Heart: what controls the inside
In the last chapter we looked at the symptoms of hardness of heart. Now we need to turn our attention to this question: what are the hallmarks of that condition which is the direct opposite of hardness of heart?
We are going to look at two verses in Scripture, which describe the reverse of hardness of heart.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
The meaning of the word “delight” in Hebrew is somewhat surprising; it means to be soft or pliable.
When I first stumbled across this truth I thought immediately of the references in Scripture to the potter and the clay. If the clay isn’t soft and pliable then, regardless of the potters’ efforts, the vessel that is formed will be faulty.
Jeremiah 18: 4- 6 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!
When the Sword of the Spirit, the Living Word of God, cut into the hearts of the people on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 of those hearts were found to be soft and pliable. They were willing to be cut and shaped. Consequently, as Peter continued to “solemnly testify and exhort with many other words” the result was freedom from the false vine.
Psalm 51:17 is another verse that describes what we might term “softness of heart”:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not despise.
Take a moment to reflect on the Hebrew meaning of the key words in this verse.
Broken: to break down or break off, or in pieces, to bring to the birth, to crush, destroy, to hurt, or tear.
Contrite: to collapse physically or mentally to crouch; to be crushed, injured:--afflicted, oppressed.
Heart: means the feelings, the will and even the intellect; the centre of anything
So, the hallmarks of a soft heart are a willingness to have your feelings, your will and your intellect cut, broken, crushed, bruised and humbled in order that they might be reborn, or reshaped, into that which is determined by the Divine Potter, the Divine Gardener, God the Father.
I have pondered for a long time on the question of how Scripture describes the cutting-through of the second half of the “branch”, and furthermore, the cutting that takes place to create a tapered end on the branch which can slide easily into the wound of the new parent vine.
My conclusion is that “Circumcision” is the term used in Scripture to describe these events.
We need now to look at the use of this word “circumcision” in Scripture in order that we might see the necessary groundwork that is required before a branch can be grafted in.
Genesis 17:11 “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.
Circumcision was, first and foremost, a physical outward sign of the inward spiritual covenant, or promise, between God and Abraham. Here are the meanings of the word “covenant” from the Hebrew: to create, to choose (as one would choose a tree or a branch to cut down), to feed, to nourish and sustain
Again, note the key words that describe circumcision: cut, choose, and create.
As we have seen with the vine and the branch there must be a cutting, but how far this cutting goes, in a spiritual sense, is a choice of the human heart. When the human heart is soft and pliable in response to the Word of God then a new life is created because of the covenant, the centrepiece of which is circumcision.
In the NT circumcision continues to be central to the covenant relationship between the Godhead and believers.
Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
No longer is circumcision a physical act, but rather, something that occurs in the realm of the spirit of men and women, in their hearts. It is entering a covenant with God where you willingly choose to be cut, separated from sin and set apart and made holy to God. This again is a painful process. Physical circumcision involved the physical cutting away of flesh. If you study circumcision in Genesis 34 and the account of Hamor and his son you will note that it says in Verse 25:
Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males.
In the Hebrew the word pain means that they were very sore and very sorry for themselves three days after they had been circumcised. We are unwise to assume that our spiritual circumcision is meant to be painless, to be an experience of pleasure, when it is a cutting away of the things of the flesh that are so precious to us.
Circumcision of the heart is not optional. Unless we willingly submit to it we cannot be grafted into the True Vine and be considered as members of the Kingdom of God. Unless a Jew willingly submitted to physical circumcision they were never considered as being part of the nation of Israel.
Romans 4:9-13 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Heart circumcision is the hallmark of faith; it is a seal of the righteousness of faith.
So, in summary, softness of heart is demonstrated in the exact opposite symptoms which accompany hardness of heart:
1. We hear with an intention and willingness to obey what we hear;
2. We are ready and willing to let go of anything that poses itself as controlling our destiny apart from God;
3. We avoid the vicious circle of sinning yet more in hardening our hearts by being quick to confess to God the slightest evidence of hardness of heart creeping into our lives.