If obedience is delight, we don’t need to fear it or dread it. Delight comes out of a heart that loves. But our hearts only love in relationship. And relationships only last as long as we love. So then love is not a feeling, but a commitment to be in relationship–to take time to know the other, to build deep friendship–a covenant to choose the other and to honor the other. We don’t obey or listen to someone unless we love and trust, or at least admire them. Doing what you are told out of fear (slavery or abuse) does not qualify as obedience or love.
So Moses chose a metaphor to anchor the concept of Israel’s covenant with God. What was Moses saying by “Circumcise your hearts”? He wanted a graphic image so they would remember his words. Circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of his covenant relationship with God. It was something they saw everyday, but only them, something that made them different from other men. It was just for men as leaders (including their families in the covenant). For most of them it had been chosen for them, done when they were 8 days old–a sign of whom they belonged to, of identity. It was a safeguard to health and a safeguard to choice. They couldn’t undo it but they could ignore it.
So first, “circumcise your heart” has to mean that it is done for us, but we choose it. Our heart is the center of will, emotion and action. Our hearts are the first organ to develop. God uses it to refer to the center of being, of desire–where choices come from. It evidently has strong influence on the Prefrontal Cortex of our brains. Russian scientists discovered our heart energy can extend almost twice as far as the energy of our brain–25 feet as compared to 15 feet for the brain.
Secondly, Moses talks a lot about hard hearts–even saying God makes them hard. What he means is that God’s energy, His presence, affects us. Our response to love either softens or hardens our hearts. Just as the same sun melts butter but hardens clay.
Thirdly, God’s energy is love. Pure love energy is powerful–either life giving to good or destructive to evil. He has to protect us from His presence.
Putting all this together, circumcise your heart means: choose to cut away anything that might keep you from God’s love. As I said earlier, our hearts tend to get crusted over with shame, hurt, resentment, anger–however we respond to God and others. Offense is another word for sin. Do we give it? And how do we receive it? Offense tends to separate. Sometimes it’s intentional, other times not. Abel didn’t mean to offend Cain, but Cain took offense at him and killed him.
Lastly, my favorite definition for sin is separation. We have separation inside of us–our two natures, and between us and God. Most often our hard heartedness comes through the distance of mindlessness. We ignore Him. The details and cares of life, worries and ambitions crowd out a relationship with Him.
Moses’ “Circumcise your hearts” is like Solomon’s “Guard the avenues to the soul” and Jesus’ “Be careful how you see.” Today we call it mindfulness. Be aware! Pay attention! Wake up from your trance and realize what is happening. You are choosing actively or by default. As you build your character, or just let it happen, you are planning your future. In the end, everyone gets what they want–what they have chosen–whether their eyes were open or closed.