In Part 1 of the Hebrew Anatomy series, we looked at the heart, and how it is described in the Bible. How the very language of Scripture itself uses the word that we have come to view in English as "heart." In Part 2, we will be looking at the kidneys, and how they are related to something more than just a regulatory organ.
As we did before, let us first examine the word in Hebrew.
This is כליה (kilyah) in Hebrew. What is interesting about the word itself is that it is a feminine noun, that only appears in the Bible in the plural form (kilyot). This is one of the fascinating ways we know without a doubt that it means "kidney" because it's always plural (and kidneys comes in a pair).
Most references in Sculpture to the kidneys pertain to the sacrifices. Exodus 29, Leviticus 3; 4; 7; 8; and 9 all refer to the kidneys in terms of the sacrifices. However, the kilyot are also mentioned elsewhere, and that is where the "deeper" purpose is explained.
Psa. 73:21 – "When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within;" (NASB)
The word translated in the NASB above as "within" is actually kilyot, so David is saying his heart was embittered and he was pierced in his kidneys. Now why the kidneys? To be sure, there are a few references to the heart AND kidneys both being "tested" or "tried" such as Psa. 7:9; 26:2. But we need to know WHY it mentions the kidneys. We already determined that the heart is the seat of the mind, and that is where thoughts and intentions take place. Similarly, the kidneys are the seat of emotion.
Prov. 23:16 – " 15 My son, if your heart is wise, My own heart also will be glad; 16 And my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right." (NASB)
The phrase "inmost being" above in the NASB is, yet again, kilyot. This speaks of rejoicing being felt in the kidneys. Again, the kidneys are the seat of emotion. This fact even influenced the NASB translators in Jer. 11:20.
"But, O YHWH of hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the feelings and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You have I committed my cause." (NASB)
Note that "the feelings" above is kilyot in Hebrew.
The word itself is derived from the word כלי (keli) which is a very vague term, usually translated as "vessel, article, utensil, goods, stuff" and so on. This word, however, is derived from כלה (kalah) which means "to be complete" or "finished." This word is a cognate to the two-letter root כל (kal) which means "all" or "every." The connecting factor here is all about the root word: all. If something is "all" together, it is not lacking. A puzzle with all pieces present is "complete" and "finished." Keli is a vessel or utensil for carrying things, and thus is only "complete" when it is filled, and being used for its purpose. Thus kilyah (or the plural, Kilyot) referring to the kidneys signifies how the organ in a physical sense is a vessel. But this is where it gets even more fascinating.
With our modern medical advancements, we now know what the kidneys do. They keep the body in homeostasis. This means they regulate the acid-base balance, electrolytes, blood pressure and so on. The kidneys accomplish this task by essentially filtering, secreting, and absorbing the necessary components. This means that the kidneys literally are "vessels," the function of which are to regulate and keep balance in the body. Not only this, but the kidneys also produce hormones such as calcitriol (which aids the body in taking calcium into the blood from the gut), erythropoietin (which is essential for the production of red blood cells), and renin (which is a key component in blood pressure management). This is the physical aspect. Then there is the emotional aspect.
Like its physical description, the kidney is a "vessel" for the emotions. As mentioned above, there are a handful of Scriptures which show that our "heart and mind" are to be tried (see Psa. 7:9; 26:2). But if "heart" and "mind" are both reflected in the Hebrew word lev such as we looked at in Part 1, then what do these verses mean?
While the heart expresses the mind and the intentions, the kidneys express the emotions. So to have your "heart" and "kidneys" tested or tried, is to have not only your mind and intentions tried, but also your innermost emotions. When discussing the kidneys in their commentary on Lev. 4, Keil & Delitzsch (Christian Hebrew scholars) stated, "…the kidneys, which were regarded as the seat of the tenderest and deepest emotions, can only have set forth the better part or inmost kernel of the man."
We see the best example of this going back to the sacrifices that were offered according to the Torah in Leviticus.
Lev. 3:1-4 – "1 Now if his offering is a sacrifice of peace offerings, if he is going to offer out of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without defect before YHWH. 2 He shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and slay it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood around on the altar. 3 From the sacrifice of the peace offerings he shall present an offering by fire to YHWH, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 4 and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys."
I cover the liver in the next article. For now though we'll focus on the kidneys. Note that of all the organs that can be removed, the entrails, the kidneys, and the lobe of the liver are what are required. I believe this is symbolic of what the offering represents. If the body of the sacrifice is representative of us, then the kidneys of the sacrifice is representative of ours, such as our "tenderest and deepest emotions."
Essentially, the kidneys represent the deepest emotions of the soul (being). So David speaking of being pierced there is speaking of emotional pain in the innermost part. And as Proverbs 23 states, our kidneys rejoice when what is right is spoken. According to David, our kidneys teach us in the night. But we also remember the connection between this word and the words for "complete" and "finish." Consider the life and walk of a Believer. Take a moment to reflect on your own life. Do you have any emotional "struggles"? Anger? Resentment? Fear? Depression? All of these are common, even for those of us that live Torah-observant lives. Generally it is much easier to make ourselves DO something than it is to make ourselves FEEL something. Generally it is much easier to keep Sabbath, and get turned down from those jobs because of it, than it is to FEEL good about it. Our emotions are the part of us that some say make us "human." They are the parts of us that are hardest to bring into submission, the hardest to control. It is easier to not lash out and hit someone than it is to not be angry with them.
That is, I submit, the reason the word for "kidneys" is related to the words for "complete" and "finished." Because we as believers are essentially a work-in-progress. In order for us to be "complete" we have to gain control over our emotions, and fully submit them to YHWH. Now only does He test and try our minds (that is, the things we intend to go out and do) but He also tests and tries our emotions (the things we "feel," generally whether we "want" to or not).
In order for us to be complete, we have to be fully submitted to the Father. This concept of Hebrew anatomy is one of the more difficult ones to grasp. But to be sure, we will be explaining more as we go along, and then the picture should become clearer.
Be Berean. Shalom.