The Deceitful Heart

by Daniel H. King Sr.
via Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 2 p. 22-23, January 19, 1995

The prophet Jeremiah's life and the unique experiences which he had with Israel, offered him a "laboratory" to study the workings of the human heart. God had entrusted him with a message of dismay, desolation, and destruction for the land of Israel and the people of God. And there was no turning the judgment back. Its realization was inevitable. But the people to whom he spoke did not wish to hear such bad news. They felt secure in their actions and believed that God would bless them and protect them from their enemies. The Lord predicted otherwise, however. In one particularly brutal revelation to Jeremiah, God forbade him from marrying or fathering children, with these chilling words:

"The word of Jehovah came also unto me, saying, Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters, in this place. For thus saith Jehovah concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bare them, and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land: They shall die grievous deaths: they shall not be lamented, neither shall they be buried; they shall be as dung upon the face of the ground; and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the heavens, and for the beasts of the earth. For thus saith Jehovah, Enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament, neither bemoan them; for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith Jehovah, even loving kindness and tender mercies" (Jeremiah 16:1-5).

The Lord warned the prophet that when it was all over they would turn to him and ask why all this evil had come upon them, whereupon he was to tell them that "ye have done evil more than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart, so that ye hearken not unto me" (Jeremiah 16:12). Their hearts had become evil and depraved, so their actions were also evil and depraved, and God could do nothing except to judge them for their rebellion.

At the end of the day, the Lord through his Spirit gave the great insight into the human psyche which explains Israel's stubborn resistance to the oft-repeated divine appeals for her repentance:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

This verse explains how, even though the Almighty was fed up with Israel's flagrant disregard for her covenant with him, she was able to convince herself that no harm would come her way. But this profound text does more than that. It shows us how our own minds can work to rob us of God's grace and send us careening blindly down the road that leads to spiritual death. Here is what it says:

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

Jeremiah had seen plenty of evidence to confirm the Lord's pronouncement about this. The hardness and deceitfulness of the people's heart in his time kept them from yielding to the Lord's will. It kept them from turning from their sin. And, it convinced them that all was well when certain death lay just over the horizon.

Today many folks try to look inward for their insights into life and even for their knowledge of God. Several of the religious traditions of our time tell us this is where genuine knowledge of God is to be found. The Bible is foursquare against this notion. Dependable knowledge about God or even of ourselves cannot be discovered by looking within. The Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things. It is not a dependable guide in such matters. The heart is influenced by things like the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22), the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), the deceitfulness of lust (Ephesians 4:22). Scripture says that a deceitful witness speaks lies and not the truth (Proverbs 14:25). The human heart is such a witness. It cannot be trusted for spiritual guidance. Our guidance must come from outside of ourselves. That is where biblical revelation enters the picture. God's revelation of himself and of his will for man in the Bible is essential precisely because of the deceitfulness of the heart. The word of God acts as a constant check against the cunning and devious ways of the heart.

The Heart Is Exceedingly Corrupt

This word means "morally degenerate, perverted, depraved." The prophet had beheld the depravity of his own generation to the extent that he did not plead for mercy upon them, but only asked that he with his own eyes might see God's judgment performed upon them: "Let me see thy vengeance on them..." (Jeremiah 20:12). In our day we have seen the likes of the Boston Strangler, the Son of Sam, Charles Manson and his "Family," Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. These people, and a host of others like them that we could also mention, illustrate how "exceedingly corrupt" the heart of man can become. That which is capable of such degeneracy, perversion and depravity, could never be viewed as a dependable source for human guidance. As the prophet elsewhere said: "O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

Who Can Know It?

The world we live in is filled with mysteries. There are so very many things which we do not understand and cannot comprehend. God's word concludes this set of observations about the duplicity of the human heart with this question: "Who can know it?" Of course, it is immediately understood that God knows the heart (see Jeremiah 17:10), else he could not speak so authoritatively about the evils which lurk within it. As David advised his son, "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Jehovah searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever" (I Chronicles 28:9). The point is, that one cannot know the goings-on within the mind of another man, nor if he permits himself to be deceived by his own ambitions, lusts and desires, can he even claim to comprehend his own mind. Thus, the Bible instructs us to "keep the heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23).