“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendents so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. Then you shall again obey the Lord, observing all His commandments that I am commanding you today, and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings …”
This passage almost sounds like the “magic spells” (snake oil) of contemporary Christianity I have such disdain for and have warned against in the past, the borderline superstitions that have convinced us that The Lord’s acts in our behalf require nothing of us at all – not even participation in worship and in community with other disciples. Whether we should believe it literally or believe its possibility is not quite the point, but it is also important to understand that this passage – as with every other passage throughout the Scriptures – has a context that must be fully read before this small passage makes sense.
Moses was speaking to a rebellious people. So the context requires a belief that fully engages heart and mind enough that a resolve is to obedience even when we do not fully understand what is being asked of us. The context presumes repentance, a full “turning toward” The Lord and away from the life we had previously chosen for ourselves: “If your heart turns away and you do not hear but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish …” (vs 17).
The proclamation is not that The Lord will magically make things happen; rather the Truth requires that we turn fully toward The Lord and turn our backs on the many “gods” we have allowed to all but consume our thoughts and our actions – even as we have claimed to be Christian. To turn toward The Lord is to understand that in order to turn our hearts toward The Lord, we must first turn our attention (our minds) to Him. It is like an audition for a play or a band; we cannot expect to get a role in either if we do not show up first for the audition. The “circumcision of the heart” is not quite magic but is the Spirit of the Lord giving us what is needed so we may “see” with our hearts what our eyes are unable to behold. This is the pure Gift of mercy that does not magically change our behavior; it is the grace of spiritual insight that gives us a reason to reorient ourselves toward the new life that is assured those who follow faithfully.
The assurance of The Lord is that He will not abandon those who turn fully to Him and trust that we will be given what we need when we need it: the strength of heart to carry on when our minds convince us the hardship is not worth the journey. It is not about “works” to earn His favor; it is about giving Him our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul so “you shall live and become numerous” (vs 16).