One of the difficult facets of a covenant like Israel’s was that it was a promise made by great-great-grandfathers. It was a covenant you are born into with stipulations that you never personally agreed to. Such agreements often grow weaker as the time between then and now grows longer. God had doubtlessly seen the human weakening of the commitment to the covenant in a matter of just a single generation. And that’s why he calls upon Israel to “circumcise your heart and stiffen your neck no longer” — a call that gets repeated a few more times in the Old and New Testaments.
A bit of that may get lost in a contemporary translation — circumcision is not for one’s heart, and isn’t a stiff neck something you get if you slept crooked the night before? Of course, circumcision is for the foreskin of one’s male member; but it specifically was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. Every Jewish male had this sign in the flesh of his foreskin, and sometimes it was thought that it was all that needed to be done to be pleasing to God. Moses strongly objects to thinking like that. He called for taking the covenant “to heart” — seriously. And the idea of the stiff neck was taken from dealing with stubborn animals and prideful people, both of which tend to resist being led with a stiff neck. In other words, stop resisting God’s lead; be a willing party to God’s gracious covenant and obey.
The next couple of chapters (chapters 11 and 12) are largely urgent pleas to submit to the Lord’s commandments with a little bit of carrot and a little bit of a stick — there is reward for obedience and there are consequences for disobedience — with the emphasis on the carrot. As God explains the covenant to Israel again, He underscores the stark contrast for them: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD you God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen…” (Deut. 11:26-28). We can be a blessing or a curse to ourselves, and we can be a blessing or a curse to others. Which way are we living?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.