One of the unfortunate characterizations of the Old Testament is that it is all about law, while the New Testament is all about grace.
In other words, the Old Testament is all about external behavior (keeping the rules) while the New Testament is focused on interior commitment to God.
But that is just not true.
Anyone familiar with the sweeping story of salvation knows that God wants more than exterior obedience. He desires the people to love him freely with their hearts, as he loves them.
The book of Deuteronomy, one of the most important books of the Old Testament, is a case in point. It is one of the supplemental books on the Bible Timeline, because it isn’t a narrative book, but you can’t make sense of the Old Testament story without Deuteronomy.
It has been aptly called the Heartbeat of the Old Testament.
If you can find the pulse of Deuteronomy, you’ve found the heart of Jewish life and worship:
- and the close relationship between inner life and outward behavior.
You see, the Hebrew understanding of heart is, well, at the heart of the whole matter.
Your Deep, Hidden Center
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it well:
“The heart is the dwelling–place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant” (CCC 2563).
And that Jewish understanding of the heart (Hebrew, leb) is all over the book of Deuteronomy.
I have marked with a red pencil every reference to heart in Deuteronomy, and I can hardly turn a page without seeing this indication.
God is revealing his love and appealing to the hearts of his people.
The most famous example in Deuteronomy is the most important Jewish prayer even today, the Sh’mah:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (leb), and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart (leb)” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6).
As Deuteronomy unfolds, this call to heart-deep faithfulness continues.
The Three “M’s”
In Deuteronomy 7-9 especially, the people are warned about ‘false gods’ that are vying for their hearts. They aren’t the carved images of the Canaanites, but instead a triple threat. The ‘gods’ that are still alive in our time:
- militarism (the worship of military or political power as the solution to our problems, ‘might makes right’ Deuteronomy 7),
- materialism (the worship of wealth, Deuteronomy 8)
- and finally, the ‘god’ of moralism (thinking our personal righteousness is the reason why God blesses us rather than his gratuitous mercy, Deuteronomy 9).
In the end, Deuteronomy reminds us that the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
The whole book is a literary heart checkup for God’s people in every age.
Check Your Heart
So, how is your heart?
What are the “gods” that hold your time, attention, affection, and energies?
Pope Francis invited us to a similar heart exam. He asked:
“What does our heart care for? What treasure does our heart custody? Is my heart fixed upon creatures, the problems that we all have? Is my heart fixed upon everyday gods or is it a heart fixed on the Holy Spirit?”
If we find that our hearts have gone astray, we can give them back to the Lord each day.
I have a simple prayer with this intention. Let’s pray it today.
“Lord Jesus, come into my heart anew today. Soften it with your grace and mercy. Make my heart beat in unison with your Sacred Heart. May the things which bring your heart joy be my daily offering, and may the things that break your heart break mine. I ask this through the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Amen.”
This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog May 29, 2014.
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The Heart of a Mother (podcast)
What We Need Is a Change of Heart about Mass
Signs of a Restless (and Rebellious) Heart
About Thomas Smith
Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life, Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.