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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament


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The present chapter has for its subject a discussion of those elements in human nature which are the sources or centres of emotion, volition, deliberation, and spiritual apprehension. It is comparatively easy for the physiologist or anatomist to mark out the different organs of the human body, and to learn their structure and manifold uses; but the psychologist has a harder task to perform; he has to analyse and classify his own sensations and emotions, to determine so far as possible which are from the body and which from an immaterial source, to compare his own mental constitution with the effects produced on and by the minds of others, to note how different classes of external entities appeal to and call forth distinct feelings, and move in various spheres of existence, touching finer or ruder chords of human sensibility, according to their nature and the aspect in which they are presented. The mental analyst is in danger of running to one of two extremes, and more especially so when applying his study to Scripture. He is sometimes inclined to take the popular words which represent the inner life, in a very loose and vague sense, using the one for the other as people do in their ordinary conversation, as if there were but one organ of emotion and volition in man, receiving different names according to the different relationship it has to sustain. At other times he is tempted to exercise his powers of mental anatomy in ranging and classifying the different powers of the immaterial existence in several groups, assigning each to a separate organ, and thus making the heart, the will, the conscience, and the understanding to be distinct members of a spiritual organisation. Each of these systems represent an aspect of truth, but each is imperfect if taken by itself. We are not in a position to grasp the subject of immaterial existence, and can only approach it relatively and in those aspects in which it exists in connection with bodily life. [Physiology and psychology are now seen to be closely related, and the brain (which is never referred to in the Bible) is regarded as the medium as well as the seat of mental faculties.] We are, as it were, organised grains of dust floating on an ocean of spiritual existence, which permeates our being, connects us with one another, and binds us to that higher sphere of life in which GOD dwells in this spirit-world we live and breathe and know and feel and think and determine, but we understand little of its nature, and certainly we are not in a position to decide whether there is only one hidden agency at work in our bodies, taking many forms through the medium of the brain and nerves, or whether the nucleus of our conscious life is to be considered as composite in its original nature; in other words, whether human nature is like an Aeolian harp, which has many strings, and produces wild and plaintive music through the blind force of the wind; or whether it is like an organ, not only complex in itself, but also played up on by a complex being, who gives expression to his own thought and feeling as he touches its keys.

The Bible does not discuss this subject; it makes use, however, of certain terms which require careful consideration, as they have stamped themselves up on our popular and religious language, and are sometimes used without consideration of the ideas which they were originally intended to convey.

The general Hebrew word for the heart is Lev (לב ), answering to the Assyrian libbu. It is usually rendered καρδία in the LXX, but sometimes Greek words signifying the soul, the intellect, or the understanding, are taken to represent it.

Two or three other words are occasionally translated 'heart' in the A. V., e.g., Nephesh, 'the soul' (Exodus 23:9, al.); Maiim (מעים ), the bowels (Psalms 40:8); Kir (קיר ), the wall of the heart (Jeremiah 4:19); and Kerev (קרב ), the inner or middle part (Jeremiah 9:8). Our translators might have adopted a similar rendering in John 7:38, which would then run thus - 'out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water,' the heart representing the innermost part of the body. The R. V. has made no correction.

The heart, according to Scripture, not only includes the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man in fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. Hence we read of men being 'wise hearted,' Exodus 31:6; Exodus 36:2; of wisdom being put into the heart, 2 Chronicles 9:23; of the heart being awake, Ecclesiastes 2:23, ; of the thoughts of the heart, Deuteronomy 15:9; of words being laid up in the heart, 1 Samuel 21:12; and of mercy being written on the tablets of the heart, Proverbs 3:3 in 2 Kings 5:26, Elisha says to Gehazi, 'Went not my heart with thee' (or after thee); here a combination of knowledge and feeling is implied. There is also a beautiful expression in the Hebrew 'to speak to the heart,' which we render, 'to speak comfortably or friendly,' Ruth 2:13; 2 Samuel 19:7; 2 Chronicles 30:22; Isaiah 40:2 ('Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem'); Hosea 2:14 ('I will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfortably to her').

Whilst it is the source of all action, and the centre of all thought and feeling, the heart is also described as receptive of influences both from the outer world and from God Himself The wisdom of the wise-hearted was given them by the Lord (2 Chronicles 9:23); when Saul turned from Samuel, 'God gave him another heart' or 'turned his heart into a new direction' (1 Samuel 10:9); the Lord gave to Solom on 'a wise and an understanding heart' (1 Kings 3:12); He says concerning his people, 'I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever. . I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me' (Jeremiah 32:39-40); 'I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit with in you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh' (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26). Compare Psalms 51:10, 'Create in me a clean heart.' The word is used in the N.T in the same way as in the O.T.

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Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Heart'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.
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