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.

It was impossible

The birth of Jesus Christ is a testimony to God’s ability to do the impossible. I think it is interesting that the birth of Jesus isn’t recognized as the most impossible thing that has ever been done. Maybe its because we’ve been celebrating Jesus’ birth for so many years that we’ve forgotten the significance of God becoming a man.

When David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), he was asking God to do something that had never been done before, something that David knew was impossible. The word that David used, create or bârâ’ (baw – raw´) in Hebrew, has profound theological significance. The verb bara’ “expresses creation out of nothing” (1254).

David wanted God to give him a new heart, one that was clean or sinless. In order for God to do what David was asking, he would have had to go back to the drawing board so to speak, and replace the heart that David had been born with. The heart David was referring to was not the organ in his chest that pumped blood throughout his body, but the lêb (labe), the heart that “includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man” (3820).

As far as I know, God did not give David a new heart. What David asked God to do was impossible…until Jesus came and established a new covenant, one that enabled a person to be born again.

God responded to David’s prayer approximately 400 years later. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the LORD spoke about Israel’s restoration and return to the Promised Land after they were scattered among the heathen.

For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

It could be that the transfer of God’s spirit from Jesus to his disciples after Christ rose from the dead was the only way that David’s prayer could be answered. The word translated new, châdâsh (khaw – dawsh´) “means ‘new’ both in the sense of recent or fresh and in the sense of something not previously existing” (2319). In order to create a new heart in a person, God does not obliterate the heart that already exists, he adds a heart to it (Jesus), and causes the two to become one, a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).