Whilst reading Psalm 7 this morning, I came across a strange expression at the end of verse 9:

O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins."

This is from the King James Version.

I am curious to know why the word "reins" has been used here and what it means within the context of this verse.

  • 2
    Up-voted +1. See 'reins' and kidneys in Oxford English Dictionary. 2. The region of the kidneys. a. In or after Biblical use: this region as the seat of the feelings or affections Also Dictionary.com (especially in Biblical use) the seat of the feelings or affections, formerly identified with the kidneys.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 11:18

3 Answers 3


From Brown-Driver-Briggs:

Hearts = inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding

Reins = kidneys, 1a) of physical organ (literally), 1b) of seat of emotion and affection (figuratively)

The two words are very closely related. KJV and YLT both renders 'reins' and the ESV renders 'minds'. I suspect a distinction is intended in these two words between between the actual thoughts of the 'heart' and the affections of the 'heart' which often act to control (as with reins) our thoughts and behaviors.

Our first and highest affection should be the Lord our God. This affection then drives our thoughts and behaviors.

  • That's helpful, thank you. The NIV said "bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure" which didn't seem to have any bearing on the KJV.
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 17:59

The Hebrew word is כִּלְיָה (kilyah) mean "kidney". The Septuagint is also a witness for this, where לבבות וכליות was translated νεφροί καὶ καρδίαι (nephroi kai kardiae) - lit. "kidneys and hearts". In ancient Greek, the kidneys were believed to be the seat of the emotions and the source of courage, hence they were sometimes referred to metaphorically as the "seat of emotions". Something similar was true in Hebrew.

Rein is an archaic English word for kidney, derived from the Norman French rène and ultimately from the Latin ren. At the time the King James Bible was translated, the meaning was still current but it has since fallen into disuse.

"Hearts and kidneys" seems strange in modern contexts, so modern versions like the ESV have reworded to something like "hearts and minds".

The same Hebrew phrase לֵֽבָבֹ֥ות וּכְלָיֹֽות (levavot u'klayot) - hearts and reins - appears in two other places (albeit with hearts and reins reversed):

Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my reins and my heart [כְּלָיוֹת וּלְבָבוֹת] (Psalm 26:2).

But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart [כְּלָיוֹת וּלְבָבוֹת], let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause (Jeremiah 11:20).


This is a good explanation also from Chaim Bentorah at Hebrew Word Study – Kidneys – Kilyah כליה Kap Lamed Yod Hei

Beyond just getting good advice when David consults the Lord, the Lord also instructs his reins. We really don’t use the word reins much anymore as we associate it with a piece of tack that attaches to the bit that the horse has in its mouth. The reins are used by the rider on a horse to communicate with the horse to turn, stop or to guide the horse. Yet, this word in the 21st Century is one that not everyone understands because the average person no longer owns or rides a horse. Oddly the word reins is really an updated word for the Hebrew word kilyah which originally meant kidneys or your inward parts. The Talmud teaches that the word kilyah is a reference to that part of your body that carries your internal organs below your neck. This could include the stomach, liver, intestines, etc. but not your brain which is above your neck. This is where the real communication with God originates and it is filtered through the brain or mind. Many translations render this as your heart. Ultimately, the word reins for kilyah is a good rendering as God controls, communicates, guides tells us to turn or stop through our hearts, not our brains.

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