What does it mean to study the Bible? Does studying the Bible simply mean to read our Bibles? Unfortunately, in this modern age, it appears this is the approach for the typical believer in the Messiah. It’s no secret that those of us who claim to follow Yeshua consistently fall short of living up to the example given by our Rabbi (Yeshua) on the way we should be living our lives. Being a disciple of yeshua is a lifelong journey towards conforming our lives to the image and the way of life that Yeshua taught. However, so often, followers of Yeshua chose to blatantly ignore some of the clearest Torah instructions of our Rabbi and obscure the teachings of the Torah and of Yeshua the Messiah using modern theologies for the purpose of getting “off the hook,” so one does not need to be accountable before God and His Word. There are instances in modern theologies where the followers of Yeshua are taught something explicitly contradictory to the plain meaning of the Word of God causing one to spend his or her life obeying the theology based instruction they received instead of the commands of God. The only way to break out of this cycle is to take seriously the study of the Bible, God’s Holy Word! But the question remains, “What does it mean to take Bible study seriously?” Let’s look at this a bit closer this week!
Serious Bible study begins with a basic familiarity with the Scriptures. It is not enough to simply have heard some Bible stories here and there growing up, or to go to church each Sunday, listen to the sermon, and expect this to be sufficient for growing spiritually. Many people also think believing in a theology is all it takes (i.e. faith alone doctrines). As disciples of Yeshua, we need to read and study the Scriptures with a willingness to learn, remember, and “apply” God’s Word to our lives. The application of Scripture to our lives is as important as our faith because both are intimately connected.
In order to gain a basic familiarity of the Scriptures it is important to get on a yearly reading plan to go through the Scriptures once every year. As we begin to familiarize ourselves with the Scriptures, it is important to ask ourselves “What do these Scriptures mean for me?” and “How do I apply these Scriptures to my life?” Additional questions may be, “Who is the one involved in the story? Where are they? What are they doing, why are they doing it, and how are they doing it?” and “What does all of this mean for me?” “Is there a practical present day reality for me in these Scriptures?” “Was this only for the past?” “Is there a spiritual truth to be learned?” etc. These questions and more will help to more deeply invest our time and attention to what we are reading. In addition, it is important to study the ancient history and cultures in order to bring a certain context (When) to the place of the story. This will draw in the cultural moral and philosophical concepts, and help us to understand how the Scriptures apply today, where certain moral and philosophical ideas are consistent throughout the history of mankind which reveals to us more about the character of the Lord God of Israel and His love for us. This method of study leads us to expect to be changed by studying the Bible. The point is, simply reading the bible should be for the purpose of increasing our general knowledge of the bible. We however need to stop merely reading the Bible, in the sense of believing this is the way we study, and sit down, turn off the television, and start really digging into the Scriptures!
The point of the Lord God of Israel providing us with the Scriptures and “studying” the Scripture is multifaceted. The purpose of Bible study is (i) to draw nearer to the Lord God our Father in heaven and to His Messiah Yeshua, (ii) to condition our hearts and minds (Ephesians 5:26), (iii) to know the Lord God of Israel and His Messiah by conforming our lives unto God’s Word, (iv) to increase our faith and deepen our relationship with the Lord, and (v) to know how to live our lives for the Lord in order to bring glory to His Name. These things summarize the purpose of the Lord giving us His word. The purpose was not simply for spiritual insights that are devoid of the application of God’s word to our lives. The purpose of the Lord giving us His word is found in the context that “the only way to truly know the Lord” is by living as Yeshua lived, where obedience to the commands is to walk in the footsteps of our Father and Yeshua the Messiah. The way we get to know someone in this world is by walking along side of them and sharing in their troubles, struggles, and in life. The same can be said of getting to know the Lord better by walking along side of Him in righteousness, holiness, justice, and truth. This is spelled out in the Apostolic Writings when Yeshua said the way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through DOING the will of God. Take note of the following Scriptures:
7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)
10:25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 10:26 And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ 10:27 And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ 10:28 And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; DO THIS and you will live.’ (NASB)
A very popular Protestant catch phrase is, “We are saved by faith alone, apart from works!” This theology (doctrine) of sola fide (faith alone) was developed by the Reformers in response to the Roman Catholic approach of the “Salvific work” of living for the Lord God of Israel. The Roman Catholic approach has been interpreted by Protestants as a works based salvation. Yeshua however speaks of the significance of seeking to do the will of our Father in heaven, whereby the deeds that we do demonstrate the kind of relationship that we have with our Father in heaven. Yeshua’s words are consistent with Daat Zkenim commentary on Shemot / Exodus 25:11, Part 2 which states the following.
Daat Zkenim on Shemot / Exodus 25:11 Part 2
מבית ומחוץ תצפנו. אמר רבא כל ת”ח שאין תוכו כברו אינו תלמיד חכם. ועוד צוה הקב”ה לכל ישראל להתעסק בו כדי שיהו כלן מקבלין שכר התורה המונחת בו שם: מבית ומחוץ תצפנו, “you are to overlay it both from the inside and from the outside. The famous Talmudic scholar Rava, derives from this phrasing that a Torah scholar, in order to deserve that title, must demonstrate that he is on the inside just as pure and faithful as what he projects to be on the outside to people he comes into contact with. Furthermore, the use of the impersonal plural “they” in our verse is an instruction to each Israelite to preoccupy himself with the study of Torah so that he can qualify for the reward in store for people doing so.
Note how the Torah describes the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s dwelling and speaking, was overlaid with gold on the inside and out. The rabbis take this verse and parallel the Ark to the person who is a Torah Scholar. This is very similar to Paul’s usage stating that our bodies are God’s Temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19) It is also interesting how the commentary speaks of demonstrating what is on the inside by what one does on the outside. Note the modern theologies of today teach that it is only what is on the inside that matters, which is something that is NOT observable by men. Both Yeshua and the Talmudic rabbis however believe the way we demonstrate our faith within is by the way we live, behave, and interact with the people we come in contact with. (Note how this concept is also taught in the greatest Torah command of loving God and loving your neighbor.) This is the point and the purpose of the rabbinic teaching to preoccupy ourselves with the study of the Torah, because the Torah teaches us how to Love God and how to Love our neighbor. The basic presupposition here is that studying the Bible is connected to the practical application of God’s Word which effects our relationship with the Lord God of Israel, His Messiah Yeshua, and those whom we come in contact with.
Note what the commentary Kli Yakar on Bereshit / Genesis 1:14 Part 1 states regarding the study of the Torah:
Kli Yakar on Bereshit / Genesis 1:14 Part 1
“Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heavens:” Luminaries (meorot) is written in [its] incomplete spelling [meaning that it lacks the letter vav]. Rashi explains that [hence] this [can be read also] as the word, curses (ma’arot), etc. I say that the following is the reason a word that indicates curse is mentioned specifically with the luminaries: since the luminaries are the cause of time and all things that come under time involve pain. As the Rabbis, of blessed memory, said (Megillah 10b), “Every place where it is stated, ‘and it was’ is nothing but a place of pain” and [the Talmud] concludes that it is only in a place where it is stated “and it was in the days of” that it is an expression of pain; and the reason for this matter is because any thing that is dependent on days – meaning, on time – involves pain, but all of the higher existences that are above time, and time does not rule over them, they do not involve any pain. Therefore, it is stated, “Let there be luminaries,” in [its] incomplete spelling, because all things that are under the sun involve curses and pain, since time wears everything out. And that which variants of the word, luminary (me’ohr), appear in this section five time and, so [too] in the first section, five variants of the word, light (ohr), agrees with the words of the midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 2:5), which says, “’And the Lord said, “let there be light,”’ these are the actions of the righteous, etc.,” and wants to explain the five times [that] light [is mentioned] corresponds to the five books of the Torah, [the study and practice of] which are the actions of the righteous. (יהי מארת ברקיע השמים. מארת חסר כתיב פירש”י שהוא לשון מארה כו’ אומר אני שלכך הזכיר לשון המורה על הארירה אצל המאורות דווקא, לפי שהמאורות הם סבת הזמן וכל הדברים הנופלים תחת הזמן יש בהם צער כארז”ל (מגילה י:) כ”מ שנאמר ויהי אינו אלא לשון צער ומסיק דווקא במקום שנאמר ויהי בימי הוא לשון צער וטעמו של דבר לפי שכל דבר התלוי בימים דהיינו הזמן יש לו צער אבל כל הנמצאים העליונים שהם למעלה מן הזמן ואין הזמן שולט בהם אין בהם שום צער לכך נאמר יהי מארת חסר שכל הדברים שתחת השמש יש להם מארת וצער כי הזמן מבלה הכל ומ”ש בפרשה ה’ פעמים לשון מאור וכן בפרשה ראשונה ה”פ לשון אור מסכים לדברי המדרש (בר”ר ב.ה) האומר ויאמר אלהים יהי אור. אלו מעשיהם של צדיקים וכו’ ורצה לפרש טעם לה’ פעמים אור שהם כנגד חמשה חומשי תורה דהיינו מעשיהם של צדיקים.)
In the midst of all the pain and suffering that is found in this world, the commentary takes the opening words of Parashat Bereshit which states, “let there be light” and says these words are given for our instruction, that the light is a reference to the actions of God’s people, of righteousness, holiness, and truth. The five books (the Torah) was given for the purpose of study and the practice of righteousness. As God’s children, we are called to give glory to the Name of God no matter the circumstances by recognizing all things are in God’s hands. We do not start living sinfully as a result of bad things happening to us. This is similar to what the psalmist states according to Tehillim / Psalms 102. The psalmist recognizes all of the bad things that happen to him and says that even though all of these things have happened, he continues in his faith.
Tehillim / Psalms 102:12-18
102:12 But You, O Lord, abide forever, And Your name to all generations. 102:13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion; For it is time to be gracious to her, For the appointed time has come. 102:14 Surely Your servants find pleasure in her stones And feel pity for her dust. 102:15 So the nations will fear the name of the Lord And all the kings of the earth Your glory. 102:16 For the Lord has built up Zion; He has appeared in His glory. 102:17 He has regarded the prayer of the destitute And has not despised their prayer. 102:18 This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the Lord. (NASB, יב יָמַי כְּצֵל נָטוּי וַאֲנִי כָּעֵשֶֹב אִיבָשׁ: יג וְאַתָּה יְהֹוָה לְעוֹלָם תֵּשֵׁב וְזִכְרְךָ לְדֹר וָדֹר: יד אַתָּה תָקוּם תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן כִּי עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ כִּי בָא מוֹעֵד: טו כִּי-רָצוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶת-אֲבָנֶיהָ וְאֶת-עֲפָרָהּ יְחֹנֵנוּ: טז וְיִירְאוּ גוֹיִם אֶת-שֵׁם יְהֹוָה וְכָל-מַלְכֵי הָאָרֶץ אֶת-כְּבוֹדֶךָ: יז כִּי-בָנָה יְהֹוָה צִיּוֹן נִרְאָה בִּכְבוֹדוֹ: יח פָּנָה אֶל-תְּפִלַּת הָעַרְעָר וְלֹא-בָזָה אֶת-תְּפִלָּתָם:)
What an amazing hope that we have in the Lord God of Israel. This demonstrates for us again the reason why we are meant to “study” God’s word. We are to seek out these things and to place in our hearts the seeds of the hopeful expectation of God’s mercy and grace, and the power of God to deliver His people. We can expectantly wait for Him to one day return to give mercy to the holy place (Jerusalem) and to His people. The Targum translation on Tehillim / Psalms 102:12-18 states the following:
Toviah / Psalms 102:12-18
102:12 My days are like a shadow that lengthens; and I will wither like grass. 102:13 But you, O Lord, your dwelling place is eternal, in heaven you will dwell, and your memorial is to every generation. 102:14 You will arise, you will pity Zion, for it is time to have compassion on her, for the season has come. 102:15 For your servants have desired her stones, and they will have mercy on her dust. 102:16 And the peoples will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory. 102:17 For the city of Zion was built by the command of the Lord, he was revealed in glory. 102:18 He turned to the prayer of those who were made desolate, and did not despise their prayer. (EMC, יב יומי היך טולא דיצלי ואנא היך עסבא איבש׃ יג ואת יהוה מדורך לעלם בשמיא תיתב מתיתיב ודכרנך לדר ודר׃ יד את תקום תרחם ציון ארום עידן למיחוס עלה ארום אתא זימנא׃ טו ארום רעו עבדך ית אבנהא אבנייהא וית עפרהא יחייסון׃ טז וידחלון עמיא עממיא ית שמא דיהוה וכל מלכיא דארעא ית יקרך׃ יז ארום איתבני במימרא דיהוה קרתא דציון אתגלי ביקרא׃ יח אתפני לות צלותיה דמצטדייאן ולא בסר ית צלותיהון׃)
Both the MT and the Targum state in Tehillim / Psalms 102:15 that the servants of the Lord will desire her stones referencing Jerusalem and the holy place. What is it about the stones that is so significant that it is to be desired? Notice how Tehillim / Psalms 102:16 connects this love of the stones to the fear of the name of God and to His glory, to the rebuilding of the city of Zion (102:17), and to the rebuilding of the place of worship. Notice something here in the Targum and the MT regarding what the author is saying about these stones. In Toviah / Psalms 102:12, the author states that man’s days are like grass, quick to wither or perish, which illustrates the shortness of our days as men, corruptible, and incapable of keeping ourselves from harms way, illustrating that it is the Lord who is able to sustain each one of us. This is then brought into the context of the mercy of God for His people and to the stones that are to be most desired, of the holy place, Jerusalem, Zion, and the place of worship. Reading through the Apostolic Writings, it seems as if Peter was making these same connections based upon Tehillim / Psalms 102 saying the following in 1 Peter 1:24-2:10.
1 Peter 1:24-2:10
1:24 For, ‘All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 1:25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you. 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 2:3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 2:4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 2:6 For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ 2:7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone, 2:8 and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 2:10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (NASB)
Notice how Peter opens in this part of his letter with a description of the grass and the flower, and how they will one day wither, illustrating the way of the body, what he describes as “all flesh” which draws us to the five books and God’s creation. He is taking a Torah perspective in order to lead into the context that the word of the Lord endures forever (see also Isaiah 40:6-9 which states 40:6 A voice says, ‘Call out.’ Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’ All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. 40:9 Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ NASB) Peter speaks of the eternality of the Word of God, and then describes His people as “living stones” something that is desired of the Lord and to be desired of His people. Note the context of the psalm, the stones of the holy place are to be most desired of the servants of the Lord. Peter draws upon the Torah to equate a place in our heart and lives that the Lord is preparing as a place to dwell, similar to the Ark of the Covenant as both the commentary Daat Zkenim on Shemot / Exodus 25:11 Part 2 and Paul (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19) state. This is the context of the holy temple, the house of the Lord as a place of prayer, the joy of his sacrifices (Shelamim Korban) and festivals (moedim), and peace, the place of worship in Jerusalem draws in all of these concepts, where in parallel fashion, Peter draws these things into the context of God’s children, being made into living stones. These living stones which were rejected of men are precious in God’s sight (2:4), where the Lord is preparing a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, a place to offer spiritual sacrifices, which direct us to understand as being a reference to how we live and serve the Lord. Are these things that Peter is speaking of referencing the cessation of the Torah commands and of the holy place in Jerusalem? Certainly NOT! The validity and eternality of the place in which God has made His Name known, Zion, is found in the continuation of God’s redemptive and creative work in our lives, which is conforming us unto the likeness of His son, Yeshua, who is the chief corner stone of Zion. We are representatives of the Lord God of Israel and of His Messiah Yeshua, and we are called to emulate the way of God in our lives, as was demonstrated by His Messiah Yeshua. (John 13:15)
The commentary Daat Zkenim on Bereshit / Genesis 1:1 Part 1 states the following:
Daat Zkenim on Bereshit / Genesis 1:1 Part 1
בראשית, the reason why the Torah did not commence with the letter א but with the letter ב, is that the universe, i.e. earth, resembles that letter, i.e. it is enclosed from three sides as in the letter ב only the left side being open, i.e. the north side. [I presume that what the author means is that when we read the Torah, and the reader in the synagogue is facing east, as is customary in the synagogues in the northern hemisphere, the open side of that letter is on his left, i.e. north. Ed.] According to tradition, the letter א complained to G’d that it had not been allowed for the Torah to commence with it. What did G’d do? He recompensed that letter by commencing the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai with the letter א, where we read: (Exodus 20,2) אנכי ה’ אלוקיך וגו’, “I am the lord your G’d, etc.” The word בראשית consists of 6 letters, symbolizing the six days of creation; The first verse of the Torah has seven words, symbolizing the numbers of days in a week. It contains 28 letters, symbolizing the 28 days of the month. [Perhaps the fact that the first letter is in a much bigger font compensates for the slight inaccuracy of the author stating the month has 28 days and not 29. Ed.] We also find the letter א six times in that verse, symbolizing the six thousand years this earth [after the creation of man, Ed.] is supposed to exist in the format as we know it. The meaning of the word aleph in Hebrew is “one thousand.” The second verse in the Torah, commencing with the word: והארץ, immediately after the word ארץ, “earth” at the end of the preceding verse, symbolizes that the period known as the period of Moshiach, is to last 2000 years. (Talmud, Sanhedrin folio 97) [the last two millennia preceding the arrival of the messianic age. Ed.] In Exodus 13,9 the Torah writes: למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך, “in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth;” in that verse the letter א occurs twice to serve as a hint that two thousand of the 6000 years that the earth will function as we know it, will already be years in which G’d’s Torah will be studied by many people. [Seeing that the Jewish people began its existence with the birth of the first Jew who was a Jew at birth, Yitzchok, which occurred 400 years before the Exodus, and it is the Jewish people’s task to study and spread the Torah, and Yitzchok’s birth coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the third millennium, this may be why the author of this commentary chose that verse and the two letters א in it, as another example of the letter א being utilised as a symbol of Torah study.
Daat Zkenim speaks of the opening words in the Torah, saying “the Torah did not commence with the letter א but with the letter ב.” The point of the commentary was the opening verses of the Torah speaks to its entirety, referencing six days we work and the seventh we rest, of the “aseret ha’dvarim” (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים), the Ten Commandments, of the earth and the days of Moshiach (Messiah, his days are to last 2000 years, Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin folio 97), and of the study and spread of the Word of God (the Torah) to all nations. Notice how all of these concepts are drawn together simply from the opening verses. If we are honest about what God’s word teaches, prophetically (Isaiah 2) what the rabbis are saying here in the commentary about the will of God for His people to take the Torah throughout the world is true, then why does Christianity today neglect and reject the significance of the five books of Moshe?
The words of the Torah are transformative, in the sense that our entire being will be transformed from the inside out to the point of not being recognized by those who know us, according to Daat Zkenim.
Daat Zkenim on Exodus 21:1:2
As a result, he went to the land of Israel, at that time in a deep depression commercially, and studied Torah from the scholars prior to undergoing circumcision for becoming a convert. He was told that the words of Torah would only reside within him permanently if he circumcised himself first. He followed this advice, circumcised himself and studied a great deal of Torah. When Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua saw him, they noticed that his facial features had undergone a great change.
The rabbis are speaking of a great financial depression in the time of Abraham, however there is great wealth in the Study of God’s word. The rabbis say that the words of the Torah will only reside permanently with Abraham unless he studied Torah first which is paralleled to being circumcised of heart, prior to being circumcised in the flesh. Note this is what Paul was arguing for in Acts 15 and Galatians. This is consistent with the Torah imperative of being circumcised of the heart as we see its significance according to the book of Joshua and in Romans 2.
The most significant reason for studying the Bible is according to the Mishnah Pirkei Avot 3:2 which is in relation to entering into the presence of God.
Mishnah Pirkei Avot 3:2
Rabbi Chanina, the Deputy High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, man would swallow his fellow alive. Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon says: Two who are sitting together and there are no words of Torah [spoken] between them, this is a session of scorners, as it is said (Psalms 1:1): “[Happy is the man who has] not . . . sat in the session of the scorners.” But two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, the Divine Presence rests with them, as it is said (Malachi 3:16): “Then those who feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who feared the Lord and for those who thought upon His Name.” I have no [Scriptural support for this] except [in a case of] two. From where [is there proof that] that even [when there is only] one [person studying Torah], the Holy One, blessed be He, determines a reward for him? As it is said (Lamentations 3:28): “He sits alone and is silent, since he takes [a reward] for it.”
According to the Mishnah Pirkei Avot 3:2, when we sit with the correct motivation to study God’s word, where two or more are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20) the glory and the presence of God rests in the midst of that place. Note Yeshua believed the same thing! Studying God’s word has the effect of the presence of God being present. If this is so, what does this mean for us having sin in our lives or living in sin?
The purpose of Bible study is to draw nearer to the Lord God our Father in heaven and to His Messiah Yeshua, to condition our hearts and minds so that we are continually thinking upon the things of God, to know the Lord God of Israel and His Messiah by conforming our lives unto God’s Word, to increase our faith and deepen our relationship with the Lord, and to know how to live for the Lord for the purpose of bringing glory to His Name. These things summarize the point and purpose of the Lord giving us His word which was not simply for spiritual insights that are devoid of the application of God’s word to our lives. Those who are not following Yeshua and walking in his footsteps are not his followers. It is that simple. Discipleship means following our rabbi and those who do not follow are not followers. To follow Yeshua means to walk in His ways in a society that speaks and lives in direct opposition to God’s word. To follow Yeshua means to take up our cross (to die daily to sin) and walk in the spirit, and to walk according to the commands in the mercy, grace, and love of God!
Next week we will discuss the love of God by the giving of His Torah to His people. The Torah was not an awful works based methodology of worship as the modern theologies teach. The Torah was powerful, transformative, speaking of truth, life, Moshiach, and of Resurrection! btt_introduction-07-2016