Offering and understanding the Biblical word heart, and its deepest and truest meaning is a really good place to start. The subject of “Heart” in scripture is indeed both deep and broad. Obviously, there are going to be some passages that refer to the physical heart; the actual blood-pumping organ in our chest, but the most often used definition/description can be summarized by Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary of Biblical Terms.
Regarding the heart , Easton’s declares,
The heart is that center of spiritual activity and all the operations of human life.3
In the Hebrew language, the term leb and its synonym lebab appear approximately 860 times in the Old Testament. Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words states,
The heart is regarded as the seat of emotions, seat of knowledge and wisdom, and can be used of the man himself or his personality. It is also considered the seat of conscience and moral character4.
Here are some noteworthy samples from the Old Testament…
We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5, Luke 10:27)
That the Lord searches the heart (1 Chron. 28:9)
That we will be given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26)
One of the larger questions that always seems to surface in the discussion regarding the heart is whether or not the heart is good or evil?” The overwhelming weight of the scriptures refers to the heart as a good, wonderful and crucially important place.
The battle between two kingdoms is for the alliance, affection, and allegiance of the heart. The good heart is especially true for the believers and followers of Christ. A few passages do talk about the sin and evil found in the heart, yet the believer’s heart, the regenerate heart (2 Tim. 2:2, Ezek. 18:31) is the heart truly in question here. The heart that passed through the cross, is born again (John 3:3) is the one we must examine and rightly conclude from the evidence offered in the scriptures.
When Christ rescues a life, the recovery of significant things comes next. Change would be an understatement; transformation would be getting closer to what is ahead. The man or woman who was once dead in their sin is now made alive. That is truly a transformational work of Christ. The question then…
Is the heart still evil, sinful, hard (like a stone) and wicked after one is rescued and being transformed. After we are adopted into the family of God, are we evil?
When a person, by repentance of sin and acceptance of God’s provision for sin, receives the Savior Jesus Christ and is justified to God is he or she still wicked and sinful at their core? Scripture states that the work of Christ revives, reshapes, and restores us from our inside out. Our core, the heart, is changed. Would God then, in the form of the Holy Spirit, reside in a wicked place, a predominantly or even remotely evil, sinful place?
Scripture states that He comes to dwell in our hearts (Rom. 10, Acts 15:9, 2 Cor. 6:11). Maybe the question is, "Is this figurative?" Biblical evidence seems to point unanimously to a real place.
According to the scriptures, the heart is the home of personal life. Therefore a man is “designated” to the orientation of his heart, which is described in the Bible as: wise (I Kings 3:12), pure (Psalms 24:4 and Matt. 5:8), upright and righteous (Gen. 20:5, Psalms 11:2 and 78:72), good (Luke 8:15). The heart is also the seat of conscience (Rom. 2:15). In its unregenerate or "unsaved" or natural state, wicked (Gen. 8:21), and therefore, can and does contaminate the whole person. If the well is polluted, the water in the bucket will be bad; if the root source is infected the fruit will be also. God knows this (designed us that way) and therefore has designed it so we must go through a heart transformation (Ezek.11:19 and 36:26) before we can truly have what we were designed to experience; a relationship with God. He recognizes our deepest need and does something only He can do… transform us. This is good news, really good new!!!
3 to Look at in the Old Testament Law
The first mention of the heart is in Genesis chapters 6-8. The second, the role of the heart in fulfillment of the law and the commandments is in Deuteronomy 6:5. And the third, the incredible historical narrative involving King Solomon and his heart is in I Kings 3:7-15.
In Genesis 6:5-7 the association of wickedness with the heart is made. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time”. Notice the connection to thoughts and not emotions or desires regarding the heart?
John Wesley describes the heart in his commentary on this passage in Genesis. Wesley calls it the “corrupt spring”5. Because of the fallen and lost condition of man’s heart, God does a sad and grand work of redemption—a great do-over. He flooded the earth, sparing only Noah and his family to begin again. God found it necessary to provide a law in which people would know how to live in a righteous way before Him.
Because of the condition and the activity in the human heart we see God is grieved. He moves from places of compassion and patience to an expression of judgment and remorse. The heart is the place that evil can and does reside when we have no movement whatsoever toward the living God, choosing to live our lives without Him, a heart in exile—a heart that chooses or prefers to stay lost, fallen… Dead. Exodus 20 is the beginning of God’s formal law when He gives the Ten Commandments. Later, it is in Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 5 and 6 that Israel is on the verge of the promised land and they are commanded again to "hear and obey". Duane Christensen writes in his Word Biblical Commentary, “In some respects it can be argued that the whole book of Deuteronomy is simply a commentary on this one verse (verse 5): ‘You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul-life, and with all our might.”’6 Later in the Gospels, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) He quotes this passage in Deuteronomy,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
The book of Deuteronomy has many references to the heart…
4:29 look for Him with all your heart
10:12 love God with all your heart
11:13 serve Him with all your heart
13:3 love Him with all your heart
26:16 observe them (the law) with all your heart
30:2-10 love and obey Him with all your heart
This raised a significant question for me. Would God command us to do something that was impossible for us to do then or now? It is obvious the heart is very important to God by these passages (remember, we are still only exploring what might be best understood as the cliff notes on the subject). The heart is the most important issue to God, because He knows that when He gets a person’s heart, He gets the person.
One of my favorite stories that I uncovered in my exploration and research on the heart was what I found when looking at Solomon. It has often been taught that Solomon asked for wisdom. Go ahead and ask a room full of adult believers in a Sunday school class or Bible study small group some time… "What did Solomon ask God for?" I have yet to hear someone get it right. Let’s look at what he really asked for in I Kings 3:7-15,
“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father, David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The King James says an “understanding heart”. The passage goes on to say that this was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said to him,
"Because you have asked for this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.”
Solomon asked for a certain type of heart: discerning and wise! You English majors, look what the noun is and what the adjectives are… wise and discerning (adjectives) and HEART (noun). If that wasn’t amazing enough, look what comes shortly after in II Kings 9:4. God says to Solomon at Gibeon, “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever…”
Two of the greatest rulers and kings have it recorded in scripture that their greatest quality was their hearts toward God. By no means were they perfect. On the contrary, their flaws were great and their mistakes cost them dearly. It might be argued that greater than their blunders (their sin) were their hearts for God. The heart is important to God!
More to come...
3 Bible Navigator: Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary of Biblical Terms - Heart
4 W.E.Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White. (1985). Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 297 Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
5 Bible Navigator 3.0, Holman Software. (2004) Bible Navigator - Special Academic Edition: John Wesley’s Commentary.
6 Duane L Christensen. (1991). Word Biblical Commentary - Deuteronomy 1-11, p143-144. Dallas, TX: Word Publisher.
There is an honorable mention passage for me that runs a close second to the Solomon story and it is found in First Chronicles 28:9 when David is speaking to his son Solomon, “And you my son, Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts”.