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(From Forerunner Commentary)
(See also Ezekiel 37:26; Jeremiah 50:5, 20)
Jeremiah 31:31-34 provides an encouraging conclusion to the saga of Israel and Judah once they have repented and returned to the land. These verses, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17, show that this is the same covenant that the church has already made with God. Rather than doing away with the law of God, the New Covenant gives the people the means, not merely to obey it, but to accept it and make it a part of their lives. God will give the people of Israel and Judah new hearts, and they will finally be able to follow God consistently and have real relationships with Him. God will forgive their sins, and Israel will finally begin to be the witness to the rest of the world that God intended her to be (see Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 62:1-2).
Even though God makes this covenant primarily with Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31), it is not exclusive. Through Isaiah, God shows that Gentiles who submit themselves to Him can and will also make this covenant. Of particular interest is the requirement that the Sabbath be kept by those wishing to do this (Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8).
Ezekiel 11:17, 19-21 foretells of Israel and Judah receiving from God a new heart—a spiritual heart that will enable them to keep His commandments and statutes.
Throughout its history, the essential difficulty in Israel's relationship with God has been one of the heart. God exclaims, "Oh, that they [Israel] had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). In Hebrews 3:10, God again identifies this problem: "Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (emphasis ours throughout).
The heart or spirit of a man is the center of his thought, reason, and motivation. Because of human nature, the natural—unconverted—heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). It has an innate, powerful pull toward the self, always making evaluations based on what it perceives as good for the individual regardless of the effect on others. Humanity has had approximately 6,000 years of such self-centered and destructive living, proving that man is simply unable to govern himself for very long. He needs direction and leadership from another—divine—source.
The Old Covenant that God made with Israel was a good agreement as far as it went, because all of God's works are good. The problem was not with its terms, but with the people who made it (Hebrews 8:7-8, 10). They lacked the right heart that would have allowed them to follow God truly and obey His laws. God, though, will give a new heart—a new spirit—to repentant Israelites, along with any others who desire to covenant with Him.
This "new spirit" is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit (see also Jeremiah 32:37-42; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). It is the same Spirit that Jesus told His disciples they would receive, the power that would allow them—through their words and especially through the conduct of their lives—to be witnesses of God (Acts 1:8; see Luke 24:49). It is a Spirit "of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7)—a mind that is balanced because God's concerns reside at its core. It is a mind inclined to obey God and to seek Him as the only Source of true solutions in a world that does not have the means or inclination to live in a way that is good for everybody and good eternally.
As Israel becomes God's model nation, due to her new heart and Spirit, the rest of the world will see that God's way—including His commandments, statutes, and judgments—produce peace and abundance. It is the nature of God's laws that, because of their Source, they bring good, prosperity, health, abundance, peace, and contentment (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Yet, it takes the same spirit—heart—as the Lawgiver for one to understand and keep the laws in their true spiritual intent.
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Three)
Two parties are needed to make a new heart. The "new man" is the New Covenant man. He is the man to whom God has given a new heart and in whom He has placed a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Here, God takes the initiative; it is His doing.
Yet, notice the change in terminology in Ezekiel 18:31: The responsibility becomes ours! "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves [make you, KJV] a new heart and a new spirit." In this passage, it is man, not God, who creates the new heart and the new spirit. Ezekiel 18 and Ezekiel 36 do not contradict; by Himself, God cannot create the new man in us. He needs our cooperation.
The Hebrew word translated "make" in Ezekiel 18:31 (KJV) is asah. God uses it some 2,625 times in the Old Testament. The translators render it a number of ways.
» To make in the sense of fabricate or build: "God made the firmament" (Genesis 1:7); "And you shall make holy garments for Aaron" (Exodus 28:2); "I did not make an end of them [the children of Israel] in the wilderness" (Ezekiel 20:17). Asah does not imply creation out of nothing - the Hebrew word bara, used only 60 times in the Old Testament, carries that meaning: "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). God is always the subject of bara, but as we can see from the examples, He is not always the subject of asah.
» To execute in the sense of "to do": "[Y]ou have established equity, You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob" (Psalms 99:4). "Remove violence and plundering, execute justice and righteousness" (Ezekiel 45:9).
» To keep: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8); "Because you . . . have not walked in My statutes, nor kept My judgments, . . . I . . . am against you" (Ezekiel 5:7,8).
» To prepare, especially a sacrifice: "And when you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering, or as a sacrifice to fulfill a vow . . ." (Numbers 15:8; see also verses 5, 6, 12). "For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, . . . what He ha[s] prepared for him that wait[s] for [H]im" (Isaiah 64:4, KJV).
» To work: "He has filled them with skill to do [KJV work] all manner of work of the engraver" (Exodus 35:35); "Then Jonathan said, . . . '[I]t may be that the LORD will work for us" (I Samuel 14:6); "So we built the wall; . . . for the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6).
» To commit: "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die" (Ezekiel 18:21).
» To do: "And I gave them My statutes, and showed them My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them" (Ezekiel 20:11). "I am the LORD your God: walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 20:19).
The conclusion is inescapable: asah, translated "make" in Ezekiel 18:31 (KJV), is synonymous with keep, do, work, and similar verbs. We "make [ourselves] a new heart" by what we do! Specifically, the action God requires of us is keeping His law, doing His commandments. This is a Christian's work.
By its meaning of "prepare," asah describes both sides of the covenant agreement. It describes what God does for us and what we must do for ourselves if we are to receive the promises of the New Covenant.
God, for His part, has prepared unimaginable glory for us, as Isaiah 64:4 makes plain in the KJV (see I Corinthians 2:9). We are to prepare ourselves just as an Israelite prepared an animal sacrifice (see Numbers 15). It is up to us, as "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1), to prepare ourselves for the marriage of the Lamb by putting on clean clothes - the new man (compare Revelation 19:7-9 with Colossians 3:9-10).
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)
Ezekiel's prophecy is of the institution of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:33). The new man is the New Covenant man! What is it, exactly, that makes the new man new? Two things: his new heart and the new spirit within him, God's Holy Spirit, which enables him to walk in God's ways. Ezekiel's reference to "a new heart" parallels Paul's command for a renewed mind in Ephesians 4:24. Moreover, both Ezekiel and Paul (in Ephesians 5) make use of the walking metaphor. Did Paul have Ezekiel 36 in mind when he wrote his letter to the Ephesian church? Probably! The similarities are remarkable.
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)
The heart represents the seat of feeling and affection. For instance, one is said to be tenderhearted when easily affected by others' sufferings. A person may be affected by his own sin or, in contrast, by the love and commands of God. The Pharisees act, not with sorrowful indignation, but with ruthless, murderous hearts (Mark 3:6). While theirs were hardened, Jesus' heart ached. What a contrast!
Here is illustrated the nadir of the Pharisees' hypocrisy. They policed Sabbath activities to ensure no one broke their human rules for keeping it, condemning those who did, while having no qualms about plotting Jesus' murder! They would allow the rescue of a sheep on the Sabbath but not the rescue—through healing—of a human being.
God prophesies about the church:
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
The day will come when we will all have "a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:22). As the next verse encourages, "He who promised is faithful." He will create this clean heart in us as we follow the righteous example of His Son.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Withered Hand (Part Two)
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