By Brad Hicks
Delivered October 5, 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.
In our study-discussion of the word heart in the Bible, we’ve investigated 34 of the 39 books in the Old Testament. Now, we’ll turn to the final five books — Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. These books comprise the section in scripture that many call the Wisdom Books. The first three sections of the Bible that we’ve given our attention to — the Books of Moses, the Historical Books, and the Prophetic Books — are mostly clear narratives that give us a historian’s or a prophet’s view of God’s people and their experiences. But the Wisdom Books provide us with more philosophical and sage-like insights into the inner regions of their soul and the state of their hearts.
No other book in the Bible mentions the word heart as often as the Psalms, where we find it used 127 times! Proverbs uses the word heart 75 times, which is a distant second to the frequency of the word heart in Psalms. And Job has one of the most insightful chapters in all of scripture about the heart. I love how Job confronts the complexities of his own heart, pleading with God to weigh the motives of his heart, to judge it, and to protect it from the insidious temptations that try to lure it away from justice and righteousness. Listen to Job’s pleas:
Job 31 – 7-8 If my steps have turned from the path,
if my heart has been led by my eyes,
or if my hands have been defiled,
then may others eat what I have sown,
and may my crops be uprooted.
9-10 If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door,
then may my wife grind another man’s grain,
and may other men sleep with her.
For that would have been wicked,
a sin to be judged.
It is a fire that burns to Destruction;
it would have uprooted my harvest.
26-27 If I have regarded the sun in its radiance
or the moon moving in splendor,
so that my heart was secretly enticed
and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,
then these also would be sins to be judged,
for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
33-35 if I have concealed my sin as people do,
by hiding my guilt in my heart
because I so feared the crowd
and so dreaded the contempt of the clans
that I kept silent and would not go outside
if my land cries out against me
and all its furrows are wet with tears,
if I have devoured its yield without payment
or broken the spirit of its tenants,
then let briers come up instead of wheat
and stinkweed instead of barley.
Job understands that the root of all his sin is anchored in his heart, and he understands that his sin may be hidden from himself but not from God. So, a contrite Job prays to God to give him the justice he deserves if his own heart sins against others and against God. O, that we might mature in our faith to obtain an understanding heart like Job’s.
As I mentioned before, Psalms and Proverbs contain many wise and insightful references to the heart. Here are a few that stood out to me as I read through each of the verses in both books that mention the heart. Over the years, these passages have met me where my soul and heart were at the time and bore witness to the ups and downs I experienced. Many of you will recognize these passages, as they have likely comforted or encouraged or challenged or taught you over and over again when you read them.
HEART IN THE PSALMS
Psalm 14:1 — The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 51:10 — Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:17 — My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 66: 18-19 — If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
Psalm 73:26 — My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 84:2 — My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 84:5 — Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
Psalm 86:11 — Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Psalm 119:11 — I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 139:23 — Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
HEART IN PROVERBS
Proverbs reads and feels so different than Psalms. There have been times over the years when I’ve taken in Proverbs as if it’s being pontificated to me by a very good and very wise dad or grandpa. Especially when I was younger, I would ingest Proverbs like an obstinate teenager trying to find fault with the preaching and loopholes in the warnings found in the book, just as I did with my earthly father when I was growing up. I am guilty of allowing my heart to be misdirected — the very thing that the sages who wrote the Proverbs forewarned not to do, learning the hard way that choosing wisdom over foolishness has its rewards in this life (and in the next). See if you recognize a few of these nuggets of wisdom from Proverbs regarding the heart.
Proverbs 3:5 — Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 10:8 — The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.
Proverbs 18:12 — Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 27:19 — As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.
HEART IN ECCLESIASTES
Ecclesiastes is a challenging book that can seem out-of-place in the Bible — it’s an extended reflection on the meaning of life that sometimes feels fatalistic and cynical, as exemplified in its famous opening stanzas: ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ Nevertheless, its message is ultimately the positive one that living in obedience to God provides a grounding for human life. And the Ecclesiast has much to say about the human heart … hard sayings that require some honest pondering.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 — (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 — Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Ecclesiastes 7:4 — The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
HEART IN SONG OF SONGS
And, finally, the Song of Solomon (also referred to as the Song of Songs). Remember in our last discussion when I said that the reason that God wants our hearts to be aligned with his perfect, holy, and righteous heart was because he wants to be in relationship, fellowship, and even more, to be in us and for us to be in him? I firmly believe that this book, the Song of Songs, is spiritually and poetically describing this kindred relationship between God and us, his bride. The Song of Songs has everything to do with the New Heart that God has given to us through his Son and by the Spirit, which is very the reason why we are being made ready to join him in a unique marriage at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
Let’s recall three passages from the New Testament before we read a few of these (quite literally) romantic passages in the Song of Songs describing what the heart of both the bride and the bridegroom feels for one another.
2 Corinthians 11:2 — I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.
Ephesians 5:26-32 —Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Revelation 19:7 — Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Now … many Bible scholars do not agree with me on what I’m about to say; my own pastor and I, in fact, hold differing views about what the Song of Songs is about. But, in addition to being a poetic dialogue about love, celebrating marriage, and the gift of sexuality — which it is — I believe this beautiful little vignette is also a prophetic allegory about the love of Christ for his church.
We don’t have time today to delve into this thought deeply. It’s clear that the New Testament calls the relationship between Christ and us is a betrothed one: We are being made ready for marriage to one another. Is this only figurative? Maybe. Is the Song of Songs describing the intense heart-love we share for one another until our relationship is consummated at the second coming of Christ? Maybe.
I’ll close with sharing what the Song communicates about these two lovers’ deeply heartfelt love for one another and their shared longing to be together.
Song of Songs 3:1 — (The bride) All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him.
Song of Songs 3:4 — (The bride) I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother’s house, to the room of the one who conceived me.
Song of Songs 3:11 — (The bride) Come out, and look, you daughters of Zion. Look on King Solomon wearing a crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced.
Song of Songs 4:9 — (The bridegroom) You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.
Song of Songs 5:2 — (The bride) I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.”
Song of Songs 5:4 — (The bride) My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.
Song of Songs 5:6 — (The bride) I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.
Song of Songs 8:6 — (The bride) Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
It is my opinion that God’s endgame with humanity is to lavish his love on his chosen people, a people whose sole desire is to intensely love him in return. As it’s written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
This concludes our detective work in the Old Testament, trying to discover together what it’s saying and meaning about the word heart. Stay tuned for what the New Testament is going to reveal about this living, active, holy ark called “the heart” that houses God himself in those of us who believe and whose hearts have been made completely new!