Our prisons are filled with people who had all the opportunities of doing the right thing, yet stubbornly refused to do right and chose to do wrong. Conviction and sending for a prison term is based upon laws that have been made known to the population through … at the very least … the Government Gazette.
That is a picture of Israel throughout the period of her Biblical history. She had the Laws of God. These were made known to them through Moses who initially read the entire Law to them and repeated it again before they crossed the Jordon into the Promised Land.
Now, after tracing their history rather carefully and methodically over her existence, starting with Abraham, Stephen who was accused of disrespecting Moses, the Law of Moses and the Fathers, shows the chief priest and Sanhedrin that in fact he is not the guilty one, they are! They disrespected the very Law of Moses they claimed controlled their lives, religion and existence. Read his words regarding how he presented this to them:
Ac 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
After speaking so eloquently, tracing Biblical History so precisely, one did not expect this bomb to drop … but remember, behind Stephen was God the Holy Spirit putting word for word into his mouth. Israel, through her existence were …
1) Stiff-necked as a people. The term “stiff-necked” has a strong meaning … “hard of neck” and “inflexible”. Flowing from this is stubbornness, contumacious (refusing to obey the Law of God … stubborn disobedience), argumentative, unwilling to see reason or Truth and splitting hairs. They were forceful in their rebellion and refusal to hold to God’s Law … yet they claimed the Law as theirs! What is interesting is that Stephen uses the identical language that Moses used! Remember how Moses spoke when he informed the people in the desert of God’s rebuke?
Ex 33:3 “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
Ex 33:5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.'”
Moses uses God’s language and Stephen uses Moses’ language. What is interesting is that the Israelites in general and the high priest and his Sanhedrin in specific would have known this language and term very well. Perhaps we ought to stop and ask ourselves to what extent are we a stiff-necked people … and as individuals, stiff-necked people? It is easy to hear about others such as Israel, but coming closer to home, what about ourselves? One excuse we cannot use is that our pastors taught us incorrectly or inadequately. You see, unlike Israel of that day, we have the privilege of the Bible in our hands. We can be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures as it’s expounded.
Ac 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
2) Uncircumcised hearts and ears. Circumcision was required by God as part of the Covenant with Israel. All male Hebrews needed to be circumcised. The meaning and purpose of physical male circumcision meant Covenant.
(i) Circumcision means “apart”. That is, removing the skin, separating it from the male organ.
(ii) It also meant purification or cleanness. This meant that the nation, represented by the men were to be separated from all other people (heathens), not getting into their cultures and religions. They needed to remain pure … separated from the tarnish of any idolatry. The problem with Israel was that they prided themselves in being circumcised physically. They trusted in their circumcision as a platform of accessing God and His favor. The problem was that they were on the same level as Heathen People whom they despised … without realizing their tragic state because, circumcision, if only physical is meaningless. Circumcision needs to be of the heart. That was always God’s intention. Listen to Moses again:
Dt 10:14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
(1) God chose them to be His people.
(2) Therefore, circumcise the heart.
(3) Proving that the heart is circumcised is through:
Dt 10:20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God
Once this is in place there will be … no partiality or bribes, will be defense of the fatherless and widows and showing love towards the alien (heathen). They failed on all counts! What Stephen was doing was repeating the same message that Moses spoke! Today, physical circumcision is by choice, but all who love Jesus, both male and female need to be committed to circumcision of the heart.
Ro 2:28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.
Circumcision of the heart for all followers of Jesus includes separation from the world, flesh and devil, which includes people who expressly follow such practices. God chose us His people in Jesus to be holy and blameless. This means spiritual and moral purity. What God required of Israel He requires of us because He is the same God!
1 Pet 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
O God our Father, search our hearts, expose all our rebelliousness, causing us to repent, seeking to honor You in all of our life in Jesus. Amen.