Jeremiah 17:9

Several people have asked me how to reconcile our talk here about being heart-led with this verse in Jeremiah. Most English translations go something like this:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

Hebrew is a contextual language. Words in Hebrew are not carriers of thought, as it would be with the English language. In Hebrew, words are sign-posts, indicators of things that often cannot be put into words. Thus, we say the Hebrew language is indicative, not descriptive as most Western languages are. You cannot expect to read an English translation of Hebrew writing from English linguistic assumptions. The meaning of a Hebrew word is more flexible, most especially in the context of divine revelation. Look at the context of that verse:

So says the LORD, Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a juniper in the desert, and shall not see when good comes. But he shall live in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land that is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and Jehovah is his trust. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters; it sends out its roots by the river, and it shall not fear when the heat comes, but its foliage shall be green; and he is not worried in the year of drought, nor will it cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17:5-10 MKJV)

In this context, a more accurate translation of the Hebrew word for “heart” would be “human will.” Notice how he says the will can be harnessed to the wrong thing. If you aren’t committed to the Lord and Creator of all things, you’ll make a mess of your life. In Hebrew thinking, the heart is the seat of the will, a metaphor for a faculty they considered quite separate from the intellect. Your heart is where faith resides — “faith” being a much abused word that should mean your capacity for commitment and trust.

In English-speaking societies, the heart is merely a repository of sentiment. It’s just feelings and emotions. This is part of the dirty secret that Western society rejects the notion there is anything above the intellect, whereas ancient Hebrew society — along with the entire Ancient Near East — presumed the intellect was meant to be subservient to the heart as a faculty of commitment and faith. In their thinking, the moral realm of truth was far above the intellect, and only the heart could go there. The heart was a metaphor for moral discernment. This is why in English-speaking societies, faith is equated with mere sentiment and emotion. It’s an assumption no one questions, yet it totally backwards from what’s in the Bible.

We who share the Radix Fidem covenant never said that getting a correct idea about the heart would save you. The heart is the necessary foundation for truth faith, but is not sufficient of itself to bring you peace with God. That heart must be committed to Christ, not any number of other things in which people have placed their faith since leaving the Garden of Eden. That’s just what Jeremiah is saying in that passage. You can’t trust the heart alone; it has to be yielded to the Lord. But he spoke from within the context of a society that already knew the power of the heart to also lead you astray. Our Western society denies that very possibility; it denies that the heart has such power. Western assumptions deny that there is anything above the intellect.

It’s a trick of the Devil to make you read that verse from a legalistic point of view, insisting that “the heart” is not trustworthy as the means to full faith and obedience to Christ, that you must rely on the intellect. Jeremiah isn’t addressing that issue at all. People who read English and think in English will completely miss the point of this whole passage. They are at least two giant steps away from understanding and being touched by the message of God, having a false view of the heart, and then a false view of what Jeremiah is actually saying. Read that passage again with a more Hebraic frame of reference.

Satan has been very successful in veiling the Scripture from Western minds.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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3 Responses to Jeremiah 17:9

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    Even Proverbs 3:5 by itself hints at the “human will/commitment” aspect of the heart, not the sentimentality. It makes even more sense when you look at the verse after it:

    5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
    6 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.


  2. Iain says:

    I had a lull to occur in the pursuit of my goal of learning to read the OT in Hebrew. No more, I’m back on track. I needed some motivation and got it. Lamed bet, first word I could sight read. Leb= heart, will, mind, understanding and so on.


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