Summary: The two states of being, the two ways of life: confronting our own hearts.
A TREE PLANTED BY THE WATERS
The prophet Jeremiah’s response to the political and international situation of his day was, “Thus says the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5). And what does the LORD say? He says, in effect, that there are two states of being, and two ways of life: and according to our relationship to either of these, we shall be counted “cursed” (Jeremiah 17:5), or we shall be counted “blessed” (Jeremiah 17:7).
First, the Cursed man is described in terms of mind, will and heart (Jeremiah 17:5). In his mind, he trusts in man. In his will, he makes flesh his strength. In his heart he departs from the LORD.
At the instigation of the enemy of our souls, (‘Hath God said…?’), man thinks he can make it on his own. Even Israel made the mistake of thinking that they could trust in the arm of flesh, looking to Egypt, to chariots, to horsemen to defend them, rather than to the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 31:1). Man outside of Christ would sooner trust in his own resources than trust in the LORD.
By way of illustration, the Cursed man is like a shrub in the desert (Jeremiah 17:6). Such a person is described as all but rootless, ‘tossed to-and-fro with every wind of doctrine’ (cf. Ephesians 4:14). This man’s life is pointless, following every teaching and none with no set purpose; it is aimless, flapping around in the dry and arid land of unbelief but never finding a place to settle.
Second, the Blessed man is described in a twofold, almost repetitive way (Jeremiah 17:7). This man is described as the one who TRUSTS in the LORD, and whose hope IS the LORD. In contrast to the Cursed man, who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (cf. Jeremiah 17:5).
Trusting in the LORD can sound somewhat utilitarian. In the Book of Judges, Israel would wander from God, have a crisis and (perhaps) cry out to Him; He would raise up a ‘Judge’ (or ‘Saviour’) to deliver them; they might sing and celebrate: but then they would wander from God all over again. People tend to treat God this way: He is ‘there’ when they need Him; but, when all is going well, they will hardly spare a thought for Him.
But this man, the Blessed man, doesn’t just trust in the LORD to fix the crisis: his HOPE is entirely ‘stayed’ upon Him (Isaiah 26:3).
Now this man, we see, is like the tree planted by the waters (Jeremiah 17:8; cf. Psalms 1:3). Its roots run deep, which is a metaphor for our being ‘rooted’ in Christ (Colossians 2:7); or ‘rooted’ in love (Ephesians 3:17). If we are firmly planted in the Lord, it is a life without fear: for nothing, but nothing, can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).
Furthermore, such a Blessed life is fruitful for the LORD. "The waters" represent our source: the Holy Spirit (cf. John 4:13-14; John 7:37-39). We don’t just live for ourselves; nor even just for the Church; nor only for others: but we bear fruit unto God (John 15:16; Romans 6:22; Romans 7:4).
Now, having looked at these two ways of life, we are forced to confront our own hearts.
First, we must be warned: “The heart is deceitful above all, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
“Deceitful” is the word used to describe Jacob, who laid hold upon his twin’s heel at birth (Genesis 25:26), and twice supplanted his brother (Genesis 27:36). “Desperately wicked”, or more accurately ‘desperately sick’ is translated ‘incurable’ in Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 30:12; Jeremiah 30:15. We are reminded of the Anglican Prayer Book’s contrite confession ‘we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.’
Second, whilst it is impossible for man to fully comprehend his heart (Jeremiah 17:9c), we must recognise that it is God alone who knows our hearts: and knows them in every detail. “The LORD searches the heart, and tests the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the FRUIT of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). So ‘keep your heart with all diligence for out of it flows the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).
After the Flood, the LORD promised ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, EVEN THOUGH the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth’ (Genesis 8:21; cf. Genesis 6:5). So, let us praise the Name of the LORD: for He who is the expert diagnostician, is also the surgeon who can fix our heart condition. The LORD gives us a new heart, taking away ‘the heart of stone’ and giving us a ‘heart of flesh’; putting His Spirit within us and giving us His grace to incline us to walk in His paths (Ezekiel 36:26-27)!