4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
4. Circumcidimini Jehovae, et auferte praeputia cordis vestri, viri Jehudah et incolae Jerusalem; ne egrediatur tanquam ignis furor meus, et accendatur, et nemo extinguat, propter (a facie, ad verbum) malitiam actionum vestrarum.
The Prophet expresses here more clearly what he had before said metaphorically or by a figure; for he had bidden them to eradicate their vices, according to what is usually done by breaking up the fallow ground; but now dropping that figure, he clearly shews what was to be done, and yet the clause contains what is figurative. He calls their attention to circumcision, which was a symbol of renovation, as though he had said, -- That they sufficiently understood what they were to do, except they were wholly unteachable; |For why, |he says, |has circumcision been enjoined? Does not God by this symbol shew, that if a man rightly aspires after true religion, he ought to begin by putting off all the evil propensities of his flesh? Is he not to deny himself, and to die as it were both to himself and to the world? for circumcision includes all this.| Then the Prophet shews that the Israelites had no excuse, that they went not astray through mistake or through ignorance; but they were acting perversely and deceitfully with God; for circumcision, by which they had been initiated into God's service, sufficiently taught them, that God is not rightly nor faithfully served, except when men deny themselves.
We now then see what the Prophet meant by these words, when he bids them to be circumcised to God, and to take away the foreskin of their heart: Be ye circumcised, he says, to Jehovah Circumcision was their great boast; but only before men; for nothing but ambition and vanity ruled in them, while they openly exulted and boasted that they were God's holy and peculiar people. Hence the Prophet bids them not to value what was of no importance, but to become circumcised to Jehovah; that is, he bids them not to seek applause before the world, but seriously to consider that they had to do with God. And hence he adds, Take away the foreskin of your heart, as though he had said, |When God commanded the seed of Abraham to be circumcised, (Genesis 17:10-12,) it was not his object to have a small portion of skin cut off, but he had regard to something higher, even that ye should be circumcised in heart.|
The Prophet, in short, teaches us here what Paul has more clearly explained, (Romans 2:29,) even this, -- that the letter is of no value before God, but that the spirit is what he requires: for Paul in these words means, that the external sign is worthless, except accompanied by the reality within; for the literal circumcision mentioned by Paul is merely the external rite; in the same manner baptism with us may be called the letter, when there is no repentance and faith. But the spirit, or spiritual circumcision, is the denial of self; it is renovation, and in a word, that true conversion to God, of which the Prophet speaks here. Nor has Moses been silent on this point; for in the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy he shews that the Jews greatly deceived themselves, if they thought that they did all that God required, when they were circumcised in the flesh; |Circumcise, |he says, |your hearts to the Lord.| He indeed reminds us in another place, that this is altogether the work of God; but though God circumcises the heart, yet this exhortation, that men are to circumcise themselves, is not superfluous: and the same is the case with baptism; for when Paul exhorts the faithful to fear God and to lead a holy life, he refers to baptism. It is yet certain that men do not bestow on themselves what God signifies by the sign of baptism; but he counsels them to seek from God the grace of his Spirit, that they might not in vain be sealed by the external rite of baptism, while destitute of its reality. When therefore the Prophet bids the Israelites to take away the foreskin of their heart, it is the same as though he had said, that they were indeed liberal enough with regard to ceremonies and outward worship, but that these were empty masks unless preceded by a right disposition within.
And he addresses the Jews, and also the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for they thought that they far excelled the Israelites, on whom God had inflicted so grievous a punishment. He then shews that the tribe of Judah, nay, that the very inhabitants and citizens of Jerusalem were not better than others, and that they could not be exempted, as it were, by privilege, except they returned to a right mind, except they seasonably and from the heart repented.
He then adds, Lest my fury go forth like fire The Prophet here expressly declares, that the Jews were not to wait until God came forth as an avenger; for then, he says, if, would be too late to repent: in short, he bids them to anticipate in due time the judgment of God; for if once his fury went forth, it would burn like fire so as to consume them, and there would be no extinguishing of it. But if they repented, he holds forth to them the hope of pardon; for the fury of God had not yet gone forth.
He afterwards subjoins, On account of the wickedness of your deeds By these words the Prophet again reproves them sharply, and shews that they gained nothing by their evasions; for when God ascends his tribunal and begins to execute his vengeance, then all vain excuses will come to an end, such as, that they deserved no such thing, or, that the atrocity of their sins was not great: |God, |he says, |will, with his own hand, teach you how grievous has been the atrocity of your vices; he will not, then, deal with you in words.| It then follows --