It’s important as we weigh the words of Jesus and his apostles to consider the background against which they spoke. The Jews of First Century Palestine not only knew their Tanakh (the Old Testament), they knew many uninspired works as well. Among these is the Book of Jubilees.
R. H. Charles writes,
The Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew by a Pharisee between the year of the accession of Hyrcanus to the high priesthood in 135 and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 B.C.
And so, it’s interesting to see how the Jews read the scriptures without Christian influence —
1:19 And Moses fell on his face and prayed and said, ‘O Lord my God, do not forsake Thy people and Thy inheritance, so that they should wander in the error of their hearts, and do not deliver them into the hands of their enemies, the Gentiles, lest they should rule over them and cause them to sin against Thee. 20 Let thy mercy, O Lord, be lifted up upon Thy people, and create in them an upright spirit, and let not the spirit of Beliar rule over them to accuse them before Thee, and to ensnare them from all the paths of righteousness, so that they may perish from before Thy face. 21 But they are Thy people and Thy inheritance, which thou hast delivered with thy great power from the hands of the Egyptians: create in them a clean heart and a holy spirit, and let them not be ensnared in their sins from henceforth until eternity.’
22 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘I know their contrariness and their thoughts and their stiffneckedness, and they will not be obedient till they confess their own sin and the sin of their fathers. 23 And after this they will turn to Me in all uprightness and with all (their) heart and with all (their) soul, and I will circumcise the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their seed, and I will create in them a holy spirit, and I will cleanse them so that they shall not turn away from Me from that day unto eternity. 24 And their souls will cleave to Me and to all My commandments, and they will fulfil My commandments, and I will be their Father and they shall be My children. 25 And they all shall be called children of the living God, and every angel and every spirit shall know, yea, they shall know that these are My children, and that I am their Father in uprightness and righteousness, and that I love them.
Here, the writer combines Deut 30:6 with familiar passages from the Psalms and Prophets to demonstrate that a time is coming when God himself will change his people by circumcising their hearts. The writer saw the connection between an extensive series of verses, beginning with —
(Deu 30:6 ESV) And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
As noted in an earlier post, this passage, speaking of God’s future covenant with a remnant of Israel, is in contrast to —
(Deu 10:16 ESV) Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
The difference between old and new is who will be responsible for this change of heart. The heart has always mattered to God. The change from old to new covenant is not a change from superficial obedience to heart obedience but from heart obedience to a heart obedience where God himself shapes our hearts to be obedient.
Much later we read,
(Psa 51:10 ESV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
David prays for God to change his heart and the spirit within him — and evidently believes that God can do such a thing.
Many years later, at the time of the Exile, similar promises fill the writings of the prophets —
(Eze 11:19-20 ESV) 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
(Eze 36:26-27 ESV) And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Here, Ezekiel makes the connection with the Spirit explicit. The Spirit will change the heart of God’s people so they will walk in his statutes. Jeremiah says the same thing —
(Jer 24:7 ESV) I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
(Jer 31:33 ESV) 33 But 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. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Jer 32:39 ESV( I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.
Jeremiah 31, of course, is part of the passage famously quoted in Heb 8 – 10 as an explanation the new covenant.
Now, this is amazing stuff by itself. Even more amazing is that this is exactly what many Jews expected. They expected the Messiah to be an earthly king, but they also expected the Spirit to come in with the Messiah and change the hearts of God’s people so that they’d be obedient. They expected David’s prayer to be answered by God for all God’s people.