"But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died" (I Samuel 25:37-38). There is a certain order here, first a hardened heart and then judgement with no recourse.
The human heart was created first for man's relationship to God. But sin corrupted the heart and man stopped loving God to live in disobedience. And yet it is the heart that God appeals to in His invitation for us to come back to Him through the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the story of God's love to us through the sacrifice of His Son that, when considered, has power to turn the heart to God.
The greatest danger for any human being is that the heart, already sinful, become hardened - unmoved by the love and grace of God. God can forgive and wash away any sin by the power of the shed blood of His Son. God can turn the worst sinner who simply trusts Him into His own dear child by His miraculous saving power. But what can be done when His Word and His love is repeatedly, wilfully refused?
The human heart can become like a stone, unwilling and unable to free itself from sin despite the sober warnings of an eternity in the fiery lake for those who die without Christ. Sin has terrible addictive power. "I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle" (Jeremiah 8:6).
It is a serious thing to say no to God's love in Christ. It is a serious thing just to put Him off. The Bible says that out of the heart are the issues of life. A bad heart closes the door to what every sinner needs most, the mercy of God. The gracious offer of eternal life from God always impacts the heart. Receiving it gives a new heart, and refusing or ignoring it makes the heart harder.
"The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up" (Lamentations 1:14)
Israel had an endless fascination with the idols of Paganism. In time, God allowed these idolatrous nations to invade Israel and carry them away captive as a judgment upon them. The verse quoted is from the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah after Israel's sin brought the nation ruin, bondage and sadness.
This verse is given to instruct all of us about the power of sin to enslave and to take control of human lives. The modern, politically correct word for this is addictions. The Bible reveals the real root of those things which make us slaves - alienation from God through sin.
Consider the verse. Speaking on behalf of the sinful nation, Jeremiah likens Israel to an ox yoked to a heavy burden. He confesses he is bound by God's own hand. This is a recognition that God gives the rebellious sinner over to the power of the sin he has chosen. This is part of the condemnation of God upon the sinner. Having refused God he is under a new and despotic master, sin.
His transgressions hold him, wreathed (or intertwined) around his neck to demand service like the yoke of an ox. His own strength to resist the enslavement is fallen. Man without God cannot kick the habit. Without God he is unable to rise.
What is all this but one more Bible testimony of the need for salvation from sin by the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ? Slaves need One to redeem them. Captives need a Saviour. All the human self-help programs are limited in their benefit. Full freedom comes from the hand of God by the power of His salvation. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).