Jeremiah 17:9-13

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay
    are those who gain riches by unjust means.
When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,
    and in the end they will prove to be fools.

12 A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning,
    is the place of our sanctuary.
13 Lord, you are the hope of Israel;
    all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
    because they have forsaken the Lord,
    the spring of living water.
(Jeremiah 17:9-13 NIV)

Today’s text builds upon yesterday’s contrast between the cursed (v. 5) and blessed (v. 7) persons.  Verses 9 – 11 focus on the cursed person (v. 5), the one who puts their trust in humanity (themselves) rather than the Lord.

Before we dig in to read and apply today’s passage, we need to set the context of some terms used.  In Old Testament psychology, the “heart” (v. 9, 10) of a person was believed to be the location of their thoughts, will, and actions.  Also, the “mind” (v. 10, literally, the kidneys) of a person was thought to be the location of their emotions.  In today’s modern understanding, the heart and mind are reversed from the original Old Testament understanding.

Why is this important?  Because many people today quote (or should we say, misquote) verse 9 to say that we can’t trust our emotions.  Please understand I am not suggesting that we should trust our emotions.  My point is that we need to understand what Jeremiah and the Lord were saying.

So, with the terms of “heart” and “mind” reset from Jeremiah’s Old Testament day to our modern day, verses 9 – 10 would read as follows:

The mind [thoughts, will, actions] is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the mind [thoughts, will, actions]
    and examine the heart [emotions],
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”
(Jeremiah 17:9-10, switched to modern-day understanding, bracketed text added for explanation)

Notice that verses 9 and 10 now connect.  A person’s conduct and deeds are a direct result of what is in their mind (thoughts, will, actions).

Now that we’ve done the “deep dive” into the words and their meaning, let’s take a step back and see the bigger picture.  Verses 9 and 10 are a question-answer format.  Jeremiah asks a searching question assuming it has no answer (v. 9, who can know the depths of deceitfulness and depravity of a person’s mind?).  The Lord answers (v. 10), saying the He can and does search each person’s mind as well as their emotions, and rewards each person according to what their conduct and actions deserve.

Also, one other note before we leave verses 9 – 10.  Remember that these two verses are tied back to verse 5, speaking of the cursed person who trusts in themselves rather than trusting in the Lord.  Verses 9-10 do not apply to those who are diligently following the Lord in faith, like the person described in verse 7.

Verse 11 provides an illustration of the consequences of such a person described in verse 5, whose mind is focused only on themselves.  When a bird takes over another bird’s nest and hatches young not its own, the young will eventually figure out that they do not belong to the parent and will leave the nest.  The wealth that a person unjustly accumulates will eventually leave that person just like the young birds that discover that they do not belong to their parent.

Verses 12 – 13 describe the person whose trust is in the Lord (v. 7).  Verse 12 refers to the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Lord resided among His people.  At first glance, verse 12 may feel like a contradiction to the earlier passage (7:1-7) where the Lord condemned His people for using the Temple as a place of “diplomatic immunity” where no one could touch them, even when they acted in direct violation of the Lord’s commands.  If you wish to reacquaint yourself with that passage, here is a link to that blog.

In verse 13, Jeremiah places his hope and trust (his faith, v. 7) in the Lord and Him alone.  Like the tree described in verse 8, Jeremiah knows the source of his life, his spiritual water, is the Lord and turns to Him.  Verse 13 is Jeremiah’s admission that he was wrong when he claimed the Lord had abandoned him like a dried-up brook (15:18).   Verse 13 is Jeremiah’s humble response to the Lord’s gentle rebuke – not to look at his circumstances, but trust in the Lord (15:19).

The Lord describes Himself as the source of “living water”.  This reference to “living water” is similar to 2:13 where the Lord offers Himself as an unending stream of fresh water vs. the man-made cisterns of dead water that leak and cannot be trusted.

May we not lean on our own understanding (our mind, v. 5, plus today’s text), but instead, walk with the Lord in faith (v. 7).

Solomon captured this same idea well:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to Him,
    and He will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)