Jeremiah 17:9
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
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(9) The heart is deceitful . . .—The sequence of ideas seems as follows: If the blessing and the curse are thus so plainly marked, how is it that man chooses the curse and not the blessing, the portion of the “heath in the desert” rather than that of the “tree planted by the waters”? And the answer is found in the inscrutable self-deceit of his nature blinding his perceptions of good and evil.

Desperately wicked.—Rather, incurably diseased, as in Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 30:12; Jeremiah 30:15; Isaiah 17:11, and elsewhere. Wickedness is, of course, implied, but it is regarded rather as a moral taint following on the deliberate choice, than as the choice itself.

Jeremiah 17:9-10. The heart is deceitful above all things — This passage, considered in connection with what precedes, may be understood in two points of view: 1st, As assigning a reason why we should not trust in man; namely, because he is not only weak and frail, and therefore may want power to help us in our necessities and distresses, but is also false and deceitful. Or, 2d, As giving us a caution to take care lest we deceive ourselves in supposing we trust in God when really we do not; this being a thing respecting which our own hearts are very apt to deceive us, as appears by this, that our hopes and fears are wont to rise or fall, according as second causes appear to be favourable or adverse. But it is true in the general, that there is greater wickedness in our hearts, by nature, than we ourselves are aware of, or suspect to be there. Nay, and it is a common mistake among mankind to think their own hearts a great deal better than they really are. The heart of man, in his corrupt and fallen state, is false and deceitful above all things; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, calling evil good and good evil, putting false colours upon things, crying peace to those to whom peace does not belong, and cheating men to their own ruin; deceitful in the hopes and promises which it excites and nourishes, and in the assurances which it gives. And desperately wicked — Hebrews ואנשׁ הוא, literally, and desperate, or, as Blaney renders it, it is even past all hope; who can know it? That is, “humanly speaking, there is no possibility that any one should trace it through all its windings, and discover what is at the bottom of it.” In short, it is unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked; so that neither can a man know his own heart, nor can any one know that of his neighbour. I the Lord search the heart — I am perfectly acquainted with it, and with all the wickedness that lodges in it: all its thoughts, counsels, and designs, however secret; all its intentions, affections, and determinations lie open to my inspection: and my piercing eye penetrates into its inmost recesses. I try the reins — To pass a true judgment on what I discern, and to give every thing therein its true character and due weight. I try the heart, as the gold is tried, whether it be standard weight or not; or, as the prisoner is tried, whether he be guilty or not. And this judgment, which I make of the hearts, is in order to my passing a true judgment upon the man, even to give to every man according to his ways — According to the desert and tendency of them; life to those that have walked in the ways of life, and death to those that have persisted in the paths of the destroyer; and according to the fruit of his doings — The effect and influence which his doings have had on others; or according to what is determined by the word of God to be the fruit of men’s doings, blessings to the obedient, and curses to the disobedient.17:5-11 He who puts confidence in man, shall be like the heath in a desert, a naked tree, a sorry shrub, the product of barren ground, useless and worthless. Those who trust to their own righteousness and strength, and think they can do without Christ, make flesh their arm, and their souls cannot prosper in graces or comforts. Those who make God their Hope, shall flourish like a tree always green, whose leaf does not wither. They shall be fixed in peace and satisfaction of mind; they shall not be anxious in a year of drought. Those who make God their Hope, have enough in him to make up the want of all creature-comforts. They shall not cease from yielding fruit in holiness and good works. The heart, the conscience of man, in his corrupt and fallen state, is deceitful above all things. It calls evil good, and good evil; and cries peace to those to whom it does not belong. Herein the heart is desperately wicked; it is deadly, it is desperate. The case is bad indeed, if the conscience, which should set right the errors of other faculties, is a leader in the delusion. We cannot know our own hearts, nor what they will do in an hour of temptation. Who can understand his errors? Much less can we know the hearts of others, or depend upon them. He that believes God's testimony in this matter, and learns to watch his own heart, will find this is a correct, though a sad picture, and learns many lessons to direct his conduct. But much in our own hearts and in the hearts of others, will remain unknown. Yet whatever wickedness there is in the heart, God sees it. Men may be imposed upon, but God cannot be deceived. He that gets riches, and not by right, though he may make them his hope, never shall have joy of them. This shows what vexation it is to a worldly man at death, that he must leave his riches behind; but though the wealth will not follow to another world, guilt will, and everlasting torment. The rich man takes pains to get an estate, and sits brooding upon it, but never has any satisfaction in it; by sinful courses it comes to nothing. Let us be wise in time; what we get, let us get it honestly; and what we have, use it charitably, that we may be wise for eternity.The train of thought is apparently this: If the man is so blessed Jeremiah 17:7-8 who trusts in Yahweh, what is the reason why men so generally "make flesh their arm"? And the answer is: Because man's heart is incapable of seeing things in a straightforward manner, but is full of shrewd guile, and ever seeking to overreach others.

Desperately wicked - Rather, mortally sick.

9. deceitful—from a root, "supplanting," "tripping up insidiously by the heel," from which Jacob (Ho 12:3) took his name. In speaking of the Jews' deceit of heart, he appropriately uses a term alluding to their forefather, whose deceit, but not whose faith, they followed. His "supplanting" was in order to obtain Jehovah's blessing. They plant Jehovah for "trust in man" (Jer 17:5), and then think to deceive God, as if it could escape His notice, that it is in man, not in Him, they trust.

desperately wicked—"incurable" [Horsley], (Mic 1:9). Trust in one's own heart is as foolish as in our fellow man (Pr 28:26).

The words translated

deceitful, and

desperately wicked, are very variously translated, fraudulent, perverse, supplanting. He speaks to the Jews, that they might not lean too much to their own counsels, fancies, or understandings; but it is a proposition true concerning the hearts of all the sons and daughters of men; there is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourisheth, in the assurances that it gives us, &c.; unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked, so that neither can a man know his own heart, neither can any other know our hearts. The heart is deceitful above all things,.... This is the source of the idolatry and creature confidence of the Jews, sins which were the cause of their ruin; and though what is here said is particularly applicable to their hearts, yet is in general true of the heart of every man; which is "deceitful", and deceiving; and puts a cheat upon the man himself whose it is: it deceives him with respect to sin; it proposes it to him under the notion of pleasure; it promises him a great deal in it, but does not yield a real pleasure to him; it is all fancy and imagination; a mere illusion and a dream; and what it gives is very short lived; it is but for a season, and ends in bitterness and death: or it proposes it under the notion of profit; it promises him riches, by such and such sinful ways it suggests; but, when he has got them, he is the loser by them; these deceitful riches choke the word, cause him to err from the faith, pierce him through with many sorrows, and endanger the loss of his soul: it promises honour and preferment in the world, but promotes him to shame; it promises him liberty, but brings him into bondage; it promises him impunity, peace, and security, when sudden destruction comes: it deceives him in point of knowledge; it persuades him that he is a very knowing person, when he is blind and ignorant, and knows nothing as he ought to know; and only deceives himself; for there is no true knowledge but of God in Christ, and of a crucified Christ, and salvation by him; see 1 Corinthians 3:18 it deceives in the business of religion; it makes a man believe that he is a very holy and righteous man, and in a fair way for heaven, when he is far from that, and the character it gives him; in order to this, it suggests to him that concupiscence or lust, or the inward workings of the mind, are not sin; and it is only on this principle that it can be accounted for, that Saul, before conversion, or any other man, should be led into such a mistake, as to conclude that, touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless: it represents other sins as mere peccadillos, as little sins, and not to be regarded; and even puts the name of virtue on vices; profuseness and prodigality it calls liberality, and doing public good; and covetousness has the name of frugality and good economy: it directs men to compare themselves and their outward conduct with others, that are very profane and dissolute; and from thence to form a good character of themselves, as better than others; and as it buoys up with the purity of human nature, so with the power of man's freewill to do that which is good, and particularly to repent at pleasure; and it puts the profane sinner upon trusting to the absolute mercy of God, and hides from him his justice and holiness; and it puts others upon depending upon the outward acts of religion, or upon speculative notions, to the neglect of real godliness; see James 1:22. The man of a deceitful heart, the hypocrite, tries to deceive God himself, but he cannot; he oftentimes deceives men, and always himself; so do the profane sinner, the self-righteous man, and the false teacher; who attempts to deceive the very elect, but cannot; yea, a good man may be deceived by his own heart, of which Peter is a sad instance, Matthew 26:33. The heart is deceitful to a very great degree, it is superlatively so; "above all", above all creatures; the serpent and the fox are noted for their subtlety, and wicked men are compared to them for it; but these comparisons fall short of expressing the wicked subtlety and deceit in men's hearts; yea, it is more deceitful to a man than the devil, the great deceiver himself; because it is nearer to a man, and can come at him, and work upon him, when Satan cannot: or "about", or "concerning all things" (q); it is so in everything in which it is concerned, natural, civil, or religious, and especially the latter. The Septuagint version renders it "deep"; it is an abyss, a bottomless one; there is no fathoming of it; the depths of sin are in it; see Psalm 64:6 and, seeing it is so deceitful, it should not be trusted in; a man should neither trust in his own heart, nor in another's, Proverbs 28:26, "and desperately wicked": everything in it is wicked; the thoughts of it are evil; the imaginations of the thoughts are so; even every imagination, and that only, and always, Genesis 6:5 the affections are inordinate; the mind and conscience are defiled; the understanding darkened, so dark as to call evil good, and good evil; and the will obstinate and perverse: all manner of sin and wickedness is in it; it is the cage of every unclean bird, and the hold of every foul spirit; all sin is forged and framed in it; and all manner of evil comes out of it, Revelation 18:1 yea, it is wickedness itself, Psalm 5:9, it is so even to desperation; it is "incurably wicked" (r), as it may be rendered; it is so without the grace of God, and blood of Christ:

who can know it? angels do not, Satan cannot; only the spirit of a man can know the things of a man within him; though the natural man does not know the plague of his own heart; the Pharisee and perfectionist do not, or they would not say they were without sin; such rant arises from the ignorance of their own hearts; only a spiritual man knows his own heart, the plague of it, the deceitfulness and wickedness in it; and he does not know it all; God only knows it fully, as is expressed in the next words, which are an answer to the question; see 1 Corinthians 2:11.

(q) "de omnibus", vid. Noldium, p. 548. (r) "et immedicabili malo affectum", Gussetius; "incurabiliter aegrum", Cocceius.

{i} The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

(i) Because the wicked always have some excuse to defend their doings he shows that their own lewd imaginations deceive them and bring them to these hardships: but God will examine their deeds by the malice of their hearts, 1Sa 16:7,1Ch 28:9,Ps 7:10,Jer 11:20,10:12,Re 2:13.

9, 10. Du. (so too Co.) suggests that these vv. link on closely to Jeremiah 17:14. In Jeremiah 17:9, according to him, the prophet is confessing his personal consciousness of sin, discovered by probing beneath the fair exterior to the hidden depths of his heart. In Jeremiah 17:10 the Lord replies, that the intricacies and subtleties of the human heart are open to His gaze. In Jeremiah 17:14 accordingly the prophet prays the great Physician, who can so fully diagnose the disease, to exercise His healing power. Whether Du.’s suggestion be accepted or not, the vv. have no close connexion with what precedes or immediately follows.

9–13. See introd. summary to section. This sub-section is made up of three isolated pieces, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13; the metres also varying.Verses 9, 10. - The crocked devices of the human heart, which is characterized as deceitful above all things (or, as Delitzsch, ' Biblical Psychology,' English translation, p. 340, "proud;" literally, uneven or rugged; comp. Isaiah 40:4; Habakkuk 2:4, Hebrew; Psalm 131:2, Hebrew), and desperately wicked, or rather, desperately sick (see Jeremiah 15:18, where it is explained by the words, "which refuseth to be healed"). The Septuagint reads this verse differently, "The heart is deep above all things, and it is a man." Jeremiah 17:2 is plainly meant to be a fuller and clearer disclosure of the sins written on the tables of Judah's heart, finding therein its point of connection with Jeremiah 17:1. The verse has no verbum finit., and besides it is a question whether "their children" is subject or object to "remember." The rule, that in calm discourse the subject follows the verb, does not decide for us; for the object very frequently follows next, and in the case of the infinitive the subject is often not mentioned, but must be supplied from the context. Here we may either translate: as their sons remember (Chald. and Jerome), or: as they remember their sons. As already said, the first translation gives no sense in keeping with the context. Rashi, Kimchi, J. D. Mich., Maur., Hitz. follow the other rendering: as they remember their children, so do they their altars. On this view, the verb. fin. יזכּרוּ is supplied from the infin. זכר, and the two accusatives are placed alongside, as in Isaiah 66:3 after the participle, without the particle of comparison demanded by the sense, cf. also Psalm 92:8; Job 27:15. Ng. calls this construction very harsh; but it has analogues in the passages cited, and gives the very suitable sense: Their altars, Astartes, are as dear to them as their children. Hitz. takes the force to be this: "Whenever they think of their children, they remember, and cannot but remember, the altars to whose horns the blood of their sacrificed children adheres. And so in the case of a green tree upon the heights; i.e., when they light upon such an one, they cannot help calling to mind the Asherahs, which were such trees." But this interpretation is clearly wrong; for it takes the second clause על עץ as object to זכר, which is grammatically quite indefensible, and which is besides incompatible with the order of the words. Besides, the idea that they remember the altars because the blood of their children stuck to the horns of them, is put into the words; and the putting of it in is made possible only by Hitz.'s arbitrarily separating "their Astartes" from "their altars," and from the specification of place in the next clause: "by the green tree." The words mean: As they remember their children, so do they their altars and Asherahs by every green tree. The co-ordination of Asherahs and altars makes it clear that it is not sacrifices to Moloch that are meant by altars; for the Asherahs have no connection with the worship of Moloch. Ng.'s assertions, that אשׁרים is the name for male images of Baal, and that there can be no doubt of their connection with child-slaughtering Moloch-worship, are unfounded and erroneous. The word means images of Asherah; see on 1 Kings 14:23 and Deuteronomy 16:21. Graf says that ר' על־עץdoes not belong to "altars and Asherahs," because in that case it would need to be ר' עץ תּחת, as in Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6, Jeremiah 3:13; Isaiah 57:5; Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10, but that it depends on זכר. This remark is not correctly expressed, and Graf himself gives על a local force, thus: by every green tree and on every high hill they think of the altars and Asherahs. This local relation cannot be spoken of as a "dependence" upon the verb; nor does it necessarily exclude the connection with "altars and Asherahs," since we can quite well think of the altars and Asherahs as being by or beside every green tree and on the hills. At the same time, we hold it better to connect the local reference with the verb, because it gives the stronger sense - namely, that the Jews not merely think of the altars and Asherahs which are by every green tree and upon the high hills, but that by every green tree and on the high hills they think of their altars and Asherahs, even when there are no such things to be seen there. Thus we can now answer the question before thrown out, in what respects the sin was ineffaceably engraven on the horns of the altar: It was because the altars and images of the false gods had entwined themselves as closely about their hearts as their children, so that they brought the sin of their idolatry along with their sacrifices to the altars of Jahveh. The offerings which they bring, in this state of mind, to the Lord are defiled by idolatry and carry their sins to the altar, so that, in the blood which is sprinkled on its horns, the sins of the offerers are poured out on the altar. Hence it appears unmistakeably that Jeremiah 17:1 does not deal with the consciousness of sin as not yet cancelled or forgiven, but with the sin of idolatry, which, ineradicably implanted in the hearts of the people and indelibly recorded before God on the horns of the altar, calls down God's wrath in punishment as announced in Jeremiah 17:3 and Jeremiah 17:4.

"My mountain in the field" is taken by most comm. as a name for Jerusalem or Zion. But it is a question whether the words are vocative, or whether they are accusative; and so with the rest of the objects, "thy substance," etc., dependent on אתּן. If we take them to be vocative, so that Jerusalem is addressed, then we must hold "thy substance" and "thy treasures" to be the goods and gear of Jerusalem, while the city will be regarded as representative of the kingdom, or rather of the population of Judah. But the second clause, "thy high places in all thy borders," does not seem to be quite in keeping with this, and still less Jeremiah 17:4 : thou shalt discontinue from thine inheritance, which is clearly spoken of the people of Judah. Furthermore, if Jerusalem were the party addressed, we should expect feminine suffixes, since Jerusalem is everywhere else personified as a woman, as the daughter of Zion. We therefore hold "my mountain" to be accusative, and, under "the mountain of Jahveh in the field," understand, not the city of Jerusalem, but Mount Zion as the site of the temple, the mountain of the house of Jahveh, Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:3; Psalm 24:3. The addition בּשׂדה may not be translated: with the field (Ges., de W., Ng.); for בּ denotes the means or instrument, or an accessory accompanying the principal thing or action and subservient to it (Ew. 217, f. 3), but not the mere external surroundings or belongings. Ng.'s assertion, that בּ, amidst equals together with, is due to an extreme position in an empirical mode of treating language. בּשׂדה means "in the field," and "mountain in the field" is like the "rock of the plain," Jeremiah 21:13. But whether it denotes "the clear outstanding loftiness of the mountain, so that for it we might say: My mountain commanding a wide prospect" (Umbr., Graf), is a question. שׂדה, field, denotes not the fruitful fields lying round Mount Zion, but, like "field of the Amalekites," Genesis 14:7, "field of Edom" (Genesis 32:4), the land or country; see on Ezekiel 21:2; and so here: my mountain in the land (of Judah or Israel). The land is spoken of as a field, as a level or plain (Jeremiah 21:13), in reference to the spiritual height of the temple mountain or mountain of God above the whole land; not in reference to the physical pre-eminence of Zion, which cannot be meant, since Zion is considerably exceeded in height of the highlands of Judah. By its choice to be the site of the Lord's throne amid His people, Mount Zion was exalted above the whole land as is a mountain in the field; and it is hereafter to be exalted above all mountains (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1), while the whole land is to be lowered to the level of a plain (Zechariah 14:10). The following objects are ranged alongside as asyndetons: the Mount Zion as His peculiar possession and the substance of the people, all their treasures will the Lord give for a prey to the enemy. "Thy high places" is also introduced, with rhetorical effect, without copula. "Thy high places," i.e., the heights on which Judah had practised idolatry, will He give up, for their sins' sake, throughout the whole land. The whole clause, from "thy high places" to "thy borders," is an apposition to the first half of the verse, setting forth the reason why the whole land, the mountain of the Lord, and all the substance of the people, are to be delivered to the enemy; because, viz., the whole land has been defiled by idolatry. Hitz. wrongly translates בּחטּאת for sin, i.e., for a sin-offering.

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