Thursday, April 1, 2021

Thoughts, words and actions from the heart

I know there are lots of Hebrew-related posts these days. But learning about an ancient Hebrew worldview helps understand the possible worldview of Book of Mormon authors, which I find highly rewarding in my Book of Mormon studies. An odd phrase that we frequently find in the Old Testament is "thoughts of the heart" (Genesis 6:5, 1 Chronicles 29:18, Job 17:11, etc.).

The modern understanding is that our thoughts originate in our head/brain, not heart. But the main point of the scriptures is not to give an anatomy lesson. The Hebrew word, 'lev', typically translated into 'heart', may also be translated to 'chest' or simply 'center', referring to the central, inner part of man. This is where all our thoughts, intents, words and actions originate. In his book, "70 Hebrew words every Christian should know", Matthew Richard Schlimm explains:

Humans can intuitively sense that our thoughts, emotions, convictions, character, and sense of identity flow out from someplace within, guiding what we do and who we are. How do we describe our inner drivers? Biblical writers spoke about the physical center of our bodies. Our heads, arms, legs, and blood literally come out from this center, while our actions, behaviors, and deeds figuratively come out from here.

This is the essence of the Hebrew, 'lev', often translated to 'heart', but containing more meaning than that. Not surprisingly, we see this older understanding in the Book of Mormon too. Thoughts always come from the heart, not the mind/brain/head. For example:

And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts. (Mosiah 24:12)

As a little side note, but with relevance to this topic: One thing I have noticed is that the Book of Mormon sometimes repeats an expression to make a statement or teach a lesson. In Alma 18:20, King Lamoni asks Ammon

And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things

Ammon starts teaching the King about God. Then he says:

...he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning. (Alma 18:32)

Alma answers King Lamoni 12 verses later by subtly referring back to that phrase. He knows the thoughts of the King's heart because God, who created man, knows, and a portion of his Spirit dwells in Ammon (v.35)

Here is another example clearly demonstrating the ancient Hebrew understanding of heart.

Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy. (Alma 12:7)

Zeezrom began to understand that Alma and Amulek knew the thoughts of his heart, similar to King Lamoni and Ammon. What follows is a lesson on the heart.

10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
12 And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.
13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.

It's all about the state of our hearts, this center within us from which thoughts, intents, emotions, words, actions, etc. emerge. With this worldview, the state of the heart will logically determine what is found "in us". If it is hardened, it naturally leads to the consequences described in the next verse:

14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

Words, works and thoughts all come from the heart, from this place within, and if it is hardened, what comes out is not good and will condemn us.

These are all small details that are easily missed when reading the scriptures from a modern, Western perspective, but make a lot of sense and enrich my studies once I learn more about the worldview of the authors.

"Zion ... shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made"

This post will focus on the final section of Moses 7, verses 58-69, which contains beautiful and powerful promises and prophecies related to...