We all have our own ideas of what we mean when we say things like:
“God knows my heart.”
“My heart just isn’t in it.”
“She has a good heart.”
“My heart is breaking over this issue.”
“His presence makes my heart skip a beat.”
“Just accept Jesus into your heart.”
But what exactly is our heart, biblically speaking? Is it merely the blood pumping organ in your chest? Is it just an idiom for your deep seated emotions and convictions? How does the heart differ from your mind? Is our heart deceitful or has Messiah given us a new heart?
The Hebrew word most often translated as heart is “lev or levav.” These Hebrew words are also used to refer to the mind, reasoning, will, and understanding of a person. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a single Biblical Hebrew word to express the western idea of the “mind” or even the brain. When you see the English word “mind” in your Bible translation, it is usually the Hebrew word lev or levav.
Why does this matter? According to Jeff Benner’s Hebrew pictograph’s, the lev, depicts the staff or authority (lamed) with the tent or house (vet). In other words, the lev is a pictograph of “the authority within.” The question becomes one of authority. Who is on the throne of your life? You or the Creator?
What about those times when you feel pulled in two different directions? Could this be an indication that you are fighting YHWH for the throne? For example, have you ever been faced with a decision where you truly felt like you knew the obvious answer in your mind, but your heart didn’t want to follow your own sound reasoning? The heart wants what the heart wants, right?
You might have felt like your heart and mind disagreed in these instances. But in Hebrew, the heart and the mind are of one and the same. Thus, what is perceived to be a conflict between one’s heart and mind is really a matter of being “double-minded.” Ouch. Perhaps the sound instruction you knew to be true (God’s Word) or even good common sense, just wasn’t what you desired.
James’ answer is to SUBMIT to God. Apparently that inward struggle is one trying to take the reins (control) and have one’s own way. We are told to resist the “devil” or the enemy (which can very well be our own flesh) and the “feeling/drive” will flee.
Jam. 4:7-8 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (8) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Circumstances such as these are indicators that our lev needs to be purified, because we are suffering from double-mindedness. You see, the real battle you are experiencing is between your “renewed” mind/lev and your flesh or nephesh. The nephesh or flesh includes one’s mind or intellect. Like the other aspects of the nephesh (emotions, feelings, desire, appetites, will, etc.), one’s mind and intellect must also submit to the authority of Adonai – His Word.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been faced with inner conflicts, I KNEW what I SHOULD do (my renewed mind); it’s just that my DESIRE was to do to the opposite (my heart). My nephesh wanted what it wanted, regardless of the truth of the Word of God. This is why James calls a double-minded person “unstable.” (Jam. 1:6-8) An unstable or double-minded person has not learned to master their nephesh with the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Instead, they are tossed to and fro by their emotions and random thoughts. They don’t have a legacy of overcoming the desires and thoughts of the flesh, making them more akin to a beast than a human. The beast (flesh) must be placed on the altar every day, which is something learned through persistent practice and willful submission.
The Occupied Mind (Lev)
Knowing that we each have this warring nature within, YHWH gives us the remedy.
Dt. 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart (lev) and with all your soul (nephesh) and with all your might (meod).
Loving Adonai begins in the mind (lev) which encompasses our emotions and will. This leads to one making their flesh/nephesh come into obedience (self-control). The more we exercise this type of submission, the stronger we become spiritually. But, the key is the lev as the next verse attests that the Word/commandments of God are to be UPON our lev. (Dt. 6:6) We must purposely choose to meditate on the Word of God day and night. This will strengthen our lev (mind) and we will have much better chances of overcoming our greatest enemy, our flesh. Paul calls this “renewing your mind”:
Romans 12:1-2 (NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
So far, we have discovered that:
- The lev is more than our heart; it is our MIND.
- The lev involves thinking, planning, feeling, imagination, knowing, remembering, intent, etc.
- The lev can listen to your nephesh (flesh/desires) or the truth (Word of God).
Now let’s consider some verses that use the Hebrew lev and read them with this fuller understanding. There are hundreds of verses to choose from; I encourage you do to your own concordance search for more detail.
Dt. 4:29 “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
It speaks to you:
Dt. 8:17 “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’
It’s in need of circumcision:
Dt. 10:16 “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.
Ps. 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
It can be changed and enlarged:
1 Sam. 10:9 Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.
Ps. 119:32 I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart.
It can carry you away:
Job 15:12 “Why does your heart carry you away? And why do your eyes flash,
It can rejoice:
Ps. 13:5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
It can meditate and be taught:
Ps. 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.
Ps. 86:11 Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.
It has a tablet or record that must be guarded:
Pr. 3:3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Pr. 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
It can deceive you:
Jer. 17:9 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
Our hearts/minds must be guarded and “fed” a healthy diet of God’s Word in order to stay steadfast and righteous. It truly is a well spring of life… or death. Thoughts are like seeds. They have the power to produce fruit/deeds. Our natural inclination will be to produce death. This is because a sinful person is really sick. The virus wants to reproduce itself. The only remedy we have is the Living Word of Adonai.
The good news is that Adonai is not only willing, but desires to renew our minds. But, it will require us to relinquish ourselves to Him. This reminds me of a quandary that I often meditate upon (a faculty of my lev).
Does Adonai supernaturally place or write His Word and Commandments on our heart (lev) upon receiving Yeshua? Or is this a “process” that we must choose to allow by the washing and watering of His Word? My meditations have caused me to consider that this isn’t a real either/or question. Both are true, if you can take off the Greek/western lenses. Let’s look at a familiar story in the Scriptures that forces us to look at the “heart of the matter.“
Pharaoh’s Hard Heart
The passages concerning the Passover and exodus from Egypt are read every year in the Torah cycle and are commemorated each spring with the first moed (feast) on Adonai’s calendar. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Pesach (Passover) is FIRST feast. This story is about the Israelites redemption and release from slavery. Followers of Yeshua also understand that He is our Pesach Lamb year after year. Like Israel of old, we are redeemed and saved by the blood of the Lamb. We are released from the bondage of Egypt and Pharaoh -not because we deserve it, worked for it, or earned it. Adonai’s great compassion, mercy, and loving-kindness moved Him to act on our behalf.
But after our release, we must get to know our Redeemer. We must choose to trust and follow Him. We will all face the wilderness. In the wilderness we will be tested and tried, so that our true lev or heart/mind will be revealed (to us). This is life, folks. Will we die in the desert or move on to the Promised Land?
Dt. 8:2 “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”
Each year as we commemorate Israel’s freedom (and ours), we are faced with a seeming paradox in regards to the heart. In the account of the plagues of Egypt, sometimes we see the LORD hardening Pharaoh’s heart and sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart. These verses were most confusing to me in the past. How could Pharaoh be held accountable for his resistance to God’s Word if Adonai was pulling all the strings? You might have asked the same question. Adonai loves an honest question, because it requires us to exercise our mind. Let’s look at this “hardening.”
The Hebrew word for hardened is chazak. This word may be familiar to you if you have a Jewish Bible. There is a traditional phrase that is chanted at the completion of each book of Torah in the reading cycle. It is: “Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazek!” It means, “Be strong! Be strong! And let us be strengthened!” Thus, what should our lev be strengthened by? The Torah! Isn’t this what the Shema and V’ahavta are all about? (Dt. 6:4-9)
When I looked up the Hebrew word chazak, I was rather amazed by the fact that this word is only translated as “hardened” in reference to Pharaoh’s heart. It is most often translated as “be strong.” It literally means to seize, to grab hold, to strengthen.
What actually occurred was that Pharaoh’s mind (lev) was strengthened. He had convinced himself or “set his mind” to keep Israel subjugated. He wouldn’t even allow the evidence of miracles and plagues to change his mind. He wanted what he wanted. Unfortunately, this strengthening was against the will of God. If you look closely at the text, Pharaoh hardens his own heart toward Israel throughout the first five plagues. And then, Adonai hardens Pharaoh’s heart during the last five. It seems that YHWH eventually turned Pharaoh over to his own desires. Paul tells us that this is very possible:
Eph. 4:17-19 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, (18) being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (19) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Sadly, if we continue to resist the Holy Spirit’s direction to stop appeasing our flesh, God will let us have our way. Paul urges us to lay aside the “old self” or the evil inclination and be RENEWED in the spirit of our mind.
Eph. 4:20-24 But you did not learn Christ in this way, (21) if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, (22) that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, (23) and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, (24) and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Paul continues in the Book of Ephesians by advising Believers to be imitators of God. The process of laying aside the “old man/self” and taking on the “new self/man” is often called sanctification. This is NOT about salvation. It is a process. A journey. A walk. A way of life. This is the wilderness experience. But how do we know what to kick aside and what to take on? Paul again exhorts us:
Eph. 5:8-11 For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (9) (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), (10) trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (11) Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them…
Eph. 5:15-17 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, (16) making the most of your time, because the days are evil. (17) So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
We must be careful and diligent as we follow the Lord. We must seek God’s will and learn what is pleasing to Him. This is much different than pleasing men, their tradition, or their theology. Nevertheless, we can do this without sinning in anger or speaking evil of those that aren’t in the exact place we are on the path. In other words, our lev must become obedient to Adonai.
The Bible is our instruction. Thus, the Words of Life are contained within its leaves (pages). I can either reject them or follow them. But this is where the controversy arises. Is the whole Book meant for my instruction or are there parts I should ignore? When I stand back from all the theological arguments and the thoughts of men, the answer seems rather simple.
Ecc. 12:13-14 The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man (adam). (14) For God shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil. (JPS)
A whole (restored/complete) adam (man/woman) will fear God and keep His commandments, because he has a mind (lev) set on serving the Creator. This is a person that has given his inner authority (lev) over to the ultimate Authority of the Universe.
Continued in the Matters of the Heart in Part II.
 Eph. 5:6
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