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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
HEART. 1. Instances are not wanting in the OT of the employment of this word in a physiological sense, though they are not numerous. Jacob, for example, seems to have suffered in his old age from weakness of the heart; a sudden failure of its action occurred on receipt of the unexpected but joyful news of Joseph’s great prosperity ( Genesis 45:26 ). A similar failure proved fatal in the case of Eli, also in extreme old age ( 1 Samuel 4:13-18; cf. the case of the exhausted king, 1 Samuel 28:20 ). The effect of the rending of the pericardium is referred to by Hosea as well known ( 1 Samuel 13:8 ); and although the proverb ‘a sound (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘tranquil’) heart is the life of the flesh’ ( Proverbs 14:30 ) is primarily intended as a psychological truth, the simile is evidently borrowed from a universally recognized physiological fact (cf. Proverbs 4:23 ). The aphorism attributed to ‘the Preacher’ ( Ecclesiastes 10:2 ) may be interpreted in the same way; the ‘right hand’ is the symbol of strength and firmness, and the left of weakness and indecision (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:14 ). Nor does it appear that OT writers were ignorant of the vital functions which the heart is called on to discharge. This will be seen by their habit of using the word metaphorically as almost a synonym for the entire life (cf. Psalms 22:26; Psalms 69:32 , Isaiah 1:5 , where ‘head’ and ‘heart’ cover man’s whole being).
2. The preponderating use of the word is, however, psychological; and it is in this way made to cover a large variety of thought. Thus it is employed to denote the centre of man’s personal activities , the source whence the principles of his action derive their origin (see Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21 , where men’s evil deeds are attributed to corruption of the heart). We are, therefore, able to understand the significance of the Psalmist’s penitential prayer, ‘Create in me a clean heart’ ( Psalms 51:10 ), and the meaning of the prophet’s declaration, ‘a new heart also will I give you’ ( Ezekiel 36:26; cf. Ezekiel 11:19 ). The heart, moreover, was considered to be the seat of the emotions and passions ( Deuteronomy 19:6 , 1 Kings 8:38 , Isaiah 30:29; cf. Psalms 104:15 , where the heart is said to be moved to gladness by the use of wine). It was a characteristic, too, of Hebraistic thought which made this organ the seat of the various activities of the intellect , such as understanding ( Job 34:10; Job 34:34 , 1 Kings 4:29 ), purpose or determination ( Exodus 14:5 , 1 Samuel 7:3 , 1 Kings 8:48 , Isaiah 10:7 ), consciousness ( Proverbs 14:10 , where, if EV [Note: English Version.] be an accurate tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of the original text, the heart is said to be conscious both of sorrow and of joy; cf. 1 Samuel 2:1 ), imagination (cf. Luke 1:51 , Genesis 8:21 ), memory ( Psalms 31:12 , 1 Samuel 21:12; cf. Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51; Luke 1:66 ). The monitions of the conscience are said to proceed from the heart ( Job 27:6 ), and the counterpart of the NT expression ‘branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron’ ( 1 Timothy 4:2 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) is found in the OT words ‘I will harden his heart’ ( Exodus 4:21; cf. Deuteronomy 2:30 , Joshua 11:20 etc.). Closely connected with the idea of conscience is that of moral character, and so we find ‘a new heart’ as the great desideratum of a people needing restoration to full and intimate relationship with God ( Ezekiel 18:31; cf. Deuteronomy 9:5 , 1 Kings 11:4 ). It is, therefore, in those movements which characterize repentance, placed in antithesis to outward manifestations of sorrow for sin, ‘Rend your heart and not your garments’ ( Joel 2:13 ).
3. Moving along in the direction thus outlined, and not forgetting the influence of the Apocryphal writings on later thought (cf. e.g. Wis 8:19; Wis 17:11 , Sir 42:18 etc.), we shall be enabled to grasp the religious ideas enshrined in the teaching of the NT. In the recorded utterances of Jesus, so profoundly influenced by the ancient writings of the Jewish Church, the heart occupies a very central place. The beatific vision is reserved for those whose hearts are ‘pure’ ( Matthew 5:8; cf. 2 Timothy 2:22 , 1 Peter 1:22 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). The heart is compared to the soil on which seed is sown; it containsmoral potentialities which spring into objective existence in the outward life of the receiver ( Luke 8:15; cf., however, Mark 4:15-20 , where no mention is made of this organ; see also Matthew 13:18 , in which the heart is referred to, as in Isaiah 6:10 , as the seat of the spiritual understanding). Hidden within the remote recesses of the heart are those principles and thoughts which will inevitably spring into active life, revealing its purity or its native corruption ( Luke 6:45; cf. Matthew 12:34 f., Matthew 15:18 f.). It is thus that men’s characters reveal themselves in naked reality ( 1 Peter 3:4 ). It is the infallible index of human character, but can be read only by Him who ‘searcheth the hearts’ ( Romans 8:27; cf. 1 Samuel 16:7 , Proverbs 21:2 , Luke 16:15 ). Human judgment can proceed only according to the unerring evidence tendered by this resultant of inner forces, for ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’ ( Matthew 7:20 ). The more strictly Jewish of the NT writers show the influence of OT thought in their teaching. Where we should employ the word ‘conscience’ St. John uses ‘heart,’ whose judgments in the moral sphere are final ( 1 John 3:20 f.). Nor is St. Paul free from the influence of this nomenclature. He seems, in fact, to regard conscience as a function of the heart rather than as an independent moral and spiritual organ ( Romans 2:15 , where both words occur; cf. the quotation Hebrews 10:16 ). In spite of the fact that the last-named Apostle frequently employs the terms ‘mind,’ ‘understanding,’ ‘reason,’ ‘thinkings,’ etc., to express the elements of intellectual activity in man, we find him constantly reverting to the heart as discharging functions closely allied to these (cf. ‘the eyes of your heart,’ Ephesians 1:18; see also 2 Corinthians 4:6 ). With St. Paul, too, the heart is the seat of the determination or will (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:37 , where ‘steadfast in heart’ is equivalent to will-power). In all these and similar cases, however, it will be noticed that it is man’s moral nature that he has in view; and the moral and spiritual life, having its roots struck deep in his being, is appropriately conceived of as springing ultimately from the most essentially vital organ of his personal life.
J. R. Willis.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heart'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/h/heart.html. 1909.