[b-hebrew] Is "write...on...heart" simply an idiom?

Deborah Millier deborahmillier at yahoo.com
Mon May 9 23:31:04 EDT 2005

Dear List Members,

YHWH speaking through Jeremiah stated about "the house
of Israel":


“...I will put my torah in their inward [part] and
upon their heart will I write it...” (Jer. 31:33).

My observations and questions revolve around the

A similar expression occurs twice in Proverbs:


“write...upon [the] tablet of your heart...” (3:3).



“write...upon [the] tablet of your heart...” (7:3).

In Proverbs, the writing is to be done *by* the hearer
of Solomon’s torah, the one to whom he refers as
“B:NIY.” In Jeremiah the writing of the torah is to be
done *by* YHWH. It seems that a key difference between
the Proverbs usage of the phrase and the Jeremiah
usage of a remarkably similar phrase would be one of
*instrumentality* (“My son, write...” vs. “[YHWH] will
write...”), not of location (“...upon [...] heart”).

In fact, I’m inclined to wonder whether *location*
(“upon...heart") really factors in much at all--in
Proverbs, or even in Jeremiah. Isn’t it fairly clear
that we have in all three cases the same or a similar
*idiom* (“write...upon...heart”)? 

I was taught in semantics class that if one
literalizes an idiom one actually obscures the
meaning. This idiom’s basic semantic parameters can, I
think, be established from all three contexts,
particularly from the two occurrences in Proverbs.
There neither the writing nor the location of the
writing can be literal. 

When we read this understanding back into Jeremiah,
what do we have? 

Does anyone else see all three occurrences as
reflections of a single idiom that means something
along the lines of “regard as valuable enough to
obey”? Something like that...?

In both cases in Proverbs, it would appear to be the
responsibility of the "son" to “regard as valuable
enough to obey” Solomon’s torah. In Jeremiah’s
prophecy, it seems to be YHWH who will aid “the house
of Israel” to “regard as valuable enough to obey” His

I know that in Jer. 31:33 we still have the parallel
expression NFTATIY ...B:QIR:BFM to contend with. And
it seems to point us "inward" for an answer.
Nevertheless, I am struck by what the Proverbs
passages might tell us about "write...upon...heart,"
and can even conceive that this piece of information
could illuminate Jeremiah's twin phrase ("in your
inward [parts]"). Am I deceiving myself?

Any thoughts?

Shalom from Manila, Philippines,
--Michael Millier

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