We can learn a lot from Israel, and it is fitting that we should do so. In Romans 11:17, we learn that we are grafted into this old olive tree, and that the nourishing sap of the olive root flows through the church and somehow sustains us. It seems that in the area of family and family relationships, there is much nourishment we can gain from this old
When our family first moved to Israel in 1982, we were immediately shocked at the differences in family life between Israel and the US. Israel was much more biblically based. We could see that some Bible traditions had been carried on from ancient times. Of course,Israel is losing some of its distinction as biblical values are being eroded all over the world. Still, there is much remaining and much we can learn.
FATHER AS THE FAMILY HEAD
In Israel, the father is the head of the family, just as God is the head of his great family. We were surprised to see the fathers giving the birthday parties and even pushing the strollers. We could see that the fathers were responsible for family decisions. This is borne out in scripture, where we see both God and angels mostly addressing the fathers.
It is the father who is the spiritual head, the priest, and the teacher of the family. Obviously, all this flies in the face of the “politically correct” feminist teachings of our day. In Israel, it is the father who often takes the children to synagogue. Sometimes the wife may not choose to go. This is certainly a flip-flop from the normal pattern in US Christendom. It is the father who teaches the children and who presides at all functions.
This is thoroughly in line with the admonition of scripture which says: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Of course, all this is based upon the Old Testament (Tanach). In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 we read: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Dr. Marvin Wilson is an expert on the Jewish heritage of Christianity. He points out that in the Hebrew language, the very root for “parent” is the word yarah. This word means, “to shoot an arrow” or “to direct” something or someone. The parent directs the child’s life. This direction applies to all areas. For instance, the father is responsible to teach his sons a trade. We remember that Jesus worked in a carpenter shop with his father. Paul had the trade of tent maker and he exercised this skill often in his missionary work. In the Talmud it is said, “He who does not teach his son a trade is considered as having taught him thievery” (Kiddushin 29a). It should be pointed out that manual work and skills were greatly honored among the Hebrews. There was no dichotomy between the religious and secular as there often is today. In fact, the Hebrew word avad is used both for “work” and for “worship.”
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY -THE BIBLICAL PATTERN
Dr. Wilson also points out that in biblical Hebrew there is no word for “bachelor.” A young man was expected to marry and bring forth a family. This is in line with the biblical teachings of Genesis 2:18 and Proverbs 18:22 where it says: “…It is not good for the man to be alone…” and “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from
In the Hebrew culture the marriage union was lifted to great spiritual heights. The sexual union was considered good and holy. Unfortunately, probably due to Greek influences in the west, we have often considered these as unwholesome. For Israel, marriage was a sacred covenant not unlike the covenant God has made with the nation (Ezek. 16:8; Mal.2:13-15). Marriage was based upon covenant and not upon “love.” In fact, often couples did not even meet until the wedding date, as in the case of Isaac and Rebekah. Love was expected to grow and develop in the relationship. There was simply no idea of the Hollywood type “love.” Obviously, people who “fall in love” can just as easily and quickly “fall out of love.” It is much more difficult to fall out of covenant.
We see in scripture that the marriage covenant is compared to that covenant love which Christ has for his church (Eph. 5:25 ff). Unfortunately for us, when we lose the understanding of covenant love in marriage, we are almost destined to lose the covenant concept in salvation.
In covenant marriage, children are taken very seriously. They are considered a great blessing. Wilson points out that the first of the 613 commandments in Judaism is to “be fruitful and multiply.” In Psalm 127:3-5 it is said: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them….” Accordingly in Israel, a childless woman was scorned, as was Hannah.
THE HOME IS A LITTLE SANCTUARY – “MIQ-DASH ME’AT”
Sometimes, men in the west tend to think of their home as a their castle. This kind of thinking can obviously cause problems. Men may get the idea that they are the little kings. In Israel the home was not a castle but a sanctuary. We see in Deuteronomy 6:9, that the law was to be fastened to the door posts of the house. After the Temple was destroyed, it seems that many of its customs passed to the home, and the home became a little sanctuary (Ezek. 11:16). This is particularly seen in the customs surrounding the Sabbath and the holidays, such as Passover. The ritual candles are lit; the Sabbath bread is served (hallah); songs are sung; children and wives are blessed. The dinner table actually becomes an altar.
It is interesting that in the Jewish culture, the home is more important than the synagogue. Today in Christianity we sometimes feel that Sunday School teachers should carry the responsibility of teaching our children. In Israel, this was not the case. The Bible plainly says of God’s commands: “You shall teach them diligently to your
The Jewish holidays are all wonderful teaching tools for children, since most of them are child oriented. In the Passover, it is the young child who always asks: “Why is this night different than other nights?” During Tabernacles, the family builds a flimsy outdoor structure, where they often eat and sleep for a week. This is a sure delight to children.
Wilson points out that there are many other things we can learn from Israel concerning the home as a little sanctuary (midq-dash me’at). Other concepts like “shalom bayit” (keeping the peace) and “hakh-na-sat or-him” (the entertaining of guests) are often sorely missing in our Christian culture. Concerning hospitality, we have a verse in Romans 12:13 that commands us: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Still, we do not do it much today. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:2, that sometimes when we open our homes to strangers we entertain angels unknowingly.
RESPECT AND REVERENCE
In the Hebrew culture there was great respect shown to parents. We see this reflected in Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” Wilson points out that in our Christian culture we think about how much joy we can bring to our children, but the Hebrews thought about how much joy the children could bring to the parents.
In Israel there was a great respect given to teachers and to the aged. Still today in the country the first seats on buses are reserved for the aged and infirm. It is quite customary for younger people to surrender their seats to the elderly who may be standing. While our society comes close to scorning the elderly, the Hebrews felt that wisdom was found among the aged (Job 12:12). We see the same thing in 1Timothy 5:17: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
The Hebrews also had great respect for the word of God. I remember once being with a group in Israel. We were all talking and casually lounging around. In order to get more comfortable, I propped my feet on a stack of books on the coffee table. Immediately, a Jewish woman who was present got up, came over and removed the Bible from the stack of books. She then kissed it, caressed it and carried it away. I was sufficiently rebuked.
At the synagogue, the Torah (Law) is reverently handled and often kissed. The mezuzzot (little boxes containing scripture and attached to door posts) are also kissed upon entry. We can thank God for this reverence to the word. Because of it the Bible has come down to us intact.
THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
It is no secret that the Jewish people have learned to excel. They are prone to fully develop their talents and abilities. This was true in biblical times with men like Daniel, and Paul, who were greatly prepared for God’s use. It is also true today. It is amazing that God does seem to use prepared people.
We were often shocked in Israel by our neighbors. We would consider them to be normal working people, and then learn that they were going off to lecture at Harvard or some other prestigious institution. The parents have a great deal to do with insisting that the children develop their potentials. There is the old story of a Jewish mother who introduced her two children in this fashion: “The doctor is three, and the lawyer is two.”
This pursuit of excellence among the Jewish people has certainly shown up impressively in the statistics. While the Jews represent less than half of one per-cent of the world’s population, over twenty-one percent of all Nobel Prizes in science and technology have been won by Jews. In the field of medicine, the figures are even higher and stand around forty percent. We don’t have to think long to remember some of these outstanding names, like Einstein, Oppenheimer, Salk and Sabin.
We have a challenge to excel in the Bible. It tells us: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecc. 9:10). The New Testament, in 2 Timothy 2:15, also instructs us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Obviously, we Christians are a part of a very rich Hebrew heritage. Our early New Testament forefathers appropriated and enjoyed the nourishment from this old tree. We need to get back to the Bible, back to our father Abraham, back to our roots and our heritage in Israel. In doing so, we will be greatly blessed, and so will our children.
– Jim Gerrish
Picture credit, Wikimedia Commons, by Rembrandt, titled “Family Group,” 1666-1668
Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids,MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and Center for Judaic-Christian Studies,Dayton,OH, 1989.