In the Hebrew Bible, this phrase “mi-yittan” expresses the idea of a wish, of a desire, of someone wanting something badly.
For instance, after their escape from Egypt, the children of Israel, facing challenges in the wilderness, exclaimed, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!” (Exod. 16:3, NIV). The phrase “if only” came from mi-yittan.
Another occurrence appears, in Deuteronomy 5:29. Going over the history of God’s providences, Moses reminds the children of Israel about their request that he, Moses, talk to the Lord for them, lest they die. According to Moses, the Lord, pleased with their request, then said: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always.”
The word translated “Oh”? Yes, it is mi-yittan.
Talk about the reality of free will. Talk about the limits of what God can do in the midst of the great controversy. This use of mi-yittan reveals that even God won’t trample on free
will (for the moment He did, it would no longer be free).
Now, if ever one book of the Old Testament revealed the reality of God’s desire for humans to obey Him, and the human tendency not to, it would be the book of Jeremiah, the topic of this quarter. Set against the background of great geopolitical changes in the ancient near east, the book of Jeremiah recounts the ministry and message of the prophet as he, with passion and faithfulness, preached God’s message to a people who, for the most part, didn’t want to hear it.
To read the book of Jeremiah is to take a journey, a spiritual journey that goes back and forth from the lowest depths of human depravity to the heights and grandeur and majesty of the Lord—the Lord who, from those heights, cries out to all of us, even in our fallen state: Mi-yittan that such a heart would be in you!