By Brad Hicks
The books in the Old Testament that we refer to as the “historical” books do, indeed, provide historical facts about the period after Moses’ death and, consequently, Joshua’s rise to leadership of Israel from about 1300 BC to the time of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity in about 500 BC. So, the historical books span a period of about 800 years (give or take 50 years). There are 12 historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. But, of course, being God’s Word, these books contain far more than historical facts. They’re also filled with divine insight and stories that are lessons to live by and lessons about how not to live.
These books have a lot to say about our topic at hand, the heart. Heart is mentioned 114 times in these twelve books (New International Version). It’s in these books that we learn that David was a man after God’s own heart … and Saul, David’s predecessor as King of Israel, was not; that Solomon asked God for a wise and discerning heart, and God put in Solomon’s heart wisdom, discernment, and knowledge to equip him to govern Israel. We also learn that Solomon later turned his heart away from the Lord and even worshiped foreign gods and idols; and that this was a pattern with many of the kings of Judah — their hearts drifted back and forth between seeking the Lord wholeheartedly and turning their hearts away from him.
As I’ve pored over the passages that refer to the heart in these twelve O.T. books, here are a few that were unique and stood out to me. They were like finding sparkling, colorful rubies, sapphires, and garnets while walking along a well-worn path.
Joshua 11:19, 20 – “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
The Christ-filled life is a life in which the Holy Spirit reveals what’s in our hearts and what and who it worships and loves more than God. When we yield our heart fully to God we will do anything to try to love and worship God more than anything or anyone else.
1 Samuel 1:13 – Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.
Hannah, the mother of Samuel, demonstrated that we can pray to God in our heart, and that God hears the voice of our heart.
1 Samuel 2:35 – The Lord declares … I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.
This was a word spoken over the priest Eli and his wicked sons. God raises up and uses faithful persons who will accomplish the purposes of his own heart and mind.
1 Samuel 16:7 – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The condition, motives, and intents of our heart are what matters to the Lord, not our outward appearance.
2 Samuel 6:16 – As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal, daughter of Saul, watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
The heart can despise and be filled with envy and jealousy.
2 Samuel 15:5-6 – Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.
Our hearts can be lured away from truth and reality by manipulative leaders who pretend they care about us.
1 Kings 11:2, 4 – They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. … As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
Romantic love, sexual relations, and intermarrying between a child of God and an unbeliever can result in the believer’s heart being turned away from God.
2 Kings 23:25 – Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
Our hearts can only turn to the Lord by being aligned with God’s Word. This is the Holy Spirit’s job: To teach us how to come to God on his terms, in his way, in reality, not on our terms, in our way, and our made-up reality.
1 Chronicles 28:9 – for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
These are David’s words to his son, Solomon. There is nothing in the human heart that is unknown to God. He is with those whose hearts seek him and he is against those whose hearts forsake him. But we also know that in this life God pursues even the worst of us, and gives us every opportunity to find him.
2 Chronicles 12:14 – (King Rehoboam) did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.
A person whose heart is not set on seeking the Lord will inevitably do evil things.
2 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
God eagerly blesses and gives strength to anyone whose heart is fully committed to him.
2 Chronicles 32:25-26 – But Hezekiah’s heart was proud, and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore, the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore, the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.
Pride resides in the heart and incurs God’s judgment. We can rid our hearts of pride through repentance and humility.
2 Chronicles 32:31 – But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask (Hezekiah) about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.
God allows us to be in situations in which he tests us to reveal what’s in our hearts.
Ezra 1:1 – In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing (that the Jews were to be released from captivity to return to Jerusalem).
God can move the heart of anyone — believer or unbeliever, Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian — to accomplish his purposes.
Nehemiah 9:7-8 – “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites.”
This is a prayer of Nehemiah upon the Jews’ deliverance from Babylon. Abraham is our first model in scripture of the blessings that God has reserved for those whose hearts are faithful to him.
What I’m discovering in this study of the word heart in scripture is that the heart is very closely associated with other areas of the human inward parts, such as spirit, soul, mind, the will, conscience, emotion, and other words. But each of these words has a specific, unique meaning. They’re not just different words that sort of mean the same thing. They shouldn’t be used interchangeably, and God has created us with these unique components of our human makeup so that we’re able to find him, know him, love him, fellowship with him, and reflect him in and through our bodies to the world.
The Holy Spirit urges us to understand all these terms and to know the differences in meaning. Many of us give up because it seems too difficult to comprehend. But to those who ask God for wisdom and knowledge, it will be given. Persist in asking God for understanding of the scriptures and the differences between heart, spirit, soul, mind, and so on. God desires for us to go “further up and further in” (to use a C.S. Lewis term) in our relationship with him and to understand how fearfully and wonderfully he has made us.
One of the best books I’ve found that brilliantly defines all these closely associated words from scripture and explains how they work together is The Economy of God by Witness Lee. You can download an English edition for free on http://www.biblesforamerica.com. Click on BOOKS in the menu bar at the top of the page, then download the online PDF file. Chapters 6-8 are most helpful in the discussion we’re currently having about the heart.
This concludes Part 2 of our word study of the “heart”. Next time we’ll look at what was revealed to the prophets of Israel about the heart and what it means when the prophets speak of a Day when people will be given new, undivided hearts on which God’s laws will be written. I don’t want you to miss the discussion … because that Day the prophets foretold is Today and the people given new, undivided hearts are you and me!