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בס"ד

Thoughts on Deuteronomy, 30:6

 

* "Talmid" is the pen name of Rev. Matthew R. Miller, a Christian minister who was a personal friend of Isaac Leeser. Rev. Miller's articles present the Christian point of view, which is answered in corresponding articles by Henry Goldsmith, presenting the Jewish point of view.

No. 1

ומל ה' אלהיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך לאהבה את ה' אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך למען חייך: דברים ל' ו':

On the words “The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear,” Aben Ezra well observes,מאתו העלילה הראשונה. And perhaps no passage of Scripture exhibits the same thought more clearly than the verse just quoted: “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

It was, as in our lessons we met with these words of the rabbi, and paused to admire his concise language and discuss his obvious meaning, and as we then examined with greater care and interest the verse placed at the head of this letter, that we proposed and agreed to correspond on the subject. As I trace these lines, I feel that a momentous theme employs my pen. And it should be the desire of each of us the true import and infinite preciousness of the promises. Candid and prayerful comparison of religious views cannot be prejudicial to the interest of truth.

There are various important points in this subject, in which we have no difference of views, as

1. We agree in the interpretation of important points in the language of the text. We agree that this predicted circumcision implies most clearly and necessarily the previous uncircumcision of the heirs of promise;—that upon a people uncircumcised in heart, this promise of spiritual change is destined to descend in all its plenitude of blessing. We concur in our views of the condition of the man uncircumcised in the sense of the text. Let us here pause for a short time, to contemplate, with becoming humility, the uncircumcised man,—the condition of his intellect, heart, and conscience. Want of faith in God is the most distinguishing feature of spiritual uncircumcision. The man of whom we speak is well described in that inimitable song of Moses, where it reads בנים לא אמון בם. There is nothing in his moral character that God can trust; and he places no abiding, calm, consoling, humble trust in God. Like the generation of uncircumcised heart and lips, that died in the wilderness, whose murmurings never ceased, whose distrust of God was their ruin, he does not recognise, either in all the deliverances of the past, all the promises that cheer the darkness of the future, either in miracles or in prophecies, or in all the revelations of heavenly love, a God to whom he feels he can commit all the interests of his temporal and immortal existence. How lamentable this separation of man from God! Do you not see in my spiritual condition all the essential features—in my prospects of immortality all the threatening gloom—of infinite, unutterable wretchedness, if unbelief characterizes my spiritual condition? To stand constantly in the presence, to be govrened by the law, to be at the disposal, to be in constant dread of the tribunal of a God whom I have offended, and whom I cannot trust,—whom I cannot view as my friend, and, with all, to know my condition,—is not this the most sad condition of human existence? This want of faith always implies in an equal degree the want of love. The uncircumcised heart never burns with the flame of holy love to God. It is not the supreme joy of this heart to obey and enjoy God. The soul possesses immense capacity of love, which should be filled with God; but the uncircumcised man loves and serves himself rather than God. His memory is treacherous in the keeping of divine truth, and carefully treasures up sinful folly. Conscience is abused, fails to discharge its duty, and when it speaks, condemns. Imagination’s pictures are those of crime and self-indulgence, and an awful coming judgment. The man has neither eyes to see, ears to hear, nor a heart to understand. His body descends to the grave, bearing that primitive curse, and affording a living comment on its dread import, מות תמות. In perfect contrast with this dark picture is that condition which is promised. Faith is the distinguishing mark of spiritual circumcision. The text promises a change from rebellious unbelief, to confidence and hope and joy in God. In this happy change Israel will be exhibited, worthy to receive the approving testimony of God.אך עמי המה בנים לא ישקרו Surely they are my people, children that will not prove false. This faith will not be mere intellectual assent to truth; but it will be the faith of the most ardent friendship and love. The effect and manifestation of this circumcision is that the man loves the Lord with all his heart and soul. We agree that the sum of the whole law is to love the Lord; that this is the foundation of all acceptable obedience, and that by this circumcision the heart and life of Israel will be brought into conformity to the holy law. There is no room for difference in relation to the consequence of this moral change. This חיים is the life of the soul, the enjoyment of God, the highest happiness of man. This life stands in necessary and indissoluble connexion as a consequence and reward, with perfect conformity to the law of God.

2. We agree in assigning to this prophecy a position of transcendent relative importance. In the preceding chapters we have the most awful curses that can be exhibited in language. Moses, faithfully, and at great length, exhibits the consequences of disobedience to the law; and we have seen Israel visited with this penalty in all its horrors, even to the tender mother’s devouring her offspring, and guarding with evil eye, her unnatural food. How consoling the first ten verses of this chapter to the humble Israelite, who has read with trembling the preceding curses? Truly a voice of most consoling promise comes  to us, even from the midst of all the prophetic curses of the latter days. After all these prophecies of crime and suffering, of the hiding of God’s face and consequent destruction, what do we hear? what sweet voice, as if descending from heaven?—that those driven to the most distant parts of the earth shall repent and return; that the Hand that scattered them shall gather them; that the disobedient shall love the Lord with all their heart and soul, and hearken to his voice, and obey his commandments; that it will be a turning of all the people, and an entire change of heart; and that this will be the end of the preceding blessings and curses. The remark of a Jewish commentator on this passage is appropriate and forcible, that in the days of the second temple, the redemption was not complete, and that the fulfillment of this promise is entirely in the future. Behold on these dark clouds of Israel’s sorrows, in the evening of the latter days, this rainbow of glorious promise.

Now, in this great moral change, will the remark of Aben Ezra be verified, that from God is the first work? Or will this change be in its origin, the work of man; and will God appear only as the kind assistant of feeble human effort? Does this blessing, as descending from heaven and belonging to God, involve even the commencement of the moral change in the soul, the removal of unbelief, and circumcision of the heart? Is the condition of unbelief in itself perfectly hopeless? Is it the natural course of the uncircumcised heart to increase in pollution? Is there everything in sin to perpetuate itself? And is an unbelieving individual or uncircumcised people never saved from self-inflicted ruin, except by the powerful gracious interference of divine agency? Does Israel destroy herself, and is her only help, from first to last, in God? Or does the curse itself spontaneously terminate in the blessing? Will unbelief itself, naturally, and with a favourable concurrence of circumstances, work into faith? From death itself will the stream of life eventually break forth? Does this chapter show us how the sons of Israel will, of their own accord, turn to the Lord, and circumcise their hearts, and fulfill the law, and so first prove themselves worthy of the return of divine favour, and deserving of life? or will divine favour, with transforming power, visit the unworthy and sinking?

Let us endeavour to develop the precise doctrine of the Pentateuch on this question. We will first view the subject in the light of the covenant with Abraham.

With affectionate regard, your

Talmid.*

(To Be Continued)