The New American Commentary: Jeremiah, Lamentations
24:6–7 God promised his protection to those in exile. One day he would also bring them back to their own land. The verbs in v. 6—build, tear down, plant, uproot—are the same verbs found in 1:10, though in a different order. In words that come close to the “new creation” language of 2 Cor 5:17, God said he would give them “a heart to know me.” There is no exact parallel to this expression in the OT although Deut 30:6; Jer 31:33; 32:38–39; Ezek 11:19; 36:26 point toward the same idea. The statement further implies that the only way a person can know God is for God to give that person a heart (i.e., mind, will) to do so.
By means of covenant language God stated that he would be their God and they would be his people. This statement is found with variations seven times in Jeremiah (e.g., 31:33; 32:38). When they returned from exile, he said they would return with total sincerity (“with all their heart”). On another occasion Jeremiah reminded the exiles that they would find God “when you seek me with all your heart,” i.e., with total sincerity (29:13). Joshua had made a similar appeal centuries earlier (Josh 24:14).
Huey, F. B. (1993). Jeremiah, Lamentations (Vol. 16, pp. 221–222). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
A Handbook on Jeremiah
In Hebrew thinking the heart was looked upon as the seat of the intellect, as its connection with the verb to know indicates (see 3:17). tob renders the first part of the verse “I will give them an understanding which will allow them to know me”; reb has “I shall give them the wit to know me.” This could also be expressed “I will give them the intelligence to know me.” However, what is involved here is not so much intelligence as making a decision to serve the Lord; “I will give them the will to know me” is possibly the best translation. tev is similar to this: “I will give them the desire to know that I am the Lord.”
They shall be my people and I will be their God: See 7:23. Note the similarity between this and the promises of 31:33; 32:38. In Hebrew the pronoun is emphatic.
They shall return to me with their whole heart appeared in 3:10. See there. Translators can say here “They will come back to me in complete sincerity.”
gecl renders the whole verse as follows:
• I will give them a heart and understanding to know me and to comprehend that I am the Lord! With all their hearts they will return to me. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
In order to avoid the “sentimental connotations,” which “heart” does not have in Hebrew, Bright renders it this way:
• I will give them a will to know me, that I am Yahweh. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall turn to me with all their energies.
tob Traduction œcuménique de la Bible
reb Revised English Bible
tev Today’s English Version
gecl German common language version
Newman, B. M., Jr., & Stine, P. C. (2003). A handbook on Jeremiah (pp. 523–524). New York: United Bible Societies.
The Book of Jeremiah
2. The Meaning of the Good Figs (24:4–7)
4 And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 5 Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so will I regard the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans, for good. 6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Jehovah: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying. The figs were only the occasion by which the word came; they did not represent the word itself. God uses natural objects, but His word must not be confused with them. God uses the wind, the rain, the objects of life; but His word is not identified with these.
Like these good figs, so will I regard the captives of Judah. The key to the comparison is not in the inherent nature of the persons who went into captivity, but in the change of heart that the exile could make in them. The captives were compared to the good figs because they were potentially good; God would perfect His goodness in them. In them God saw the remnant who would respond to His will and His way. For I will set mine eye upon them for good. In this and the words that follow the whole plan of divine salvation is revealed. God says, I will bring them … I will build them … I will plant them … and I will give them a heart to know me. The work of God in election, calling, conviction, and conversion is set forth by the prophet as he predicts the return from captivity. The condition enabling God to work is man’s response—for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. These words of Jeremiah find a notable parallel in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12). God’s gracious gift and man’s receptive response together result in a new way of life.
Hall, B. H. (1969). The Book of Jeremiah. In Isaiah-Malachi (Vol. 3, pp. 257–258). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
7 And I will give them fan heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be gmy people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me hwith their whole heart.
Under the term know me is here (as in many other texts) comprehended faith, love, obedience, all those motions of the soul which rationally should follow a right comprehending of God in men’s knowledge. They shall be my people, and I will be their God; I will be a God in covenant with them; as I will fulfil what I have promised them, so they shall do what is their duty to me. For, or when, or after that they shall return to me; not feignedly, but with their heart; not partially, but with their whole heart. This is promised as an effect of special grace, not of the mere good inclination of their natural wills, for so the words I will give, in the beginning of the verse, must be understood, otherwise God gives such a heart no more to one man than another.
f Deut. 30:6. ch. 32:39. Ezek. 11:19. & 36:26, 27.
g ch. 30:22. & 31:33. & 32:38.
h ch. 29:13.
Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 2, p. 569). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.
|7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.||7 Et dabo illis cor ad cognoscendum me, quod ego sum Jehova; et erunt mihi in populum, et ego ero ipsis in Deum, quia revertentur ad me in toto corde suo.|
Here is added the main benefit, that God would not only restore the captives, that they might dwell in the land of promise, but would also change them inwardly; for except God gives us a conviction as to our own sins, and then leads us by his Spirit to repentance, whatever benefits he may bestow on us, they will only conduce to our greater ruin. The Prophet has hitherto spoken of the alleviation of punishment, as though he had said, “God will stretch forth his hand to restore his people to their own country.” Then the remission of punishment is what has been hitherto promised; but now the Prophet speaks of a much more excellent favour, that God would not only mitigate punishment, but that he would also inwardly change and reform their hearts, so that they would not only return to their own country, but would also become a true Church, a name of which they had vainly boasted. For though they had been chosen to be a peculiar people, yet, as they had departed from true religion, they were only a Church in name. But now God promises that he would bring them, not only to enjoy temporal and fading blessings, but also eternal salvation, for they would truly fear and serve him.
And this is what we ought carefully to observe, for the more bountiful God is towards men, the more is his vengeance kindled by ingratitude. What, then, would it avail us to abound in all good things, except we had evidences of God’s paternal favour towards us? But when we regard this end, that God testifies to us that he is our Father by his bounty towards us, we then make a right use of all his blessings; and God’s benefits cannot conduce to our salvation except we regard them in this light. Hence Jeremiah, after having spoken of the people’s restoration, justly exalts this favour above everything else, that the people would repent, so that they would not only fully partake of all the blessings they could expect, but would also worship God in sincerity and truth.
Now, God says that he would give them a heart to know him. The word heart is to be taken here for the mind or understanding, as it means often in Hebrew. It, indeed, means frequently the seat of the affections, and also the soul of man, as including reason or understanding and will. But though the heart is taken often for the seat of the affections, it is yet applied to designate the other part of the soul, according to these words, “Hitherto God has not given thee a heart to understand.” (Deut. 29:4.) The Latins sometimes take it in this sense, according to what Cicero shews when he quotes these words of Ennius, “Catus Ælius Sextus was a man remarkable in understanding.” (Egregie cordatus; Cic. 1 Tuscul.) Then, in this passage, the word heart is put for the light of the understanding. Yet another thing must be stated, that a true knowledge of God is not, as they say, imaginary, but is over connected with a right feeling.
From the words of the Prophet we learn that repentance is the peculiar gift of God. Had Jeremiah said only that they who had been previously driven by madness into ruin, would return to a sane mind, he might have appeared as one setting up free-will and putting conversion in the power of man himself, according to what the Papists hold, who dream that we can turn to either side, to good as well as to evil; and thus they imagine that we can, after having forsaken God, of ourselves turn to him. But the Prophet clearly shews here, that it is God’s peculiar gift; for what God claims for himself, he surely does not take away from men, as though he intended to deprive them of any right which may belong to them, according to what the Pelagians hold, who seem to think that God appears almost envious when he declares that man’s conversion is in his power; but this is nothing less than a diabolical madness. It is, then, enough for us to know, that what God claims for himself is not taken away from men, for it is not in their power.
Since, then, he affirms that he would give them a heart to understand, we hence learn that men are by nature blind, and also that when they are blinded by the devil, they cannot return to the right way, and that they cannot be otherwise capable of light than by having God to illuminate them by his Spirit. We then see that man, from the time he fell, cannot rise again until God stretches forth his hand not only to help him, (as the Papists say, for they dare not claim to themselves the whole of repentance, but they halve it between themselves and God,) but even to do the whole work from the beginning to the end; for God is not called the helper in repentance, but the author of it. God, then, does not say, “I will help them, so that when they raise up their eyes to me, they shall be immediately assisted;” no, he does not say this; but what he says is, “I will give them a heart to understand.” And as understanding or knowledge is the main thing in repentance, it follows that man remains wholly under the power of the devil, and is, as it were, his slave, until God draws him forth from his miserable bondage. In short, we must maintain, that as soon as the devil draws us from the right way of salvation, nothing can come to our minds but what sinks us more and more in ruin, until God interposes, and thus restore us when thinking of no such thing.
This passage also shews, that we cannot really turn to God until we acknowledge him to be the Judge; for until the sinner sets himself before God’s tribunal, he will never be touched with the feeling of true repentance. Let us then know that the door of repentance is then opened to us, when God constrains us to look to him. At the same time there is more included in the term Jehovah than the majesty of God, for he assumes this principle, which ought to have been sufficiently known to the whole people, that he was the only true God who had chosen for himself the seed of Abraham, who had published the Law by Moses, who had made a covenant with the posterity of Abraham. There is then no doubt but that the Prophet meant that when the Jews became illuminated, they would be convinced of what they had forgotten, that is, that they had departed from the only true God. This mode of speaking then means the same as though he had said, “I will open their eyes, that they may at length acknowledge that they are apostates, and be thus humbled when made sensible how grievous was their impiety in forsaking me the fountain of living waters.”
He afterwards adds, that they should be to him a people, and that he in his turn would be to them a God; for they would return, to him with the whole heart. By these words the Prophet shews more clearly what he had before referred to, that God’s blessings would be then altogether salutary when they regarded their giver. As long then as we regard only the blessings of God, our insensibility produces this effect, that the more bountiful he is towards us, the more culpable we become. But when we regard God’s bounty and paternal kindness towards us, we then really enjoy his blessings. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s words when he says, “I shall be to you a God, and ye shall be to me a people.” What this mode of speaking means has been stated elsewhere.
Though God rules the whole world, he yet declares that he is the God of the Church; and the faithful whom he has adopted, he favours with this high distinction, that they are his people; and he does this that they may be persuaded that there is safety in him, according to what is said by Habakkuk, “Thou art our God, we shall not die.” (Hab. 1:12.) And of this sentence Christ himself is the best interpreter, when he says, that he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, (Luke 20:38;) he proves by the testimony of Moses, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though dead, were yet alive. How so; because God would not have declared that he was their God, were they not living to him. Since then he regards them as his people, he at the same time shews that there is life for them laid up in him. In short, we see that there is here promised by God not a restoration for a short time, but he adds the hope of eternal life and salvation; for the Jews were not only to return to their own country, when the time came to leave Chaldea, and a liberty granted them to build their own city; but they were also to become the true Church of God.
And the reason is also added, Because they will return to me, he says, with their whole heart. He repeats what we have already observed, that they would be wise (cordatos) and intelligent, whereas they had been for a long time stupid and foolish, and the devil had so blinded them, that they were not capable of receiving sound doctrine. But these two things, the reconciliation of God with men and repentance, are necessarily connected together, yet repentance ought not to be deemed as the cause of pardon or of reconciliation, as many falsely think who imagine that men deserve pardon because they repent. It is indeed true that God is never propitious to us, except when we turn to him; but the connection, as it has been already stated, is not such that repentance is the cause of pardon, nay, this very passage clearly shews that repentance itself depends on the grace and mercy of God. Since this is true, it follows that men are anticipated by God’s gratuitous kindness.
We hence further learn, that God is not otherwise propitious to us than according to his good pleasure, so that the cause of all is only in himself. Whence is it that a sinner returns to the right way and seeks God from whom he has departed? Is it because he is moved to do so of himself? Nay, but because God illuminates his mind and touches his heart, or rather renews it. How is it that God illuminates him who has become blind? Surely for this we can find no other cause than the gratuitous mercy of God. When God then is propitious to men, so as to restore them to himself, does he not anticipate them by his grace? How then can repentance be called the cause of reconciliation, when it is its effect? It cannot be at the same time its effect and cause.
We ought therefore carefully to notice the context here, for though the Prophet says that the Jews, when they returned, would be God’s people, because they would turn to him with their whole heart, he yet had before explained whence this turning or conversion would proceed, even because God would shew them mercy. They who pervert such passages according to their own fancies, are not so acquainted with Scripture as to know that there is a twofold reconciliation of men with God: He is first reconciled to men in a hidden manner, for when they despise him, he anticipates them by his grace, and illuminates their minds and renews their hearts. This first reconciliation is what they do not understand. But there is another reconciliation, known by experience, even when we feel that the wrath of God towards us is pacified, and are indeed made sensible of this by the effects. To this the reference is made in these words, “Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,” (Zech. 1:3;) that is, “I appear severe and rigid to you; but whence is this? even because ye cease not to provoke my wrath; return to me, and you shall find me ready to spare you.” God therefore did not then first begin to pardon sinners, when he does them good, but as he had been previously pacified, hence he turns them to himself, and afterwards shews that he is really reconciled to them.
By the whole heart, is intimated sincerity or integrity, as by a double heart, or a heart and a heart, is signified dissimulation. It is certain that no one turns to God in such a manner that he puts off all the affections of the flesh, that he is renewed at once in God’s image, so that he is freed from every stain. Such a conversion is never found in man. But when the Scripture speaks of the whole heart, it is in contrast with dissimulation; “with my whole heart have I sought thee,” says David; “I have hid thy words and will keep them: I have prayed for thy favour; I will ask,” &c., (Ps. 119:10–16;) “They will seek me,” as Moses says, “with their whole heart.” (Deut. 4:29; 10:12) David did not divest himself of everything sinful, for he confesses in many places that he was labouring under many sins; but the clear meaning is, that what God requires is integrity. In short, the whole heart is integrity, that is when we deal not hypocritically with God, but desire from the heart to give up ourselves to him.
As we have before refuted the error of those who think that repentance is the cause why God becomes reconciled to us, so now we must know that God will not be propitious to us except we seek him. For there is a mutual bond of connection, so that God anticipates us by his grace, and also calls us to himself; in short, he draws us, and we feel in ourselves the working of the Holy Spirit. We do not indeed turn, unless we are turned; we do not turn through our own will or efforts, but it is the Holy Spirit’s work. Yet he who under pretext of grace indulges himself and cares not for God, and seeks not repentance, cannot flatter himself that he is one of God’s people; for as we have said, repentance is necessary. It follows,—but I cannot to-day finish this part, for he speaks of the badness of the figs, and of the remnant which still remained.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are placed in this world, that while daily receiving so many blessings, we may so pass our time as to regard our end and hasten towards the goal,—O grant, that the benefits and blessings by which thou invitest us to thyself, may not be impediments to us, and keep us attached to this world, but on the contrary stimulate us to fear thy name as well as to appreciate thy mercy, so that we may thus know thee to be our God, and strive on our part to present ourselves to thee as thy people, and so consecrate ourselves and all our services to thee, that thy name may be glorified in us, through Christ our Lord.—Amen.
Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Vol. 3, pp. 227–233). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Philip Graham Ryken
Ver. 7. Theme: Knowing God with the heart. “And I will give them an heart to know Me.”
God has often kind and gracious purposes towards men when they least imagine it. “Truly God is good to Israel.” We are very imperfect judges of the character and design of Divine dispensations. “No man knoweth good or evil from all that is before him.” The good figs, meaning the best and most spiritual part of the nation, were sent to Babylon for their good; and the bad figs, the most corrupt among the Jews, were kept in Jerusalem that they might ripen to ruin. Those who remained in Jerusalem no doubt thought that they were special objects of Divine favour, and that they who were sent first to Babylon were the objects of God’s displeasure: but the reverse was the fact. This may teach us not to be rash and hasty in our conclusions; not to judge before the time; and not to convert calamities into judgments (Luke 13:1–5).
I. The eminent blessing promised—a heart to know and love God.
i. It is inestimably precious—“to know Him”—know Him as their God. All knowledge is valuable; but Divine knowledge supremely so. By this is meant not a speculative knowledge, which the devils have in greater perfection than ourselves, and remain devils still; but a spiritual, experimental, and soul-satisfying knowledge of God. It includes a knowledge of Him in His revealed character, in His condescending grace, in His covenant relations, in His providential government, and in the special communion with the souls of His redeemed children. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious”—gracious in making His promises; faithful in fulfilling them. God known in the heart is, in effect, to have the Bible opened, the Law opened, the Gospel opened, Christ opened, heaven opened, the covenant of grace opened, and the blessings and immunities of the spiritual life laid opened and revealed. But without this—without Christ and the knowledge and love of God shed abroad in the heart, our religion is a mere name—like a husk without the kernel, like a casket without the jewel, like a body without the informing spirit.
ii. It is God’s special gift. “I will give.” He claims it; He only is competent; He delights to give it. This is not a natural attainment, but a Divine communication and bestowment. All knowledge is essentially from God, for He teacheth the husbandman discretion, and taught Aholiab and Bezaleel how to accomplish the carved work for the tabernacle—but this spiritual knowledge is pre-eminently from Him.
iii. This is often a gradual attainment: begun in conversion, carried on in the successive developments of the Christian life. He who impresses Divine truths upon the mind, at first, in conversion, opens them more fully afterwards—shows their importance, harmony, consistency, and power; removes doubts and jealousies and suspicions concerning them, and renders them vitally influential upon the soul. “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know, His going forth is prepared as the morning.”
One beam of light breaking in from the Spirit of God does more towards confirming and establishing the mind in the truths of religion, than a thousand arguments of the most subtle disputers, or a thousand sermons of the most eloquent preachers. Hence we read of “the demonstration of the Spirit.”
iv. It is greatly facilitated by sanctified afflictions. The good figs must be removed to Babylon, to attain a higher knowledge of God, and a greater ripeness of grace. The school of the Cross is the school of light. In captivity it is given them. Afflictions were the means of it.
II. The means of its attainment.
i. Plead the promise in prayer. Oh, how much need have we to wait and pray for its accomplishment in our own experience! Some are weak in knowledge; slow in capacity, like the disciples, who, though they had so good a Master, were but dull scholars. “Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Like the Hebrews, chap. 5:12. We must open our mouth to God in prayer, that He may open our eyes. “Open Thou mine eyes.” “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
ii. Honour the methods of Divine instruction: ordinances, providences.
iii. Walk by the light of the truth you know. If you have any saving and spiritual knowledge, be thankful, be humble. Do not abuse the light, but improve it. Live under the power of the truth as it is in Jesus. Resign yourself to its transforming power. Give this knowledge room to work, that it may have free course and be glorified in you.
iv. Guard against all the obstructions to this knowledge: against sloth, against worldliness, against easily-besetting sins. “Ye did run well, who hath hindered you?” Some men know much, but to little purpose. Their hearts are too strong for their light. This makes them more skilful hypocrites. These make rents and divisions in the Church. They employ the light they have to do the devil’s work.
III. The uses to which this knowledge is subservient.
i. To our happiness: free from doubt.
ii. To our holiness: alienate us from the world and evil.
iii. To our usefulness: makes us bold for God, a centre of light; emboldens us to act and suffer.—Samuel Thodey, a.d. 1856.
See Addenda: Chastened, yet not Abandoned.
Theme: An enlightened heart is God’s gift.
“Since He affirms that He would give them a heart to understand, we hence learn—
i. That men are by nature blind; and also that, when they are blinded by the devil, they cannot return to the right way.
ii. That men cannot be otherwise capable of light than by having God to illuminate them by His Spirit.
This passage also shows—
iii. That until the sinner bows before God’s tribunal and owns Him to be the Judge, he will never be touched with the feeling of true repentance.”—Calvin.
“He who willingly and readily resigns himself to the will of God [as the exiles did] even to the cross, may escape misfortunes. But he who opposes himself to the hand of God [as the residents in Jerusalem], cannot escape.”—Cramer.
“The captives are dearest to God. By the first greater affliction He prepares their souls for repentance and radical conversion, so that He has in them again His people and inheritance. Oh the gracious God, that He allows those who on account of sin must be so deeply degraded and rendered slaves, even in such humiliation, to be His people! The captives are forgiven their opposition to God.… God will show them what His love can do; they shall return, and in true nearness to God be His true Israel.”—Diedrich.
Jellie, W. H. (1892). Jeremiah (pp. 463–464). New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls Company.