Hebrew Thought

In order to understand the Scriptures we must understand the culture in which they were written.  The Bible was written from a Hebrew mindset and the Jewish people had roots. They were to understand Abraham and his culture. The Lord told them to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Isa 51.1).  

Paul says in 1 Cor 10.1 that “our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea.” He tells Gentile Corinthian believers to have the attitude of “all” and to identify themselves with those that went before.  The principle of “all” comes from Passover where it says that participants were to think of themselves as coming out of Egypt. In Eph 2.13-14 it says that the Ephesians were “brought near” by Yeshua, but to what. It says they were brought near to the Commonwealth of Israel, not something new or separate. 

Rom 11 says that the Roman believers were not to be arrogant towards the root (Israel) but it is the root that supports them. The problem is that people look at the Scriptures with western, Gentile eyes but that is not the way we should look at the Bible. In Hebrew thought, there is an integration of thought. Looking at the beginning and the end, the whole. Solomon said “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.

So, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1.9). You cannot make a doctrine out of one verse. Greek thought did that but that is not how the Lord does things. An example of this is the belief the “Jewish people rejected the Messiah.” Well, you can find a verse for that sentiment, but put in it’s whole context this isn’t true. We learn that the leaders from Beit Shammai, not the people at large, plotted against him. They had to arrest him at night for fear of the people. It says myriads of Jews believed in him, even priests and Levites. Yeshua rejected their attempts to make him king. So, lets look at some different items and see how they looked at them through what is called integration.

Time is our first item. Prophecy is unfulfilled history and history is unfulfilled prophecy.  We have heard of the movies “Back to the Future” but in truth we are going “forward to the past.” 

Time is divided into several ages that make up the 7000 year plan of God.  Eternity past was known as the Olam Haba (age to come). The Olam Ha Zeh is this present age and that went for 6000 years, but it was believed that after 4000 years we would enter into what was called the Yomot Ha Mashiach (days of the Messiah). That was for 2000 years leading up to a 1000 year period called the Atid Lavo (future days).  After that 1000 years we go to the Olam Haba again because everything has been restored. 

Now, Yeshua is experiencing the Olam Haba and we are positionally in the Olam Haba through him, but we are in the Yomot Mashiach living in the Olam Ha Zeh.  1 Cor 13 tells us that we can see and experience things “in part” in the Olam Ha Zeh, but someday “face to face” in the Olam Haba. You can have something, but not yet. There is a biblical principle called “here now, but not yet” and you can see this in regards to time. Most of us don’t know who we are or where we are going.  You can see how people with a Greek, western mindset could go and come up with Dispensationalism (God starts, stops, starts, stops).  They are not looking at the whole, across the board.  God is in the Olam Haba because there is no time there but God is a part of time and history also.

Next, lets look at Law and Grace. Martin Luther said that the Hebrew language was the best if you wanted to understand Scripture. He believed that the Jews would flock to his salvation message by grace, but he never realized that the Jews had understood law and grace thousands of years before he did. He did not understand Hebrew thought,and that law and grace wasn’t anything new. The Scriptures as a whole are referred to as “Torah” and it means teaching or instruction and it is full of grace or “chessed.” Grace is a part of God’s nature so grace has always been a part of how he does things. When did grace begin? If you are thinking, “At the cross” then you don’t understand grace. Grace has always existed, even before the foundation of the world. It is who God is, part of his character. When was grace first manifested in the earth? At the first sin, for where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.

In Exo 20.5-6 the Lord says that he will visit the iniquity of the parents on children to the fourth generation but his chessed (grace) to the thousands (at least 2000) generation. So, in Hebrew thought, if you divide 2000 by 4 that equals 500. So, his grace is 500 times greater that his judgment/justice.  We have been taught the concept that grace started at the cross or New Testament but that is not what the Scriptures teach. It was manifested in the earth for the first time at the first sin. God has been very gracious to mankind in history.  We know that God is interested in man and that the earth is to be inhabited (Isa 45.18).  We are not to be so concerned with the heavenly things that we are not very useful on earth. The Kingdom of God is on earth and it will be ruled by the Messiah.

In Greek thought, to be separate from the body to the heavenly things is good. The flesh or the physical was seen as bad. In Hebrew thought we are to inhabit the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue the earth. You may have heard people say “this is not my home, I’m only passing through.” but that is not the Hebrew idea of earth.  Earth is our home and it will be restored. That is one of the elements of the Gospel (basar).

In the area of religion, there is no such thing as a separation of church and state. God is the center of whatever you are doing whether religious or secular.  Congregations became the center of their lives when there was no Temple. Rulings affected everybody and they knew the Scriptures for themselves, or were supposed to. Life was seen as a life of prayer, and study was a form of prayer, the highest form of worship.

The Hebrew word for meditate (Josh 1.8) means “to utter, speak, mutter, talk” and so it is verbal.   Meditation to some people means to go into a corner, to be silent but it means to speak out loud in Hebrew. In ancient times you could pass a Beit ha Midrash (house of study) and hear the children “chirping” or speaking the scriptures. Speaking helps you remember. That’s why when words are put to music we can remember better.         

That brings us to doctrine. In Hebrew thought, dogmas had no place. There was no need to draw up concise formulas expressing Jewish belief. There are no creedal affirmations because belief can be summed up in the Shema and prayer.  In the book of Acts, Paul tries to divide the Pharisees and the Sadducees  at one of his hearings.  What we fail to see is that both groups were in the same room despite their theological differences. Look at all the Christian denominations. The Jewish people didn’t get hung up on all that because the Torah was from God. There was room for different ideas. Today, many people have to have it either/or.  That is not to say that you are not to have core beliefs and doctrines, but they tried to learn from one another.

Next, how is the nature of God seen in Hebrew thought?  The Bible describes God in what is called anthropomorphisms, or ascribing human characteristics to describe him. For instance the Bible uses face of God, arm of the Lord, eyes and hands to describe him. Some take this literal. Now, the Lord is seen as “echad” (one) but also as a plural unity.  When Israel was at Mt. Sinai they saw the voice of God but saw no form (Deut 4.9-15). That is why we are not to have images of the Lord.  We see pictures of God in the form of an old man, we see pictures of Yeshua and white doves representing the Holy Spirit but these are forbidden (Deut 4.15-18). The Lord has no body and is omnipresent.

Other names for God is “El Elyon” (Most High); “Adonai Yireh” (God sees); “Adonai Rapha” (God who heals); “Adonai Tzava” (God of war) and many, many others. All the names and titles of God give us a facet of who he really is. God is omniscient (Isa 46.10) and he is outside of time (Olam Haba) therefore he can look forward and back in time. he is as holy as holy can be. But, even though God is “all” and as holy as can be, he is near us (Jer 23.23). Other cultures have to carry their gods around with them, but our God is everywhere.

Lets look at the nature of man and Hebrew thought. Man is made up of body and soul/spirit. Some think man is triune made up of body, soul, and spirit but lets see what the scriptures say.  The word “nefesh” means the essence of a living creature (Gen 2.7).  It can mean blood (Gen 9.4), individual ego, person (Gen 46.26) and a body (Ex 21.23). It is also synonymous with “spirit” (Gen 6.17). God regards certain organs as the seat of certain psychological attributes.

The Hebrew word for “heart” is lev and is considered the center of thought in Psa 45; of conscience in 1 Sam 24; of love in Deut 6.4; of anger in Deut 19; and joy in Isa 30; of hatred in Lev 19; and courage in Jer 48.  The Hebrew word for kidneys is “kilyanot” and is seen as the source of emotions and conscience in conjunction with the heart. The word for bowels is Me’ahim and is the seat of overpowering feelings.

Modern versions substitute heart for bowels or kidneys. Also “nefesh” is translated “mind” in Gen 23.8. “Ruach” (spirit) is translated mind in Prov 29.11. “Lev” (heart) is translated mind in Num 16.28.  “Nefesh” is translated spirit (ruach) in Gen 1.2 and heart in Exo 23.9. 

Heart, mind, soul, spirit, kidney, bowels are synonymous terms. Thought processes are in the mind so kidney is used as mind because a kidney “filters” impurities, so it’s the same with the mind.  This is just a small part of Hebrew thought but hopefully this will give you an idea of how we should look at the Scriptures.  Be patient, renewing our minds can be frustrating but it is also rewarding and exciting.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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