Hebrew of Hebrews
Series: Pauline Letters
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV
Daniel 1-3 (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego)
Daniel 3:17 ESV
Daniel 3:25 (son of the gods)
In Hebrew life (even early Hebrew) an oral tradition form of education was apparent. For example, fathers were given the task of teaching faith traditions they had learned from their fathers. Even today that system is a very strong form of persuasion. When a father is loving and patient, a strong bond will form that lasts a lifetime.
The Ten Commandments were repeated over and over and even though young Hebrew boys might have been farmers or tent makers they were still expected to have a basic understanding and knowledge of the faith of their fathers and how God communicated to them.
In The Shema (pronounced SHəˈmä) in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 they were instructed, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The Shema was (is) a key passage memorized and recited in every Hebrew home. One of the important commands included diligence in teaching that God is one God. They were instructed to love God with heart, soul, and might. They were to hold the command in their hearts and teach them to their children. The instruction said DILIGENTLY teach them when they sit at home, when they walk, when they lie down, and when they rise up.
The words ‘bind them on your heart’ and between their eyes were essential because it’s a sign of permanence. Finally writing the words on the doorpost and on their gates was making an announcement to all who passed by that this house is a house that loves God with a full heart, soul, and with all their might.
In Hebrew Class in Seminary one assignment we had was to memorize The Shema in Hebrew so we could recite it.
It was not an easy assignment, but it was very powerful! Memorizing it in its original language was difficult but wonderful!
The Shema served as an ongoing spoken promise and commitment to God.
I would stipulate based on the history throughout the Old Testament alone there would have been a continuous pattern of fathers passing on the faith to their sons through Hebrew scripture. I also personally believe that as daughters learned the trade of their mothers, they would have heard the same lessons recited. At times, the Hebrew people were nomads living in temporary dwellings and what was spoken in the tent was spoken in the tent. Everyone in the family heard the word of God.
The same was true even after the Hebrew people settled in towns and built homes. They would have lived in simple dwelling places and anything said would be within earshot.
Even before the Exile (called the pre-exiled period), “Mesopotamian archaeological remains include word lists and instructions on farming; while Sumerian remains include tracts on school discipline and dialogues.” (https://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/education-in-ancient-israel)
There is evidence of instruction and discipline in Hebrew school.
When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586/587 B.C., the brightest and best were deported to Babylon like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, see Daniel 1-3. Even those not deported continued their education. “The family was still the primary learning center in the tradition, even during the 70 years of the Exile. The Hebrews regarded children as a gift from God and a great amount of energy was given to educating them for the future (see above reference).
After the Babylonian Exile when Israel returned to their homeland there is evidence that education was even more important so a system of educating Israel’s children was established (see above reference). In my mind that makes perfect sense.
See, when many talented Israeli children were taken to Babylon and those that remained or had been born during the 70 years in exile returned home, Israel wanted to educate or re-educate their children in the culture and knowledge of the ways of Yahweh God.
But during the exile something wonderful had happened. In the midst of their despair from persecution, Yahweh God showed up and delivered them in miraculous ways.
Israel’s story became one of continuous deliverance. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace they proclaimed in Daniel 3:17, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.”
And they emerged unscathed.
Even more miraculous, the onlookers who knew three men were thrown into the furnace saw four in the furnace and they commented that one looked like a son of the gods (Daniel 3:25).
By the first century A.D. a structured system of educating Hebrew boys was well established. Boys who worked hard and memorized Hebrew scripture were able to advance and remain in school. Other Hebrew boys who were more drawn to a trade, learned the trade of their fathers. They still recited Hebrew scripture in the home. The Shema was memorized and repeated as a reminder of God’s commitment to them and their commitment to God.
So…why is all of this important?
Why did it matter when the Apostle Paul came on the scene?
It matters because knowing about how important the family system of teaching their children about God mattered to Paul.
He was a Hebrew of Hebrews…a scholar. He had studied the Hebrew Scriptures all his life and he committed his life to being a learner and an educator. It was everything to him. So, when Saul was struck speechless on the Road to Damascus that day by Jesus…by the very one he opposed because he believed Jesus completely challenged the Hebrew way of life, EVERYTHING changed for Paul.
Everything he had lived for and worked toward changed.
In an instant…in a flash, Jesus appeared and nothing was ever the same again!
Spiritual Practice: Imagine
Consider how you would feel if you had worked your entire life to be a Hebrew Pharisee and in an instant, everything changed.
In God, Deborah