Listening Through Jesus’ Ears

by Lois Tverberg

Anyone who does much study of the Bible will notice that often it speaks in odd-sounding, poetic phrases. Some translations of the Bible interpret these for readers, but others leave them quite literal and hard to understand.

Why does the Bible have such an odd “accent”? Because it comes to us from languages and cultures different from ours. If we want to hear the Bible for what it really is saying, we need to get a sense for its idioms and thought patterns.

This is especially true as we read the Old Testament, which reflects an ancient culture very different from our modern, Western mindset. We can avoid misunderstanding when we realize that even words that have been translated literally may have originally carried a different connotation than they do in English.

Besides making the Bible clearer, hearing its words as they were originally meant is a tremendously enriching experience, giving us wonderful new insights into God’s word.

Rich Hebrew Words

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and even though the New Testament was written in Greek, it was written almost entirely by Jews growing up in a Hebrew-speaking, Semitic-thinking culture. Because of this, its ideas come out of a Hebraic world-view. Having a sense for the style of the Hebrew language is therefore very important for understanding the Bible and gives us clues on the thinking patterns of its writers.

Hebrew has a small vocabulary, and each word often has a greater depth of meaning than our corresponding word, to describe many related things. For example, the Hebrew word for house, beit, can mean house, temple, family or lineage. Also, the Hebrew language lacks abstractions, and uses physical pictures to express abstract ideas, like being “stiff-necked” (stubborn) or “heart was lifted up” (was prideful), which sound poetic to us.

Hebrew also often uses the identical word to describe a mental activity as the physical result of the activity. For example, to listen can mean just to listen, but it usually means to obey the words you hear, which is the result of listening. I have found it amazingly useful in my study of the Bible to get a sense of these wider meanings, so that I can get a fuller understanding of what this odd poetry really means.

 

Here are a few examples of the idiomatic meanings words can have in Hebrew, in addition to their literal meaning in English.

 

NameAuthority, reputation, essence, identity

“In the name of Jesus” means, “by the authority of Jesus,” or “for the sake of Jesus.” Often it speaks about the temple as where “God’s Name dwells,” which really means his authority and presence. See the examples below:

He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. (Meaning, because they know the person’s identity as a prophet or righteous man) (Matt. 10:41)

But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name. (Meaning, those who believe in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God) (John 1:12)

 

SonDescendant, including grandsons and later descendants, disciples

The Israelites, both male and female were called “sons of Israel,” and the Messiah was supposed to be a “son of David.” It was assumed that descendants would share the character of their forefathers too, so a “son of David” would be expected to be kingly and powerful. Jesus says peacemakers will be called “sons of God,” because they are like God in character (Matt 5:9)

 

HouseFamily, descendants, disciples, possessions, the temple

God plays on the multiple meanings of the word when King David asks if he can build a “house” for God (a temple) and God answers that he would build a “house” for David, meaning a kingly lineage that will never end (see 1 Chron. 17:4, 10). We are God’s house: his temple, but also his family.

 

Law (Torah)Instruction, guidance, teaching – comes from the word for “to point, aim, or guide

In Jewish translations it is usually rendered as “instruction” or “teaching.” It has a very positive understanding in terms of being God’s word that contains his guidance for living. This is one of the most misunderstood of words in church tradition, where the “Law” has taken on a negative idea of a legalistic body of oppressive rules.

 

VisitPay attention to, come to the rescue of, bring to judgement (a very wide range of meaning indeed!)

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely visit you (come to your aid) and take you to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Gen. 50:24)

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you visit (take notice of) him (Ps. 8:5)

Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them. (Meaning, I will pay attention to their sin and punish them.) (Ex. 32:34)

Interestingly, Jesus seems to be playing on this when, at the cleansing of the temple, he says,

“For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:43-44)

The “time of their visitation” could mean the time God has come to their rescue in the person of Christ, but for those who ignore him, it will be the source of their punishment, when God “visits” their sins on them through the destruction of the temple.

 

Listen, hearTake heed, be obedient, do what is asked

The Shema is the first word of the Jewish “Pledge of Allegiance,” and it means “Hear.” But really, it means “take heed” or “obey.” In fact, almost every place we see the word “obey” in the Bible, it is translated from the word shema, to hear. When Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” he is calling us to put his words into action, not just listen.

 

RememberDo a favor for, come to the aid of

After the flood, God “remembered” Noah and dried up the waters, meaning that he rescued him, and Hannah says God “remembered” her when she conceived — he did her a favor. The Psalms often plead with God to “remember his people” in the sense of coming to their rescue.

 

ForgetIgnore, not act on

 The cupbearer “forgot” Joseph — actually meaning he ignored his request. God “forgets” our sins — meaning he will never hold them against us, not that his omniscient mind actually loses the memory of them.

 

KnowHave a relationship with another person, even intimately, to care for another

Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived, and bore Cain. (Gen. 4:1)

The righteous man knows (cares for) his animals… (Prov. 12:10)

I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God… (Jer. 24:7)

Having a sense for this way of speaking will be a lot of help to those who want to explore their meaning in passages. Newer translations (ESV, NIV, etc.) tend to explain these words, while older translations (King James) will use a direct, literal meaning.

While it is nice to not struggle to understand, often the poetry and wordplays and parallels between passages are obscured in less literal translations. My recommendation is to have more than one translation available, and compare to see the range of interpretations for passages.

One thing we should notice about Hebrew verbs is that they tend to stress action and effect, rather than just mental activity. Our own Western frame of reference stresses that our intellectual life is most important, while the Hebrew assumes that actions will result from it. In the Hebrew sense, if you “remember” someone, you will act on their behalf. If you “hear” someone, you will obey their words. If you “know” someone, you will have a close relationship with them.

When you read a word that sounds like it is talking about mental activity, stop and think in terms of the action that is expected to result. If you are reading the scripture to apply to your own life, make sure that it goes beyond thought to concrete action: that you are a doer of the word, and not a hearer only.

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Photos: Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash,  Scott Webb on UnsplashAcabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Does God Want Us To Fear Him?

by Lois Tverberg

Understanding the extended meanings of Hebrew words often corrects our misunderstandings of the Bible and explains things that seem to not make sense. Sometimes they can even change our attitude toward God! This is what happens when we understand the broader meaning of the word “fear,” yirah, in Hebrew, and especially in the context of the “Fear of God,” a common expression throughout the Bible.

The idea that we should “fear the Lord” is found hundreds of times in the Old Testament. To many people this is a source of anxiety, and may make us not want to read about the God who appeared to require fright and dread among his people.

It may surprise people to know that even in the New Testament, the “fear of God” is often found. The Gentiles who worship the God of the Jews are called “God-fearers” and the early church was said to be built up in the “fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). Paul even speaks of the “fear of Christ” in Ephesians 5:21.

This is because the “fear of the LORD” was an extremely rich idea that goes far beyond our literal understanding, and is wonderfully positive in application. By understanding the Hebrew meaning of “fear,” and the rich Jewish thinking about the “Fear of the Lord,” we can shed great new light on this issue.

The key to understanding the Hebraic idea of “fear” is to know that like many Hebrew words, it has a much broader sense of meaning than we have in English. To us, “fear” is always negative: it is the opposite of trust, with synonyms of fright, dread and terror.

In Hebrew, it encompasses a wide range of meanings from negative (dread, terror) to positive (worship, reverence) and from mild (respect) to strong (awe). In fact, every time we read “revere” or “reverence,” it comes from the Hebrew word yirah, literally, to fear. When fear is in reference to God, it can be either negative or positive. The enemies of God are terrified by him, but those who know him revere and worship Him, all meanings of the word yirah.

How Should We “Fear the Lord”?

Many Christians understand “the Fear of the LORD” as the fear of the punishment that God could give us for our deeds. It is true that everyone should realize that they will stand at the judgment after they die, but a Christian who knows his sins have been forgiven should not have this kind of fear of God anymore: although many still do.

People who have been steeped in this kind of “punishment mindset” have a very hard time loving God. This is what John speaks against when he says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18).

Interestingly, in rabbinic thought, fearing God’s punishment is also understood to be an incomplete and inferior understanding of the term Yirat Adonai, “Fear of the Lord.”1 At its core is self-centeredness: what will happen to me because of God’s knowledge of my deeds?

Knowing the broader implications of the word “fear” in Hebrew, the rabbis came to a different conclusion, that the best understanding of the term Yirat Adonai is of having awe and reverence for God that motivates us to do His will.

This helps many passages make sense and show why the “Fear of the Lord” is so highly praised in the Bible:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)

In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death. (Prov. 14:26-27)

The “fear of the Lord” in these passages is a reverence for God that allows us to grow in intimate knowledge of Him. It teaches us how to live, and reassures us of God’s power and guidance. It gives us a reverence of God’s will that keeps us from getting caught in sins that will destroy our relationships and lives.

A Sense of God’s Presence

One aspect of Yirat Adonai that the Jewish people have focused on is the idea that we should be constantly aware of the presence of God. Over the top of Torah closets in many synagogues is the phrase “Know Before Whom You Stand,” reminding the congregation that an infinitely powerful God is close at hand.

People sometimes tell stories of how on the death bed of a family member, they had a strong sense of the presence of God, and have felt great reassurance from it, bringing a sense of awe for him at that time. Or in worship, there is no greater thrill than to feel spine-tingling awe at the grandeur of God.

In this sense, to “fear” God is to be filled with awe, and it is one of the most profound experiences of our lives, spiritually. We can see why the “fear of the LORD” as an awesome sense of his presence around us is really the essence of our life of faith.2

In some areas of Christianity, there is a lack of thinking of God as present with us now. God is spoken of in abstract terms, as if he is a theory rather than a being, and we sound live like we don’t expect to have any interaction with him until we die.

This is partly because of our Greek heritage, which focused on the spiritual world as being utterly apart from the material world. While our culture may have taught us that, the biblical witness is that God’s Spirit is very much present in the world with us now.

There is an enormous difference between study of the Bible that has Yirat Adonai, reverence for God, and a purely intellectual approach. The emphasis on reverence for God in Judaism is illustrated by a famous quote from Abraham Heschel that says that while Greeks (Europeans and Americans) study to comprehend, Jews study to revere. Higher education in biblical studies in Western countries tends to be entirely intellectual, and Christians who take academic Bible classes often find them dry.

What they are looking for is God’s voice speaking through the scriptures, and to find it they need Yirat Adonai. The rabbis had an excellent saying: that a scholar who does not have Yirat Adonai is like a man who owns a treasure chest and has the inner keys but not the outer keys.3 He has a treasure but can’t get at it. To study the Bible without reverence is a dry enterprise that will never unlock its true meaning.

Our Moral Foundation

Another thing Yirat Adonai gives us is an inner moral foundation. When we know God knows our thoughts, we are compelled to act not just for what other people think, but for what God thinks. This is what Paul refers to in Col. 3:22 when he says “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” Reverence of God gives us an inward sincerity, because we don’t do things just for external appearances, but to please God who knows our heart.

One humorous old rabbinic story illustrates this point:

A great rabbi once caught a ride on a horse-drawn wagon, and as the wagon passed a field full of ripe produce, the driver stopped and said, “I’m going to get us some vegetables from that field. Call out if you see anyone coming.” As the driver was picking vegetables, the rabbi cried out, “We’re seen! We’re seen!” The frightened man ran back to the wagon, and looked and saw no one nearby. He said, “Why did you call out like that when there was nobody watching?” The rabbi pointed toward heaven and said, “God was watching. God is always watching.”4

An awareness of God’s presence will motivate us to obey him. We may still think of it as a fear of punishment, but it does not have to be this way in believers. When we have reverence for someone, we feel terrible to know we’ve disappointed them.

In times of my life when I’ve worked for someone whom I greatly respected, their praise for my work has been critical to me. Or, when we love someone, we earnestly want their approval on our lives. Indeed, the “fear of Christ” that Paul talks about should really be a sense of Christ’s majesty, and a longing to please him. When we know he is always with us, it causes us to try to live as the disciple he wants us to be.

Yirat Adonai – What God desires most

Amazingly, God says that what he truly desires is that we “fear Him”:

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul… (Deut 10:12)

In this passage, the first words are to fear God, and they are equivalent with the rest of the passage — to fear God is to revere him, which will cause us to walk in his ways and serve him with all our being. Properly understood, there is no greater desire that we should have than to have a “fear of the LORD,” an awesome sense of God’s presence in our lives that will transform us into the people that he wants us to be.

~~~~

1 From “Fear of YHWH and Hebrew Spirituality” a lecture by Dwight Pryor, president of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies. This was from the monthly Haverim audio tape series, October 2003. These tapes are a very rich resource — see jcstudies.com to sign up.

2 In an effort to constantly have a sense of God’s care for us, the Jews from Jesus’ day up until the present have had a wonderful tradition of uttering prayers to “bless the Lord” many times a day to remind themselves that He is the source of every good thing. When I’ve tried this in my own life, sensing God’s immediacy becomes unavoidable. For more, see “The Richness of Jewish Prayer.”

3 From the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31b. See the article “Fear of God” at jewishencyclopedia.com.

4 As quoted by Joseph Telushkin in The Book of Jewish Values, p 10. Copyright 2000, Bell Tower. ISBN 0-609-60330-2. (This is an outstanding book on practical ethics and how we should live: a favorite of mine.)

Photos: Sonya [CC BY-SA 2.0], Mélody P on UnsplashJoshua Earle on UnsplashZac Durant on Unsplash

3. Is Christ the End of the Law?

Part III

Paul tells us in Romans 10:4 that the “telos” of the law is Christ, which has been translated “Christ is the end of the law” (see NIV 1984). Much debate has occurred over this line. However, few have noticed the surprising way that telos is used elsewhere in the New Testament.

Believe it or not, we find two other places where telos in its verb form, teleos (to end, complete) is used together with nomos (law) in the sense of in the sense of keeping or fulfilling (obeying) it!

Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps (teleo) the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Romans 2:27)

If you really fulfill (teleo) the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)

Certainly in these two passages, the sense of teleo is not “terminate, bring to an end.”

Let’s also examine the other verb that is used in a similar context, pleroo (“to fulfill,” in the sense of filling up). This is what is used in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (pleroo) them.”1

Note how the verb pleroo is used in these other passages:

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling (pleroo) of the law. (Romans 13:10)

For the whole law is fulfilled (pleroo) in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Like teleo, the sense of pleroo here is that of upholding the Torah rather than simply seeking its termination.

Christ is the Goal of the Torah

So, how should we read Romans 10:4? In light of the rest of Paul’s writing, I think it’s wise to take a two-handed approach. Scholars point out that while telos can mean “end,” it can also mean “goal” or “culmination.” They suggest that Paul’s wording in Romans 10:4 is deliberately vague, conveying two ideas at once. Christ is both the goal and the end of the Law, they conclude.

Christ is the climactic goal of the Torah, the living embodiment of the holiness and compassion toward which God was aiming. Jesus is the “Word made flesh.” He is the only one who has ever perfectly lived out the Torah.

If the Torah is God’s teaching for how to live as his people, in what sense could it end? I’d point out two things. As Christians, we believe that Jesus took upon himself the punishment we deserve for our inability to keep God’s commands. As such, he brought the law to the end of its ability to separate us from God because of our sin. For that we rejoice!

Second, God’s policy for centuries had been to separate Israel from the influence of its pagan neighbors. He did this so that he could train his people properly, like a parent teaching a child (Galatians 3:24). In Christ, God gave a new command that went in the opposite direction. Instead of maintaining their distance, Jesus’ followers were to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

The instant Peter visited the first Gentile, the policy of separation collided with the new policy of outreach. According to Jewish law, Peter could not accept Cornelius’s hospitality because Gentiles were “unclean.” But God had given him a vision in which unclean animals were declared “clean.” (Acts 10:9-16)

With the guidance of the Spirit, the church ruled in Acts 15 that Gentile believers did not need to enter into the covenant that was given on Mount Sinai. The “dividing wall of hostility” that the Torah put up to keep the Gentiles away was brought to an end (Ephesians 2:14).

Unclean Animals

What about God’s Covenant with Israel?

The Torah also contains God’s covenant with Israel. Did Jesus bring this covenant to an end? Absolutely not, Paul exclaims! Just look at Romans 11:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! …As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:1, 28-29

Paul mourns deeply for his Jewish brothers who have been alienated from God’s promises, and he longs for them to believe in their Messiah. He pictures Israel, the family of Abraham, as an olive tree that Gentiles have been grafted into. Some of Israel’s branches have been cut off, but he’s is optimistic that they can be grafted in again. In no way does Paul think of God’s covenant with Israel as nullified, though.

In Conclusion

As Gentiles, Christians are not obligated to keep the Mosaic covenant. It was given to Israel, not to the world. We are saved by faith because of Christ’s atoning death, not by keeping laws we were never given.

How then are we to live? Paul and the other New Testament writers spend most of their letters discussing this very subject. In Acts 15:21, the Jerusalem Council points out that that Gentile believers will hear Moses preached every weekend in the synagogue. Certainly they will learn how to live from hearing the Torah preached.

The Apostles knew that we can discover great wisdom within the Torah because Christ himself was the goal toward which it was aiming. This is our goal too—to be filled with the love and goodness of our Lord and Rabbi, Jesus.

~~~~~

SittingTo explore this topic more, see chapter 12, “Jesus and the Torah” in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, 2009, p. 163-179.

Go back to part 1, What “Fulfill the Law” Meant in its Jewish Context

Go back to part 2, What Paul Said about Fulfilling the Law

(Certainly much, much more could be said about these issues. My point is to share a few language and cultural insights that challenge our reading, not deal exhaustively with Pauline theology.)

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!

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

by Lois Tverberg

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3

All of the beatitude sayings are very Hebraic, and somewhat difficult for Western Christians to grasp. The saying above, that the “meek shall inherit the earth” is widely quoted, but barely understood.

Lebanon

It is very helpful to know that this line, like almost all of the beatitudes, is a quote from the scriptures, specifically Psalm 37:11. In that verse the Hebrew word for “meek” is anav. It is also translated humble, afflicted or poor. Moses was called the most “anav” (humble) man on earth. It is often used to describe the people who called out to God for help in their difficulty, instead of being aggressive in fighting for their own way.

The theme of Psalm 37 is to remind us that when we are wronged, we shouldn’t try to get revenge, but to trust in the fact that God will someday set the world straight. It says,

… Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek (anavim) will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. (Psalm 37:7-11)

Six places in Psalm 37 it talks about those who would “inherit the land” (yirshu aretz, to inherit or possess the land/earth). That phrase is very significant, having first come up when God made the great promise to Abraham that he would “give him this land to possess/inherit” (Genesis 15:7). Then, later in Deuteronomy, more than a dozen times, Moses tells the people that only by being obedient would they be able to remain in the land:

Deuteronomy 8:1 “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers.”

Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”

It seems that in Psalm 37, David was using this idea from Deuteronomy that God would see to it that the faithful would remain in the land God gave them, and the evil-doers would be removed from it. The psalmist was using the phrase “inheriting the land” in a wider way to speak of God’s full blessing. The wicked may seem to be winning now, but the righteous will ultimately possess God’s gifts for eternity.

In quoting this verse in the beatitudes, Jesus seems to be saying that if we are humble and rely on God rather than striving to punish those who have done us wrong, that we can trust that God will win the day. No matter how much the world demands that we should fight evil with evil, eventually God will reward his followers who trust him to set things right.


Photo: Bontenbal

Adamah – from Earth, And Yet More

by Lois Tverberg

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

When we read Genesis in English, we don’t see several wonderfully profound ideas contained in the words it chooses to describe the relationship of man to the rest of creation and to God. The word for ground is adamah, and of course the first human is called “Adam.” It perfectly fits the scene of God forming Adam from the adamah, and the fact that Adam’s skin is red (adom, in Hebrew), like the ground. Adam is given the task of working the adamah, and when Adam dies, he will return to the adamah.

Even though we are fundamentally made from the earth, the Scripture says that we are unique in our connectedness to God himself, when he created us in his image and breathed the ruach (breath) of life into us. We are not mini-gods, we are created things just like everything around us. But, we are different from the rest of creation because of the unique kind of life we were given by God himself.

There is a wise rabbinic saying about this. It is said,

A person should always carry two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one should be written, ‘I am but dust and ashes,’ and the other, ‘All of creation was made for my sake.'(Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)

That is, we should all humbly realize our own frailness and short life on this earth, and our “feet of clay” – our tendency to sin. But yet we should also continually be reminded we are all created in the image of God, each one very precious in his sight.

Ish & Ishah – Together Fully Human

by Lois Tverberg

(Adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), Because she was taken out of Man (ish).” For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:23-24

The creation story has many profound things to say about God’s intention for our lives. We can be enriched just by looking closely at the Hebrew words that are used to describe the first human Adam, and then the creation of man and woman.

It may surprise English readers that the word adam is a neutral term meaning “human,” not specifically a man. In the original Hebrew text, all references to Adam are neutral until God takes some of Adam’s flesh and makes a woman – ishah, in Hebrew. Only at that point is Adam called ish, a man. The Hebrew word ishah hints at her origins from within the ish, something that we can mimic in English, with the words “man” and “woman.” But interestingly, Adam is never called an ish until the ishah has been separated from him. It is as if the text is implying that male and female cannot define themselves fully as human without the other.

We may not realize that this logic is part of the next verse that says that for this reason, when a man and woman marry, they become “one.” They are returning to God’s first design before the ish and ishah were separated. The complementarity between man and woman is inherent in the way they were taken apart from each other, as the first ishah provides what the ish lacks. In God’s design, it is the the two together who ultimately reflect the image of God.

Shalvah – Peace Within Your Walls

by Lois Tverberg

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. – Psalm 122:6-7 KJV

Often in the past several thousand years, Israel has been in the center of international controversy. It’s as if the powerful spiritual battles that have happened in that land are ongoing, and still trigger events in world politics today. With this in mind, it is good to be reminded that God tells us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” in Psalm 122:6, above.

Older translations often complete that verse by saying that God would prosper those who do so. The idea that God would make us wealthy for caring for his people is actually a mistranslation of the word shalvah, which doesn’t mean prosperity, but actually ease, security and freedom from worry. The NIV now translates this verse in the following way:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”

In Hebrew, we can also hear how the verse is composed to gently roll off the tongue as well:

Shalu shalom Yerushalaim, yishla’u ohavaikh.

The overall effect in reading the verse is to hear both poetic parallelism and alliteration, as the soft sound of the “sh” is used in the words shalu (ask, pray), shalom (peace), Yerushalaim (Jerusalem), and yishla’u (security, tranquility). We also hear the closeness of ideas of shalom (peace, well-being) and shalvah (tranquility, security, ease). We see that those who care about God’s children in that troubled land will find tranquility themselves.

Why? God has chosen Israel for a purpose that will not be fulfilled until the end of the age. The people there show the ongoing struggle within all of humanity, spiritually. They are no better and no worse there than the rest of the world, and when we pray for God’s shalom to be established there, we are praying for ourselves as well.

Geshem – Rain from Heaven

by Lois Tverberg

The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. – Deuteronomy 11:11-12

During our five weeks in Israel in late June and July, not once did it rain. In fact, almost 6 months go by each year without any rain, between May and October. In all of the Middle East, water is precious, like oil is nowadays. In ancient times, countries that had water in abundance became superpowers, and the countries with little barely survived. Egypt received almost no rain at all, but had abundant water from the flooding of the Nile. That was why when regional famine came, people went there to purchase food, like Abraham and later Joseph’s family. The water available from the Nile each year was 30,000 times more plentiful than the yearly rainful to Israel – an enormous difference indeed! It is therefore interesting that God saw the water of Israel as superior to that of Egypt. In Deuteronomy 11:10 – 12 it says,

The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

The difference between Egypt and Canaan was that in Egypt the crops were irrigated by the labor of hand-watering, while in Canaan the land was entirely watered by rain, geshem in Hebrew. In the ancient Middle East, that had profound spiritual implications, because rain was understood to be a gift straight from God, whereas water drawn by hand was a seen to be human self-reliance without regard to God. Egypt and Canaan, therefore, were a contrast of security of human effort compared to dependence on God.

This was a spiritual lesson for the Israelites when they left the land of Egypt for the promised land of Canaan — that when God chose a land for his people, he didn’t choose a place where they could have security because of their own efforts, he chose a land where they would be far more dependent on him and would need his presence watching over them to send them the living water of rain, geshem.

Many of us have seen God do the same thing in our own lives, when we step out to follow him and he takes us from security in our own efforts and brings us to a point of dependence on him, which doesn’t always include prosperity as the world sees it. God often desires dependence for his people rather than abundance, contrary to what “prosperity gospel” teachers may tell us. While we may not have the material wealth as if we lived in “Egypt”, we know that God’s eyes are on us from the beginning of the year to the end.

Metzudah – God is Our Refuge

by Bruce Okkema

In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. – Psalm 71:1-3

Masada stands as a huge outcropping of rock jutting 1,440 feet above the desert floor on the western shore of the Dead Sea. It is located fourteen miles north of the southern end of the sea and eleven miles south of En-gedi. Masada remains today one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols, and except for Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of people visiting Israel.

Its history as a desert fortress goes back far into the past. David moved throughout this region of the southern Judean desert as he was hiding from Saul, and quite likely spent time on this mountain. Although Masada is not mentioned by name in the Bible, we see glimpses of it in several places where God is called a “rock of refuge”, or “my fortress.” Metzudah means “refuge” or “fortress” in Hebrew. (In addition to our text above, see also 1 Sam 22:4-5, 23:14, 24:22, and Psalms 18:2, 31, and 144:2.)

The remains that we we see today are from the time of Herod, who not only increased the fortifications, but built magnificent garden palaces on either end of the mountain. It almost never rains here, yet Herod built an elaborate water system to divert water that originated in the Judean mountains into cisterns at Masada. Servants carried water from there to upper reservoirs servicing the palaces, to an Olympic size swimming pool!

The reason Masada is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols is for what occurred there during the Jewish revolt against Rome during 66 – 72AD. A group of Zealots took Masada and it became a place of refuge for other Jews fleeing the Roman terrorism. For three years they were able to fend off the Romans and worship the Living God while enduring the rigors of desert life. Finally, faced with certain capture and torture, the group of 960 chose to take their own lives, rather than become slaves of Rome. “The valor of the Jewish zealots residing on Masada during the Roman siege is celebrated as the supreme example of self-sacrifice for the preservation of the nation of Israel. Today, when the recruits of the Israel Armored Corps take their oath of allegiance, they do so on Masada to remind each generation of the price their forefathers paid for their nation. They cry: “Masada shall not fall again!” (1)

To climb the arduous snake path in the 120° sun, to imagine looking down helplessly from above on your fellow countrymen enslaved to build a siege ramp against you, to stand at the precipice thinking across history about all the many who have served the Lord at the cost of their lives is to wonder if I will have the courage to stand that test for my Lord one day.

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. – Psalm 2:10-12