Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

How the Jewish Words of Jesus
Can Change Your Life

by Lois Tverberg
© Zondervan, 2012

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Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus looks at Jesus’ words in light of Jewish thought and considers how their context can yield wisdom for today.  The book looks at

• How knowing Jewish idioms can help us better grasp what Jesus was saying

• How Jesus’ Middle Eastern culture sheds light on his parables, enlivening them in surprising ways

• How the Jewish world of Jesus can teach us how to pray with chutzpah or think with both hands

By understanding the religious and cultural atmosphere in which Jesus lived and taught, you’ll begin to see why his first disciples abandoned everything to follow him.

Come eavesdrop on the conversations among the rabbis of Jesus’ time. Learn how hearing Rabbi Jesus with the ears of a first-century disciple can yield practical insights that bring new depth to your spiritual life.

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Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesusby Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg

© Zondervan, 2009, 272 pages
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A rare chance to know Jesus as his first disciples knew him.

What would it be like to journey back to the first century and sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus as one of his Jewish disciples? How would your understanding of the gospel have been shaped by the customs, beliefs, and traditions of the Jewish culture in which you lived?

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus takes you on a fascinating tour of the Jewish world of Jesus, offering inspirational insights that can transform your faith. Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg paint powerful scenes from Jesus’ ministry, immersing you in the prayers, feasts, history, culture, and customs that shaped Jesus and those who followed him.

You will hear the parables as they must have sounded to first-century Jews, powerful and surprising. You will join the conversations that were already going on among the rabbis of his day. You will watch with new understanding as the events of his life unfold. And you will emerge with new excitement about the roots of your own Christian faith.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus will change the way you read Scripture and deepen your understanding of the life of Jesus. It will also help you to adapt the rich prayers and customs you learn about to your own life, in ways that both respect and enrich your Christian faith.

By looking at the Jewishness of Jesus, Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg take you on a captivating journey into the heart of Judaism, one that is both balanced and insightful, helping you to better understand and appreciate your own faith.


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Listening to the Language of the Bible

Listening to the Language of the BibleBy Lois Tverberg, with Bruce Okkema

© En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004
Softcover, 180 pages

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Listening to the Language of the Bible is a guide for discovering the richness of the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting.

The book contains more than 60 brief, illustrated devotional articles that unpack the meaning of biblical words and phrases for life today. By examining the Hebrew and Jewish cultural context of some of the Bible’s seemingly odd phrases, it shares insights that clarify reading and deepen Bible study.

Listening looks at many topics from the perspective of the ancient writers, including prayer, family and the promised Messiah. It also looks at the words of Jesus in light of first-century Jewish culture.

“This is an excellent guide for discovering the richness of the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting. It’s wonderful – balanced, simple to understand, yet packed with deep information.” Robin Sampson, President, Heart of Wisdom Publishing, Stafford, VA

The book can be read by itself for a brief overview, or with a Companion Bible Study (Lois Tverberg, 2005) as a guide to explore the Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective. Questions for each chapter point out other relevant passages and share applications for living. At the end of the book, Tverberg shares her own thoughts on many of the questions in the study guide.

Download a sample pdf from the Companion Bible Study

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Dayeinu – It Would Have Been Enough

by Lois Tverberg

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )

If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.

If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.

If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.

If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The verses above are from a much longer melody that is sung at Passover celebrations every year. It is a very ancient song, written about 1000 years ago. It is one of my favorite parts of the celebration, as a long list of God’s blessings are recounted, with the idea that if God would have stopped at any one, they would have been completely satisfied. What a wonderful attitude of gratefulness! How much longer would the list be if we as Christians added to them…

If He had redeemed me with His suffering and death,
but not filled me with His Spirit,
it would have been enough.

If He had filled me with His Spirit,
but did not guide my life daily as His disciple,
it would have been enough.

If He guided my life daily as His disciple,
but did not lovingly answer my prayers,
it would be enough.

If He lovingly answered my prayers
but did not give me His promise to spend eternity with Him,
it would be enough.

(Add your own verses here!)

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

Empty Fruit

by Lois Tverberg

“Cursed (Arur) is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush (arar) in the desert, and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream. It will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-7

After reading this proverb about the cursed tree and the blessed tree, it is easy to imagine what the blessed tree must look like — thick green leaves; branches covered in large, luscious fruit; abundant growth even when everything is dry all around. The tree pictured here looks like such a tree.

But the remarkable thing about this beautiful tree is that it is actually the cursed tree that Jeremiah spoke about in this proverb. According to Nogah Hareuveni, an expert on plants of the Bible, in Hebrew the name of this tree is called the Arar, which sounds similar to the word for cursed (arur) and is part of a wordplay which is central to this poem.

Why is it called “cursed”? Because if a thirsty, hot traveler approaches the tree and picks a nice big fruit, he will find a nasty surprise. When opened, the fruit makes a “pssst” sound, and is hollow and filled with webs and dust and a dry pit. The Bedouin call this tree the “Cursed Lemon” or “Sodom Apple” because it grows in the desert salt lands that surround the Dead Sea where Sodom and Gomorrah once were. According to their legends, when God destroyed Sodom, he cursed the fruit of this tree also.

Interestingly, the cursed tree looks very healthy and abundant, as if it has a survived even in hard times and still has done well in life. Like the tree, many people who rely on their own strength really persevere enough so that they seem to “have it all.”

But we will not be judged on our “tallness” (fame, notariety) or our “leafy-ness” (material success), but on the fruit of our lives. Jesus tells us that rocks and weeds in our life can prevent us from bearing fruit. But it seems that even if we seem to be bearing fruit, there is a danger that it might be quite empty.

What really is wrong with the tree? Essentially, the big problem is that the fruit has no juice. The tree is supposed to absorb life-giving water from the soil and pass it on to others through its fruit, but something is not happening. It is as if the tree has cut itself off from the source of living water by relying on its own strength.

In some sense, the juice is the maim chaim (living water) of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus says will pour out of the one who believes in him (John 7:38). The “juice” comes having a life that is filled with the refreshing presence of the Lord, and without that, our lives are empty and hollow.

Praying with Intention

by Lois Tverberg

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart. ” Psalm 24:3

The prayers that Jesus and Paul prayed were a combination of spontaneous petitions and traditional prayers that were prayed at certain times of day. One of them that is still prayed today is called the “Amidah” or “Eighteen Benedictions.” (1) It is quite lengthy, and consists of prayers for all the various concerns of the Jewish people. For thousands years since Jesus lived, these petitions have stayed nearly the same.

In contemporary Protestant culture, we tend to disdain rote prayer, preferring the intimacy of spontaneous prayer and feeling that a repeated prayer is empty and hollow. We wonder how a person could avoid just “going through the motions.” The answer is a concept that the rabbis developed known as “Kavanah.” The word means “direction,” “intention,” or “devotion,” and the idea behind praying with kavanah is that you set the direction of your thinking toward God, and toward praying the memorized prayer “with all your heart.”

A person who has kavanah focuses his entire being on prayer, and is undistracted by the chaos around him. He may have said the same prayer a thousand times, but his mind is sunk so deeply into the words that he is experiencing new insights and feelings from them today that he has never experienced before.

In synagogues, above the ark that holds the Torah scrolls, there is often a plaque that says, “Know before whom you stand.” That is just what it means to have kavanah in prayer – to have a sense of standing in the presence of God, to know that you are addressing the sovereign Lord of the universe.

When I used to pray after crawling in bed, I would often fall asleep before finishing my prayer. After thinking about the lack of reverence this has for God, I now make myself kneel or stay awake in some way, or pray at a time of day when I’m more awake. He deserves our best, not our least efforts in prayer.

Kavanah can go beyond prayer as well – our lives should also show it too. We should live each hour and day with devotion and intention, being aware of God’s presence all around us. When we do this, our lives will truly be the reflection of Christ, whose every desire was to please and honor God in every way.


 

1The Amidah: A New Translation, by David Bivin, is available here.

Giving of His Wisdom

by Lois Tverberg

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

The week I became aunt to a new niece, our family was praising God for her, but her birth was not routine. It was still about a month before my sister-in-law’s due date when she woke up bleeding. She was rushed by ambulance to the hospital for an emergency C-section, which saved the baby’s life and perhaps her own.

As we discussed it, we realized that if our family had lived 100 years ago, my brother would have lost his daughter and maybe his wife that day. Thinking back, we realized that many in our family would have died of serious illnesses for which only recently has there been medical care.

This reminded me of a traditional prayer that Jewish people use to praise God when they hear of a great advance in knowledge in medicine or other areas:

Blessed art Thou, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who gives of His wisdom to flesh and blood.

They also have a prayer to praise God when they hear particularly inspired preaching of the scriptures. Then they say,

Blessed art Thou, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who gives of His wisdom to those who revere Your Name.

There is a lot of wisdom in these prayers. Christians have an easier time understanding the second, that it is God who inspires us about the scriptures. But the other prayer shows another even more surprising truth – that God is also sovereign over “secular” knowledge too.

We can sometimes be tempted to believe that God is threatened by human knowledge, and that scientific advances are a challenge to his power. For instance, some feel it is unspiritual to seek medical help, and that only prayer for healing is God’s will. If man healed us, then God was not involved. In Judaism, however, a prayer is said before taking medicine which praises God for this gift and asks Him to use it to heal them. They see God’s presence in what we would say was our own accomplishment.

There is great wisdom in realizing that even the greatest human discoveries are gifts from God, and that God is sovereign over what mankind achieves too. No matter where exploration and discovery lead us, God, in his infinite wisdom, is far beyond even that.

Clothing the Naked

by Lois Tverberg

“`For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ ” Matthhew 25:35-36

Since Jesus’ time, Jews have been encouraged to fill their days with short prayers to constantly remind themselves that God is the source of every blessing in their lives. A number of these are said traditionally in the morning while a person gets ready for the day, and the one that is said while dressing is the following:

Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who clothes the naked.

This prayer is also said on another occasion – when putting on a new garment from the first time. One Jewish school teacher starts each day by asking students if anyone is wearing anything new that day, and if so, the whole class recites this prayer.

This prayer and its practice I found very rich, and pointing toward some things for which I needed to be reminded. First, clothes are such a small part of my budget, and readily available, that I never thought to give thanks to God for them. I’ve been overwhelmed by blessings, and hardly think about the amazing abundance even in my own closet. Truthfully, until hearing about this blessing, I didn’t think of God as having input on small needs, or that He may even have an opinion on how I spend money on things like this.

It reminded me of the real use of clothes as they were intended, to protect and cover our bodies, to warm us and give us modesty. Do we really think of that when we spend great amounts of money and time on being fashionable? Or when we evaluate others as people by how well they have observed the current modes of fashion? Our shallowness is unmasked when we see clothing through God’s eyes rather than through the eyes of a materialistic, vain culture.

Last, it reminded me that just as I have been clothed, Jesus points out that I need to have concern about clothing the naked too. In Uganda, I saw many children in dirty, ripped clothes, knowing that those were all they had. I need to live so that I can help in supplying the most basic of needs to them as well.

Have Faith in God

by Lois Tverberg

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:22-24

This statement is a real struggle for many of us. Some people tell those who are in crisis that it is only when they have enough belief that a miracle will happen that God will perform it for them. So many hurting hearts have been crushed by a statement that their faith is too weak for God to answer their prayers. How can it be that by sheer force of our imagination that we can force God’s hand in one direction?

I had an answer a few years ago in a relatively minor crisis. A little cat of mine who was very shy got loose one day when I was out of town. When I returned home, Raisin had been lost for several days, starving, unable to come back because of her skittishness around people. I remember begging the Lord to bring her home.

As I was praying for her, I started wondering if I was supposed to have perfect faith in the idea that I’d get my cat back in order for God to answer my prayer. Then it hit me that the faith that we are supposed to have is not in the outcome, but in God himself. God wants us to be absolutely convinced of his love for us and in his power and desire to take care of us.

So my prayer changed. I said, “Lord, I know that you are good and that you have heard my prayer, and I can trust your answer to my prayer, whether or not you bring Raisin back.” The emphasis shifted from the cat to the fact that God was good, and that I could always trust that.

It was a true surprise when Raisin was rescued a few days later in a seemingly miraculous way, when my neighbor found her curled up in the engine compartment of her car, dirty, gaunt, and with a paralyzed paw. I know that my prayers did not “earn” her return, and that it was out of sheer grace that God answered in this way.

I’m almost embarrassed to share this story when others struggle with greater needs. But it did teach me that God didn’t really need me to fervently imagine a certain outcome before he would answer a prayer. He is good, powerful and loving, and whatever answer he gave, I could still be assured of this most important fact of all.

Humility in Prayer

by Bruce Okkema

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: `God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. `I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ ” Luke 18:9-12

It would be surprising if any of us reading this article would admire a prayer such as this. Yet one does not have to go far, perhaps only inside our own hearts, to find someone trying to justify himself through comparison to others. To do so, is to forget that the God to whom we pray already knows all about our accomplishments —and all our sins.

Picture an example in which a boy has stolen some candy from a store. The proprietor has reported the theft to the parents, but has left the discipline up to them. Then the child goes to confess his sin unaware that his parents already know exactly what he did. How forgiving will the parents be if their son makes excuses, or blames someone else, or lies about what was taken? Will anything less than a complete, truthful confession do any good? Likely not.

Some of you will remember that in our Water From the Rock article entitled “Da’at Elohim – Knowledge of God,” Lois wrote that the Hebrew word used for knowledge is “yadah” which means to know intimately1. Several places in the Hebrew scriptures, in different contexts, this same word is used for “confession”. So one gets the sense that this is an intimate, personal knowledge of one’s own sin, perhaps a private act known only to ourselves in some cases. How can we rightfully petition Our Lord and expect Him to act justly if we are not honest with Him?

We can learn from the practice of observant Jews who recite the Sh’ma in the morning upon rising, and in the evening before retiring to affirm their commitment to God. Prior to the evening recitation, they will also say the following:

Blessed are You, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me – whether against my body, my property, my honor, or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought or notion … May no man be punished because of me. May it be Your will, my God and the God of my forefathers, that I may sin no more. Whatever sins I have done before You, may You blot out in your abundant mercies …. May the expressions of my mouth and thoughts of my heart find favor before You, my Rock and My Redeemer. (Ps 19:4) (2)

So in the words of James,” … confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (5:16). Finally, listen carefully to our Lord’s opinion of these prayers and apply it:

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, unwilling even to lift up his eyes to heaven, but rather was beating his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:13-14


 

(1) See Da’at Elohim, by Lois Tverberg
(2) The Book of Jewish Values by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Day 270, quoting a prayer from the ArtScroll Prayer Book pg 288-89.