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March 25, 2011 / Daniel

Deuteronomy 10, further reflection

Moses mosaic on display at the Cathedral Basil...

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Deuteronomy 10:12-22 is a very significant text in the book.  (It might very well be the theme text of the book, though Deuteronomy 6:6-9 might give it a run for its money).  In this passage, Moses summarizes the entire law and boils it down to a few simple phrases. “Fear God, walk in His ways, love God, serve Him, keep His commands.”    This is the essence of covenant faithfulness.  God is faithful to His covenant, and so He desires Israel to be faithful.

The reason for this call to covenant loyalty is given in vv. 14-15–God’s election of Israel as His covenant people.

  ” To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.  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.”

YHWH is the creator God and as such, He owns the entire cosmos.  He’s not just some tribal deity that Israel invented to represent her national interests.  Rather He is the only true God and the idols of the nations are frauds (cf.  Deut 4:28).   He owns all of the nations, indeed all of creation.  And yet in His strange mysterious way He has chosen Israel to be His special people and decided to enter into covenant with her.

And this calls for covenant response, verse 16.  “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.”   The use of the phrase “stiff-necked”  alludes to Exodus 32, the story of the golden calf.  The story is recounted in Deuteronomy 9.   While Moses was still on the mountain receiving the Torah, the nation was on the ground carving idols.   The human heart is a factory for idols.  And so a change must take place.

In the OT, the custom of circumcision served as a badge of covenant membership.  It was a declaration that  “I belong to Abraham’s family.”  If you were a part of God’s chosen people, you demonstrated it by undergoing the rite of circumcision.  It marked out who was a part of God’s covenant family.  It separated the nation of Israel as a distinct ethnic group chosen by God for His purposes in history.   In NT, God’s covenant people come from every tribe, every tongue, every nation; so the custom of circumcision no longer considered the mark of covenant membership.

And yet this custom always pointed to something deeper, more substantial reality—circumcision of the heart.  God’s people have changed hearts.   Hearts marked by the power of God.  God’s grace brings spiritual transformation.   At one point, when we were hard-hearted, stiffnecked idolaters, but now a change has taken place.


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