talking about removing the hedge which prevented direct contact with Him. He wanted those who loved Him to honor the tender feelings He had placed within us. That stony hedge which surrounds the heart keeps God’s people from being obedient, from seeking His face and His forgiveness. That stony hedge blunts the sharp edge of conviction and dulls the blade of passion which will make any one of God’s children ineffective in ministry.

What is so important about a circumcised heart? You can’t have one unless God gives it to you. You can’t love without it and you can’t live without it, and if you don’t have one, your children may not get one either. Deut 30:6  And Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love Jehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live.

A circumcised heart is a legacy which will continue on through the ages. It breaks down strongholds and builds bridges. It is necessary to know God, for without it the heart cannot be pierced. That is not a good thing.

Some of the Pharisee’s (in Acts 15) declared that all Gentiles must be circumcised and must keep the Law of Moses. It was such a hullabaloo that a conference was held with the Apostles and the Elders to discuss it and reason it out. Now, discussion was not such a great thing because for the Jews a loud discussion could occur anywhere there may be a disagreement. However, this was a formal thing. Peter pointed out that from ancient days, God had planned for the world to know about Himself through Israel, and that He made no distinction between Us and Them because He purified Their hearts (meaning Gentiles) by faith giving them the Holy Spirit. But… circumcision was the accepted sign of covenant.

Paul made sure Timothy was circumcised before they traveled to Jerusalem so that he, being one half Greek, would not offend any of the Jews. What profit was that? It was an outward illustration of the blood covenant. But, Paul made sure all knew that being circumcised did not make one immune to the Law, but rather made one a slave to it: …for as many as have sinned within the Law will be judged by the Law. (Rom. 2:12) And again in verse 25: For indeed circumcision profits if you practice the Law, but if you are a transgressor of Law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

God’s people keep His commands. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. How do we know His will in order to keep it and to make it our will as well? It can’t be done with an uncircumcised heart.

The Hebrew word for circumcision is מוּל  mûl (mool) A primitive root; to cut short, that is, curtail (specifically the prepuce, that is, to circumcise); by implication to blunt; figuratively to destroy: - circumcise (-ing, selves), cut down (in pieces), destroy, X must needs.

That is exactly what is described by God circumcising a heart. He cuts short the mulish will of the sinful nature of man. He destroys that bent toward sin and the temptations of the heart are blunted. It is only as good as we allow it, however. We were made in God’s image with the characteristics of Him. We can discern the difference between good and evil, between the clean and unclean and we have been given the ability to choose. As Joshua told the Israelites after they had come into the Promised Land, “Choose you this day who you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

With a circumcised heart which is acutely sensitive to the LORD, to His still small voice, to the merest touch of His guiding hand, we will know beyond doubt which is the good choice and which is the bad. With an uncircumcised heart, one can be a good discerner and resolver of cases of conscience, but would be a very poor Christian. As Matthew Henry said, “…accurate in notion but loose and careless in application… A man may be well skilled in the controversies of religion, and yet a stranger to the power of godliness.” This, then, is a picture of how there can be “good” people who do not know Jesus. They know what is The Right Thing, and even capable of doing The Right Thing, but not how that applies to eternity or understanding of Godly things.

Choose you this day to keep the circumcised heart, to keep sensitive for this the path of usefulness to our LORD. When we are useless to God, He withdraws nourishment and we wither as aptly illustrated by the story of Jesus and the fig tree without fruit. Even though it was not the season for figs, for us, there is no fruit bearing season. WE are always to bear fruit. Therefore, let us be useful in our ministry. Let us plant and water and weed and tend and harvest for the time is growing short.
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