“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Jehovah; and they must become my people.”—JER. 24:7.
1, 2. Why might some be interested in figs?
DO YOU enjoy eating figs, either fresh or dried? Many do, so edible figs are cultivated widely. Ancient Jews valued the fruit of fig trees. (Nah. 3:12; Luke 13:6-9) Figs contain fiber, antioxidants, and minerals; hence, some say that they are good for the heart.
2 Jehovah once linked figs to hearts. God was not describing the nutritional benefit of eating figs. He was speaking figuratively. What he said through the prophet Jeremiah has implications for your heart and the hearts of your loved ones. As we consider what he said, think about what this can mean for Christians.
3. What did the figs spoken of in Jeremiah chapter 24 stand for?
3 Let us first consider something God said in Jeremiah’s day about figs. In 617 B.C.E., the nation of Judah was in a bad spiritual state. God gave a vision about what the future held, illustrating it with two types of figs—“very good” figs and “very bad” ones. (Read Jeremiah 24:1-3.) The bad figs meant King Zedekiah and others like him who faced severe treatment by King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops. But what of Ezekiel, Daniel and his three companions already in Babylon, and some Jews soon to be taken there? They were like good figs. A remnant of them would return to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. In time, that did occur.—Jer. 24:8-10; 25:11, 12; 29:10.
4. What encouragement can we draw from what God said about the good figs?
4 Jehovah said of those represented by the good figs: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Jehovah; and they must become my people.” (Jer. 24:7) That is the theme text of this article, and how encouraging it is! God is willing to give individuals “a heart to know” him. In this case, the “heart” relates to one’s disposition. Certainly, you want to have such a heart and to be part of his people. Steps to that end include studying and applying his Word, repenting and turning around, dedicating your life to God, and being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and holy spirit. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 3:19) You may already have taken those steps, or you may be regularly associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses and be in the process of doing so.
5. About whose heart did Jeremiah principally write?
5 Whether we have taken some or all of those steps, we still need to give attention to our attitude and conduct. You can see why from what else Jeremiah wrote about the heart. Some chapters of the book of Jeremiah dealt with nations round about, yet its main focus was the nation of Judah during the reigns of five of its kings. (Jer. 1:15, 16) Yes, Jeremiah principally wrote about men, women, and children who were in a dedicated relationship with Jehovah. Their ancestors had voluntarily chosen to be a nation in that relationship. (Ex. 19:3-8) And in Jeremiah’s day, the people confirmed being dedicated to God. They said: “We have come to you, for you, O Jehovah, are our God.” (Jer. 3:22) However, what do you think the condition of their heart was?
FIGURATIVE HEART SURGERY NEEDED?
6. Why should we be especially interested in what God said about the heart?
6 Modern physicians can use advanced technology to see what the condition of a heart is and how it is functioning. Jehovah, though, can do much more, as he did in Jeremiah’s day. God is outstandingly qualified, as we see from his words: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it? I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, . . . to give to each one according to his ways, according to the fruitage of his dealings.” (Jer. 17:9, 10) “Searching the heart” involves no medical exam of the literal heart, which in 70 or 80 years might beat some three billion times. Rather, Jehovah was speaking of the figurative heart. That “heart” refers to a person’s entire inner self, encompassing his desires, thoughts, disposition, attitudes, and goals. You have such a heart. God can examine it, and to a degree, you can do so too.
7. How did Jeremiah describe the heart of most Jews in his day?
7 To prepare for this examination, we might ask, ‘What was the condition of the figurative heart of most Jews in Jeremiah’s time?’ To answer, consider an unusual phrase that Jeremiah used: “All the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” He was not referring to normal circumcision of Jewish males, for he had said: “‘Look! Days are coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will hold an accounting with everyone circumcised but still in uncircumcision.’” Thus even circumcised Jewish men were “uncircumcised in heart.” (Jer. 9:25, 26) What did this mean?
8, 9. As regards their heart, what did most Jews need to do?
8 We find a clue as to the meaning of “uncircumcised in heart” in what God urged the Jews to do: “Take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; that my rage may not go forth . . . on account of the badness of your dealings.” But from where did their bad dealings originate? From inside, from their heart. (Read Mark 7:20-23.) Yes, through Jeremiah, God accurately diagnosed the source of the Jews’ bad dealings. Their heart was stubbornly rebellious. Their motives and thinking were displeasing to him. (Read Jeremiah 5:23, 24; 7:24-26.) God told them: “Get yourselves circumcised to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your hearts.”—Jer. 4:4; 18:11, 12.
9 Hence, Jews in Jeremiah’s day needed figurative heart surgery—‘circumcision of the heart’—even as those in Moses’ time did. (Deut. 10:16; 30:6) To ‘take away the foreskin of their heart’ meant getting rid of what made their heart unresponsive—their thinking, affections, or motives that were in conflict with God’s.—Acts 7:51.
“A HEART TO KNOW” HIM TODAY
10. As exemplified by David, what should we want to do?
10 How thankful we can be that God offers us insight into the figurative heart! ‘But why,’ some might wonder, ‘would this be of concern to Jehovah’s Witnesses today?’ It is not that many Christians in the congregations are walking in badness or becoming “bad figs,” as were many Jews back then. On the contrary, God’s servants today are a devoted, clean people. Still, reflect on the plea that David made to Jehovah: “Search through me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my disquieting thoughts, and see whether there is in me any painful way.”—Ps. 17:3; 139:23, 24.
11, 12. (a) Why should each of us examine his own heart? (b) What will God not do?
11 Jehovah wants each of us to come into and remain in a condition acceptable to him. Concerning the righteous one, Jeremiah acknowledged: “You, O Jehovah of armies, are examining the righteous one; you are seeing the kidneys and the heart.” (Jer. 20:12) If the Almighty is examining the heart of even the righteous one, should not we ourselves do some honest self-inspection? (Read Psalm 11:5.) As we do so, we might discern an attitude, a goal, or a deep feeling that needs attention. We could recognize something that is making our heart less sensitive, some ‘foreskin of our heart,’ as it were, which we realize ought to be removed. That would be figurative heart surgery. If you agree that it would be good to examine your figurative heart, what might you look for? And how might you make any needed adjustments?—Jer. 4:4.
12 One thing is certain: We should not expect Jehovah to force us to change. He said of “the good figs” that he would “give them a heart to know” him. He did not say that he would force a change of heart on them. They needed to desire a sensitive heart that reflected their knowing God. Would we not need the same?
13, 14. In what sense might a Christian’s heart be harming him?
13 Jesus stated: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” (Matt. 15:19) Clearly, if a brother’s insensitive heart moved him to commit adultery or fornication and he remained unrepentant, he could lose God’s favor permanently. Yet, even a person who has not committed such a wrong might be allowing an improper desire to grow in his heart. (Read Matthew 5:27, 28.) This is where making a personal examination of the heart may help. If you scrutinized your heart, would you find an improper feeling toward someone of the opposite sex, secret longings that God would not condone and that need to be removed?
14 Or a brother who has not actually committed “murders” might let rancor fester in his heart to the point of hating a fellow Christian. (Lev. 19:17) Will he put forth effort to rid himself of such emotions that could make his heart unresponsive?—Matt. 5:21, 22.
15, 16. (a) Give an example of how a Christian might be “uncircumcised in heart.” (b) Why do you think an ‘uncircumcised heart’ would be displeasing to Jehovah?
15 Happily, most Christians do not have such a ‘heart problem.’ Yet, Jesus also spoke of “wicked reasonings.” These are views or attitudes that can taint many aspects of life. For example, a person could have a distorted sense of loyalty to his relatives. Of course, Christians want to have “natural affection” for relatives, not being like many who lack such affection in these “last days.” (2 Tim. 3:1, 3) It is possible, though, to go to extremes in showing that affection. Many feel that “blood is thicker than water.” Thus, they might defend or side with relatives at all costs, taking it personally if a relative is offended. Think of what strong feelings of that kind led Dinah’s brothers to do. (Gen. 34:13, 25-30) And imagine what was in Absalom’s heart, leading him to murder his half brother Amnon. (2 Sam. 13:1-30) Were not “wicked reasonings” behind those cases?
16 Understandably, true Christians do not murder. However, might they harbor strong negative feelings toward a brother or a sister who slighted one of their relatives or who they think did so? They may turn down hospitality from the fellow believer who they feel mistreated one of their relatives, or they may never show hospitality to him or her. (Heb. 13:1, 2) Such strong negative feelings and lack of hospitality reflect a lack of love and are not to be excused casually. Yes, the Examiner of hearts might diagnose it as ‘uncircumcision of the heart.’ (Jer. 9:25, 26) Remember those whom Jehovah urged: “Take away the foreskins of your hearts.”—Jer. 4:4.
GAINING AND MAINTAINING “A HEART TO KNOW” GOD
17. How can fearing Jehovah help us to have a more sensitive heart?
17 What if you examined your figurative heart and found that it was not as sensitive to Jehovah’s counsel as it could be and that it was to some extent “uncircumcised”? Maybe you detected a fear of man, a longing for prominence or luxury, or even an inclination toward stubbornness or independence. You would not be the first to experience such. (Jer. 7:24; 11:8) Jeremiah wrote that unfaithful Jews in his day had “a stubborn and rebellious heart.” He added: “They have not said in their heart: ‘Let us, now, fear Jehovah our God, the One who is giving the downpour and the autumn rain.’” (Jer. 5:23, 24) Does that not suggest that an aid in taking away ‘the foreskin of the heart’ is that of developing a greater fear of and appreciation for Jehovah? Such healthy fear can help each of us to have a heart more sensitive to what God desires us to be.
18. Jehovah made what promise to those in the new covenant?
18 And we can work with Jehovah as he gives us “a heart to know” him. In fact, that is what he promised to do for anointed ones in the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.” What about truly knowing him? He added: “They will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Jehovah!’ for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them . . . For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.”—Jer. 31:31-34. *
19. True Christians have what wonderful prospect?
19 Whether you look forward to benefiting forever from that new covenant in heaven or on earth, you should want to know Jehovah and to be part of his people. A prerequisite to receiving such benefits is having your sins forgiven on the basis of Christ’s ransom. The very fact that you can be forgiven should move you to be forgiving toward others, even those who might be the object of hard feelings. Your being willing to rid your heart of any ill will that you may have will be good for your heart. You will thus show not only that you want to serve Jehovah but also that you are coming to know him better. You will be like those of whom Jehovah said through Jeremiah: “You will actually seek me and find me, for you will search for me with all your heart. And I will let myself be found by you.”—Jer. 29:13, 14.
^ par. 18 The new covenant is discussed in chapter 14 of the book God’s Word for Us Through Jeremiah.