“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”– Jeremiah 17:1-4 ESV
These verses are filled with irony. They reflect the sad state of the people of God and are intended to illustrate how ironic it is that God’s chosen ones stand ready to lose their inheritance, their freedom and all their worldly possession – all because of sin. In these verses, God speaks of Judah’s sin being etched on their hearts, and it required an iron chisel with a diamond point because their hearts were so hardened. They had hearts of stone. It is important to recall that when God gave them the Ten Commandments, He had etched them in stone with His own finger.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” – Exodus 24:12 NLT
When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God. – Exodus 31:18 NLT
God’s commands had been permanently chiseled into stone, signifying their permanence and irrevocable nature. They contained His instructions and expectations for living holy lives before Him. And, ironically, the very first one had been “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT). And just so they would understand exactly what He meant, God had chiseled the following clarification into the stone tablets:
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” – Exodus 20:4-5 NLT
And yet, here they were, generations later, hearing God describe them as having hearts of stone engraved with nothing but sin. Their sin was permanent in nature and seemingly irrevocable. It marked their very nature. They were transgressors of God’s laws. They were law-breakers and it was permanently etched into their characters. And if we look back at the days before the people of Israel entered into the promised land, Moses had warned them.
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NLT
And God would later reiterate this warning: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT). But sadly, the people of God had failed to heed the warning. They had not taught their children the ways of God. Instead, they had modeled unfaithfulness and lawlessness. And God indicts them for it. “Even their children go to worship at their pagan altars and Asherah poles, beneath every green tree and on every high hill” (Jeremiah 17:2 NLT). The law of God, including His command to worship no other gods but Him, had never made it from the tablets into their hearts. It had remained an external law that they had never internalized and made a part of their very nature. And on top of that, they had failed to pass on a love for God’s laws to their children. So, as a result, they had raised a generation of rebels and idolaters. They had grown up worshiping false gods and living as blatant transgressors of God’s commands. They had inherited their parents’ hard hearts and predisposition for unfaithfulness. And God warns them, along with their parents, “The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever” (Jeremiah 17:4 NLT). They would lose the very land God had given them. And again, what is so ironic is that God had promised to give them this land, undeserved and unmerited. And all they had to do to remain in it and enjoy the blessings of it was remain faithful to God.
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT
But they had failed. Their hearts had become hardened toward Him. His commands written on tablets of stone had never made it into their hearts of stone. And yet, God was not going to completely abandon them. In spite of their sin and transgressions, their unfaithfulness and open rebellion against Him, God will one day do for them what they had failed to do for themselves. They had failed to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. They had failed to teach their children the ways of God. Their hearts had become hardened toward God. So, one day, God is going to make a new covenant with His people. And unlike the Mosaic covenant, this one will be unilateral, not bilateral. In other words, it will non-conditional. They had already revealed their inability to keep their end of the Mosaic covenant. So, God will institute a new covenant with them that requires nothing of them. It will all be His doing.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT
Notice what God says: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.” Rather than giving them external laws to keep, God will etch His laws on their hearts. He will internalize His will and His ways. And the prophet Ezekiel tells us exactly how God will do it.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:25-29 NLT
New hearts. No more hearts of stone. No more transgression and law-breaking. Instead of stubborn rebellion, they will exhibit Spirit-empowered obedience and love for the will and the ways of God. The commands of God will become part of their very nature. Rather than having a predisposition to sin, they will have a God-given desire to live righteously before God. No more sin. No more stubborn rebellion. And all due to the gracious love of God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.