“For the Lord seeks all hearts, and He understands the thoughts of every creation; if you seek Him, He will be found to you.” —1 Chronicles 28:9
Dennis Prager recently generated controversy by offering a series of defenses and rationalizations of grave sexual sins, including pornography. In the course of his remarks, Prager, who is Jewish, expressly rejected the Lord’s admonition concerning adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28). “That phrase does not appear, obviously, in the Hebrew Bible,” he stated, further asserting that Judaism tends to be “behavior-based” while Christianity tends to be “heart-based.”
Prager thereby insinuated that the doctrine of Christ is foreign to the doctrine of Moses and the Prophets. Such a notion not only denigrates the Lord as a misguided innovator but also impugns Moses and the Prophets by diminishing their sublime teaching. In fact, Christ’s doctrine is consistent with that of Moses and the Prophets—fulfilling, not destroying, that which came before (Matthew 5:17)—and the former no less than the latter declares the primacy of the heart, understood as the womb and workshop of justice or iniquity, the instrument of supernatural vision, the vessel of spiritual ascent, and the very dwelling of the divine Presence.
Moses evidently appreciates the heart as the hidden seat and wellspring of human personality. Thus, he takes pains to illustrate that our first mother was corrupted interiorly before she ever extended her hand (Genesis 3:6), and he underscores that sin penetrated the depths of man’s being, such that “every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5) (quotations from the English translation of Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg). Similarly, he emphasizes the heart as the source of pharaoh’s obstinacy (see, e.g., Exodus 7:3, 8:19, 9:12). Therefore, the Decalogue aptly concludes with a broad proscription of sinful desire, striking at evil’s root (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:18).
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Then there is Deuteronomy, the capstone of Mosaic teaching, which might well be termed the Book of the Heart. The children of Israel, writes Moses, are to love God with the entire heart (6:5); they are to circumcise the heart (10:16); they are to set God’s commandments upon the heart (11:18); they are to exclude faithless thoughts from the heart and prevent the heart from grieving when fulfilling its obligations (15:9-10); they are to return to God with the whole heart after going astray (30:2); they are to recognize that the commandments abide in the heart (30:14).
David and his fellow psalmists likewise evince a profound sensitivity to the inner man and are keenly attuned to the secrets of the heart: wicked men have a double heart (Psalm 12:3); the heart rejoices in salvation (13:5); the primordial denial of God occurs within the heart (14:1); the meditations of the heart are offered to God (19:15); purity of heart is necessary to approach God’s dwelling (24:4); God is begged to refine the heart (26:2); the heart dialogues intimately with God (27:8); God searches the heart (44:21); with the heart man ponders divine things (77:7-12); thanksgiving is made wholeheartedly (86:12); the heart seeks God and guards His Word (119:10-11); the heart calls out to God (119:145). “Behold,” exclaims David, “You desired that truth be in the hidden places, and in the concealed part You teach me wisdom…Create for me a pure heart, O God” (51:6, 10).
Solomon, too, attaches great significance to the heart, describing it as a “tablet” for spiritual writing (Proverbs 3:3) and counseling the wise to “guard the heart,” whence come the “issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Likewise, concerning the “evil woman,” he warns “not [to] covet her beauty in [the] heart” (Proverbs 6:25), and he identifies as abominable “the heart that thinks thoughts of violence” (Proverbs 6:16). Again, he proposes the heart as the assimilator of knowledge (Proverbs 22:17), the guide in wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:3), and the inner tribunal (Ecclesiastes 7:22).
The Prophets, for their part, peer deeply into the heart, studying and publishing its subtle motions. The heart is known as the organ of understanding (Isaiah 6:10); God desires that the heart draw near to Him (Isaiah 29:13); the evil heart madly supposes itself akin to God (Isaiah 47:8; see Isaiah 45:5); wicked men follow the counsel of their own corrupt hearts (Jeremiah 7:24); the unrighteous scheme within the heart (Jeremiah 9:7); the heart is supremely deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9); God is found when sought with the whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13); the perverse heart is a pedestal for idols (Ezekiel14:3); the proud heart forgets God (Hosea 13:6).
Certainly, Moses and the Prophets never regard the heart in isolation, disjoined from the deeds flowing therefrom. For them, the heart does and must express itself in action: so, for instance, to love God is not merely to affectionately cling to Him but to faithfully observe His statutes. Simply put, the heart forms and directs the whole man: “I shall walk with the innocence of my heart” (Psalm 101:2). Of course, this integrated vision, which seamlessly fuses the inner life and the outer life, is exactly that set forth by Christ, who says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; see also, e.g., Ephesians 5:8; James 1:22).
Granted, the Gospel is distinguished by an unyielding stress on interior righteousness born of supernatural charity (see, e.g., Matthew 5:20; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13). But neither in the doctrine of Moses and the Prophets, nor in the doctrine of Christ, is there any doubt concerning the heart’s primacy and priority: it comes first, not only determining what a man does (1 Samuel 24:13; Matthew 12:34), but who he is (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15). Christ perfects Moses and the Prophets; He does not overturn them.
Prager has bluntly characterized Judaism as a religion of behavior. Perhaps this is true of modern Judaism; let his coreligionists decide. Surely false, however, is his intimation that such extrinsicism is consistent with the teaching of Moses and the Prophets. Quite the opposite. These servants of God insist uniformly on purity of heart not just purity of hands. Indeed, they announce together the great hope of Israel: a new heart, a heart of flesh, infused with holiness and knowledge, and conducted by divine power (see, e.g., Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-33).
This hope is realized by our Lord Jesus Christ: who, being the Word of God, condescended to assume human form, and having made satisfaction for sin and destroyed death, He poured forth the Holy Spirit, shedding the love of God abroad in the heart. Of this Christ and His benefits, Moses and the Prophets bear witness. So let every man, whether Jew or Gentile, purify his heart by faith and the obedience of faith; and let every man cast off the veil that lies over the heart (2 Corinthians 3:14-15) and gaze upon “the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), so as to be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore]