God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 22, 2014
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 cut their hair short and who live in the desert.a For actually these are all uncircumcised nations. The whole house of Israel has uncircumcised hearts.
a 9:26 Or “and all who live in the distant corners of the desert.” Cutting the hair short was often done in honor of a pagan god and was forbidden in Leviticus 19:27.
Some readers struggle with what this passage is saying. God is using a certain amount of irony, since all of the nations mentioned actually practiced circumcision just as Israel did. The people of Edom were descended from Jacob’s brother Esau. Since Esau was the son of Isaac, he was circumcised, and the nation continued the practice. They lived south of the Dead Sea in the valley region often called the Arabah in Scripture (the Dead Sea itself is sometimes called the Sea of Arabah, Deuteronomy 3:17, 4:49; Joshua 3:16, 12:3; 2 Kings 14:25). The Moabites occupied the land to the east of the Dead Sea just across the Jordan. Naomi and her family met Ruth there during a famine in Judah (Ruth 1:1-4). The people of Ammon lived north of Moab. The nations of Moab and Ammon were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:36-38). Lot and his family were circumcised along with Abraham (Genesis 17:23-27).
Something curious about circumcision in the Bible is that it is mentioned quite a bit in the Pentateuch (the books by Moses) and in the book of Joshua—but almost nowhere else. Circumcision was instituted in Genesis: Abraham was first (Genesis 17:10-27). Then Moses was almost destroyed by God because he failed to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24-26). In the book of Joshua, circumcision had to be resumed because during the forty years of the exodus it was not carried out, perhaps because the people wanted to be ready to move at all times (Joshua 5:2-8). These stories, together with regulations about when to circumcise (Leviticus 12:3) come to some twenty passages mentioning circumcision. The only other two times that this practice is mentioned in the entire Old Testament are here in Jeremiah—in chapter 4 (Jeremiah 4:4) and the passage before us. Otherwise, the Old Testament only speaks about those who are not circumcised, like the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:26).
Jeremiah says that even the nations who practiced circumcision were like the Philistines and the other uncircumcised people because their circumcision was only “in the flesh”—it wasn’t a matter of faith. And on top of that, even the people of Judah had become like that, because they were only worried about the outward sign and not about really putting their faith in God. Faith is what God means by “circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:29)
In the verses that follow this (chapter 10), the prophet will urge the people to put their trust entirely in God and not to fall into idolatry. He will remind them that idols are worthless and useless, and that when they would be taken to Babylon (the captivity was a certainty—it was just a matter of time) they would need to avoid the Babylonian gods, too.
When I was a young man, I worked as a painter with my brother Dan and my cousin Bruce. We all worked for my dad, who is still painting today in his mid-seventies. Dad used to say to us, “Concentrate.” He wanted us to keep focused on our work, because it’s easy to get distracted. The same is true with our faith. It can be so easy to slip up, to get distracted, and to fall into all kinds of idolatries. “Concentrate,” our heavenly Father says. “Keep your focus on me and my blessings, and I will provide you with everything you need.” God doesn’t want us just to go through the motions, or to look like believers only on the outside. It’s what’s in the heart that matters. Let Jesus be what’s in your heart, always.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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