What is our conscience? We all understand how to express what a conscience is; it is a sort of inner voice that we use to determine what is good or bad, but what is it really? While that is a question science struggles to answer, one theory is that it is the emotional response created when we think about our future/past actions. This allows us to reflect on the consequences of our previous actions in order to determine whether our future actions are good or bad. But there is another inner voice, one which contests the verdict of our conscience. A voice with only our self interests at heart.

An oracle is in my heart regarding the transgression of the wicked man: There is no fear of God before his eyes.

For his eyes are too full of conceit to detect or hate his own sin.

The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and well-doing.

Even on his bed he plots wickedness; he sets himself on a path that is not good; he fails to reject evil.

Your loving devotion, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains; Your judgments are like the deepest sea. 

O LORD, You preserve man and beast.

How precious is Your loving devotion, O God, that the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings!

They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from Your river of delights.

For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.

Extend Your loving devotion to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Let not the foot of the proud come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen, thrown down and unable to rise.

Psalm 36

An Oracle Is In My Heart

When reading Psalm 36:1 in its English form, a piece of the original language is lost. Here we read that an oracle is in the psalmist’s heart, but what does that statement actually mean? The word oracle implies several things to the modern English speaking person, but the Hebrew word means something different. The Hebrew neum is translated here as oracle, but really means has said. In fact, even the word heart is misrepresented in this psalm. The word used here, leb, can mean a variety of things, to include the heart, the feelings, the will, the intellect, and centre.

According to Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, the most plain English interpretation of this verse would be “Thus saith sin to (me) the wicked man in my heart”, thus describing and personifying sin as a sort of evil advisor to mankind. A literal inner voice, representing our desires in an almost legalistic fashion, working to justify our selfish desires and cloud our conscience. It turns out, the psalmist is speaking of that alternate voice which I mentioned earlier, the inner voice which represents our selfish desire. The similarities between the way that this psalmist describes sin as an inner voice, whispering its council to us from our very core, is remarkably similar to the meaning of nachash or nahash, also known as the serpent from Genesis.

Dictionaries commonly spread the following words out over four separate roots, but to the ancients, these words all expressed the same core meaning:

The noun נחש (nahash) is the Bible’s most common word for snake. Snakes in the Bible always represent some kind of mental process, usually intuitive and usually impure or otherwise detrimental.

The identical verb נחש (nahash) means to divine or soothsay. Its derived noun, again identical, נחש (nahash) means divination or enchantment.

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Eyes Full Of Conceit

In my book, Canon of Reason – Genesis, I explained how the snake from the Garden of Eden was likely a representation of Eve’s inner desire, and the format of this psalm seems to follow along with the same logic. Sin begins with the temptation to disobey God, that temptation is manifested as an inner voice or an internal dialogue that we have with ourselves, and the sin is realized through its acceptance or justification from each of us individually. As we rationalize our desires, we become unaware that we are disobeying God, just like the nachash asked Eve if God really said not to eat from the trees in the garden. Other times, we will question God’s motives, the same way that the nachash convinced Eve that God did not want her to be like Him, knowing good and evil. And finally, some times we refuse to accept that a rule may be just for us. This occurred for Eve as she observed the tree and saw that the fruit was good to eat. How could she see this if nothing else ate from the tree?

As we become accepting of rebellious behavior, we inevitably reach a point where we no longer recognize sin for what it is, rebellion against our very creator, God Himself. We become conceited in our ways, feeling as though we can do as we desire without recompense. We plot our paths and march towards our own goals rather than God’s, proud of our sin and referring to it as an accomplishment. We never ask ourselves if we are en route to our true destination, to be with God, and how our path might lead us to Him without His help.

We drink from His rivers, we sustain ourselves with His animals and plants, we tread on His creation and call it our own. In the shadow of His magnificence we blind ourselves to our own transgressions, and we hold ourselves in the highest regard.

“Nothing matters to us more than our own survival and elevation, even if it costs us the reward of eternal life.” This is the motto of the fool, who brings to himself his very demise.

Written by James Dusenbery

I am the Founder/Lead Editor at CanonOfReason.com. I do not claim to be an "expert" at anything, although the title is afforded to me quite often. I simply want to spread understanding of different Biblical positions and shine some light on the versatility and brilliance of the Bible. You can follow me on Twitter (@JamesDusenbery) and Instagram (@CanonOfReason).

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