Jeremiah 4:14, “…wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved.”
I’m continuing to read through Jeremiah during the “prophets” section of my morning reading. This verse especially jumped out to me today, for two reasons.
First, in it, the Lord commands the impossible. We cannot “wash our heart” from evil since our heart is the wellspring of all that we do (Prov.4:23). How can an evil heart conceive the desire and ability to cleanse itself from evil, when it is itself the source of all desire and action in a person? We cannot desire (much less carry out the desire) to cleanse our hearts from YHWH-hating evil any more than we can lift ourselves out of a chair. The only way this will happen is if the Covenant Lord Himself reaches in and changes the hearts of His people (Deut.29:4; Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 36:26).
So, the first thing to see is that neither we nor the original audience of Jeremiah 4:14 can obey this command apart from the gracious working of God Himself.
(NOTE: If this seems unfair, notice that God commands us to do things that are impossible (considered apart from His sovereignty) all the time. We can no more obey the command to love God or love neighbor out of our own strength than we can obey the command to rise from the dead out of our own strength…every command that God gives to humanity comes with the caveat that it cannot be done apart from His grace…..And this should not surprise us, the same thing is true for every breath we breathe and the persistence of our conscious existence (Acts 17:28)).
Secondly, the stakes that the Lord gives in this verse are as high as they can be. The clear implication is that–if the people do not cleanse their hearts, they will not be saved…i.e., they will be destroyed.
The command is impossible–in human terms–and the consequences are eternal. One response to this situation might be to rise up and accuse God–like the imagined interlocuter in Romans 9–“Why does he still find fault? For who can resist His will?” (Rom.9:19). But another response–the saving response–would be to cast one’s self wholly on the Lord’s mercy and look for Him to act….
And, we know from the history of redemption, that the Lord most certainly does act. In Hebrews we see the awesome, terrible and beautiful way in which YHWH achieves the purification of the hearts of His people across all times and places….it will be by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, offered up to God the Father, through the bond of their union who is the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14 + 10:22).
On the surface, Jeremiah 4:14 might seem like a death trap devised by a sovereign executioner….”do what is impossible or die.” But for the soul that bows in humble dependence and desperate faith before the character of YHWH, it is actually an invitation to receive the outpoured life of our Lord and God Himself as the solvent, salvation, and satisfaction of our hearts for all eternity…..may we do so–with increasing joy–every day.