By Brad Hicks
Delivered on August 10, 2021, via Zoom to a group of Christian church leaders in India, at the invitation of my friend, Edwin Daliya, a native of Mussoorie, India. Edwin heads a missions organization that plants churches throughout northern India.
The word “heart” is translated 725 times in the Bible, 576 times in the Old Testament (with Psalms the leader, using the word 125 times). “Heart” is spoken of 149 times in the New Testament (with Acts the leader, using it 18 times).
This is the first of seven study-discussions of the word “heart” that I’ll be facilitating. We’ll look at the usage of the word in four sections of the Old Testament and three sections of the New Testament. Today, we’ll examine the usage of the word “heart” in Torah, the Books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. In our second study, we’ll explore the use of the word “heart” in the Historical Books of the Old Testament, Joshua through Ezra and Nehemiah. In Part 3, I’d like to go directly to the prophets, saving the Wisdom Books for last, since Ezra and Nehemiah, historically and chronologically, are a natural segue to the time of the prophetic writings. Then, lastly, we’ll trace the word “heart” through the Wisdom Books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
When we get to the New Testament, in Part 5 of our study, we’ll look at the word “heart” in the Gospels and Acts, first looking at how Jesus spoke of the heart, then at how the word was used in the Acts account of the first-century church. Our sixth segment will be a study of Paul’s views of the heart in his letters, and finally, in our last study, Part 7, we’ll dig for the meaning of “heart” from the letters of James, Peter, and John, and the books of Hebrews and Revelation. In each segment, we’ll be asking the Holy Spirit to grant us deeper understanding of God’s heart and our own hearts and we’ll trust that, as we believe his Word and what it says about the heart we’ll be enriched, encouraged, more enlightened, and better equipped to serve him wholeheartedly.
There’s something new and alive in each segment about the paradoxes, complexities, dangers, and great benevolent potential of the human heart.
In this study, I’ll simply be reading verses from scripture and making a short observation about what each passage is literally saying about the heart. I won’t be providing context for each verse. Those of you who know and read the scriptures will be familiar with the context.
Now, on to Torah! What do the Books of Moses have to say about the heart? Heart is first used in Genesis, chapter 6.
Genesis 6:5 – The Lord saw how great the wickedness of humans had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
The heart has thoughts, and the thoughts can be evil.
Genesis 6:6 – The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
The Lord has a heart, and his heart can feel emotions.
Genesis 8:21 – The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
1. The Lord’s heart can speak; 2. The human heart is evil from the very beginning of our lives. This is how the Lord communicates with us, from his heart to our hearts. Though some have heard the Lord audibly, we do not need to hear an audible voice to hear God. If we’re paying attention, our hearts will hear the voice of the heart of God.
Genesis 24:45 – “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder.
The heart can pray.
Genesis 34:3 – His heart was drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
The heart can be drawn to another person.
Genesis 42:28 – “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.” Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
The guilty heart can sink with fear or despair.
Exodus 4:21 – The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
God can harden the disobedient heart that is unyielding to obey and impenetrable to compassion. It is written in Exodus 20 times that the hearts of Pharoah, his officials, or all the Egyptians were hard — either intentionally hardened by God or they chose to harden their hearts themselves — so that they could not or would not do what was right.
Exodus 25:2 – “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.
The heart prompts the will to act. Compare with Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 that both quote Jesus as saying, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Leviticus 19:17 – “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
The heart can hate.
Leviticus 26:36 – “‘As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight.
God can make the disobedient heart fearful.
Leviticus 26:40-42 – “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them, so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
The heart is uncircumcised until it is humbled. God honors his covenant with those whose hearts are circumcised, literally humbled. The root meaning, or etymology, of the word “circumcision” is to literally cut around something; to clip, strike, or prune off; other modern words that derive from the same ancient root words are “abscise”, “genocide”, “caesarian”, and many others.
Numbers 15:39 – You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.
The heart lusts for objects that will pleasure the natural self.
Deuteronomy 4:9 – Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
The heart can remember or forget and must be constantly reminded of what is right and true.
Deuteronomy 4:29 – But if you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
It is the heart and soul that must seek God. God is not found with one’s mind and intellect but with one’s heart and soul.
Deuteronomy 4:39 – Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.
It is the heart that must acknowledge God and believe in his existence.
Deuteronomy 5:29 – Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
It is the heart that fears God and obeys his Word.
Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
The heart can love God. This is the first of the command-passages in scripture to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The gospels record Jesus reciting this passage at least three times. Interesting that “heart” is always mentioned first in these “love the Lord” commands.
Deuteronomy 8:2 – Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
The Lord puts his chosen ones in situations to test the condition of their hearts.
Deuteronomy 8:14 – then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Pride resides in the heart.
Deuteronomy 10:16 – Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
We, ourselves, must circumcise our own hearts. But we are not alone in this process. Those with hearts that truly desire to obey God are helped by God. Compare this passage with Deuteronomy 30:6 – The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. And with this New Testament passage in Philippians 2:13 – for it is God who works in you to will and to act to fulfill his good purpose.
Deuteronomy 11:18 – Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
The Word of God must be embedded in the heart and mind.
Deuteronomy 15:6-10 – If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. … Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
Generosity and greed are determined in the heart.
Deuteronomy 17:17 – He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
The heart can be led astray by polygamy and hoarding of wealth.
Deuteronomy 26:16 –The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.
God’s commands are followed and observed with the heart.
Deuteronomy 28:65 – Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.
Disobedience causes the heart to despair.
Deuteronomy 28:67 – In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.
Disobedience results in the heart feeling terror.
Deuteronomy 29:18 – Make sure there is no man or woman, clan, or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
The heart can be turned away from God and poisoned by the worship of foreign gods.
Deuteronomy 30:1-6 – When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. … The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
The yielded heart that learns from adversity and obeys the commands of God will rest in the full blessing of God.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you must ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
The Word of God is in the heart and and is not too difficult to be obeyed.
This concludes Part 1 of our word study of the “heart” in scripture. Next time, we’ll discover what the Historical Books of the Old Testament have to say about this most important place in God’s creation of the human self. Thank you and may God by his spirit work his Word into your heart and soul.