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

More Thoughts on Pentecost

Grain field

As we have written in our previous posts, the Jewish Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost was celebrated for two major reasons. The first was to acknowledge the fact that at this time of year, during the Exodus at Mt. Sinai, God gave his people the ten commandments and other instructions on how to live. The Torah was God’s contract with his people. Exodus 19:5 says, “If you will obey me fully, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession”. They celebrated to be reminded that they must closely observe all that God had commanded them to do. (Read, The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost for more details).

The second reason that God said to set aside the Feast of Shavuot was an agricultural one. The timing of Shavuot was late May and early June which coincided with the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The Jewish nation was to thank him for his provision in the past and ask him to continue providing with this year’s crop. Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 tells the Israelites to not forget who brought them to this good land and has been providing for them all these years. During the celebration, you brought a portion of the first part of your wheat to give to God and ask Him to bless you with the rest as it ripens.

All during the time of the Feast, scriptures were read each day to remind the Israelites of the Exodus events and to be thankful and generous to the poor and alien. Exodus 19, Ezekiel 1, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, and the Book of Ruth were always read in full.

There was also another important concept that the Israelites were reminded to practice during the upcoming harvest. They were told In Leviticus 19:9-10 to not cut the corners of their field, but to leave some of the grain or grapes for the poor, alien, and widows. This was God’s way of taking care of the people that didn’t have as much or had been marginalized in some way. The post, “Don’t Cut the Corners of Your Field”, gives a lot more detail on this concept of how you showed how generous you were by the size of the corners of your field. This is such a wonderful practice and analogy of how generous we are supposed to be as we come into contact with people that don’t have as much as we do.

One New Testament story that was interesting to affirm this concept of leaving some of your harvest for others, was the story in the New Testament of Jesus gleaning the fields with his disciples. The story is found in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5. Did Jesus take advantage of this process during his earthly ministry? If you look at the King James Version of the Luke passage, it says, “And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, Jesus was gleaning in the fields.” The KJV records and preserves the Jewish practice of allowing two Sabbaths for the poor and needy to go through the grain fields and get what they could to feed themselves. After the two week period, the farmer would be allowed to bring his animals in to finish cleaning everything up. Jesus and his disciples would have been taking advantage of that window of opportunity to get themselves something to eat.

To conclude, Shavuot (Pentecost) brought attention to some very important precepts that the Israelites were supposed to follow. They were to be thankful that God had chosen them as his special nation and was to be constantly mindful of his blessings. They were to be obedient to God’s laws and they were to be generous in their dealings with their own people and outsiders. Helping those less fortunate was always a big part of God’s message to the Israelites.

Jesus-A Jewish Rabbi: Part 2

Jesus was often called rabbi by His peers in the stories of the New Testament. In fact, the Gospels record that Jesus was called, ”Rabbi” on sixteen different occasions. What was a rabbi and how did you become one? In our first segment we began our discussion of the Jewish educational system. We learned that the heart of that system were the principles taught at home by the family and especially the father. The father was responsible to teach his son Torah and to teach him a craft as well as almost everything else in life. When the child became old enough to attend a formal school setting, he went to the school that was attached to the local synagogue. There were four levels of school available to the children of the Galilee in Jesus’ day. Let’s take a look at these.

  1. Bet Sepher – literally means “The House of the Book” (Torah). This was for boys and girls both and was from age 5-10. Children would be trained by the local Torah teacher. The class always began with the Book of Leviticus and the students began to memorize the Torah and incorporate math and other subjects all centered around “The Book”. Other passages of Scripture that were studied were the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21) and the creation story in Genesis 1-5. By the age of 10, most students had all or huge parts of the first five books of the Bible committed to memory. Remember that they had no text books. Usually there was only one copy of each book of the Bible available in the synagogue. Memorization was done by orally repeating the word over and over, with the teacher leading the recitation. Girls only completed this level of learning. From this age on, they would be training to be a housewife and would be married shortly after. A wonderful tradition that was practiced a little bit later in Jewish history graphically shows the importance the parents placed on this first stage of learning. On the first day of school, when the student went to meet his new teacher and classmates, the parents would wrap their child in a prayer shawl like a scroll.
  2. Bet Talmud – literally means, “House of Learning”. If a young man had done well on his memorization of the Torah in Bet Sepher, he would be able to move on to this level. He would expand his Torah study and begin to study the other Old Testament Books. Also, they began studying the Oral Law (Mishnah) at this age. It is interesting to note that before 70 A.D. in Jerusalem alone, their were 480 synagogues that had both the Bet Sepher and Bet Talmud schools. This was usually the last level that most young men would complete. By the age of fourteen or fifteen, they would begin to learn a trade from their father. Most of Jesus’ disciples had finished this level and were now learning a trade (e.g. in Matthew 4:18-22, James and John were learning the fishing trade from their father, Zebedee. Peter and Andrew were also fishing in the same passage.) Only the best and brightest would be able to move on to the next level of learning.
  3. Bet Midrash – literally means “House of Study”. At approximately age fifteen, if you had demonstrated great ability in your previous studies, you could now begin to study under some of the great teachers of the law. Theses academies were conducted by the greatest teachers of the time such as Hillel, Shammai, Akeba, and Gamaliel. After completing this very advanced level, you could ask to be a student of and travel with one of these great teachers.
  4. Talmidim – literally means “disciple”. If you were accepted as a disciple of one of these rabbis, you were called one of his “Talmidim”. From this point on, you would travel with your wise teacher, desperately trying to become just like him. The idea was not to just know what your teacher knew, but to be what your teacher was. You would leave home and be gone for 30 days at a time. Talmidim that were married had to have written permission from their wives to travel for this length of time. While you were traveling out in the real world, you watched and imitated your rabbi and learned how to react in every situation. This training period usually lasted for fifteen years, after which you would then become a rabbi yourself and have your own Talmidim. During your apprenticeship, you were required to have a trade and weren’t allowed to be paid for any religious teaching. All the great rabbis were also woodcutters (Hillel), surveyors (Shammai), blacksmiths, etc. or leather workers, such as Paul (Acts 18:3).

When you think about the story of Jesus in the Gospels, his training probably fit into this pattern. Although the Bible doesn’t give us any specifics of his early life, it certainly gives us some hints. In Luke 2:40 it says that as Jesus grew up He was filled with wisdom. Also, in Luke 2:41-52, it tell the story of Jesus going as a young man to the Temple during the Passover Festival. Jesus went into the temple courts and sat among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone was amazed at His understanding and His questions and answers. Verse 52 says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” In His human form, He was obviously one of the best and brightest. Also, He first appeared in His public ministry at age 30, which would suggest that he had completed His training as a talmidim and was now ready to make his own disciples. We also know that he was a “tekton” by trade (a craftsman who builds – NIV translates as “carpenter”).

From this educational training came the rabbinical system that Jesus was identified with. He was called rabbi in part because He had completed the training and was recognized as one of the very best in His knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In our next lesson, we will look at the different levels or hierarchy of rabbis and the authority they carried in the community.