“Because of a Circumcised Heart”

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

by Mark Huey

Ekev continues Moses’ monologue to the people of Israel as he is anticipating his death. He knows that his days are numbered, and how he is charged with preparing the Israelites to enter into the Promised Land. In many respects, the entire Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last will and testament to his beloved Israel. Following Deuteronomy’s recollections and instructions will be critical for a successful conquest of Canaan. Like any good leader, Moses knows the power of words—and as we saw last week in V’et’chanan, Moses is quite aware that he has been chosen to be the communicator of the voice of God to the people (Deuteronomy 4:2).

As we reflect on Ekev this week, one of the very first things we notice is that the term ekev, from which our parashah gets its name, begins the reading: v’hayah ekev, “Then it shall come about, because…” (Deuteronomy 7:12). You might consider what I have to say on Ekev to be a bit of a stretch, but I do wonder if there is something about the Hebrew term ekev that might communicate important messages to Bible readers. While stylistically ekev can be translated a variety of ways throughout English Bibles, TWOT describes how it means “consequence. Usually occurs as an adverbial accusative, as a consequence of, because.”[1] I simply ask, does this seemingly, insignificant connecting word have a more important meaning than just “because”?

Within our lives, we can probably all remember prefacing answers to questions with the word “because.” We have certainly heard other people use “because” to justify various actions, saying “Because of such-and-such I did so-and-so,” or “Because of so-and-so, such-and-such happened.” How many times have you encountered an immature child, who has been caught in the wrong, use “because” as an excuse? Frequently in speech today, we see a term like “because” used—really exposing some of the negative reasons or causes because of an action committed. Yet at the same time, the English term “because” can have positive uses as well. Within Ekev, is it possible that God is trying to get Israel to seriously consider the absolute root of their convictions, that they might take certain actions? Let us consider a variety of instances where ekev appears, so we can evaluate the function(s) it performs.

The opening verses of Ekev include a response to the final verses which concluded V’et’chanan last week. Recall how Moses ended his pleadings with a command to the Israelites: “Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:11). This summary statement covers a broad range of instructions that have been given to Israel during the wilderness journey. Now this week as Ekev begins, we see a positive affirmation implied in the term ekev or “because,” listing some of the blessings that the Israelites will receive as a result of obeying the commandments given:

“Then it shall come about, because [v’hayah ekev] you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle” (Deuteronomy 7:12-14).

Ekev is employed to describe the blessings that the Israelites will receive if they obey the Lord. The term ekev is only used two times in our Torah portion,[2] and only nine other times in the rest of the Torah.[3] At the conclusion of Deuteronomy 8, Moses reminds Israel of the consequences they will incur if they do not listen to the Lord:

“But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God [ekev lo tishme’un b’qol ADONAI Eloheikhem]” (Deuteronomy 8:18-20).

What you discover between the two “ekev bookends” of our parashah (Deuteronomy 7:12 and 8:20) is a list of some of the benefits for Israel’s obedience to God, and some of the serious consequences for disobedience. The blessings bestowed upon Israel—from fertility to disease prevention to expulsion of nations from the Promised Land[4]—are described. Details about how to deal with pagan idols,[5] and helpful reminders about the forty-year wilderness journey,[6] are included. Moses does this to remind the Israelites about the provisions that have been maintained by God since their departure from Egypt.

While pondering the two opposite results of listening versus not listening to the voice of God, a further look at some of the other uses of the Hebrew term ekev seemed appropriate. I thought that perhaps some insight could be gleaned from other contexts where ekev is used.

The first time ekev appears in Scripture is where Abraham has not withheld his son Isaac for sacrifice. God will appropriately bless him because of his obedience:

“Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice [ekev asher shama’ta b’qoli]’” (Genesis 22:15-18).

The second time ekev appears is where Isaac is warned by God not to travel to Egypt, but rather to remain in Canaan. Isaac, as the son of Abraham, will be an agent of blessing to the world because of the obedience of his father:

“The LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me [ekev asher-shama Avraham b’qoli] and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:2-5).

Finally, a third time, before this Torah portion where ekev is used, is in the description of the faith exhibited by Caleb, one of the two faithful spies:

“But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully [ekev hayatah ruach acheret immo v’yemalleih acharay], I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it” (Numbers 14:24).

In these three examples of ekev, preceding our parashah this week, we see how “because” is used to describe either obedience to God or people faithfully following Him. Certainly, every usage of ekev in the Tanakh is contingent on context—and as I have previously mentioned, in speech today “because” is often used to self-justify one’s sinful actions. But most important to us as people of faith is how ekev does indeed explain specific ways of how the Lord can demonstrate His favor to individuals who have heeded Him. And is this not one of the main points of Ekev that we are reading about? Is it possible that God was trying to get the Ancient Israelites—and by extension us today—to seriously consider following Him with their whole hearts?

Within Ekev Moses makes the serious point to Israel that God is going to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, because of His previous promises made—and also because of the Canaanites’ own wickedness and sin.[7] Interestingly enough, within these words Moses also declares to Israel that they are quite stubborn and discordant, frequently not wanting to follow the Lord:[8]

“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people…The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people’” (Deuteronomy 9:6, 13).

After recalling how a second set of Ten Commandments had to be written, and how the Levites were separated out for duty as priests,[9] Moses reminds Israel of the critical duty that is required of them:

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

The Israelites must fear or revere the Holy One, walk in His ways, love Him, and serve Him with all their hearts and all their souls. The problem was that too many had hard hearts. Just how were they going to deal with those hard, stubborn hearts that they had? Moses provides an answer: a change of heart. The Lord demands that His people possess a circumcised heart, which will be sensitive to Him and to His ways:

“So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 10:16-20).

As you read this injunction for the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, you might consider the varied usages of ekev I mentioned—describing the obedience of Abraham and Isaac, and the faithfulness of Caleb. We cannot know whether these individuals consciously had heard of the idea to “circumcise” their hearts, but what we do know is that they were not stubborn and stiff-necked in their relationship with God. They knew of the Lord’s supreme power, and they desired to accomplish His will and purposes, not resisting Him or disbelieving Him.

The command for people to circumcise their hearts is not the whole picture of what it means to submit to the Lord. Later in Deuteronomy, Moses asserts how the Lord Himself will have to circumcise hearts—indicating how this is not only a human action, but also a Divine action:

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

To this may be added the Prophet Ezekiel’s expectation of how in the era of the New Covenant, people will be given new hearts, filled up with God’s Spirit:

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

Both a heart circumcision and transplant refer to how the Lord will give His people the desire and ability to fully obey Him and walk in His ways. This will come not out of compulsion, but rather be a positive result of the love people have toward Him and for the acts of deliverance He has accomplished. There is no greater act of deliverance that we can conceive of than the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah at Golgotha (Calvary), and how it results in us possessing eternal life:

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Yeshua the Messiah our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

Do you truly have a circumcised heart of flesh, that eagerly desires to obey the Lord and accomplish His tasks for your life? Do you receive of the blessings promised to those who follow the commandments? How will the Lord describe your life when you meet Him face to face? If there were any descriptions of your life employing the Hebrew word ekev, would they at all be similar to those of Abraham, Isaac, and Caleb?


[1] J. Barton Payne, “eqev,” in TWOT, 2:691.

[2] Deuteronomy 7:12; 8:20.

[3] Genesis 3:15; 22:18; 25:26; 26:5; 27:36; 49:17, 19; Numbers 14:24.

[4] Deuteronomy 7:12-8:20.

[5] Deuteronomy 7:16, 25.

[6] Deuteronomy 8:2-5.

[7] Deuteronomy 9:1-5.

[8] Deuteronomy 9:6-29.

[9] Deuteronomy 10:1-9.



I pleaded

“Shema, O Israel!”

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-26

by Mark Huey

V’et’chanan is perhaps one of the more inspirational and instructional collections of statements that Moses conveys to Israel in any one Torah reading. Not only is the Decalogue reiterated, but also the Shema—which many consider to be Israel’s pledge of allegiance—is articulated. As I read and meditated upon this motivating section of Scripture, many thoughts came to my mind about how the Lord is presently using many of these words to encourage His people to return to a disciplined and regular study of the Torah—as we are to all be instructed in His ways and in holiness. Today’s generation of Messianic Believers possesses significant potential to make a concentrated difference in the lives of Jews and Christians today, if we are willing to submit ourselves to God’s Word and allow it to mold our hearts and minds for His purpose.

A Great Nation

One of the most profound things that is stated in V’et’chanan—that any person who has placed his or her trust in the God of Israel and His Messiah Yeshua must commit to memory—summarizes how obedience to Him manifests itself as His wisdom. Others can then witness this wisdom, and see how awesome God truly is:

“So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deuteronomy 4:6-9).

Here, Moses reminded Ancient Israel that they were indeed “this great nation” or ha’goy ha’gadol ha’zeh, but that such a great nation likewise has serious responsibilities. In order to be a wise and understanding people that other nations recognize and turn to for spiritual answers, Israel could not disobey the Lord. The kind of impact that Israel was chosen to make on the world would not happen all at once either, as Moses’ Teaching had to be taught to the succeeding generations. I think that one of the exciting features of the Book of Deuteronomy is that readers get to not only be reminded of the things that were to make Ancient Israel great—but that they are the same things which are to make all of God’s people today great!

Today via the growth and expansion of the Messianic movement, many thousands of born again Believers—both Jewish and non-Jewish—are making a concentrated effort to make the Torah a firm foundation for their faith. As the Holy Spirit moves upon them, they want to make the statutes and commandments Moses delivered to Ancient Israel a part of how they think and act too. Just as Ancient Israel was admonished to be, they want others to witness their obedience to God, and use it as an opportunity to testify of the Father’s goodness and the salvation He has provided in His Son.

The Fundamentals Required

As you have been reading through V’et’chanan, you have no doubt seen how Moses is instructing the Israelites in how they can be a special, separated, holy nation unto God. One of the main reasons for heeding the instructions of the Lord is very clear: Moses wants Israel to live and prosper in the Land that He has promised to them. He details,

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

Moses knew that his days were numbered and that he would soon die. He also recognized that he had been used by the Holy One to communicate His words to the Israelites, which will allow them to ably take possession of Canaan. As he begins to reiterate many of the words and experiences from the previous forty years of Israel sojourning in the desert, he makes a strong admonition to remind his listeners about the imperative to follow God’s instructions already given:

“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

This terse statement carries weight. It not only carries weight in terms of how authoritative the instructions of God are, but how the Israelites are to make sure that they do not carelessly nullify them. These words do not prohibit how in further history, God’s Prophets would reveal more things to Israel, or that additional books of Scripture would be added to the canon. These words similarly do not prohibit how in later generations, religious authorities would need to make rulings and decisions on how the Torah was to be applied in complicated circumstances. What these words do more than anything else is to highlight how God’s Instruction is to force His people to follow and serve Him alone—versus any other gods—as further specified:

“Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you. But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you” (Deuteronomy 4:3-4).

As you read through V’et’chanan, the Israelites are reminded in summary form about many of their wilderness experiences. Moses specifies prohibitions against idolatry and making any idols of a created object for worship.[1] Moses restates the reality that the Lord is a jealous God and a consuming fire.[2] Following this, Moses prophesies about the future when the chosen people, through willful disobedience, are going to provoke God to scatter them among the nations of the Earth. But, in spite of this anticipated punishment, He will restore them to the Promised Land when they will seek Him with all their hearts and souls. This is one of the most sobering parts of our parashah that you will read:

“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

In spite of future judgment that will come, Moses continued to encourage Ancient Israel by reminding them of the great things God had done for them:

“Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:32-40).

After this, Moses takes a break from the exhortative reminders, and chooses three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan River.[3] But, he quickly picks up where he left off, and reminds the Israelites about the words they received at Mount Horeb.[4] In fact, he just goes ahead and restates the Ten Commandments for the entire assembly to hear. Most important, Moses wants the Israelites to know that these words were not only applicable to those who originally heard them, but to future generations also. The point is made that the covenant passes on to their descendants:

“Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today” (Deuteronomy 5:1-3).

Moses mentions the great fear that the people of Israel demonstrated when they first heard the words of God being declared from the smoking mountain.[5] The significance of the exhortations continues. Moses encourages Israel with more instructions for those listening, and the generations to come:

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).

Following this, Moses gives Israel what is commonly referred to as the Shema, derived from the Hebrew verb shama meaning “to hear.” Throughout Biblical history, the Shema is believed to be the quintessential statement declaring not only a person’s complete loyalty to the God of Israel, but also of monotheism. Observant Jews proclaim the Shema every day in their traditional prayers, and every Shabbat as the Torah scroll is pulled from the ark and ready to be canted. I personally like to refer to the Shema as Israel’s “pledge of allegiance”:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one![6] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

As you can see, the positive encouragements just continue to be made statement after statement in the Shema. By a variety of educational actions, including impressing the significance of Moses’ Teaching on one’s heart and mind, frequently discussing it, and actually placing it on one’s hand, forehead, and doorposts (even if just figuratively, and not always literally)—people can be reminded to be loyal to God and to diligently follow after Him.

Finally in V’et’chanan, Moses tells Israel some of what they are to expect as they enter into Canaan, take the Promised Land, and defeat the seven nations which currently occupied it.[7] Of notable importance is how these nations are stronger than Israel, but how God will deliver them over to be defeated:

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

In the last verses of our parashah, we see a significant reminder from Moses regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel and to His promises:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10).

Final Thoughts

As you read and consider V’et’chanan, Moses is delivering what is largely a very encouraging word to the people of Israel. Of course, the Israelites are being told of some of the challenges of disobedience to the Lord. But, the positive comments about the blessings they will experience so outweigh the negative—that any reader should walk away from this week’s Torah portion with a great sense of relief for the love that God has for His people. We should all want to obey the Lord.

Thinking about these encouraging words, I naturally reflected back on my remembrance of the Ninth of Av this past week—as I fasted in remembering the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Reflecting upon V’et’chanan, Moses’ words are quite uplifting and encouraging—especially for those who have been in mourning for the loss of the Temples. Those who are serious about their relationship with the God of Israel can be positively encouraged to seek Him with all of their being:

“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Moses says that God will remember His people like this b’acharit ha’yamim, or “in the latter days.” For the generation that is alive today, many of the prophecies seen in the Bible have been fulfilled. In particular, in 1948 we witnessed the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish State of Israel, with the Jewish people being returned to the Land of their ancestors. The possibility of rebuilding a Temple on the Temple Mount is debated every year. People are waking up and being stirred all over the world as they sincerely seek the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and pay attention to the Scriptures. The covenants promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are being remembered. And, we all know how this will culminate with the return of Yeshua the Messiah as King from Jerusalem![8]

We have much to be grateful for as we learn to listen and obey the admonitions given to Ancient Israel three millennia ago. But what is to befall us in the future? I think understanding this begins with each of us falling on our faces before the Lord, and crying out to Him with that simple declaration: Shema Yisrael! or “Hear, O Israel!” Then we can allow our Father to answer our pleadings…


[1] Deuteronomy 4:15-20.

[2] Deuteronomy 4:23-24.

[3] Deuteronomy 4:41-43.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

[5] Deuteronomy 5:22-33.

[6] Heb. shema Yisrael ADONAI Eloheinu ADONAI echad; also validly rendered as “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (NRSV/NJPS), emphasizing Israel’s exclusive worship of Him.

Consult the article “What Does the Shema Really Mean?” by J.K. McKee.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:10-7:10.

[8] For a further discussion, consult the book When Will the Messiah Return? by J.K. McKee.