King Solomon questioned, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). He’s right. It’s hard to find an Old Testament example of someone who is pure-hearted.
For one thing, the Hebrew idea we typically translate as heart means “the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thoughts, motivations, courage and action” (NIV Study Bible notes for Psalm 4:7). It’s a tall order to keep all that pure!
King David thought alot about the heart, and he knew what Jesus also told us in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. –Matthew 5:8
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. –Psalm 24:3-4
Being in the presence of the Lord…seeing God…requires that we have pure hearts. Thankfully, Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to be counted among the pure-hearted. People in Old Testament times didn’t have that confidence during their lifetimes.
As we continue our series, Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament, just one Old Testament figure comes to mind when I look for someone pure-hearted: Joseph.
Joseph was his father’s clear favorite out of twelve sons. One day he dreamed his parents and brothers would bow down to him. Maybe he didn’t realize it was a prophetic dream. He naively shared the dream with his brothers, who immediately resented him far more than they had before. They were so angry that they sold him into slavery and lied to their father, saying he had been killed. That’s the short version.
God did it, but it
looked like a coincidence.
Joseph ended up in Egypt and somehow came to serve in the home of Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, a man named Potiphar. It’s not really a “somehow.” God did it, but it looked like a coincidence from the outside.
Oh yeah, Joseph was super-handsome and super-qualified for every task he was given. The fact is, “the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3) and blessed Potiphar’s household because of Joseph’s presence.
Exhibit A for a Pure Heart
Here’s how we know Joseph was pure in heart. Potiphar’s wife noticed him and invited him into her bed—not just once but daily. And daily, Joseph refused. I don’t think it was because she was ugly or old or any of the superficial reasons one sees on modern TV. Look what Joseph said:
“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” –Genesis 39:9
Exhibit B for a Pure Heart
Joseph’s pure heart
Eventually (to make another long story short), the wife got insulted and accused Joseph of trying to rape her. Potiphar threw Joseph in prison where he was so successful—despite it being prison!—that the warden put Joseph in charge of everything in the prison (Genesis 39:22). Joseph also developed a reputation there as an interpreter of dreams. Joseph’s pure heart prevented him from being resentful of either his brothers or Potiphar.
Exhibit C for a Pure Heart
After several years, Pharaoh had a prophetic dream that only Joseph could interpret, which led to Joseph’s installment as second-in-charge of all Egypt (Genesis 41:41-43). Because of Joseph’s careful planning and the success the Lord always gave him, Egypt was the only country in the region to successfully survive a seven-year drought. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt in search of food, and they bowed to the unrecognizable Joseph—just as he had dreamed so many years earlier. Even in this moment when even the holiest among us might crow just a little, Joseph cried and celebrated the reunion (Genesis 45:15, for example). His pure heart lasted a lifetime.
Joseph Saw God Work
Joseph saw God work and
experienced God’s blessings.
Joseph didn’t “see God” in the way we imagine Jesus meant in the Beatitudes, but he certainly saw God work and experienced God’s blessing even in the most difficult circumstances. Remember what he told his brothers after their father died?
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” –Genesis 50:20
As Jesus’ many followers heard him preach this inside-out sermon, so different from what they usually heard, I wonder if there were one or two who could remember Joseph’s story and know Jesus’ ideas weren’t as far-fetched as they seem.
Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament: Joseph was pure in heart, and he saw God work. My #heartpurity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
We don’t know how Joseph maintained his purity through all those years. What do you do to keep a pure heart? Please share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!
For more about a pure heart, check out this post from my Intentional Parenting blog: On Purity.