This chapter starts with a vivid image of the intractable nature of Judah’s sin:
“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
inscribed with a flint point,
on the tablets of their hearts
and on the horns of their altars.
There are two ways to look at this. One, this is the ontological condition of the people; the essence of their being is to sin. The other could be descriptive; they sin so much and so consistently, it’s as if sin is engraved in their being. Either way, it’s not flattering. But if we’re honest I think we all know how Judah feels, how easily we run after other Gods.
Much of the middle part of the chapter reads like a Psalm. The Lord reveals the answer to our sin dilemma in verses 5 and 7 by contrasting two different types of people:
Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
Which results in two very different kinds of lives. The former’s is as a desert, while the latter like a lush garden. And as we say nowadays, this is a binary choice, one or the other, no in between. The only way we can trust the Lord is if we refuse to interpret our circumstances apart from God’s definition of reality. We see examples of this all throughout Scripture, God putting his people in positions where they are forced to trust him, where the circumstances don’t indicate that he could possibly be in control. But all of life has a redemptive-historical purpose, including our lives. And the very next verse after these two contrasting verses tell us why trusting God is so hard:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
This is no doubt a rhetorical question: God can! We know how post resurrection, but he gives us a hint in the next verse:
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward a man according to his conduct,
according to what his deeds deserve.”
He is the only one who can fathom the intricate deceits of the sinful human heart and mind. This should give us great comfort, especially in light of the gift of the Holy Spirit post Pentecost. God doesn’t leave us to our own deceitful heart! And the latter part of that verse should only be seen in light of the Gospel because the only thing we actually deserve is judgment and death, and what we deserve was poured out on Christ.
Reading verses like this in isolation will destroy a person’s faith because without seeing it in light of the Gospel it puts God back into being our judge, jury, and executioner. Such faith is defined as trust in the person and character of God, or lack thereof. It’s impossible to trust someone you know you can never please.
The beauty of such a verse, however, seen in the Gospel light is that because he has transformed our hearts from stone to flesh, from enemy to child, to some degree our conduct and deeds can be worthy of God’s reward. In other words, we can actually do good and virtuous deeds, not to gain his acceptance, but because we love to please our Father and Lord. Jeremiah gets this even though it will be more than 500 years before the picture is clarified:
14 Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise.
Jeremiah understands he needs healing and saving. In contrast to his fellow countrymen who think God owes them something, and who do what is right in the own eyes. Two different orientations of the human heart which will lead to two very different outcomes, now and forever.