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. This was understood thousands of years ago, but due to translating the Word so many times, we have seemingly lost it.
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 under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of the heavens, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness." [The "midst" of the heavens]
2 Sam. 18:14 – "Then Joab said, "I'm not going to wait like this with you." He took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet 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 – "5 YHWH saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 Yahweh relented that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him in His heart."
While the second use here is easy to understand (it grieved 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, that simply is not the case. 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, "Hereby you shall know that YHWH has sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of my own mind."
Num. 24:13 – "'If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can't go beyond the word of YHWH, to do either good or bad of my own mind. I will say what YHWH says'?"
1 Sam. 9:20 – "As for your donkeys who were lost three days ago, don't set your mind on them; for they are found. For whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you, and for all your father's house?"
Neh. 4:6 – "So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half the height of it: for the people had a mind to work."
Psa. 83:5 – "For they have conspired together with one mind. They form an alliance against You."
As you can see, each of these Scriptural examples has the word "mind." Yet glance at a Hebrew Tanakh or an Interlinear, and you'll find that each occurrence of the word "mind" noted above is translated from the Hebrew lev, or "heart"!
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 – "Examine me, YHWH, and prove me. Try my heart and my mind."
If "heart" and "mind" are the same thing in Hebrew, why do both appear here? Well the word translated as "heart" above is actually not lev. No, lev is rendered as "mind" here. "Heart" is actually a very poor translation of כליה (kil-yah) which actually means "kidneys." We'll look at that in Part 2. But back to heart to wrap it all up.
Simply put, the "heart" in the Scriptures refers to the mind, the will, the intentions.
Now I am not big on the pictographic meanings of the pre-Paleo Hebrew alphabet (commonly called Early Semitic, but also sometimes mistaken for Paleo), but I do believe there is some merit in them, especially when dealing with just two and three letter root words. In this cases, we have לב: lamed – bet (lev). In pictographs, this is a staff (lamed) and a house (bet). The staff is the symbol of leadership, such as with a shepherd leading his flock. The house is, of course, the house, or home.
Here is an excerpt from Jeff Benner's Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible:
"The pictograph [lamed] is a picture of the shepherd staff representing authority, the [bet] is a picture of a tent representing what is inside. Combined these mean "authority inside". The consciousness of man is seen as coming from deep inside the chest, the heart."
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 (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 scribe (sofer), 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 YHWH for His people to become priests? For His people to be set apart unto Him?
Ex. 19:5-6 – "5 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
1 Pet. 2:9 – "9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for Elohim's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light:"
Rev. 5:9-10 – "9 They sang a new song, saying, 'You are worthy to take the book, and to open its seals: for you were killed, and bought us for Elohim with your blood, out of every tribe, language, people, and nation, 10 and made us kings and priests to our Elohim, and we will reign on earth.""
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 body." 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 YHWH." Similarly, we need to circumcise our 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 YHWH's own heart." Not that David felt upset about the things that upset YHWH (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.