They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Different Perspective on Psalm 23

The Good ShepherdThe 23rd Psalm, often called the Shepherd Psalm, is arguably the most loved and memorized pieces of all the Scriptures; almost everyone can recite most or all of its reassuring lines. As familiar as we are with its words, is it possible that we could have missed an important part of what the psalmist David was trying to say? After the opening verses where David declares the Lord is his shepherd, David then makes another series of statements that we might have misinterpreted.

Psalm 23:3 is usually translated, “He restores my soul.” In our English tradition, we have taken that phrase to mean that God lifted us from our depression, or he helped us recover a sense of joy and purpose or worth. But was this what David was saying? The original Hebrew words which are translated, “He restores my soul”, are “nafshi yeshobeb.” Nafshi is from the word, ”nephesh” (Strong’s 5315) and means, “myself / soul / person / life.” The second word, “yeshobeb” is an intensive form of ”shub” (Strong’s 7725), the great Hebrew word for repentance (to turn back, to return).

Ga 10,22-30 c

Instead of using the cross, early Christian artists most often depicted Jesus carrying an oversized (indicating a burden) sheep on His shoulders.

From the translation of these two Hebrew words, Psalm 23:3 could easily be translated, “He brings me back” or “He causes me to repent”, instead of, “He restores my soul.” This really makes sense when you realize that David might have been reflecting on his personal journey of faith. David could have been saying, as do many other Old Testament Passages, that God came after him and brought him back. It is the picture of a good shepherd who goes after a lost sheep and brings it back to a safe place. Middle Eastern translations of these verses have always said, ”He brings me back”, and even the Wycliffe translation says, “He converted my soul and he put me on the right path.”

Could this be the correct interpretation? The phrase in the 23rd Psalm that immediately follows, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness”, adds credence to this idea. The assumption from the story is that the Psalmist was wandering in the paths of unrighteousness when God rescued him. God found him in his lost condition and on the wrong path and picked him up on his shoulders and carried him back to the right path. The good shepherd caused him to repent and return (shub).

Could the 23rd Psalm be a story of a lost sheep who God rescues and brings back to the right path? Re-read Psalm 23 reprinted below with this idea in mind and see if it doesn’t bring a fresh and deeper meaning to these words that we know so well. Also, this interpretation wonderfully carries the thread of redemption to yet another place in Scripture. God is the good shepherd and always has His eye on His sheep and will do anything to bring them back to His fold. This is another example of how knowing and understanding the Hebrew language and culture adds another and deeper dimension to our English translations.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
– Psalm 23 (KJV)

Walking on Water

Jesus Walking on WaterThe only miracle in the New Testament where the disciples say, “Truly this is the Son of God”, was the miracle of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:23-33). Could the reason for this be found in the Hebrew bible? In Job 9:8 it says, “He [God] alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” What about Psalm 107:28-30, where it says, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Also, in this story, Jesus walks by the boat on the water. Listen to the next passage in Job 9:11 talking about God. ”When He passes me, I cannot see Him, when He goes by, I cannot perceive Him”. Could it have been that those disciples knew their Text and realized that God was present among them because Jesus had done what the Text said God alone could and would do? The miracle of calming the sea does not necessarily prove that Jesus was God. Moses and Elijah also performed miracles with water. What made the miracle so profound was that He walked on the sea and by doing so, according to the Text, claimed to be just like God. Also, like the Jonah story (Jonah 1:4-6), both Jesus and Jonah were asleep in the bottom of the boat, just before the storm was calmed. The disciples must have thought, “It’s happening again!” However, this time, the greater Jonah (Jesus) went toward His mission from God instead of running from it.

How many times have we seen this happen in Scripture where something that Jesus did was fulfillment of the Hebrew text? The Bible is one long interwoven thread – we just have to study it enough to be able to trace the cord!

M’Sharet: God’s Assistant

Moses & JoshuaOn our last trip to Israel we learned a very rich word in Hebrew, a new concept, that really impacted us and gave us a deeper understanding of what our mission as believers in Jesus should look like. The word in Hebrew is m’sharet (mesharet) and is translated in English as assistant or aide. However, this word, as it related to the Hebrew culture of that day, went much deeper than a single word in English could capture.

If you look up the word in the Hebrew concordance, (Strong’s 8334), it is defined as, “to minister, to serve as an attendant, to wait upon someone as a squire waits on a knight.”  It is used to describe someone who believes so passionately in their master’s mission that they would do any task or anything to assist in what their master was doing.  A m’sharet went everywhere with their master and did all the manual labor and the menial tasks in order to help their master through the day and served as an apprentice to him.

The word is used in the Hebrew Testament in Exodus 24:13 to describe this relationship between Moses and Joshua. In this set of verses, Moses takes his m’sharet, Joshua,and takes him up Mt. Sinai with him to meet God. Although the text doesn’t specifically say it, the implication is that Joshua was the porter for the trip up the mountain. Exodus 33:11 again calls Joshua Moses’ attendant and says that Moses used him to guard the tent of meeting. Previously, in Exodus 17:9 Moses orders Joshua, his right hand man, to fight the Amalekites. In Deuteronomy 1:38 God tells Moses to encourage his assistant Joshua and teach him what he knows, because Joshua will eventually become the new leader of all Israel. Numbers 11:28 says that Joshua had been Moses’ aide since his youth.

Later, in Joshua 1:3 and 3:7, after the death of Moses, the Lord speaks to Joshua and identifies him as Moses attendant (mesharet Moshe). Because of this relationship with Moses, God makes Joshua the new leader and charges him with taking the Israelites across the Jordan into the land that they had been promised. The sages from early times, in discussing this passage, noted that God called Joshua “m’sharet” instead of “talmid” (disciple), for a reason. Joshua wasn’t a great leader because he knew his Torah, but because he had been with Moses and had watched him in action for all those years. He learned from Moses experiences and had practiced the art of leadership before he had to use it. He had carried Moses pack, he had waited on him hand and foot, slept and ate in the same tent, and had even gone to battle for him. He had done his apprenticeship directly under the eyes of the master.

Elijah calls ElishaAs another example, 1 Kings 19:21 says,”Then he (Elisha) set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant (m’sharet).”  In this story in 1 Kings, Elisha said goodbye to his comfortable home and well off family to become Elijah’s personal servant. Again, the word m’sharet is used instead of talmid. He was his apprentice, his servant.  Later in 2 Kings 3:11, Elisha is identified as a prophet and someone worthy for King Jeshophat to talk to by describing him as “the one who used to pour water on Elijah’s hand“ (he waited on him). Again, the sages noted that what qualified Elisha was not that he was book smart but that he served (his master).

There are many other examples of m’sharet in scripture. Elsiha also had a mesharet (2 Kings 4:43 and 6:15). Samuel was Eli’s m’sharet (1 Samuel 2:11). The point is that certain educational experiences can only be learned through apprenticeship. Book knowledge is insufficient. It is necessary to learn by practicing, getting your hands dirty, and learning directly under the eyes of the master.

What about the New Testament? Did Jesus have m’sharet? If you will think about it, Jesus never rowed the boat, carried his pack, kept up with the money, prepared the upper room, went in to town to buy food, or took care of feeding his followers. The disciples did all the menial work! They believed so passionately in his mission that they were willing to do anything and go anywhere just to be in his company and in on the action. They were anxious to show him that they believed in his mission. They didn’t just sit around and discuss the scriptures as his peers, they were apprentices in every phase of life.

Should we be thinking more of ourselves as Jesus’ m’sharet than just his student or convert? Much of the emphasis in modern Christianity is focused on “me”; my walk, my happiness, my quiet time. We really buy into the cross and the fact that Jesus saved us, but we are not as anxious to buy into the mission and the hard work it requires.  It is definitely not our mission just to be saved and the mission is really not about us. Do you buy into the mission to do whatever it takes to model and please the rabbi? Are you willing to do the hard and sometimes menial work that is required to be an attendant?  The word mission implies a journey and every journey requires effort. Jesus is looking for some m’sharet to follow him and learn from him on the journey.  Are you willing to buy in as his attendant?

P.S. Another example of m’sharet in the New Testament would be Timothy to Paul.

P.S.S. Some scriptures to read to bring this point home are as follows:

  • Luke 22:24-27
  • Matthew 25:21
  • Matthew 20:26
  • John 14:1-17

Up on a Mountain to Pray – Mt. Arbel

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place where he prayed” – Mark 1:35

Mt. Arbel, Galilee, Israel – This high mountain, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, affords one of the most breathtaking views of the area that Jesus spent most of his public ministry in. Josephus tells us that there were over 200 towns and villages around the lake called the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ day. Almost all the people living there earned their living by farming or fishing. From the top of Mt. Arbel, you have a panoramic view of the whole area where Jesus walked and lived. You can see Capernaum, Bethsaida (where the Jordan River empties into the lake), the Mt. of Beatitudes, Korazin, and the Decapolis (home of the demoniac). A lot of Jewish history is also in this mountain. Herod the Great came here and killed hundreds of Galilean Zealots that were hiding in the steep cliffs on Mt. Arbel to crush their rebellion against his authority. The mountain is a landmark in the area and can be seen from almost anywhere for miles in any direction.

Our group of disciples came to this mountain and climbed it to learn about all the geographical places and to also learn another fascinating lesson abut the relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim (disciples). At the base of the mountain is the small fishing village of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. We left early in the morning, at daybreak from Magdala, and made the arduous ascent through the cliffs, to the summit. It was very tough physically and at one point we had to climb vertically and cling to metal pegs that were driven into the cliffs. Once on top however, the view was breathtaking. We could imagine Jesus and his disciples as they moved from village to village around the lake. While we were on top, we heard the following story about the relationship that a Jewish Rabbi had with his talmidim:

Rabbis were passionately committed to the young men that they had chosen as their disciples. They felt totally responsible for their physical and spiritual growth and well being. It was a common practice for a rabbi to get up early in the morning, well before light and make a very strenuous climb to a place where they could overlook where their disciples were sleeping. The harder the climb for the rabbi, the more it emphasized his commitment to his flock. After reaching his observation point, the rabbi would look below and begin to earnestly pray to God on behalf of his disciples. He would pray large portions of the text out loud and ask God to make those scriptures come alive in the hearts of those young men under his tutelage. It was a very gratifying experience for the teacher as he pleaded to God on behalf of his unsuspecting students below.

After just making this tough climb ourselves, we could feel the commitment and the sacrifice that the rabbi had for his talmidim. He was willing to do the hard work it took to make sure that they became just like him and were instructed correctly. We then read the Mark Passage and saw that our Rabbi Jesus also got up early in the morning and went out to pray for his disciples.

Who are your disciples? According to Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus instructed us to go and make disciples and to teach them to do everything that He had taught us. Are you earnestly praying for them and their walk with Jesus? If we are to become like Jesus, we will have to have disciples and we will have to commit to praying for them. It will take a high level of commitment on our part. Mt. Arbel burned in my spirit the need to be a man that lives and prays the text and that is actively pursuing someone to train to walk in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.

A Healing on the Sabbath

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

— Luke 13:10-17

The account of Jesus healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath is a Bible story that most of us are familiar with. However, a careful re-reading of this story with some cultural details added brings out some delightful surprises. Let’s take a look.

In Luke 13:10 it says that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. A woman who had been crippled and bent over for eighteen years was there to listen to His teaching. Jesus spoke to her and called her forward and healed her. This evidently stirred up a firestorm of controversy because Jesus had healed or done work on the Sabbath. This was an area that Jesus had been constantly attacked over. A look back at Luke 6:1-12 as well as Luke 14:1-6 and John 5:1-18 shows several more examples of these confrontations. From our previous Rabbi studies (see Jesus, A Jewish Rabbi, Part 3 & Part 4) we learned that Jesus was a Rabbi with “s’mekah” or authority. This meant that He had the authority to overrule old laws and make new interpretations concerning the Jewish oral laws and traditions that the Pharisees were so rigid on. In Mark 2:27, Jesus gave one of these new interpretations in response to being criticized for misusing the Sabbath. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

When Jesus healed the woman in Luke 13, The NIV says that He said to her, “Woman you are set free from your infirmity.” The literal Greek translated there is, “woman you are ‘untied’ from your infirmity.” Knowing this one word is a huge key to understanding the rest of the story and how He used it to make the Pharisees look bad. Jesus then calls the Pharisees hypocrites because that very Sabbath morning they had “untied” their livestock and had taken them out to eat and drink and relieve themselves, yet they were criticizing Him for “untying” this woman and releasing her from her infirmity! “Which is more important to do on the Sabbath?”, Jesus asked, “untying your livestock or this woman?” His opponents were humiliated and all the people listening were delighted at Jesus’ common sense new interpretation of the Sabbath laws.

A cultural detail that is interesting and important to this story is that in the Middle East, during this time in history, people kept some of their more important animals in the house with them at night. People slept in a raised area of the house and kept their animals in a step down area by the entrance (see diagram in the story of “No Room in the Inn”). Every morning when they began their day they would untie and let the animals out of the house to relieve themselves. The Sabbath would have been no exception; they had to be let out every day. Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, “Look how unreasonable and unbending you are. You have no problem untying your animals on the Sabbath, yet you won’t let me “untie” this woman from an infirmity that has plagued her for years!” What is the difference? His adversaries were put to shame! This story is a great example of why Jesus was well thought of and followed by such a huge crowd of people. They were amazed at His authority and His ability to make such brilliant and fresh new interpretations of the Laws of Moses.

Jesus-A Jewish Rabbi: Part One

Jesus & the Disciples

Jesus & the Disciples

In the Gospels we see Jesus called “Rabbi” by six different groups of people; His disciples, a lawyer, a rich man, a Pharisee, a Sadducee and “the crowd”. What was a rabbi and how did you become one? What was the educational system like and the lifestyle that would produce these great Jewish teachers? First of all, the word “Rabbi” means, “My Master” or literally “My Great One”. It came from the word “RAV” that means great or honored one and was used by slaves to their master or servant to his lord. The word “Ravi” means “my” master or “my” boss. To discover how someone would become a Rabbi in Jesus day we need to look at the lifestyle and educational system that would have produced them. What was the educational system like in the first century in the Galilee?

The heart of all Jewish education was the home. The home was the center of learning. Education took place in the home. Any other education was just an extension of the principles taught at home. Although both parents shared in this task, the father bore the chief responsibility for the instruction of the children. The father was the main instrument in the learning process. The Talmud states, “The father is bound in respect of his son to circumcise….teach him Torah, take a wife for him, and teach him a craft” (Kiddushin 29a). This is such an important point! The heart of Jewish education was a child seeing his family, especially the father, in action in life situations. Abraham Heschel, a well known Jewish writer, gave this famous quote, “What we need more than anything else is not text books, but text people. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget”. The foundation for Jesus’ education would have definitely been his father, Joseph’s example – in addition to his heavenly Father.

At this point in the study, it is helpful to make some comparisons between Western (Greek) and Eastern (Hebrew) thinking in education. The object and aim of the Hebrew system was, “the knowledge of God”. The object and aim of the Greek system was, ”know thyself”. These two aims are poles apart. The Hebrew system started with God; ”The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, or knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10). Man can never know himself, unless he first learns of God and is submissive to His will. The Greek system, on the other hand, starts from the knowledge of man as he seeks to understand God through man’s higher nature. To the Jew, the ideal of holiness and separation was the key to knowing God. All education was directed to this end; be holy, be different, be set apart from the other heathen nations. In contrast, the Greek world did not understand education to be tied to a holiness of life. Teaching involved the transfer of knowledge in intellectual areas such as art, music, or athletics. The Greek teacher aimed at developing the talent and potentials of his student. In Greek society only the wealthy and leisure classes were educated. Our English words school and scholar come from the Greek word, ”Scholazo”, which means to have leisure, or to have spare time, or to have nothing to do. Conversely, Jewish education was for all people and concerned the whole person.

In summary, the Greeks learned in order to comprehend, the Hebrews learned in order to revere. To a Jew, wisdom was what you did, not what you knew. It was action and behavior, not the nine points of theology. Jesus took his disciples out into life to teach them how to act. He demonstrated personally, and as they acted and reacted he taught them the truth. It was not “to know”, but ,”to experience”. In our next segment, we will look at the actual Jewish educational system during the time of Jesus and see how that shaped His style of teaching and made Him a rabbi in the eyes of His constituents.