How to achieve shalom?
Did you know that Jesus is spoken of in the very first verse in the Bible?
Back to the 64 million dollar question. If God has created this book, the Bible, for us to live by, then which tools has He given us to gain the best from it? Is it a book that only the intellectuals and academics and theologians can understand and explain to the rest of us?
To answer this we need to enter deeper into the Hebraic mindset than we have yet dared to venture. To recap, we have summarised it so far into three areas:
- Living Hebraically – God centred lives.
- Thinking Hebraically – thoughts driven by faith in God.
- Acting Hebraically – actions inspired by faith in God.
To get the most out of reading the Bible we need to train our minds to think Hebraically. Not easy, as our western educational system is based on Greek rationalism, which is fine for understanding War and Peace, The Simpsons comic, or the Times editorial. But the Bible, God’s Word, is a far different matter. It is a book authored by proxy, by God Himself. It’s a supernatural book that speaks to us in some mysterious way that involves our minds and our spirits. There is the plain reading of it, of course, that we can all benefit from, believer and non-believer alike, with our Greek understanding. Then there are those times when God speaks to us individually, Spirit to spirit and Mind to mind. These are the times when we are interacting with Him Hebraically, we are open to Him because we are acting in perfect faith that He has a message for us.
But we can go still further because, although the Greek mind would read the Bible as any other book, the Hebraic mind would treat it as a living entity, an extension of God Himself and would seek to experience it not just through the mind, but also through the senses. In fact the Hebrew language has an awful lot going for it, despite being a set of strange symbols, read back to front.
The best way to explore this is to see it in use. So we turn to the Bible, the beginning of the Bible, right at the beginning.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
What did the great commentators from Church history have to say about this short verse?
Augustine, the commentator from the early Church revered by both Catholics and Protestants covers this in a long discussion as to why God decided to create the heavens and the Earth and concluded that it was because He wanted to, which is quite a neat answer really, but doesn’t really add to our knowledge. In the Geneva Study Bible notes, the early Reformers (Luther, Calvin etc.) had very little to say about this other than to repeat the fact that God made everything out of nothing. Matthew Henry, the 18th Century commentator, adds little too, except to attack the vain imaginations of the philosophers. The great John Wesley is more forthcoming, making a reference to the Hebrew word used for God, Elohim, a plural word that seems to imply the Trinity.
So, apart from the snippet from John Wesley, they have little to say. Now let’s turn to the Jewish commentators; what does the Hebraic mind have to say about this foundational verse? When the Hebraic mind has viewed this verse, the first thing we note is that it is the original Hebrew, not the English translation that is considered.
Bereshit bara elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha‘aretz
In the beginning created God the heavens the earth
The Hebraic mind would look not just at the meaning of the words, but at the words themselves, and the letters of the words. But first of all it would look at the plain simple meaning of the text, the p’shat, and would meditate on this. But then it would go further and deeper. It would ponder over the fact that this verse has 7 words and wonder why. Then it would ask why the first letter of the verse, in fact of the whole Bible, is a “B” and not an “A”. Some have suggested that the “B” is referring to a big blessing (bracha) over Creation. They would also note that the first word, in Hebrew, bereshit, actually contains the second word, bara, reinforcing the truth that creation is truly at the beginning, and nothing came before it.
But, most wonderful of all, it would look at the words and wonder why the untranslatable word “et” was included dead centre in the verse, noticing that the two Hebrew letters in it are the Aleph and the Tav, the first and last letters of the alphabet. The Hebraic mind could perhaps take this further and think, first and last, aleph and tav, where have I heard that before?
Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. (Isaiah 48:12-13)
God, the first and the last, the Creator Himself, including Himself dead centre in this first verse in the Bible. God, the Creator, identifying Himself in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the spiritual realms and the physical world, a truth that Plato and all who followed him, even in the Church, could never contemplate.
But a Christian Hebraic mind could take this further and now it gets very interesting indeed. This Hebrew word, “et”, elsewhere in Scripture, when it is translated, takes the meaning of “sign”.
Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. (Exodus 4:8)
Also, Hebrew being a pictorial language, every letter has a mundane association. The first letter of “et” is the aleph, pictorially depicting an ox, or a leader, a strong leader. The last letter, tav, pictorially is depicted by a cross, with the meaning of a “sign”. So, we have food for thought, in that first verse in the Bible, a sign of the alpha and omega, depicted as a strong leader and a cross. It doesn’t take much imagination ...
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