“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:33–34, ESV)
When Yeshua inaugurated the New Covenant, which we believe then allows the Holy Spirit to write God’s Torah upon our hearts, what that really means? I have known a lot of good Yeshua following believers in my life and none of them suddenly knew all of God’s commands or understood what it means to walk with God the day the decided to walk a life with Him. In fact, it seems that many believers continue to wade in the mud pit.
I have seen changed lives, and people repent of sin, and walk away from habitual or destructive lifestyles. I have seen restored marriages, angry and hateful people become long-suffering and peace loving, and exhibit qualities of godliness, but even then many of them have very little understanding of God’s Torah.
I have also heard theologians come up with all kinds of excuses as to why, including one that I use to say, which is that we won’t fully have all the Torah written on our heart until he comes back and we get our glorified bodies. But, where does it say that? The prophecy in Jeremiah seems to say that when the new covenant is given, part of that new covenant will be God writing His Torah on our hearts now.
So, what do we do? We dig into the scripture and see if we can see a pattern to help us understand what Jeremiah may have meant.
First we must understand what the scripture means by the heart. The Hebrew word is “lev”. Here is a summary list of what the Theological Dictionary of the OT (1) says this about this word…
1. “heart” became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.
2. the majority of the usages of lēb refer either to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to one of the three traditional personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will.
3. The whole spectrum of emotion is attributed to the heart.
4. Thought functions may be attributed to the heart. In such cases it is likely to be translated as “mind” or “understanding.” To “set the heart to” may mean to “pay attention to” (Ex 7:23) or to “consider important” (II Sam 18:32). Creative thought is a heart function.
5. Wisdom and understanding are seated in the heart.
6. The heart is the seat of the will. A decision may be described as “setting” the heart
Point 6 could be said this way…The heart is the seat of your desires.
Another interesting aspect of the word “lev” is the idea that is presented when one looks at the potential meaning derived from the ancient pictograph letters of this word. Rev. Kathryn S. Patterson M.Min., BCCC gives a nice breakdown of the meanings:
“Another “lamed” word is “lev” which is Hebrew for “heart.” The Hebrew spelling for “lev” is “lamed” with a letter sound of “L” with a word picture of a “staff, control or strong/strength,” followed by a “bet” with the letter sound of “V” (sometimes a “B” when it has a dagesh or dot in the center) with a word picture of a “house or inside.” Together these two Hebrew letters, “lamed” followed by a “bet” spell “lev,” which is “heart.” The Hebrew word picture is that the heart controls what is inside.” (http://www.biblelandstudies.com/Lamed.html)
The most interesting use in the above definition was point 4 above which said to set the heart was to pay attention to, or consider important.
Now lets look at a couple of verses of scripture:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:1–3, ESV)
A lot of Hebrew writing uses what is called parallelism. Where a thought is repeated but in another form. Here is Proverbs 3 the writer (Solomon) tells the son not to forget his teaching and to let his heart (that which controls the inside, the seat of emotions, the inner man) keep his commandments. He then tells him to “Let not steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness forsake you” . The Faithlife study Bible (2) has this about steadfast love:
The word chesed describes a faithful covenantal love. Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the rule of a king (20:28).
The idea of faithfulness and covenantal love is to preserve the rule of the King, or to say in another way, keep his commandments as a way of showing faithfulness and chesed.
The writer then says to “bind them to your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart”
The Faithlife Study Bible also says this about the idea to bind them to your neck…”A way to keep them close and ensure they will not be forgotten (Deut 6:8–9).” (2)
Here again we are getting parallel ideas, so that even to write them on the tablet of your heart is parallel to”do not forget my teaching” which also carries the idea of point 4 in our definition of the heart above. (“pay attention to” (Ex 7:23) or to “consider important”)
Proverbs 7 is similar in its structure, lets take a look:
“My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 7:1–3, ESV)
Here we see the idea to “treasure up my commandments” and the parralel “bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” giving us the same basic idea.
So in Jeremiah 31, the the writer may actually be telling us that what controls our inside, our desires, the inner man, is going to pay attention to or consider important the Torah. The one who is going to enable this is the Holy Spirit. Now, that makes more sense to me. The Holy Spirit living inside of me now gives me a passion and desire for God’s word.
This makes what James writes about in James chapter 1 about asking for wisdom, and testing our faith, and steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, contrasted by this verse:
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15, ESV)
Our desire, which is found in the heart, that which controls our inside is what can tempt us towards sin, so if God then puts into us a new heart, or writes his Torah upon our hearts, and the idea is to give us a passion and desire for His Word, then what controls our insides is guided by God’s Torah, which effectively is Yeshua the Living Word who we are told to Imitate!!!
This makes far greater sense to me, and also aligns more perfectly with what I see in true followers of Yeshua, and also in my own testimony. Before I committed my life to follow Yeshua I read the Bible but it was not that important or interesting. After I committed my life to walking with Yeshua, the Word of God came alive and I had so much passion and desire for His word.
What is even move interesting is that we still have free will, and can choose to disobey what God has placed in us. In doing so we quench or hinder God’s work in our lives. This also lines up with what the Lord said in Deuteronomy…
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, ESV)
By the way, this verse follows on the heals of God telling His people that:
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV)
Lord, thank you that you put your Spirit within us and give us a new heart that desires and is passionate about obedience to your word. May the words of the Apostle John ever ring truer in my life..
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15–17, ESV)
(1) Bowling, A. (1999). 1071 לָבַב. (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke, Eds.)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.
(2) Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Pr 3:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.