A God Concerned With Man's Heart
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Andrew Lloyd Webber has produced some remarkable stage musicals: Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, to name a few. Another successful production is based on an Old Testament account: Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It's a true story that illustrates that God has always been concerned with the heart of man.
When adultery and divorce are so commonly accepted, it's refreshing to see the main character in a musical reject a promiscuous invitation. In the musical, Joseph responds to Potiphar's wife's sexual advances by saying: "Please stop! I don't believe in free love."
The actual biblical text is much more specific. Genesis records Joseph's words as, "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9, New International Version). Joseph recognized this temptation for what it was: He knew the physical act of giving in to temptation would damage a spiritual relationship that God had held from the beginning to be sacred.
God's concerns haven't changed
From earliest history God has been concerned with mankind's heart, thoughts, attitudes and motives. Even though the Old Testament represents about 77 percent of the body of Scripture, few people understand that the standards God expects of us today are the same as He has expected down through the millennia.
God is concerned with people and how they live. After all, how we live reflects our character. The heart of humanity has always been of primary concern with the Creator because God created man in His image. What God is—and what He teaches in Scripture—defines what is right.
Certain nagging questions have plagued mankind. What am I supposed to do? How should I act? What is "good"? What does it mean to be a good person?
God didn't ignore these questions in the Old Testament, nor did He leave it for men and women to decide for themselves. In fact, He addressed these issues in the most forthright way imaginable.
God's judgment on human corruption
The book of Genesis tells us that God, after some 1,600 years of recorded human history, was grieved and His own heart "filled with pain" at man's wickedness. God saw that "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5-6). Grieved that He had made man, God made an irrevocable decision: to drown virtually all land-based life on the planet in an enormous deluge: the great flood of Noah's time.
God was concerned with man's thoughts. He brought to pass the drowning of everyone except eight people, the family of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). In this great act God clearly distinguished between the evil thoughts of everyone on earth and the righteous life of Noah. He abhorred the one and accepted the other.
Early in recorded history God willed-on a massive scale-that a sore penalty be exacted for evil thoughts and lives, and that physical salvation would be afforded the few who remained righteous.
Concern about human motivations
Scripture demonstrates that God was concerned from early in mankind's history with man's heart, that God cared deeply about the spirit, or motivation, behind man's actions.
This is demonstrated by such statements as "Do not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17, NIV) and "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
After recounting His Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21, God exclaimed, "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (verse 29).
King David knew well that God "searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts" (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).
David also grew to understand that no one could escape from the invisible presence of God (Psalm 139). In his repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba, David expressed the understanding that God was ultimately more concerned with "a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart" than with any physical penance he could undertake (Psalm 51:17).
Man's innermost attitude and disposition have always been of concern to God, in both Old and New Testament.
God has long concerned Himself with the morality of people. This was clearly demonstrated during Abraham's time when judgment was exacted on five cities. Two of the cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, have become classic examples of the sinfulness of humans, typifying all that is perverse and decadent. God showed He would not forever overlook depraved attitudes and conduct. He concluded that the "sin [was] so grievous" in these cities that a prediction of even 10 righteous people living there was wildly optimistic and unrealistic (Genesis 18:20-32).
Once again God made a distinction concerning the morality and ethics of human conduct. In Sodom lived only one righteous man, Lot (2 Peter 2:6-7). God considered the evil of these cities sufficient to warrant their annihilation as a judgment on their sinful, corrupted residents.
The Old Testament: the foundation of morality
God is also concerned with man's attitude toward his brother. In some cases the Old Testament scriptures stress this even more clearly than the New. Consider, for example, why murder is so abhorrent to God. The New Testament scriptures do not detail why premeditated murder is wrong. They do not explain what was behind God's declaration in Exodus 20:13 that murder is a sin.
The Old Testament, however, holds the key. It's not just that God detests the violent act. The real reason is revealed early in man's history as a moral statement given to Noah.
Noah had personally witnessed a global watery judgment for man's violent ways and cruel thoughts. God restated to him the spiritual reason behind the prohibition against murder: "And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man." God then explained what no text in the New Testament does similarly: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Genesis 9:5, 6, NIV).
Man should not murder because human beings bear their Creator's image. Each person bears a potential far greater than this physical life. To murder another is to attempt to negate God's infinitely higher purpose for mankind.
The sacredness of human life
Consider another example related to the sacredness of human life where the New Testament does not explain a concept as clearly as the Old: How concerned is God with the unborn child? Where in Scripture would you go to find an answer to this question? Where would you find God's thoughts concerning the unborn? You would have to consult the inspired writings of the Old Testament.
We find two of God's servants, David and Jeremiah, both stating that God knew them before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139:13; Jeremiah 1:5).
But the critical passage dealing with the death of an unborn child is in Exodus 21:22-25. Modern scholars and newer translations recognize that this verse refers to the death of the unborn. A judgment is rendered, and punishment carried out, based on the sanctity of the life of the unborn child.
Some of the greatest texts on ethics-values, thoughts, motives and intent of the heart-are detailed in the writings we know as the Old Testament. They are a vital foundation in establishing how God responds to the thoughts and intent of the human heart.
Actions reflect the heart
As Jesus explained to the Pharisees of His day, just as a tree is known by its fruit, so is a man known by his ways. As are his thoughts, so will be his actions, "for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Jesus explained that "men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:33-37, NIV).
Jesus repeatedly made it clear that what a man does is linked to the content of his heart (Matthew 15:18-19). His actions are but a reflection of his thoughts and intents. It shouldn't surprise us that the Creator of man went straight to the heart and core of the matter, addressing mankind's thoughts from the beginning. GN