KIDNEY/MIND: kilyah (singular), kilyoht (plural) (Strong’s 3629).
Hebrew text for kilyoht: כליות
Sounds like: kil-yaw and kil-yowt
When you look at a Hebrew word like kilyoht it forces you to recognize that the Bible is written in an historical and cultural context. The Bible is not a modern scientific document, and any attempt to read it as such de-values it. We have to read the Bible in its historical context to give it the full credit it is due.
The Ancient Near East (ANE) authors of the Biblical texts did the best they could with what they knew. Their understanding of kidneys was, naturally, different from our modern understanding. They recognized that something inside their bodies motivated them… to them, kilyah/kilyoht was an internal organ that caused you to think, dream, decide, and feel.
There was no Hebrew word for brain, but emotions were raw and real and visible, and needed an explanation. Kilyoht was considered the home base for these emotions; an equivalent modern concept would be the gut-feeling.
Of course with our modern advances in medicine we have a fairly accurate understanding of kidney function and it has little to do with our feelings. According to webmd.com:
The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs on either side of your spine, below your ribs and behind your belly. Each kidney is about 4 or 5 inches long, roughly the size of a large fist.
The kidneys’ job is to filter your blood. They remove wastes, control the body’s fluid balance, and keep the right levels of electrolytes. All of the blood in your body passes through them about 40 times a day.
Blood comes into the kidney, waste gets removed, and salt, water, and minerals are adjusted, if needed. The filtered blood goes back into the body. Waste gets turned into urine, which collects in the kidney’s pelvis — a funnel-shaped structure that drains down a tube called the ureter to the bladder.
The ancient Hebrew people may have had an elementary understanding of kidney function, but limited in comparison to what we know today. Their familiarity with kidneys would have come from animal butchery and animal sacrifices. Kilyoht shows up most frequently in the Torah with descriptions of ritual animal sacrifice, such as:
“And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys [ha-k’layoht] and the fat that is on them, and offer them up in smoke on the altar.”
The fact that kilyoht was something in the body that was a matching set of two, has been an identifying factor, marking this Hebrew word as kidneys.
In some verses translators have exchanged kidney for “innermost” or “inward” parts:
For You created my innermost parts [kil’yohtay]; You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.
In the sayings of the wise, a parent gets happy in their kidneys when their child shows wisdom and speaks truth and goodness:
My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad, and my innermost being [kil’yohtay] will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.
On the other hand, those in grief often feel like they’ve been kicked in the kidneys. After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and dragged the Hebrew people away from their homes, they felt like an arrow had pierced them:
Lamentations 3:12-13, 17-24
He bent His bow and took aim at me as a target for the arrow. He made the arrows of His quiver enter my inward parts [b-kil’yohtay]…
…My soul has been excluded from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “My strength has failed, and so has my hope from YHWH.”
Remember my misery and my homelessness, the wormwood and bitterness. My soul certainly remembers, and is bent over within me.
I recall this to my heart, therefore I wait.
YHWH’s acts of mercy indeed do not end, for His compassions do not fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“YHWH is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I wait for Him.”
Job, who suffered more than most, held onto the hope of seeing God face to face after death. This joyous hope was so delightful that he felt his kidneys would faint:
“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were recorded in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!
And I know my Redeemer lives, and at last, above the dust, He will rise.
Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I will see God, whom I, on my part, shall behold for myself, and whom my eyes will see, and not another. My heart [kidney: kil’yohtay] faints within me!
Kidneys as Mind
Although the Hebrew people recognized that the kidneys were actual, physical, body parts, the kidneys, to them, were assigned the function that we have associated with the brain. Their understanding of a mind, with thought patterns and emotional expressions, was associated with something found inside. Something internally drove their reactions and feelings. Since the ancient Hebrew people did not have a word for brain, kidneys covered the concept. This is why our modern translations often use the word “mind” instead of “kidney”:
[David:] I will bless YHWH who has advised me; indeed, my mind [my kidney: kil’yohtay] instructs me in the night.
YHWH was often described as testing the people by searching our kidneys and heart:
…The righteous God puts hearts and minds [kidneys: u-k-layoht] to the test. My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.
“I, YHWH, search the heart, I test the mind [k’layoht], to give to each person according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”
David called on YHWH to refine his kidneys and heart:
[David:] Vindicate me, YHWH, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in YHWH without wavering.
Examine me, YHWH, and put me to the test; refine my mind [my kidney: kil’yohtay] and my heart. For Your goodness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth.
Asaph admitted that his heart and mind was not good in a good place, but holding onto God meant that he would still be received and cared for by Him:
[Asaph:] For my heart was grieved, and my mind [my kidney: w-kil’yohtay] was pierced, then I was stupid and ignorant; I was like an animal before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. You will guide me with Your plan, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom do I have in heaven but You? And with You, I desire nothing on earth.
The mind and heart of YHWH’s enemies, however, were far from God:
Righteous are You, YHWH, when I plead my case with You; nevertheless I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease? You have planted them, they have also taken root; they grow, they have also produced fruit.
You are near to their lips but far from their mind [mi-kil’yohtehem].
But You know me, YHWH; You see me and examine my heart’s attitude toward You.”
God sees and knows the inner-workings of His people… He knows what’s going on inside our minds and our hearts. Jeremiah called on YHWH to sift out the right-minded from the evil ones by searching kidneys (minds) and hearts:
But YHWH is with me like a powerful champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be put to great shame because they have failed, an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.
Yet, YHWH of armies, who tests the righteous, who sees the mind [k’layoht] and the heart; let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have disclosed my cause.
Sing to YHWH, praise YHWH! For He has saved the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers.
Kidneys in the New Testament
Nephrology is the medical term for those who study the kidneys and urinary system. It is derived from the Greek word nephros, meaning kidney, and the word shows up only once in the New Testament:
…all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds (kidneys) [Greek: nephrous] and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
Yeshua (Jesus) compared the concept of bodily elimination (kidney function) with heart and mind elimination. What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of our inner selves:
“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those things defile the person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements. These are the things that defile the person; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the person.”
Pardon the pun, but there’s a lot of crap that comes out of our mouths. What we put in our mouths gets filtered through our kidneys and is eliminated. But if we take the concept of the kidneys as a source of our gut feelings, then we ought to eliminate the crap that comes from our heart and mind and falls out of our mouths.
Our minds (or kidneys) should be attuned to God’s will. When we open our mouths, let us speak love, and kindness, and encouragement to others.
It’s a simple concept. Be the reflection of God to others, in word and deed. That’s how we change the world.
Next week: MILK
Post Script: I have dear friends who have been kidney donors and kidney receivers. I highly recommend you sign up to become an organ donor. Every life is precious to God and you could save one! https://kidney.ca/Get-Involved/Be-an-Organ-Donor