I had a completely different post planned for today, but then I started looking more closely at 2 Chronicles 16:9 on Wednesday (it’s Day 19 of the Double-Minded scripture writing list that I brought up in last week’s post) and I just had to keep studying it. Here’s that verse in a few different translations to start us out:
“For Yahweh’s eyes run back and forth throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (WEB)
“Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him.” (NET)
“For the eyes of Adonai move here and there throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those who are wholehearted toward him.” (CJB)
“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (NIV)2 Chronicles 16:9
I think it’s fascinating to realize God is actively looking to be strong in and on behalf of certain people. The description of those people is what I want to focus on today. Even though I’ve looked up the Hebrew words used here before I hadn’t really thought that deeply about what they mean, and I’ve found studying deeper into this topic of “perfect” hearts both fascinating and encouraging.
A short Hebrew study
As you can see, the description of the people who catch God’s eye is translated in several different ways–“them whose heart is perfect,” “those who are devoted to him,” “those who are wholehearted toward him,” and “fully committed to him” (and there are even more in other translations). In Hebrew, the word “heart” is leb or lebab, and it is “the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1071a). While leb can just mean the muscle that pumps blood through your body, in a context like this it means your inner person, mind, emotions, will, understanding, and soul (BDB lexicon, H3824). It’s because this word encompasses so much of our minds, wills, and natures that I think “whole-hearted” is the opposite of “double-minded.”
Though “heart” is a fascinating study, it’s the “wholeness” part that caught my eye this time. The word that’s behind the translators’ decision to use words like “whole,” “perfect,” “devoted,” and “committed” is shalem (H8003). If that looks a lot like shalom (the Hebrew word for peace, H7965), it should. They are both part of the same word family derived from the root sh-l-m (TWOT, 2401). Shalom is used most often (over 250 times); shalem is an adjective form used 26 times.
Of all those times that shalom is used in the Bible, it only means “absense of strife” about 50-60 times (TWOT, 2401a). Far more often, it means something that a single English word like “peace” is woefully inadequate to express. Trying to fix this problem, the King James Version used about 30 different words in the Old Testament to translate shalom.
The root meaning of the verb shālem better expresses the true concept of shālôm. Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, are closer to the meaning. Implicit in shālôm is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfilment in one’s undertakings.TWOT by Laird R. Hariss, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, entry 2401
My favorite short version of a definition for shalom is one I’ve heard used by a Messianic rabbi. Shalom is wholeness–nothing missing, nothing broken. That’s the kind of heart that God creates in us (filling in the missing things and healing the brokenness) and which He is looking for as His eyes roam the earth.
Hearts of shalom
All the times when shalem is paired with “heart” are found in discussions of Israel’s kings. As you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles (and one verse in Isaiah), you’ll see phrases like “his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 15:3, WEB) or sometimes “the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (2 Chron. 15:17, WEB). Once, when talking about Amaziah, there’s even the curious phrase, “He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, but not with a perfect heart” (2 Chr. 25:2, WEB). Apparently, you can “do what’s right” without actually being wholehearted (which makes sense when we think of the hypocrisy that the Jesus called-out the Pharisees on because they “say and don’t do“).
I find all this fascinating. First, I’m puzzled why a shalem heart is only used in very specific contexts. It’s used by a king talking to the next king (1 Chr. 28:9), the people in relation to a king (1 Chr. 12:38), a king instructing the people (1 Kings 8:55, 61; 2 Chr. 19:9), those keeping records about kings, or a prophet speaking to a king, which is where we started this post. Even David, the man after God’s own heart who was held up as the exemplar of what it meant to be a king with a perfect heart, doesn’t pair shalem or shalom with leb in his psalms (at least not in the same verse, see Psalm 4:4, 8 and 37:4, 11, 31, 37).
Still, though the use of this phrase is limited to one particular section of the Bible, we can see the benefits of having a whole, perfect, and complete heart. There’s great value in cultivating a relationship with God where nothing’s missing or broken. He wants that from kings serving Him, and Revelation tells us that God intends for us to become kings and priests (or in some translations a kingdom of priests; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We might not be ruling monarchs of ancient Israel, but God still wants us to have hearts like David’s.
Characteristics of David’s heart
Though David doesn’t link hearts and peace directly, he does write extensively about the heart’s relationship with God. Since we know he had a shalem heart, reading his writing on hearts can help us develop hearts like this as well. According to the psalms, a heart like David’s is …
- Pure, blameless, and washed clean by God. Psalm 15:2; 24:4; 51:10; 101:2
- Undivided, steadfast on God. Psalm 57:7; 86:11; 108:1
- Searched, both by the self and by God. Psalm 4:4; 139:23
- Seeking God. Psalm 27:8; 69:32
- Joyful about being righteous, upright, and following God. Psalm 13:5; 19:8; 32:11; 40:10
- Praising and thanking God. Psalm 64:10; 138:1
- Courageous. Psalm 27:14; 31:24
- Not arrogant. Psalm 131:1
- Broken and contrite when corrected. Psalm 51:17
- Wants to be acceptable in God’s eyes. Psalm 19:14
That’s quite a list. And this wasn’t even a super in-depth study (I ran out of time to study this topic any more before today’s post)–just a search on MySword Bible app for psalms attributed to David that mention “heart.” Still, it gives us a fantastic starting point for developing hearts that are whole, perfect, and complete in their relation to God. I also find it really encouraging that it’s David who’s held up as an example for us to follow. God doesn’t need to start with perfect people in order for us to have whole hearts with “nothing missing, nothing broken.” David was far from perfect–he even killed the husband of the woman he committed adultery with–and yet God still loved Him and kept working with him after David repented and asked for a clean heart.
If God didn’t give up on David, then I know He’s not going to give up on me. And He’s not going to give up on you. We just need to make sure we don’t give up on ourselves either and keep coming back to God, cultivating a heart that’s wholly focused on Him. Then, God will make sure to give us hearts full of shalom.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13, WEB
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