Jeremiah 17:9 New International Version

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

Is this universally true? For all or for some?


Are all hearts universally deceitful?

Answer: Almost certainly. But, perhaps, those of the saints a bit less so because they are able to discern spiritual realities to which the rest of the world is blinded.

This is a very important question. It explains much, not least why people who die outside of Christ are destined for eternal destruction.

First, it is likely true that some are afflicted more severely than others. The text in question reads:

Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?"

Benson seems to have captured the wickedness of the heart well:

"[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" (emphasis added).

What we fail to appreciate is that all — ALL — of us are deceived to one extent or another. We have all bought into the lies of the world, often completely oblivious to its rank duplicity. This may be another aspect of Jeremiah 17:9, one which we rarely recognize in ourselves. Most of us are fully, fundamentally convinced that: "I could never be deceived like that!"

This leads us to a far greater point. Many will ask: "How could a good God send 'decent people' to Hell?" Here, perhaps it would be helpful to think of what it means to be separated from God eternally — and why.

Elsewhere, I have attempted to describe that ALL of our "goodness" comes from God. Without that goodness, Christ relates to us our wretched condition in the N/T. From the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 7:21-22: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness."

These are the inherent qualities within us; qualities which none of us would ever be willing to admit. In case Mark 7 is insufficient, suppose we consider that which is written in the Letter to the Romans:

Romans 1:29-31: "[The godless,] being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;"

When God withdraws all goodness from us at death, that which He now sustains, precisely what remains of who we once were based on the Books of Mark and Romans? Is this not as close a description as we might ever read of a demon — a being without the slightest redeeming qualities, in all respects a monster?

This may be exactly what we all are without the goodness of God, rather than the "nice people" we generally tend to think we are. If we have any doubts about this, all we need to do is look to the cesspool of Twitter. Anonymity quickly reveals qualities we may never have appreciated about ourselves, just as an automobile provides a buffer between civility and certain barbarous behaviors on the road. They offer subtle glimpses into the dark nature of humanity.

All of the verses cited, beginning with Jeremiah 17:9, followed by Mark 7:21-22, and finally Romans 1:29-31 (among many others) are descriptions of our true identities in this exceptionally dark world. Worse, in case some are unaware of this, we are surrounded by demonic forces all of our lives. Indeed, to one extent or another, all hearts are deceitful.


That shows why everyone needs a new heart.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. (Jer. 31:31–33, ESV)

Paul explains the natural heart as the flesh as opposed to the heart lead by the Spirit.

 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:2–11, ESV)


Note the testimony of the Apostle Paul in Rom 3:

10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13Their ["all" V12] throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The venom of vipers is on their lips.” 14Their ["all" V12]mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery lie in their wake, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their ["all" V12] eyes.”

The above appears unequivocal! All are sinful.

This does not mean that all are sinful in the same way and to the same extent - there are different temptations and different weaknesses - what may tempt me may not tempt someone else.

But the central point remains - we are all desperately sinful by nature.

  • Ps 51:5 - Surely I was brought forth in iniquity; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Even Paul testified as follows:

  • Rom 7:14-20 -I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I admit that the law is good. In that case, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Fortunately, Jesus has provided a way of escape:

  • Rom 8:6-11 - The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.

In the OT, "heart" is the seat of higher reasoning and "kidneys" is the seat of lower reasoning, e.g. subconscious/emotion. That's why you have such passages as "the imaginations of the heart" in Gen 8.21 or Psalm 7.37. Or "thoughts of the heart" in Gen 6.5. Thus in Ps 26.2, "Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my reins and my heart." (kjv) should better be translated as "try my heart and my mind", etc.

But after Hellenism swept through Palestine, the modern notion of "heart" and "mind" was adopted, and this was the case by the time of the NT. Thus "kidney" became "heart" and "heart" became "mind" when discussing higher/lower reasoning. Thus Jeremiah 17.9 is actually talking about the mind, which is echoed by Paul's comment that the mind is an enemy of God and cannot be reconciled to him (Rom 8.7), thus the renewal of the mind is required, which back in the Old Testament is referred to as being given a new heart (Ezek 36.26).

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