The Heart in Scripture: Heart in the O.T. Prophetic Books (Part 3)

By Brad Hicks

Mosaic of Jesus Christ the Teacher, apostles Peter and Paul, and prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls, Rome, Italy.

In our study and discussion of the word “heart” in scripture, so far, we’ve explored the first 17 books of the Old Testament. First, we looked at verses that contain the word heart in the Torah, sometimes referred to as the books of Moses — the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis through Deuteronomy.

And in our last study and discussion, we pored over the twelve historical books in the Old Testament — beginning with Joshua (and the entering of the Israelites into the land he promised to their forefather, Abraham) through Ezra and Nehemiah (and the return of the Israelites to their land after decades of captivity in Babylon).

Today, we’re going to cover the last 17 books of the Old Testament — books penned by prophets of Yahweh — and discover something extremely unique that a few of these mysterious seers of God had to say about the heart.

Have you been paying attention to certain patterns and themes that scripture is teaching us about the heart? We’ve learned that both God and men have a heart, and that this extremely complex object does far more than pump blood to every part of our bodies. Not one place in scripture have we yet found a verse that describes or defines the heart as a blood-pumping organ that keeps one’s physical body alive.

What we’ve learned, rather, is that the Bible makes it clear that the heart is a non-physical, intelligent, feeling, sensing, judging entity within human beings. And this entity, this heart, makes moral determinations about the data from the world that it takes in, decides what it believes about the data, then instructs the body on how to act, behave, demonstrate, and express what it believes.

In the Old Testament, we don’t read anything about the heart until the sixth chapter of Genesis. And the first thing God says about the human heart is that its inclinations and thoughts are evil and that the heart of man deeply troubled God’s own heart. God was so troubled by the propensity for evil in the human heart that he destroyed every living person by a global flood, except for eight souls: Noah, his three sons, and their wives.

It is precisely at this point in human redemptive history that God begins to unfold his plan to align man’s heart with his own perfectly righteous, holy heart. The Lord described his own heart to Moses in Exodus 34: I am compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving, and just.

To enter the presence of God, to be in right relationship with him, we must also have the same heart.

But why? Why is it so important to God that men’s and women’s hearts are aligned with his holy and righteous heart? God, our holy and righteous Father and Maker, created mankind for one purpose and one purpose only … for himself, to dwell not only among us but in us, and for us to dwell in him in perfect, harmonious love: not just in this life, but for all time, forever, eternally. (Recall the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”)

He created us for fellowship and friendship and family and kinship and relationship with himself and with one another (the church). But it’s impossible for wicked, rebellious, sinful hearts to experience that kind of relationship with God or with other humans. It is necessary for the human heart to undergo a radical circumcision (remember that word from our last study-discussion?).

God’s plan for how he changes the human heart to align with his own heart is, I believe, the most miraculous divine strategy in all human history! Greater than physically raising someone from the dead, giving sight to the blind, healing a withered hand, or deliverance from evil spirits.  

The entirety of scripture, from Noah to the Lord’s second coming in Revelation is the compilation of the many stories of God’s Great Strategy to change human hearts so they’re capable of eternal communion with him and his Son. What glorious eternal riches he has prepared for those who willingly choose to fully participate in, and accept as a gift, God’s gracious plan for our prodigal hearts.

The Hebrew prophets, during the time of the kings of Judah and Israel through the period of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles — a period ranging from approximately 900 BC to 400 BC (so for about 500 years) — predicted and described visions of calamity and judgment for the wayward people of God and for all disobedient nations. The prophets also foretold of a Day when God himself would permanently and miraculously change the human heart into one that is holy, righteous, obedient to his laws, and aligned perfectly with his own heart.

Today, I want to examine these prophecies concerning this New Heart. How can this be and what does it mean?

Jeremiah 3: 14, 15, 17, 22 – “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you — one from a town and two from a clan — and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. … No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. … Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.”
Here we read of God making a future promise to Israel to provide leaders for them, shepherds who are aligned with God’s heart, to lead and teach them. (I believe this promise is specifically referring to the apostles’ teaching of Jesus in the New Testament era and Spirit-led men and women who continue in the tradition of the apostles’ teachings.) Then God promises a day when his people will be “cured” of turning away from him, literally, they will not be able to backslide again. This can only happen if people are given a new heart, a new nature, a divine one — not something that we can accomplish in our own strength or by our own will; it’s a creating work that God does in us, a miracle!

This Old Testament promise sounds to me a lot like its fulfillment in the New Testament when the apostle Peter testifies,

2 Peter 1: 3, 4 – His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Back to the Old Testament prophets …

Jeremiah 31: 31-34 – “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant to lead them out of Egypt …This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God is saying that a Day is coming when his righteous and holy Word, his precepts, statutes, decrees, commands, and laws will be supernaturally embedded in the hearts and minds of Israel and Judah, that is, his chosen ones who obey him by faith. How can this be?

The New Testament reveals specifically how this prophecy has been fulfilled in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, by his atoning sacrifice of himself.

Hebrews 10: 14-16 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. He says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

Furthermore, this same Holy Spirit has been poured out, made available to men and women who invite him into their hearts, to teach us the holy ways of God. Jesus explained this to his disciples:

John 14: 26 – But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Peter also confirms this promise in the Book of Acts:

Acts 5: 30-32 – “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead — whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Three more passages in the prophetic books foretell of this New Day when God will create a New Heart in his faithful ones.

Jeremiah 32: 39-40 – I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me so that they will never turn away from me.

Ezekiel 11: 19-20 – 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. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36: 25-27 – 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. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

This New Heart that God has freely created in you and me is precisely the New Birth that Jesus explained to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John. It is the New Creation in Paul’s letters to the first churches. Hallelujah! The old is gone, the new is here! It is the New Life about which Peter and the apostles proclaimed in the temple courts when the angel burst them out of jail. It is the Spirit poured out on all flesh foretold by the prophet Joel and fulfilled at Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. This New Heart that we have been given is Salvation itself, friends. It is our only way, truth, and life. It is Jesus, himself, coming to dwell inside of this Most Holy of Holies, the temple of human hearts that have been miraculously made clean to house the Holy Spirit of God.

Friends, this is God’s promise. Whether or not you feel like your heart is a holy temple that houses the Spirit of Christ, this is the heart you’ve been given if you, indeed, are in Christ.

How should we, then, respond to such an indescribable and unimaginably gracious gift?

Friends, let us live lives of gratefulness, offering sacrifices of praise to our heavenly Father. Let us seek to fill our thoughts daily with what is good, right, pure, excellent, and worthy of praise. Let us commune with our God daily and enter the Sabbath rest in him that he also created for us. And let us seek his will and purpose for our lives, for it is also written that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us in advance to do.

Now, let’s go in peace and in great joy today, knowing that our heavenly Father is pleased to have given us his Son. And, today, may we guard our hearts … and live our lives worthy of such a high calling.

Published by Louder For Malchus

Hi! Brad here. Avid learner, nature nerd, sports-stats geek, publisher, writer, editor, and a Christian. I try to pay attention ... for a word that God might be saying to me. I keep my inner sense attuned for something "prophetic" or "numinous" in good writing, film, music, art of any kind, in all created nature, in spirited conversation, in prayer, or simply in my quiet thoughts. "Louder For Malchus" is about paying attention so we might truly hear. I believe that we only really live "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," wrote the Deuteronomist whom Jesus quoted. Then, once heard, obey, become, and do. He doesn't speak to amuse and entertain.

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