Heart trouble

God’s understanding of the human heart goes far beyond a mere perception of who we are or what we want to be. He sees our motives as if they are a clear depiction of the inner being’s true identity. In his condemnation of the ungodly rulers of Jerusalem, God declared, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Ezekiel 11:5). The Hebrew word translated mind, ruwach (roo´ – akh) means wind or breath and is an emblem of “the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God” (7307). In other words, the mind is where the human and supernatural aspects of man become one. As a creature created in the image of God, man’s mind has the capacity to convey the intentions of his heart.

According to Hebrew belief, “the breath is suppose to symbolize not only deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (7307). Ultimately, what God wants is for man to reflect his own nature, to be like him. That is why God set apart the Israelites as his own people, they were to be an example to the rest of the world of what God was like. Unfortunately, God’s people failed to take on his characteristics, but instead became like the people of the nations that surrounded them (Ezekiel 11:12).

After the people of Israel and Judah were judged by him and were sent into exile, God planned to return his people to their land and start a new relationship with them based on his forgiveness of their sins on a personal basis. God told Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). The contrast between a stony heart and a heart of flesh was meant to convey the difference between a heart that was submitted to God and one that was not. Another way of saying a heart of flesh would be a circumcised heart. Circumcision was a symbol of Abraham’s submission to God.

The reason why God had to put a new spirit within his people was because they lacked a desire to do his will. Human nature is such that our independence from God’s control makes it impossible for him to impose his will upon us. Therefore, we must choose to become one with him and accept him into our heart. Union with God is a spiritual transaction in which he transforms the inner person or mind to conform it to his will. This can only happen through a conscious decision to give up one’s right to govern oneself. In the case of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, their right to govern their own lives was relinquished when God purchased them out of slavery through their redemption by a sacrificial system, i.e. the blood of Jesus Christ.

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Remember me

One thing that is clear about God is he has feelings just like we do. The type of things that upset us, also upset God and cause him to act in ways that we can relate to. God’s anger toward his people was justified in that they had intentionally turned their backs on him after he had blessed them and shown them undeserved favor. Everything God did for the Israelites, he did out of love and compassion for them and he did not punish them until it was evident that his people had rejected him completely.

In the book of Hosea, the children of Israel are portrayed as an adulteress who looked to other gods, and loved to get drunk on wine (Hosea 3:1). In spite of their infidelity, God promised to restore the nation of Israel and to unite the divided kingdoms into one. God’s love for the children of Israel was like that of a jealous husband because his emotions were involved in the relationship. God had a strong emotional attachment to his people (160) and wanted to remain in fellowship with them, even though they did not feel the same way about him (Hosea 3:1).

In his explanation to Ezekiel of the destruction of Judah, God revealed his personal anguish over the situation (Ezekiel 6:9). Once again, he promised to leave a remnant that would one day acknowledge him as Jehovah, the Jewish national name of God. He said, “Yet will I save a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And they that escape shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart which hath departed from me and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations” (Ezekiel 6:8-9).

The Hebrew word translated remember in Ezekiel 6:9 is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (2142) and is suggesting that God’s people would stand out among the other people of the nations in which they would be living in exile. God intended for his people to be different in that they were not to worship idols, nor were they to practice witchcraft or the occult. The idea that God’s people would remember him among the nations where they were taken captive was about the continued worshipping of God without a temple in which to do it. Only those who truly loved God would be able to maintain their relationship with him. Over time, it would be evident who really believed in God and who didn’t.

Repentance (Step 4)

Both the books of Isiah and Jeremiah contain illustrations of God as a potter and his chosen people as clay. Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Jeremiah was told a parable in which the clay was marred in the hand of the potter and had to be remade into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). The LORD said to Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The process of repentance includes a willing relinquishment of the outcome of our lives. In order to get us to give up what we once thought to be essential for our happiness, God sometimes has to break our hearts. A broken heart is not about producing sadness, but about the view we have of ourselves that is central to our identity. The heart, according to Hebrew scriptures, is the whole inner man. “It includes not only the motives, feeling, actions and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man”  (3820). In one sense, you could say that a broken heart results in the person you are ceasing to exist.

God’s punishment of his people was intended to change their character. He wanted them to be free of the pride and arrogance that caused them to refuse his help. It says in Lamentations 4:1-2, “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!

God had to use extreme measures to get his people to stop worshipping idols. It says in Lamentations 4:6, “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.” Sodom’s quick destruction was considered a merciful act because there was no awareness of what was happening. When Israel and Judah were destroyed, not only did God tell them what was going to happen, but he also forced some of them to survive and go into captivity where the memory of what happened would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

It says in Lamentations 4:18, “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.” This passage most likely came from someone that witnessed the destruction of Judah and saw first hand the Babylonian soldiers hunting down people as if they were animals to be killed in sport. This type of ruthless brutality no doubt had a lasting impact on those who survived. Through this experience, the hearts of God’s people were changed forever.

The forgotten king

King Jehoiachin’s brief reign of only three months over the nation of Judah may be why he is often overlooked or forgotten, although he was obedient to the LORD. There is conflicting information about his age when he took over for his father Jehoiakim. It says in 2 Kings 24:8 that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign and in 2 Chronicles 36:9 it says he was eight. Whether he was eight or eighteen, Jehoiachin was exceptionally young to become king.

In the third month of his reign, Jehoiachin was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and carried away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:15). He was the last descendant of king David to actually sit on the throne and rule over God’s people. King Zedekiah, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to replace Jehoiachin, was the son of Josiah, Jehoiachin’s grandfather. After he was transported to Babylon, Jehoiachin was referred to as Jeconiah or just Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:24). The Greek form of his name, Jechonias is listed in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1:11-12.

Jehoiachin was considered to be despised by the LORD because none of his descendants ever reigned, “sitting upon the throne of David” (Jeremiah 23:30), but Jehoiachin’s grandson, Zerubbabel became governor of Judah after the exiles returned to the Promised Land (Haggai 1:1). A pivotal point in the life of Jehoiachin is recorded in Jeremiah 52:31-34. It says that he was released from prison in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity and was given daily rations from the king of Babylon.

Evidence of Jerhoichin’s survival has been found in Babylon. According to archeological records, “Jehoiachin and his family were kept in Babylon, where clay ration receipts bearing his name have been found” (Exile of the Southern Kingdom). The fact that Jehoiachin was not killed like many of the other important officials from Judah (Jeremiah 52:27) and was later shown great respect by the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 52:32) shows that God was intentionally working to save his life, and the lives of his sons and grandsons, in order to preserve the royal blood line.

Forgiveness

God identified himself to Jeremiah as “the God of all flesh” (Jeremiah 32:27) and asked him the question, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” What God was implying was that because he had created mankind, he had the power to do whatever was necessary to save his people, if he wanted to. In his role of creator, God sought to accomplish a specific outcome related to his promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). In its most basic sense, nation refers to a group of people with something in common (1471). In Abraham’s case, the nation God wanted to make of him was a group of faith filled believers that would worship only the LORD. Of this nation, God told Jeremiah, “Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it;  the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

God’s plan of salvation for his people was revealed before they went into captivity because it was necessary for them to believe their captivity was a part of God’s plan, not an end to God’s involvement in their lives. One of the things that God decided to do was to demonstrate his power through the return of his people to the Promised Land. He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I will bring it health and cure and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return and will build them, as at the first and I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me, and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned” (Jeremiah 33:6-8).

The Hebrew terms translated health and cure suggested that after their captivity was completed, the lives of God’s people would return to normal. The only way that could happen was for God to not only cleanse, but to pardon all of his chosen people from their sins. The Hebrew word translated pardon, calach means to forgive. Forgiveness “is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another” (5545). In the case of all the Israelites that went into captivity, they were forgiven because of the intervention of another, Jesus Christ. Jeremiah was told, “In those days, and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name where with she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

God’s restoration of the nation of Judah would ultimately make it possible for Jesus to be born. Were it not for God’s preservation of the royal bloodline, the Messiah could not fulfill both the old and the new covenants that promised an eternal kingdom to God’s people (Jeremiah 33:17). The assurance of forgiveness was a key provision in God’s plan. If it were up to the people to repent and request forgiveness, none of God’s people might have been saved. Because of his divine capabilities, Jesus was able to intercede on behalf of the Israelites, even before he was born on earth. Jesus’ kingdom was established the moment God promised Abraham he would make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:12), but it wasn’t until Abraham believed in the LORD, that his sins were forgiven and he became the first member of that nation.

The new covenant

The captivity of Judah brought an end to God’s original plan of salvation for his people, known as the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, they became an independent people group that was later referred to as the nation of Israel. Everything that happened between God and his people was done collectively as if all the people were a single entity. When the Old Covenant was brought to a conclusion, God began to look at every person on an individual basis to determine their life’s course.

The captivity of Judah was the result of a national failure to obey God. Even though every person was guilty of sinning against God, it was their collective guilt that brought condemnation on God’s people. Describing the new approach God would take, Jeremiah declared, “In those days they shall say no more, the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jeremiah 31:29-30). God make his new covenant “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The reunification of Jacob’s family and rebuilding of the nation of Israel was an important aspect of God’s revised plan that showed he did not intend to start over or abandon his chosen people in his attempt to save the world.

A critical difference between the old and new covenants was the type of relationship God intended to have with his people. Initially, God acted as a husband to his people (Jeremiah 31:32), and desired an exclusive relationship with them based on a binding legal agreement. After Israel betrayed him and Judah sought military assistance from foreign nations, God determined another way to deliver his people from their sinful behavior. Rather than expecting them to make sacrifices to him, God would enable his people to be forgiven of their sins once and for all. Based on his sovereign right to show favor to whomever he chose, God designated all who accepted his free gift of salvation to be completely absolved of their sins (Jeremiah 31:34).

A description of the new covenant was given to Jeremiah in order to clarify God’s intent in restoring the nation of Israel. He said, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). God’s ability to transform the human heart was the hallmark of his new covenant. A desire to do the will of God would be evidence that a person had been converted. Not only did God intend to bring his people back to their homeland, but he also intended to live among them (Jeremiah 31:34).

The nation of Israel

God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants was only partially fulfilled when the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the father of the twelve men from whom the twelve tribes became established. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he was overpowered by him in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:28). The name Israel means “he will rule (as) God” (3478). When the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria and its people sent into exile, it appeared that God’s effort to establish a nation from Abraham’s descendants had failed, but the nation of Israel was never intended to be a political institution. God wanted his spiritual kingdom to be manifested physically on earth.

A nation is similar to a body in that its individual members are considered to be a single unit that functions interdependently. The real purpose of a nation is to give its people a shared identity. When God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he was giving him a new identity, one that would remain in tact until God’s kingdom was manifested on earth. In order for the nation of Israel to look like God’s kingdom, all of the twelve tribes had to be included. Speaking of the final outcome he was working towards, God told Jeremiah, “The fierce anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 30:24-31:1).

The issue that had to be resolved in order for Israel to be restored to a single united kingdom as it had been in king David’s day was its people had to turn away from their practice of idolatry. Isaiah described the situation as a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). God’s remedy was Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:16,18). God’s love for his chosen people was so powerful that his grace became a way for him to turn them away from their idols. He said, “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow… And my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).

God’s restoration of the nation of Israel was identified as a “new thing.” Isaiah declared on behalf of the LORD, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you them” (Isaiah 42:9). The voluntary return of God’s people to their homeland was considered a new thing because they had rejected him over and over again. The only way to adequately describe the difference between the former things and the new that was expected to take place was a transformation of the heart. The once proud and rebellious people of the northern kingdom of Israel would become like an adoring bride (Jeremiah 31:22). All of Israel will one day embrace with tender and unfailing love the one they crucified.