Circumcise Your Hearts

If circumcision refers to removal of the foreskin, what does it mean to “circumcise your heart”?

A scene of a Jewish infant undergoing circumcision. (Image © Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Ekev (עֵקֶב | Consequence)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3
  • Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 7:12 | Blessings for Obedience
    • Deuteronomy 8:1 | A Warning Not to Forget God in Prosperity
    • Deuteronomy 9:1 | The Consequences of Rebelling against God
    • Deuteronomy 10:1 | The Second Pair of Tablets
    • Deuteronomy 10:12 | The Essence of the Law
    • Deuteronomy 11:1 | Rewards for Obedience
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 49:8 | Zion's Children to Be Brought Home
    • Isaiah 50:4 | The Servant's Humiliation and Vindication
    • Isaiah 51:1 | Blessings in Store for God's People

Portion Summary

The forty-sixth reading from the Torah and the third reading from the book of Deuteronomy is named Ekev (עקב), a word from the first verse of the portion. Deuteronomy 7:12 says, "Then it shall come about, because (ekev, עקב) you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers." Usually the word ekev means "heel." In fact, this word shares the same three-letter root as the name Jacob (Yaakov, יעקב), whose name actually means "heel." He was born holding on to Esau's heel. However, in Deuteronomy 7:12, the word ekev means "on the heels of" or "because of." This portion of Deuteronomy speaks of the rewards that will come to Israel on the heels of keeping God's covenant and commandments.

Moses told the children of Israel to circumcise their hearts: "So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer." (Deuteronomy 10:16). That’s a strange image. Circumcision refers to removal of the foreskin. What does it mean to “circumcise your heart”?

In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses compared an uncircumcised heart with a stiff neck. A stiff neck is a biblical idiom that refers to pride and stubbornness. A person with a stiff neck is not flexible. He does not make his will suppliant to God’s instruction.

In Jeremiah 4:3-4, an uncircumcised heart is compared to hard, fallow soil that cannot be cultivated because it has not been plowed:

Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart. (Jeremiah 4:3-4)

This passage from Jeremiah can be compared to the Master’s parable of the sower who cast seed on four different types of soil. The seed that fell on the unplowed soil did not take root. The seed that fell among the thorns was choked out.

In the Bible, the heart represents the seat of one’s will. The uncircumcised heart is stubborn and inflexible. It does not submit to God’s will. The Word of God cannot bear fruit or even take root in that heart.

A person with an uncircumcised heart is a person whose flesh (physical inclinations) dictates his will. A person with a circumcised heart is one whose flesh has been removed from his will, allowing the Spirit of God to direct the will.

According to Paul, a circumcision of the heart takes place when we trust in Messiah. He says to the Gentiles of Colosse that “in [Yeshua] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah” (Colossians 2:11). He tells the Roman believers that even though a person might not be physically circumcised, he can still have a circumcised heart. He says, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29).

Those in Yeshua should have a markedly different nature than those without Yeshua. Our will should be suppliant to God’s. Those of us who have experienced the miraculous rebirth that is the work of God’s Spirit within us through the agency of His Son are supposed to have circumcised hearts.

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