One of my favorite cable channels is the Discovery Channel. It is a regular stop for me when I’m nosing around to see what is on or am taking a look at something I may want to record and watch later. The shows and series touch a deep place in me. A place of adventure and beauty (even if they are on a screen) and mystery. Yes, mystery. What is most clear to me about discovery is it’s not about something new. It may be new to me but that doesn’t mean it’s new. As a matter of fact, much of what the channel offers is ancient. Discovery not only brings things hidden to light, it invites you down a path to even more discovery; how things work, how old they are, what their relevance is to life and what my relationship can be to the thing newly discovered.
On my quest to understand the Biblical Theology of the heart, I discovered the subject of the heart isn’t new… it is ancient. The heart is written about extensively in the Old Testament and invites us to understand its significance and relevance for our lives today. I discovered there is gold in the writings of the Major and Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. They consistently make reference to the heart and two prophets stand out more than the others regarding the subject of the heart…
(4:14-19, 5:23, 11:20, 12:3, 17:5-9, 20:9-12, 24:7,
29:10-13, 32:37-40, 48:29, 49:16)
They will be my people, I will be their God. I’ll make them of one mind and heart, always honoring me, so that they can live good and whole lives, they and their children after them. What’s more, I’ll make a covenant with them that will last forever, a covenant to stick with them no matter what, and work for their good. I’ll fill their hearts with a deep respect for me so they’ll not even think of turning away from me. (MSG)
(2:4, 3:7, 6:9, 11:19-21, 18:31, 25:15, 36:25-26)
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (NIV)
An Old Testament prophet was one that spoke for God, therefore when we look at any prophet’s writings, we are to understand that it is God that is actually speaking to us through them about the heart; Thus sayeth the Lord.
While prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel may top the charts, many other prophets break into the ranks of those addressing God’s people with concerns, promises, warnings and invitations about the heart: Ezra (6:22, 7:10,27), Nehemiah (4:6, 9:8), Isaiah (6:10, 9:9, 10:12, 40:11, 42:25, 46:12, 57:15, 65:14, 66:18) and Joel (2:12-13).1
The sad and consistent declaration from the majority of Old Testament prophets are that the people of God, Israel, has given their hearts to other God’s, sought other lovers and been compromised. In essence they write that God has declared His people have “committed adultery their hearts”. A jealous God who longs for an intimate relationship with His people speaks of a painful crime that was committed.
The prophets both expose sin and eventually offer reconciliation and hope to the Jewish Southern Kingdom of Judah, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, had gotten in bed with other gods. The language used by God and spoken through the prophets is like that of a betrayed lover. God is grieved and hurt, and yet stays faithfully committed to the covenant relationship-this marriage between Him and His people. So much is the language love and scandal that He says to His adulterous people, “You have been untrue to me, but I will come for you.” In the books of the prophets, God compares Israel, his covenant people, to harlots, she camels in heat, and adulterers, those who have taken their worship to another… taken it somewhere other than their Jehovah God.
Yes the heart can be led astray but it can also be redeemed and renewed again. In looking back at a few more passages from Jeremiah and Ezekiel we can see just how committed God is to His people and what He will do to bring us back to intimacy with Him. It is a beautiful picture of the lover of our hearts and souls coming to rescue us from ourselves… take us away from false Gods and deliver us from our enemies.
In Jeremiah 29:11-14 it states,
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity’…
The loving purpose of the exile was to bring Israel back to God.2 Move on in the book of Jeremiah to chapter 31, verses 31-33 where the prophet Jeremiah declares the word of the Lord,
…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. They will be their God and they will be my people.
Two very significant works are to take place. First, we are to seek God with all our hearts. And second, He is going to write his laws on our hearts (and minds). This is an upgrade, a contrast to where God wrote the laws down for the people the first time on the stone tablets we know as The10 Commandments (Ex. 34:1). There is an obvious difference between the two; one is external while the other, the upgrade moves to internal.
Again, the book of the prophet Ezekiel carries a similar message as it relates to our hearts. In chapter 11, verse 18 and 19, Ezekiel says,
They will return to it (the land of inheritance) and remove all vile Images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
This is good news for God’s people. We will no longer operate from a hard heart but a soft one, soft toward God. When we come to God by faith in his Son Christ we are made over and given a new heart, a soft heart, a heart of flesh, one that can and will be able to respond to God in faith as we grow in our relationship and intimacy with Him.
1 Bible Navigator 3.0, Holman Software: Naves Topics, Heart
2 John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, “The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament ”, (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 2000), 1166