I am still reading Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, 3 chapters to go.
In the ancient world people practiced the art of divinations which included looking for omens and signs both in the heavens and on the earth. One of the ways that people then tried to confirm their reading of these signs and omens was to practice “extispicy”, this is defined as the practice of using anomalies in animal entrails to predict or divine future events. The organs inspected included the liver intestines and lungs. Observably this was done after the animal was sacrificed. The practice was first common in ancient Mesopotamian Hittite and Canaanite temples and was practiced even by the Romans through the 1st century and beyond.
We know that the Hebrews did not participate in this type of divination (Lev 19:26), i.e. reading the entrails of the temple sacrifice. So far so good, but in the book Walton broachs the subject of the heart being written on as a metaphor see, Prov 3:3, 7:3, Exd 28:29. Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 6:6, Isa 51:7 and in the NT Rom 2:15 and 2Cor 3:2-3. According to Walton all the above verses are examples of memorization or intimate familiarly with the word of God which is in keeping with the admonition of the scriptures as declared in Ps 1:2. The common denominator in the metaphors is that this writing was either by someone else (a teacher, a family member) or was the results of personal study and memorization. Remember, their pagan neighbors were looking for signs from god written on the animal entrails.
Walton then address Jeremiah 31:33
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, declares Yahweh: “I will put my law in their inward parts and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be to them God, and they themselves will be to me people”.
Walton goes on to say:
“How would this be any different from the revelation of the torah in the Pentateuch that also had knowledge of God as its objective? That is, how does having the torah written on the heart differ from having it written on stone tablets? If the metaphor is from the world of extispicy, the text indicates that with God’s instructions/law written on the heart of his people, there would be no need for continuing guidance to teach God’s law. This had been an essential element in the Sinaitic law. What would happen instead? God would be known through his people, who would be living out the law faithfully. People with the law written on their heart become a medium of communication. Writing on the heart replaces not the law, but the teaching of the law. The law on stone had to be taught and could be ignored. The law on the heart represents a medium of modeling, in which case it is not being ignored. In this interpretation of the metaphor, then, the heart is a medium, not a repository. The metaphor would be one of revelation, not of memory.”
Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (pp. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
I thought that this was a very interesting way to look at a verse we all know well and for me I would have never connected even a thought of comparing “extispicy” with what God, I believe, has already done through the finished work of Messiah, to give each believer a “new heart”. Now all we need to do is be a medium for our world.