This is Not a Drill

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit (Luke 12:35).

In the ’70s, shortly after Jerusalem was retaken by the Jews, it seemed the second coming of Christ could happen any moment. It’s what my friends were talking about but it was only a dry run before the real thing.  Now over 40 years have passed and we’re seeing more biblical signs than ever pointing to His return (Russia/Turkey/Iran alliance, upsurge of false prophets/false teachers, turmoil in the Middle East,  emergence of the global economy, unbearable ethnic tensions to list a few) but we hear less talk of His coming than ever.  This time it’s not a drill and many of those who should be watching the signs have been lulled asleep by doubtful teachers who have been isolating Bible passages from context and twisting scriptures to make people believe the Lord’s coming is “imminent” – in other words “there are no signs that will warn us of His coming” according to them. For those who know how to rightly divide the word of God, the testimony of Jesus and the warnings of the prophets say just the opposite.

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I’m convinced the reason for our misunderstandings are two fold: 1.  following men or women and not searching the pure Word of God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit; 2. using flawed methods for interpreting scripture i.e. isolating verses from context to prove a presupposition or “extrapolating” which is to say “reading between the lines” – in other words “making a guess.” The Reformation had recaptured some of the better methods which date back to Jesus and the Apostles but what if we could understand ALL the best methods or at least most of them?  If many of us are right and if this not a drill – if Jesus is indeed coming soon, what if our understanding could become more acute using interpretive methods from the earliest church to get ourselves ready? My own journey for understanding kicked into high gear after a bike ride.

I was out biking on a trail one day and found a strange message scrawled across the back rest of a park bench: “Wake up. Time is running out. Stop playing with yourself.” Comical as it was, this might have been a serious message left behind by someone’s lover – a strong hint – “it’s time we got married” – but who knows? Back then, I was thinking a lot about end time prophesy and the message got translated in my thinking as “Wake up. Time is running out. Trim your lamps.” My Pastor back then, said it brought this Bible passage to his mind:

For this reason it says,
‘Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.’
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:14-18).

Wake up. Time is running out. Trim your lamps.

In the parable of the virgins,  both the foolish and the prudent had become drowsy and had fallen asleep but eventually the prudent virgins made themselves ready – they had plenty of oil (Holy Spirit) in their vessels and their lamps (souls enlightened with biblical truths) were still burning bright when the Bridegroom came for them (Matthew 25:10).

In the process of my getting ready – when the Holy Spirit began getting me ready with that park bench message – a faithful brother emailed a link to a Jacob Prasch video and that led to a hunger for more understanding in line with the ancient Hebrew methods of Bible interpretation that Jacob was talking about. Those ancient Hebrew rules for Bible study existed long before the Reformation all the way back to the earliest church. But without oil in our vessels, even the best methods of interpretation will not fully prepare us to meet the Bridegroom. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the Word of God, we need to cast aside any sin that hinders us and we need to return to the faith of the fathers. Not the fathers that many think of as the founders of the faith but the real fathers: Jesus (also known as Yeshua) and the Apostles and the earliest pre-Nicene disciples whose writings are still available to us. We need to study the Bible the way THEY studied the Bible. Not by cherry picking select verses and isolating them from their overall context as do the false teachers but by considering ALL the overall context from cover to cover in the Bible. Some call it Midrash. If you’re serious about learning this, start by looking up the following two verses in a good concordance and you’ll learn that the word “treatise” in both verses came from the Hebrew word Midrash (2 Chronicles 13:22; 2 Chronicles 24:27). Not the corrupted form of Midrash that reads things into the Bible by extra-biblical/mystical revelations but true Midrash which is more of an inductive method for drawing truth out of the Bible when practiced under submission to the Holy Spirit. It shouldn’t surprise any serious student of scripture that the “Middot” of seven rules recorded by Hillel the Elder – all seven of them – have to do with reading in context. In fact rule number seven encompasses the previous six rules by stating “explanation obtained by context.” This method which facilitated a truly harmonious and fully contextual biblical understanding for the earliest church is still available. It’s not a secret but at the time of this writing, it’s not easy to find either. Jacob Prasch has posted some valuable insights on Midrash and the earliest church hermeneutics at his Moriel.org website which has been a help to me and if this intro. piques your interest, please read the following summary which originated from www.yashanet.com and has been edited by looking up some of their biblical examples for you. It should also be noted that the following information is not in any way an attempt to bring anyone back “under the law” but rather it is simply a survey of the ancient methods of biblical interpretation used by the earliest pre-Nicene disciples.

Holy Spirit
+ Midrash
+ diligent obedience to God’s Word
= deeper relationship with Yeshua
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THE SEVEN RULES by yashanet.com

“The Seven Rules of Hillel existed long before Rabbi Hillel (60 BCE – 20 CE?), but he was the first to write them down. The rules are so old we see them used in the Tenach (Old Testament).

Rabbis Hillel and Shamai were competitive leading figures in Judaism during the days of Yeshua’s youth. Hillel was known for teaching the Spirit of the Law and Shamai was known for teaching the letter of the Law. Yeshua’s teaching largely followed that of the School of Hillel rather than that of the School of Shamai (an exception being Yeshua agreeing with Shamai regarding divorce in Matthew 19:9).

For example, Yeshua’s famous “golden rule”: Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

This reads very closely with Hillel’s famous statement: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole Torah … (b.Shabbat 31a)

Upon Hillel’s death the mantle of the School of Hillel was passed to his son Simeon. Upon Simon’s death the mantle of the school of Hillel passed to Gamliel. This Gamliel spoke in defense of the early Nazarenes (Acts 5:34-39). He was the teacher of Shaul/Paul (Acts 22:3).

In 2 Tim. 2:15 KJV, Paul speaks of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” What did Paul mean by this? Was he saying that there were right and wrong ways to interpret the scriptures? Did Paul believe there were actual rules to be followed when interpreting (understanding) the Scriptures? Was Paul speaking of the Seven Rules of Hillel?

Paul was certainly taught these rules in the School of Hillel by Hillel’s own grandson Gamliel. When we examine Paul’s writings we will see that they are filled with usages of Hillel’s Seven Rules (several examples appear below). It would appear then that the Seven Rules of Hillel are at least part of what Paul was speaking of when he spoke of “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”

The Seven Rules of Hillel are:

  1. Kal Vahomer (Light and heavy)

The Kal vahomer rule says that what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case. A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signaled by a phrase like “how much more…”

The Rabbinical writers recognize two forms of kal vahomer:

  • kal vahomer meforash – In this form the kal vahomer argument appears explicitly.
  • kal vahomer satum – In which the kal vahomer argument is only implied.

There are several examples of kal vahomer in the Tenach.

For example: “Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner” (Proverbs 11:31).

And: If you have run with footmen and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5a).

Other Tenach examples to look at:

Deuteronomy 31:27 “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death?”

1 Samuel 23:3 “But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?”

Jeremiah 12:5b “If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

 

Ezekiel 15:5 “Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything!”

Esther 9:12 “The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman at the citadel in Susa. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! ….”

 

There are several examples of kal vahomer in the New Testament. Yeshua often uses this form of argument.

For example: “‘If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses should not be broken, [“how much more” is implied here] are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?'” (John 7:23).

A more explicit example: “And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? ‘How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath‘” (Matthew 12:11-12).

 

Other examples of Yeshua’s usage of kal vahomer are:

Matthew 6:26, 30 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Luke 12:24, 28 “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!

Matthew 7:11 ” If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

Luke 11:13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Matthew 10:25 ” It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!”

John 15:18-20 ” If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. ”

Matthew 12:11&12 “And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

John 7:23 “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?”

Paul especially used kal vahomer. Examples include:

Romans 5:8-9, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

Romans 11:12 “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” … 24 “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”

1 Corinthians 9:11-12 “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” … 12:21&22 “And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.”

Philippians 2:12 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;”

Philemon 1:16 “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Hebrews 2:2-3 “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,”  … 9:13-14 “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” 10:28-29 “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” … 12:9 “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?”  … 25 “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.”

  1. G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of expressions)

An analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, word or root – i.e., where the same words are applied to two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both.

Tenakh example: By comparing 1 Samuel 1:11 to Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conclude that Samuel, like Samson, was a Nazarite.

“New Testament” example: In Hebrews 3:6-4:13 Paul compares Psalms 95:7-11 = Hebrews 3:7-11 to Genesis 2:2 = Hebrews 4:4 based on the words “works” and “day”/”today” (“today” in Hebrew is literally “the day”). Paul uses this exegesis to conclude that there will be 6,000 years of this world followed by a 1,000 year Shabbat.

  1. Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building up a “family” from a single text)

A principle is found in several passages: A consideration found in one of them applies to all.

Hebrews 9:11-22 applies “blood” from Exodus 24:8=Hebrews 9:20 to Jeremiah 31:31-34

  1. Binyab ab mishene kethubim (Building up a “family” from two or more texts)

A principle is established by relating two texts together: The principle can then be applied to other passages. i.e:

“You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have; I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:35-36)

By use of the fourth rule of Hillel we can recognize that the provision of equal weights and measures applies also to how we judge others and their actions.

In Hebrews 1:5-14, Paul cites the following to build a rule that the Messiah is of a higher order than angels:

Psalms 2:7 = Hebrews 1:5

2 Samuel 7:14 = Hebrews 1:5

Deuteronomy 32:43/Psalms 97:7/(Neh. 9:6) = Hebrews 1:6

Psalms 104:4 = Hebrews 1:7

Psalms 45:6-7 = Hebrews 1:8-9

Psalms 102:25-27 = Hebrews 1:10-12

Psalms 110:1 = Hebrews 1:13

Binyan ab mikathub echad and Binyab ab mishene kethubim are especially useful in identifying biblical principles and applying them to real life situations. In this way Scripture is re-contextualized so that it remains relevant for all generations.

  1. Kelal uferat (The general and the particular)

A general principle may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. A Tenach example: Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Genesis 2:7, 21 particularizes this by giving the details of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve). Other examples would be verses detailing how to perform sacrifices or how to keep the feasts. In the Gospels, the principle of divorce being allowed for “uncleanliness,” is particularized to mean for sexual immorality only.

  1. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar (Analogy made from another passage)

Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity. Tenach examples:

  • Leviticus 1:1 “out of the tent of meeting” and Exodus 25:22 “from above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim” seem to disagree until we examine Numbers 7:89 where we learn that Moses entered the tent of meeting to hear YHWH speaking from between the cherubim.
  • 1 Chronicles 27:1 explained the numerical disagreement between 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5.
  • Exodus 19:20 “YHWH came down upon Mount Sinai” seems to disagree with Deuteronomy 4:36, “Out of Heaven He let you hear His voice. “Exodus 20:19 (Exodus 20:22 in some editions) reconciles the two by telling us that God brought the heavens down to the mount and spoke. (m.Sifra 1:7)

An example from Romans: Paul shows that the following Tenach passages SEEM to conflict:

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17 = Habakkuk 2:4) with There is none righteous, no, not one … (Romans 3:10 = Psalms 14:1-3= Psalms 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Paul does the same here: [G-d] will render to each one according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6 = Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12) with “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man whom YHWH shall not impute sin.” (Romans 4:7-8 = Psalms 32:1-2)

Paul resolves the apparent conflict by citing Genesis 15:6 (in Romans 4:3, 22): Abraham believed G-d, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Thus Paul resolves the apparent conflict by showing that under certain circumstances, belief/faith/trust (same word in Hebrew) can act as a substitute for righteousness/being just (same word in Hebrew).

  1. Davar hilmad me’anino(Explanation obtained from context)

The overall context, not just the isolated text must be considered for an accurate exegesis. An example would be Romans 14:1, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul is not abrogating the kosher laws, but pointing out to Gentile believers in the congregation at Rome (within his larger context of Romans) that: 1) things are unclean not of themselves but because God said they are unclean, and 2) they must remember the higher principle, that their “freedom to eat what is unclean” is secondary to the salvation of unsaved Jews who are observing their behavior, as they are looking for “Gentiles coming into the faith of Israel” to be acting in an “appropriate manner” as a truth test of Paul’s ministry (and Yeshua’s Messiahship).” – source: yashanet.com

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Conclusion

The earliest church also utilized what was called the “peshat” straightforward simple meaning and “pesher” where the peshat is further illuminated by comparing corresponding texts. Pesher sounds like the post-Reformation “types and shadows” which are also meant to illuminate doctrines that were explicitly stated, but we should beware of mistakes made ever since the earliest Gnostics where mystical meanings are read into the types and shadows in attempts to create new doctrines instead of inquiring into the types and shadows in order to illuminate established doctrines that were “… once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).

Other interpretive methods worth noting are the nuances of Hebrew wordplay and the mashal/nimshal notably used even before Solomon’s time. The mashal is a parable. It is a story or comparison for the sake of conveying a deeper truth. Nimshal is the deeper truth being hinted at in the story. One example: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout [mashal] So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion [nimshal]” (Proverbs 11:22).

The parables taught by Jesus are elongated mashals.

If we combine these earliest church methods of interpretation with the principles that the Reformation managed to re-capture about a thousand years later e.g. grammatical/historical context, situation in life etc. then the Holy Spirit will have something to work with … if we have ears to hear. I might add as a personal note that antisemitism is a severe hindrance for learning these biblical principles because the Bible is a Jewish book, Jesus was a Jew, the Apostles were Jewish. The first followers of “The Way” were Jews. Some argue that Luke was not Jewish but debates on this are on-going. In closing, it makes sense to learn something of the culture that gave us the Bible if we have a strong desire to understand it better.

Sources:

The main source for this posting is from www.yashanet.com who gave credit to James Trimm, Society for the Advancement of Nazarene Judaism (www.nazarene.net), and Herbert Bateman IV, “Early Jewish Hermeneutics and Hebrews 1:5-13,” chapter 1, 1997, American University Studies, Peter Lang Publishers.

Three part video series “What is Midrash?”

Midrash article by Jacob Prash

Parable of the Virgins video by David Nathan

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