In many Western countries heart attacks are still considered by doctors to be the number one killer of people. Without our knowing, our hearts can be diseased, failing, or otherwise unsound. On the other hand, symptoms can indicate heart weakness, and a variety of medical tests will quickly reveal the extent of the problem. Advice or treatment is then outlined for the patient’s benefit. Heart examination, therefore, can prove to be a good thing from a physical, and likewise a spiritual, standpoint.

The longest psalm in the Bible is the one hundred and nineteenth, and it consists of a wonderful variety of prayers by a sensitive, godly man. One of his requests is for a sound heart. “Let my heart be sound in Thy statutes”, he cries (v.80, Authorized Version). He was asking for a heart that was clean, full of integrity, truth, sincerity, and entire: a spiritually-healthy heart indeed, and is in contrast to the “fat as grease” heart of the proud (v.70). From a spiritual viewpoint this psalmist would instruct us that to maintain a healthy heart we should avoid pride, mischief, and unbelief.

Our hearts are the seat of our affections, the very centre of things. The Hebrew word for heart is “leb”, meaning the centre of everything. Our hearts must have spiritual protection; that is why the breastplate is mentioned as part of the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6). The helmet of salvation is to protect the mind; the breastplate of righteousness is for the heart. In Israel an ephod of gold, blue, purple, scarlet and fine twined linen was made for the high priest. Made from the same five materials, which might speak of Christ in His divine glory, His heavenly character, His majesty, His humiliation, and His pure life, was the breastplate.

On it were names of the children of Israel according to their tribes, which can teach us the importance of heart service to the Lord; while on the shoulder pieces of the ephod were their names according to birth, which indicates to us the truth of security in the strength of the Lord Jesus. The breastplate and the shoulder pieces were joined by golden chains, showing a precious divine link between salvation (shoulder pieces) and service (the breastplate). The two should be inseparable in the life of the disciple.

For Israel’s benefit it is written: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually” (Exodus 28:29,30). For us it is encouraging to remember the words of the hymn:

“On His heart our names are graven,
On His shoulders we are borne.
For His sake the Father loves us;
Praise becomes us in return”.

Secure in Him and in His love, may our hearts respond with service, fruitful and affectionate.