Intellectual Piety

The Old Testament calls us repeatedly to intellectual piety—loving God with our minds, not just our emotions.

Psalm 1:1–2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 25:4–6 provides a prayer for knowledge: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

Since God is omniscient, he knows all our thoughts (conscious and unconscious).

Psalm 94:11 proclaims, “The Lord knows the thoughts of man.” Similarly, Psalm 139:2b says, “You discern my thoughts from afar.” God declares, “For I know the things that come into your mind” (Ezek 11:5). Amos 4:13a extols God, “who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought.” Additionally, God’s knowledge extends to private ruminations and motives: “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Prov 15:11). David wrote, “The Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chr 28:9).

God does not simply observe passively but scrutinizes our intellectual activity—in real time, 24/7.

Several terms are used to express this activity: “test,” “try,” “prove,” “search,” “search out,” and “examine.” The Lord declares, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind” (Jer 17:10). Others testify similarly about him: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts” (Prov 17:3); “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2). Jeremiah wrote, “O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind” (20:12). This is why David told Solomon, “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (2 Chr 32:31).

Mental piety (or intellectual spirituality) appears in heartfelt petitions that invite divine testing.

These are prayers for intellectual self-awareness and they presume habitual repentance. David implored the Lord, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind” (Ps 26:2). Psalm 139:23 states, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” Psalm 19:14 declares, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.” Perhaps the most poignant expression of intellectual piety is Psalm 131:1–2: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

(An extract adapted from my book Such a Mind as This: A Biblical-Theological Study of Thinking in the Old Testament. It is used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,