Solomon uses the Hebrew word leb forty two times in Ecclesiastes. The term is more general than technical, and is typically translated as mind, heart, will, or inner man. It is worth noting that the word indicates a deep connection between the thinking and feeling apparatus’ of humanity. Further, Solomon’s use of the term gives us a glimpse of how he understood and how he used those components in his own life.
In the NASB translation of Ecclesiastes, leb is translated as: heart (19), mind (9), self (6), his (1), thought (1), take seriously or take to heart (1), have realized or come to know in your heart (1), sense (1), and is untranslated in a few instances (3).
1:13 set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom
1:16a said to myself
1:16b my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge
1:17 – set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly
2:1 said to myself
2:3a explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine
2:3b while my mind was guiding wisely
2:10a did not withhold my heart from any pleasure
2:10b my heart was pleased
2:15a said to myself
2:15b said to myself
2:20 despaired of heart (KJV)
2:22 in his striving (vexation of his heart, KJV)
2:23 mind does not rest
3:11 set eternity in their heart
3:17 said to myself
5:2 do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought
5:20 gladness of his heart
7:2 the living takes it to heart
7:3 a heart may be happy
7:4a mind of the wise is in the house of mourning
7:4b mind of fools is in the house of pleasure
7:7 a bribe corrupts the heart
7:21 do not take seriously (take to heart, ESV)
7:22 you also have realized
7:25 I directed my mind to know
7:26 whose heart is snares and nets
8:5 a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure
8:9 applied my mind to every deed
8:11 hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil
8:16 gave my heart to know wisdom and to see
9:1 taken all this to my heart
9:3a the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity
9:3b in their hearts
9:7 with a cheerful heart
10:2a wise man’s heart toward the right
10:2b foolish man’s heart toward the left
10:3 his sense is lacking
11:9a let your heart be pleasant
11:9b follow the impulses of your heart
11:10 remove grief and anger from your heart
While there is much to explore in these references, I will make only a few observations here:
(1) It is difficult to draw a sharp distinction between heart and mind in these references. There is broad overlap in many cases, reflecting the unity and interdependency of the inner man.
(2) Solomon’s interactions with himself are directed to (or through) the leb. He understands that the leb is the window to the self, or perhaps by the term he actually means the self – though we must be cautious not to perceive a general term as technical.
(3) How one employs the leb is largely influential over whether or not the person is wise or foolish. It is significant that Solomon seems to identify a practical misuse of the leb on the part of those whose leb is evil and full of insanity. Practice follows position. This is another common principle in later Scriptures, such as those penned by Paul.
(4) The heart/mind can be set or directed. The allusion to setting one’s mind is a familiar refrain in the writings of Paul, yet it is common in Solomon and even in Ezra (e.g., Ezra 7:10). Controlling one’s self by setting the mind is a basic expectation for those who would be wise – for those who know God.
Solomon’s concluding thought, and ultimate prescription is to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc 12:13-14). The prescription is grounded in the principle that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10), and the expectation is that we pursue wisdom through the proper perspective of and response to God. When Solomon references His commandments, he is not making a technical reference to the Mosaic Law (for that didn’t apply to everyone), but instead is referring more generally to the proper response to God in obedience. This invites the question of what God has commanded each of us, and what He expects of each of us in response.
For believers that expected response includes setting our minds on things above (Col 3:1-4) and walking in a worthy manner (Eph 4:1) – a very similar concept to that mentioned in Solomon’s conclusion to Ecclesiastes 12. For unbelievers, the desired response is simply to cease the foolishness of despising wisdom and instruction (Prov 1:7b), and instead to fear God – to perceive Him rightly (He is the sovereign Creator) and respond properly to Him (He has provided for our life in Himself through belief in Jesus).