We have all read the Scriptures before that speak of the "heart of man" or about King David being a "man after God's own heart." (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Yet generally, due to our Western (Greco-Roman) mindset and worldview, we think of this in an emotional sense. We think of "heart" as the seat of the emotions. But did you know that according to the example set in the Hebrew Scriptures, that is actually not true? In this brief article series, we're going to examine some anatomical terminology that the Scriptures use, and see about digging up a deeper meaning. These articles will explain how the physical parts of the human body (heart, kidney, liver, etc.) is related to a deeper spiritual meaning, and how they relate to the soul itself.
To begin, I thought it best to start with perhaps the most prevalent example of all: the heart. Let's define this word first, so we can build on its definition and foundation.
In Hebrew, the word most often translated as "heart" is לב (lev). The other common word is actually derived from the same root, which is לבב (le-vav). In its most strictly defined sense, this word refers to the heart, the organ that pumps blood. However, it is actually translated a myriad of ways. For instance, the NASB translates it the following ways (note: the number in parentheses next to the word indicates how many times lev is translated as that word in the NASB):
accord (1), attention (4), attention* (1), bravest* (1), brokenhearted* (3), care* (2), celebrating* (1), chests* (1), completely* (1), concern* (1), concerned* (1), conscience (1), consider* (2), considered* (2), courage (1), decided* (1), determine* (1), discouraged* (1), discouraging* (1), doing* (1), double heart (1), encouragingly* (1), heart (396), heart's (2), hearts (40), Himself (1), himself (6), imagination (1), inspiration (2), intelligence (1), kindly (5), life (1), merry-hearted* (1), middle (2), midst (1), mind (36), minds (3), myself (6), obstinate* (2), planned* (1), presume* (1), pride* (1), recalls* (1), reflected* (1), regard* (1), self-exaltation* (1), sense (10), senseless* (1), seriously (1), skill* (1), skilled* (1), skillful man* (1), skillful men* (1), skillful persons* (1), skillful* (3), spirits (1), stouthearted* (1), stubborn-minded* (1), tenderly (2), thought (3), understanding (7), undivided* (1), well (2), willingly* (1), wisdom (2), yourself (1), yourselves (1).
Note that of all these translations, "heart(s)" accounts for more than 400 of the 593 occurrences.
Now then, to further define the word, we're going to examine its usage in context in a number of passages. Of course, we have the simplest sort of examples, which refer to the "midst" of something, or even the organ itself.
Deut. 4:11 – "“You came near and stood at the bottom of the mountain while the mountain was blazing with fire up to the heart of the heavens—darkness, cloud, and fog." [The "heart" of the heavens]
2 Sam. 18:14 – "Then Joab said, “I will not waste time here with you.” So he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the midst of the oak."
There are other examples, to be sure, but these two fully illustrate my point. In both verses, the word translated as "heart" is lev. But apart from the obvious "physical" aspect of the heart (ie. the organ), this word plays a much larger role in the Hebraic context. Let's examine this.
We'll start by looking at the first time the word lev is used in the Torah.
Gen. 6:5-6 – Then ADONAI saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time. So ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained.
While the second use here is easy to understand ("deeply pained" Him in His heart, His "innermost" part) we still have to wonder about the former usage. What does it even mean to have "thoughts of the heart"? How does the heart think? In our Western worldview, we look at it this way: thoughts occur in the mind, and the mind is in the brain (head). But Hebraically, things are not so simple. Rather, the thoughts occur in the heart. To the Hebrew worldview, the heart is the seat of the mind, not the brain. The "mind" if you will, is in the heart. More to illustrate this.
Num. 16:28 – Moses said, “By this you will know that ADONAI has sent me to do all these works, that they are not from my own heart."
Num. 24:13 – ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the mouth of ADONAI, to do good or bad from my own heart? Whatever ADONAI may speak, I will speak!’
1 Sam. 9:20 – "As for the donkeys that you lost three days ago, don’t set your heart on them, for they have been found. Now, for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s household?”
Neh. 3:38 (in Hebrew Bibles [CJB, JPS, TLV]; 4:6 in most English Bibles) – "So we rebuilt the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a heart to work."
Psa. 83:6(5) – "For with one mind they plot together. Against You do they make a covenant."
As you can see, each of these Scriptural examples has the word heart except the last, which reads mind. But this is from the TLV; most English Bible translations will render it as "mind." In all cases this is the same Hebrew word.
So the heart is the seat of the mind, it deals with thoughts and intentions. Just as it is used the very first time in Gen. 6, describing the "intent of the heart" of man. It is not the seat of emotions. We will discuss that in the next article, but for now, let's look at one more verse from Psalms.
Psa. 26:2 – Probe me, ADONAI, and test me, refine my mind and my heart.
So if heart and mind are the same thing in Hebrew, why do both appear here? The word translated as heart above is actually not lev. No, lev is rendered as mind here. Heart in this passage is a translation of כליה (kil-yah) which more technically means "kidneys." We'll look at that in Part 2. Simply put, the heart in Scripture refers to the mind, the will, the intentions.
It may also be worth noting (you can decide for yourself if it is mere coincidence or not) that lev is actually connected to the entire Torah. In Gen. 1:1, the very first word of Scripture is בראשית (B'reshiyt), which starts with a bet. In the end of Deut. 34:12, the very last word of the Torah is ישראל (Yisra'el), which ends with a lamed. See what I'm getting at? The last letter is lamed, the first letter is bet, lev? Perhaps a coincidence. On a greater scale, the book of Vayyiqra (Leviticus) is the center of the Torah, and it describes all the ways we show love for YHWH. It is also the book that tells us to love our neighbor (Lev. 19:18). To take it to an even further level, Moses ben Aaron ben Asher, a Masorete who worked to standardized the vowels and cantillation of the Torah, took notes on the number of words and letters. Ben Asher was an incredible sofer (scribe), and reviewed and edited many Hebrew Scriptures, including the Aleppo Codex. Some contend that he also emended the Leningrad Codex, though this is disputed.
At any rate, Moses ben Aaron ben Asher noted that the middle of all the letters in the Torah was found in Leviticus 8:28; the middle of all words is Lev. 8:26, and the middle of all verses is 8:8. Note that this, essentially, means that Leviticus 8 is the middle of the Torah, or the "heart" of the Torah. We find in Leviticus 8 the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests, making them "holy" unto YHWH.
Can we say that it is the "heart" of God for His people to become priests? For His people to be set apart unto Him? (See Exo. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9; and Rev. 5:9-10 for more)
One more thing to mention, as I pointed out towards the beginning of the article, is that we are looking at a piece of the soul. My personal definition of the soul is that it is "the non-physical part of the physical self." While growing up, I was told the soul consists of the mind, will, and emotions. I never understood how we could know it consisted of those things. Throughout this article series, we will be showing how this breaks down with each part (heart, kidneys, liver, nose, etc.). Then the last part of this series will show the difference between soul and spirit from a Hebraic and Biblically-defined perspective. So keep these things in mind as you read through this series. We'll tie it all up together at the end.
Now back to the heart, perhaps this gives a slightly better understanding of what it truly means to "circumcise" your heart. Circumcision is a symbol of submission and of dedication. Men are circumcised as a way of saying, "everything that comes forth from my loins has been dedicated to You, O Lord." Similarly, we must have circumcised hearts, and cut away the flesh of our own will, our own thoughts, and our own intentions. We need to be conformed more and more into His Will, and His plan. That is what it meant for David to be a "man after God's own heart." Not that David felt upset about the things that upset Adonai (which happened too, of course), but that David was willing to conform his mind, his thoughts, and his desires to those of The Father. That is why he asked for a lev tahor, a "clean heart."
Be Berean. Shalom.
Click here for part 2.