I wanted to post something about how the Jewish Educational System worked. Once I knew this stuff, my understanding of Scripture seemed to be much stronger. Anyway, here’s a basic description. (Very basic)
Bet Sefer – House of the Book
In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day kids were taught the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) in the local Synagogue (church) beginning at the age of 6. They had classes 5 days a week just like we do today. By the time they were about 10 years old, they had memorized all of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible. These classes were called “Bet Sefer.” Anyway, most Jewish kids were pretty well finished with school (“WooHoo! Graduation!”) after this and went home to learn the family trade – like fishing or carpentry or something like that.
Bet Talmud – House of Learning
Now, the kids who were really the best of the best among them were allowed to continue in school in something called “Bet Talmud.” Here, they studied all of the Hebrew Scriptures (Our Old Testament) and memorized all of them between the ages of 10-14. During this time, students also learned the Jewish art of questions an answers. Instead of answering with an answer, they were taught to answer with another question. In this way, students could demonstrate both their knowledge and their great regard for the Scriptures. They were taught to always be curious about the Scriptures. Look at how Jesus was described as a young boy in Luke 2:46-47 – “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Bet Midrash – House of Study
Very few of these students ever made it this far. For the few who did there was still another set of classes called “Bet Midrash.” If you were smart enough and knew your scriptures well enough to make it this far, you were given the opportunity to go to a rabbi (teacher) to seek further education. The rabbi would grill you and ask you all kinds of questions, because he was trying to find out if you were good enough to be his student. He wanted to know if you knew enough, but even more importantly, if you could be like him in all areas of your life. If he decided that he didn’t think you could do it, then he would tell you to go back to the family business. It was very rare, but if he thought highly enough of you, he would become your teacher and it would be your goal to become like him in every way. You would agree to take on his “beliefs” and his interpretations of the scriptures. This was called his “yoke” and he would say to you, “come follow me.” This was a huge privilege that was offered to very few people. The disciple’s (also called “talmudim”) job was to become like the rabbi in every way. If the rabbi was hurt and had a limp, you might see his healthy disciples walking behind him (in his footsteps or “in the dust” of the rabbi) with a limp.
Now, listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I used to always wonder why the disciples were so quick to drop their nets, their jobs, and their lives to follow Jesus. However, this understanding changes things. The disciples were normal guys who were out working in their family trades. This means they didn’t make the cut. They had already dropped out of school and had resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably never be able to follow a rabbi or become a disciple. When Jesus came along and made His offer, they jumped at the opportunity. They didn’t want to miss it, so they dropped what they were doing and went. This would be the equivalent of Michael Jordan saying to a Jr High student “Hey, I see a lot of potential in you. Would you want to come and do some training with me?”
In the end, Jesus is our rabbi. We are to become like him in every way. 1 Peter 2:21 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
No one plans to have two weddings, but I do. No, I’m not threatening to leave Miranda (and by the way, that’d be the dumbest thing in the world for me to do.) I’m referring to the Wedding of the Lamb (Jesus) to His bride, the church. Although my wedding was amazing, I don’t think it’s gonna be anything compared to this wedding. Bridezillas have nothing on this one. It’s “THE” Wedding. Nothing can compare.
Yesterday, I taught a group of students about all this stuff by looking further at the cultural practices of Ancient Jewish Weddings. I learned the basics of the material from a guy named Dan Kimball who wrote “The Emerging Church” – www.vintagefaith.com. I did a little more studying on the topic and discovered some really cool things. Many of Jesus’ words fly right over our heads ’cause we don’t understand the wedding customs of His day. The connection between the ancient Jewish wedding and the time when Jesus will return (A Future Wedding) are significant. He (the Groom) will return to take the church (the Bride of Christ) as His own. Check out the process for getting married in Jesus’ day: (The bulleted sections refer to the Future Wedding of the Lamb when Jesus returns to take the church as his bride.)
1. Selection of the Bride – The first step in the process was when the father of the groom selected the bride. Young Jewish girls had little say in who they would marry and would dream about who would select them. The groom committed his love to the bride based solely on his father’s decision. The bride loved her groom simply because He had loved her first.
It’s good for us to remember that God chose us. Even in the midst of our sin against Him, He still loves us.
Romans 5:8 “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“
Of course it is out of our response to the love that He offers us that we are able to love Him.
1 Jn 4:19 “We love because He first loved us.“
2 Thessalonians 2:13 – “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. . .“
2. “Mohar” – The second step in the process is called the “mohar.” This is the price that was paid to the bride and her family. It represented the magnitude of how the groom valued her. The greater the price, the more value they had ascribed to her.
For us, we should remember that Jesus (the groom) paid the ultimate price for us with His own life. This is proof that we are incredibly valuable to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “You are not your own; You were bought with a price.“
3. “Ketubah” – After paying the “mohar,” the groom would offer the bride a list of promises (called a ketubah) which he was committing to her for the life of their marriage. (like the vows we take in the modern wedding)
Jesus has also given us many promises. The Bible is full of them. Here’s a short list:
“I will never leave you or forsake you.” – Deut 31:6
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matt 11:28
“I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.” – John 6:47
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” – Gal 3:26
4. Gifts – The groom would give her gifts to remind her of his love while he was away. (see step 6) Today, we exchange rings as reminder of our love and commitment for one another.
Jesus gave us gifts too.
Romans 12:6 – “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.“
These gifts come in the form of spiritual gifts like serving, administration, compassion, teaching, etc and also in the form of other people (the church) that He has brought into our lives. And of course the greatest gift He gave us is His Holy Spirit.
John 14:26 says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.“
5. Wine – Next, the groom would offer a cup of wine (Cup of Redemption) to his girl. If she accepted his offer, then she would drink of the cup without saying a word. This act ceremonially sealed the engagement before he left. (check step 6)
Mark 14:23-24 – “Then he [Jesus] took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.“
Did you realize that every time we receive communion, Jesus is proposing? Essentially, this is the picture that Jesus was giving the disciples that night. He’s going to leave for a while and so He is sealing the engagement.
6. Groom Leaves – He leaves to prepare the wedding chamber. Typically this would last about a year, but the groom could not decide when he was ready to come back for his bride. This decision was made by his father. Most grooms would typically want to rush through the preparations to “get on with” the honeymoon, so their fathers would decide when the chamber was ready.
Jesus has left us to prepare a place for us too. John 14:2-3 says,
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.“
Also check out Matthew 4:26. Jesus is speaking of the time that he’ll return and he says,
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.“
This sure sounds a lot like the tradition from the Jewish wedding to me.
7. “Mikvah” – While the groom is away preparing a place, the bride is at home preparing herself. The “mikvah” was a ritual bath that the bride would take in order to set her apart “from the world” and “for her groom.” Symbolically, she was saying, “My old life is gone and the new one has come.”
Our baptism is our “mikvah.” It is the time when we decide to “set ourselves apart” for Christ. It is during this time that we are made “new” again.
2 Cor 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!“
In the same way that a modern bride is concerned about the way she will present herself on her wedding day, this time is important for us as believers. It’s the time that we are becoming holy, spotless, pure through the blood of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Ephesians 5:25-27 describes the goal of this mikvah saying,
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.“
8. Wedding March – When the day finally came, the groom would gather his friends and together they’d march into town blowing a “shofar” (like a trumpet) and making all kinds of noise to announce their arrival. The louder they were, the more excited and proud the groom was to be able to marry this girl. It was the bride’s job to be ready (to have her lamp trimmed) for when he came.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 – “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.“
Matthew 25:1-13 – It’s our (we are the bride) job to be ready for His arrival.
Rev 19:7 – “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.“
9. Wedding Ceremony – In most cases a “chuppah” (canopy) was built for the ceremony to be performed under. It symbolized the “covering/blessing” of God on this union. The bride would receive a crown and the couple would drink another cup of wine. (Another custom which was added later is that this cup would then be broken as a symbol of the “bittersweetness” of the day – sweet for the couple, but bitter for their people whose temple had been destroyed.)
When Christ returns and gives us our crowns (James 1:12 & Rev 2:10), our union will be complete and we will be with Him forever. Also, remember that when Jesus was in the upper room enjoying the Last Supper, He drank from the first cup (that was the proposal “Cup of Redemption”) and then he said,
“I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.“
This was Jesus’ way of referring to this particular cup of wine found within the wedding ceremony. He was saying, I’m gonna leave you, but I’ll be back and we’ll drink again for the wedding ceremony. (It also interesting to note that the Passover meal normally required them to drink of the cup one more time. When Jesus skipped it, he was purposefully trying to help them see this larger “wedding” symbol instead of the regular Passover symbols.) As the cup is destroyed, we can remember that we will no longer need it for communion – we’re already communing with Him.
10. Wedding Feast – There was one final step in the wedding process. The party time! It usually lasted for about a week. The couple would consummate their marriage in a room with the best man standing guard as the guests partied outside. Wow!! Talk about pressure.
This is the time after we are joined with Christ forever and begin the eternal party with Him. Read Rev 19:6-9 and check out who is invited to the wedding in Rev 3:20 – the normal/poor people.
Below is a chart I created to help put all of this together. The “Modern Wedding” section may have the pieces in a different order, but each part coincides with something from the Ancient Jewish Wedding too. (Click on it or download it to see it in full resolution.) Ultimately, the main lesson here is for our own future wedding with Jesus as the groom. Better get ready!!
The Gospel of Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God.”
Here’s why: Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience, while the other Gospels were written to a broader audience. The broader audience would need the more precise “Kingdom of God” in order to understand the Gospel, while Matthew’s Jewish audience understood the custom of honoring God by NOT speaking His name. (It was too holy to mention.) They understood the meaning of Matthew’s “Kingdom of Heaven” as speaking of God’s kingdom, but he also communicated a great reverence to God by using this phrase. With the use of God’s name, the Jewish audience might very well have been offended by the other Gospel writers’ use of the phrase “Kingdom of God.”
I think it’s also important to note that this phrase (both of them) refer to a here and now understanding of the presence of God. His Kingdom is not other worldly. It’s not somewhere else. Or sometime in the future. His kingdom is here and now! When Jesus came, he ushered in the beginning of the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Heaven is here. It is also to come and will be even more fulfilled in the future, but if we only think of His Kingdom as something off in the distant future, we are missing the reality of His presence with us here and now. He came to bring us life abundantly! Not just eternal life. Although that’s a good thing, it’s not gonna help us too much right now. But we do have help, and comfort, and peace, and power, and love, and anything we need right here and now in His Holy Spirit.
The idea of these phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” also remind me of the Jewish understanding if “Shalom.” Shalom does not just mean “peace” as we use it, but it’s a much larger understanding. It’s whole peace. Shalom is to walk in the presence of God in all of life. It’s to have his favor and peace in all that one does. To walk in the “Kingdom of God” is “Shalom.”
I just thought this was interesting. Hope you did too.
I learned a little Hebrew today. Thought it was worth sharing.
“Torah” = “Law” in Christian Bibles, but in a Jewish bible it’s almost always translated “teaching.” As Christians, we typically talk about the Old Testament law as the means by which God showed us, how much we needed a Savior. (“Cause we couldn’t live up to everything the “Law” required.) Therefore, we think of the “Law” as a condemning sort of thing. If we could think of it more like Jesus did, like our Jewish friend do, I think we’d be thinking more accurately.It may be subtle, but it makes a difference. Let me show you:
Psalm 1:2 – “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
but if we read it the way our Jewish friends do, it’d say:
Psalm 1:2 – “The teaching of the Lord is His delight, and he studies that teaching day and night.”
Our Jewish friends, think of the “Law” well the “Torah” very differently. The Torah is a blessing – not a condemnation. It’s God “teaching” which helps us to live life more fully. Their attitude toward “Torah” is much more in line with it’s intent, and therefore more in line with God.
In much the same way, “Mitzvah” is translated “commandment.” We hear that word as burdensome – as something which comes from a domineering authority figure. But our Jewish friends hear it differently – in a positive way. They say things like “I had the opportunity to do a mitzvah today when my neighbor needed some help.” It’s not a burden, but an opportunity to honor God in a special way.
Bottom line: I think our Jewish friends have it right. If we could learn to think of these terms like they do, I think much of the weight of our faith would be lifted and we could live in freedom by rejoicing in His “Torah” (teaching) and looking for opportunities to perform a “Mitzvah” (commandment).
“May the force be with you.” It’s a classic quote. With those 5 little words I have referred you to a concept found in the Star Wars films. Almost anyone in our culture would recognize the reference, without mentioning the film itself. Jesus often did the same thing.
A practice called a “remez” (meaning “hint”) was practiced by most rabbis (including Jesus) during Biblical times. The Jewish educational system required that every young boy memorize the Law. Many went on to memorize the entire Old Testament. Their culture was so steeped in the Scriptures, that they could quote a part of a verse knowing that others would recognize the end. According to FishingtheAbyss.com, there are “30 – 50 (potentially more) remezim of Jesus recorded in the gospels.”
Here’s an example: Ever wonder why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much? Although He did say some things to them that were not very flattering, sometimes it’s what He didn’t say that bothered them the most.
Check out Mathew 21:16
But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
” ‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’?”
Why would that make them so angry? It doesn’t sound so bad. But check out what the rest of that verse says. He was quoting Psalm 8:2
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
The Pharisees knew the end of the verse He was quoting – and Jesus knew it too. He called them “enemies!” No wonder they got so mad.
Anyway, the “remez” is an interesting practice. We’ve got to know the whole of Scripture in order to understand the intricacies of the things Jesus said (and didn’t day).
Here are a few other places Jesus used the “remez.” Look ’em up. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Matthew 21:13 hints at Isaiah 56:7 (Jesus isn’t as mad about them selling stuff in the temple area as much as He is concerned that this was the only place the Gentiles could worship and they were not being allowed to do so.)
Matthew 27:46 hints at Psalm 22:1 (Check out Psalm 22:13-18 – Jesus was telling them He was the Messiah.)
Luke 11:20 hints at Exodus 8:18-19
Luke 19:10 hints at Ezekiel 34 (Revealing Himself as the Messiah)
Mark 15:34 would have been an obvious “remez” to the Jews present at the time. Hinting at Psalm 22-24 (Messianic Psalms)
OK – so that should be enough to get you started. The bottom line for me is this. If we could approach the Scriptures with the context of Jewish culture, we’d have a much greater understanding and these sorts of nuances wouldn’t fly over our heads. I may be strange (and some of you know it’s true) but I’d sure like to be able to talk about the Scriptures as easily and with as much nuance as I do about Star Wars.
I had the pleasure of leading our congregation through a Seder/Passover meal a couple of years ago. I put together a little booklet called a “Haggadah“ to explain the symbolism behind each element of the meal. I made the booklet into a slide show for anyone interested. I’d encourage everyone to step through it and truly think about depth of Jesus’ participation in this meal as the actual Passover lamb. You can also download the booklet and print it out here along with an extra leaders guide: Christ in the Passover (It has a few extra meaningful notes in blue.) For a better understanding of the fact that Jesus deviated from the normal Passover meal during the 3rd cup (Cup of Redemption), I’d also encourage you to read this blog I wrote about Jewish wedding customs.
Click on the first pic and the rest will come up in “book” form.
I’ve been reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell lately. So far, it’s a great book. I just thought I’d share one of the many ideas that I’ve been thinking about lately.
Gladwell says that much of what we remember is actually not stored in our brain, but outside our brains. He gives the example of phone numbers – most people don’t remember the actual number, but instead they remember that they can find the number in a phonebook/address book or actually in their phone memory. In the same way, a busy mom doesn’t remember how to fix the computer, but she remembers that she can go to her teenage son to fix it. He calls this kind of memory “joint memory” and argues that this is another reason divorce is so difficult. When one loses a spouse, one loses part of his/her joint memory and this feels like losing a part of yourself.
This “joint memory” idea was proven by a study which asked couples to remember 64 statements 5 minutes after looking at them. The couples who knew each other remembered many more of the statements than those who didn’t know each other. Those who knew each other well were able to mentally assign specific statements to each other based upon their interests/expertise’s. They only had to actually remember half as many statements because they knew their partner would remember the other part.
OK – what does this have to do with anything? Well, first of all I just thought it was interesting. This means that a larger family has a larger “joint memory.” How has the trend toward smaller families impacted this memory over time? How has it impacted the church? I mean, the church is supposed to be a family right? Do we have a collective joint memory?
The first 5 books ofthe Bible are evidence of this idea. These stories were passed down from generation to generation. They created an identity for the Jewish people. Everything they thought or did was impacted on some level by this identity – this “joint memory.” They learned the Scriptures together and understood their whole world as a community. As a community, they interpreted the Scriptures – and for that matter, they interpreted life as a community. Over the centuries, as the church has become more and more individualistic, what have we lost? What “joint memories” are we losing? Can we regain them? How can we build and grow true community like this again? How can we live together again and build our “joint memories” in such a way that our whole community identity is found in Christ?
We started studying Matthew last night in small group and I noticed something I never really saw before.
I knew that Matthew was written to new converts from Judaism in an attempt to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. Because of that, Matthew uses lots of Jewish phrases and he approaches the story of Jesus with a distinctively Jewish undertone. Anyway, what I had never noticed was all the ways that Matthew lines up with the Exodus. Exodus was a collective memory in the subconsciousness of the Jewish people, so Matthew appealed to them even on a subconscious level. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far: (I’m sure there’s more.)
Before the Exodus, God had been silent for over 400 years. Before Jesus’ birth, God had been silent for over 400 years.
Like Israel (God’s chosen people), Jesus came out of Egypt.
Israel began it’s journey to the promised land by passing through the Red Sea. Jesus passed through the Jordan and then began his journey to the cross.
Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus was tempted and suffered in the desert.
Israel followed the pillar of fire on it’s way to the promised land. Wise men followed a star on their way to Jesus.
This one is not from Matthew, but is in the Gospels – Moses’ was bringing Israel out of slavery in Egypt and his first miracle was to change water (the river) into blood. Jesus’ brought us out of slavery to sin and his first miracle was to turn water into wine. Later, he would call wine, his blood.
Anyway, I just thought it was all pretty interesting.
My youth minister, Joe, sent me an e-mail that was pretty interesting today. I’ll have to study up on it to check on it’s validity, but here’s what it said was talking about:
John 20:6-7 says, “Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”
According to this article it’s notable that the cloth was folded. It is certainly interesting that the Bible actually places such emphasis on this fact that it clearly spells it out for us in the midst of this incredible story. Here’s why – Evidently in Jewish culture, when a Master was finished with his meal, he wadded up his napkin which told the servant that he was finished and the plate could be cleared. However, if he wasn’t finished yet, he folded the napkin telling the servant that he wasn’t finished and would return.
With this same imagery, Jesus told us that he wasn’t finished and that he would return. Cool Stuff!!
Today is the first day of this new class – General Epistles and Revelation. Dr. Loken started out by telling us that the class should really be called the “General Epistles” ’cause Revelation is actually a “general epistle” too. It was clearly written to at least 7 churches which makes it pretty general.
We started out talking about Hebrews. The author is unknown, but most likely it was Paul or Barnabas. Much of the book is completely different than any of Paul’s other writings, but the greatest argument against him as the author comes in Heb 2:3 where the author says he learned the gospel from “those who heard Him.” Since Paul continually said that he had acquired the gospel directly from Jesus himself, it would be highly unlikely that he would have written this verse.
Dr. Loken explained that Hebrews was written to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They were poor. Paul had even taken up offerings for them. They were poor because everything revolved around the temple in Jerusalem. All the commerce, social structures, everything. When someone became a Christian, they were immediately kicked out of the synagogue. They also typically lost their jobs, friends, family, and all support. When they confessed their faith, they understood that they were choosing persecution and struggle. This is why they were so good at sharing all their possessions, and living out their Christianity together. They “needed” the body in ways that our culture doesn’t understand. The easiest way for them to relieve the pressures of this kind of life was to go back to Judaism and the sacrificial system.
The book of Hebrews is a combination of dangling a carrot in front of them and then whipping them. Chapters 1, 3, & 5 are the carrots which talk about how Christ is so much better than Judaism. Chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 are more like the whip behind them saying you guys are going to receive the curse which was upon you head as a Jew if you go back to Judaism. The author of Hebrews continually encourages them to “hold fast” to their confession. Listen to Hebrews 10:24-27 with this understanding, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
This is not a verse about going to church, but one about staying together in the midst of persecution and encouraging one another. It also clearly talks about how these Jewish believers cannot just go back to the sacrificial system – cause it’s not a valid system anymore.
Hebrews 6:4-6 – For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
There are many interpretations for these verses, but here’s mine – These guys are clearly believers – “enlightened,” “tasted the heavenly gift,” “partakers of the Holy Spirit.” They have to be Jewish believers ’cause the only guys who could crucify Jesus “again” are the guys who did it the first time. Basically the author is telling these Jewish believers (who are tempted to go back to Judaism for their own prosperity, comfort) that it would take Jesus going to the cross a second time to save them if they went back to Judaism now. Since that’s not gonna happen, they better remain true to their faith in Christ.
This probably sounds a bit like a ramble, but these are just some of the ideas we talked about tonight. I hope it’s not worthless reading, but I must admit that it probably isn’t my best writing. I don’t exactly have all my thoughts together very clearly yet either.