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I been tracing out the theme of circumcision through the Old Testament and Gods promise to circumcise the Israelites hearts and I was wondering does that mean that no Israelite was circumcised in their heart until Christ came and died?

Jer 31:31-33 - Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt— a covenant they broke, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

“But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD. I will put My law in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people.

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    Mar 2 at 20:19

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The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of transforming grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.

That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, Eze 11:19, 18:31, 36:26) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.

Let me quote several texts about the Israelite covenant being a matter of the heart:

  • Deut 6:5 - And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
  • Deut 10:12 - And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
  • Deut 10:16 - Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and stiffen your necks no more.
  • Deut 11:18 - Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
  • Ps 40:8 - I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.
  • Jer 24:7 - I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart.

Thus, the Israelite covenant was always a matter of the heart - it was at the very foundation of the "Book of the Law", viz, Deuteronomy which Christ quoted (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27) because this should have always been the case.

That is, the physical symbol of circumcision was always supposed to be a symbol of heart circumcision as per Ps 40:8. See also:

  • Deut 30:6 - 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.
  • Jer 4:4 - Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.
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  • I love that you're always so comprehensive!
    – Jason_
    Mar 2 at 21:38
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Circumcision was a physical sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. The idea of circumcision of the heart appears in several passages in the Old Testament, indicating a spiritual transformation or renewal rather than a physical act.

For example, in Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses exhorts the Israelites to "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer." This implies a call to spiritual renewal and obedience to God rather than merely a physical procedure.

Similarly, Jeremiah 4:4, the prophet calls for the people of Judah to "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, And take away the foreskins of your hearts," Again, showing the need for inward repentance and devotion to God.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 provides a particularly clear expression of this idea:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

So the question that matters is: Why would Moses tell the people of Israel to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart" if it wasn't possible?

Even Stephen said in the New Testament:

Acts 7:51 NKJV

51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.

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  • That is very true why would he? I’m trying to make sure I understand it correctly and not reading too much into it Mar 2 at 21:40
  • @Ozervirtuoso Good practice. Even Stephen said in the New Testament in Acts 7:51. 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you..." People could be uncircumcised in heart in the Old Testament and the New. They could also be circumcised in heart in the Old Testament and the New.
    – Jason_
    Mar 2 at 21:52
  • Amen bro thank you for that ! Mar 2 at 22:21
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The OP asks whether "no Israelite was circumcised in their heart until Christ came and died." This depends on whether one equates heart-circumcision with spiritual rebirth based on faith in Jesus. In Judaism an uncircumcised heart is known as orlei lev. It is removed by tearing away the deadening wall encasing our hearts and turning back to God. In this understanding of the idea, heart-circumcision should not be confused with the Christian idea of spiritual rebirth. But for many Christians (though not all) heart-circumcision can only be attained by faith in Jesus.

Heart-circumcision as repentance

For Jews and some Christians, heart-circumcision is a matter of opening oneself to God. Jews circumcised their hearts by repentance, together with loving God and their neighbors. Christians do the same when they repent and return to God after having fallen back into sin. We get a sense of what God expects from heart-circumcision in Dt. 10:

12 Now, therefore, Israel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you but to fear the Lord, your God, to follow in all his ways, to love and serve the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and with your whole being, 13 to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord that I am commanding you today for your own well-being?... 16 Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. 17 For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing.

Here we see the OT basis for Jesus' teaching that eternal life is found in loving God with all one's heart and loving one's neighbor as oneself. Based on this understanding of heart-circumcision, there are indeed cases where people circumcised their hearts prior to the coming of Jesus - at least temporarily. An example is found in the Nehemiah 6. The book describes a situation in which many Jews have been forced to mortgage their homes and even sell their children into slavery to other Jews. Nehemiah preaches powerfully to these oppressors and moves them to repent:

11 "Return to them this very day their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, together with the interest on the money, the grain, the wine, and the oil that you have lent them.” 12 They answered: “We will return everything and exact nothing further from them. We will do just what you ask.” Then I called for the priests to administer an oath to them that they would do as they had promised... And the whole assembly answered, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. Then the people did as they had promised.

Here we have an example of a group of sinners who have repented and circumcised their hearts, opening themselves to God's judgement and thereby to his mercy.

Heart-circumcision as spiritual rebirth

Some Christians reject this understanding of heart-circumcision, pointing out that although people may repent and temporarily open their hearts to God, they cannot sustain this and inevitably fall back into sin. True heart-circumcision is something more fundamental. This understanding finds support Ezekiel 36:26-27 where the prophet refers not just to a circumcision of heart but new heart altogether.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

This prophecy dovetails with "new covenant" teaching of Jeremiah 31:

I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke my covenant, though I was their master—oracle of the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Summary: In Judaism, people are able to circumcise their hearts by repentance coupled with compassion for others and faithfulness to God's ordinances. Some Christians as well believe they must circumcise their hearts even after conversion, because everyone still sins. However, if heart-circumcision is equated the idea of a "new heart" and a "new covenant," then - at least for some Christians - this can only be attained through faith in Jesus' atoning death and resurrection.

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