I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.
In context, this verse is God speaking of the Israelites He had sent into the Babylonian captivity. He spoke of the good He intended to do them and the blessings He planned to pout out on them and this is among those blessings. There is a larger principle at work, I think.
I think that there are two fundamental responses to God’s discipline — for God’s discipline is what Israel was undergoing when this verse was written. Israel had been disciplined for disobedience and unfaithfulness in the form of Babylon’s armies coming in and conquering the land and carrying away captive the people. There were those who accepted what was happening as God’s discipline; as coming from His hand. And there were those who refused to accept the discipline; who believed that God would only ever do good to Israel no matter what. These, then, are the two fundamental responses to God’s discipline: acceptance and rejection. We can realize that we have done something meriting disciplinary action on the part of our heavenly Father or we can justify ourselves rather than God; make excuses for our behavior. This weekend, I went shopping with my daughter. She is two years old, so I was not expecting exemplary behavior, but we are working on it. She disobeyed and did something she was told not to do, as a two year old are wont, and she received disciplinary action from her father — me. What touched my heart was that I asked her if she had been obedient and she replied that she had not and she accepted the discipline without fuss or fit. For those who have or once had a two year old, you know how major that is. She recognized that she had disobeyed and that the promised discipline was following. It blessed my heart and made mercy so much more attractive than it already was.
This morning’s verse is not my response to God’s discipline, though my response feeds into what God is talking about in this verse. This morning’s verse is God’s follow-up action to those who accept His discipline. The discipline has been given and those who were going to accept it had accepted it. God says of those who did so that He will give them a heart to know [Him], for [He is] the LORD. The first result of accepting God’s discipline is that I will not only get to know Him and His heart better, but He will place within me a heart that wants to know Him. Acceptance of His discipline reveals that I know something of Him and something of myself. God adds to that knowledge a desire to know more about Him; to burrow deeper into His character. Later in the weekend, my daughter pitched a massive fit. It went on for quite some time. It had been a rough day with messed up nap schedule and what-not, so we worked through it. Not long after her fit, she bit her tongue or some other thing that is irritating, but so much worse when your resilience is gone. Who did she want to hold her? Daddy. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but there seems to be something within us that responds to the discipline offered in love. We know, on some level, that the discipline is for our own good and that the one disciplining us has our best interest at heart. So we return to them not only for discipline and direction but also for comfort and other needs, hoping and expecting and eventually knowing that those needs, too, will be met. It is like that with God. As I accept His discipline in my life, I learn that He has my best interests in mind and that knowledge leads me to explore further; to come to Him for comfort in distress and to seek Him out in other areas of my life.
God makes a secondary promise to those who have accepted His discipline. He promises that they will be [His] people, and [He] will be their God, for they will return to [Him] with their whole heart. After the events of this weekend, I read a subtext to God’s declaration that they will be [His] people. When my daughter accepted discipline, I was so proud of her. My reaction was one of, “That’s my girl.” And that is the subtext I read when I see God’s words this morning. I read the heart of a Father overflowing with love for and pride in His child. It is not that a father loves any less when discipline is rejected, but that my child’s acceptance of deserved discipline touches my heart in a way that few other things can. It marks growth and increasing maturity. It shows a trust in me and my motives for rendering that discipline. As with the lesser, so with the greater, I think.
Am I being disciplined by God for any disobedience? Let me accept it as from the hand of my loving Father, Who wants only the best for me and seeks to make me mature and able to enjoy still more freedom in His sight. Truly, that is why discipline comes from a loving parent: to bring out the best in and bring on the best for our child; to make our children mature; to enable them to enjoy more freedom to do more and enjoy more. If I, flawed and imperfect as I am, want so much for the children I love, why then would I expect any less from my Father in heaven?