Windows on the Word



Personal Invitation to Discipleship


Personal Invitation to Discipleship


In the New Testament era, discipleship was expressed by the teacher-student relationship.  The learning process was not a matter of the disciple gaining knowledge, but it was more like an apprenticeship where the disciple learned how to “do” as the teacher “did”.  It a great honor to be “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi – indicating the disciple was following his example.  There are many examples of this type of relationship in both the Old and New Testaments: Moses-Joshua, Elijah-Elisha, Paul-Timothy and Jesus-His disciples.


The Hebrew root: lamed, mem, dalet:  ( למד ) is very important and several key words come from it.  The word for ‘study’ is lomed ( לומד ).  However, the same root forms the verb limed ( לימד ) which means ‘taught’ in the past tense.  The present tense, ‘teach’, is m’lamad ( מלמד ).  Dr. John Garr, president of the Restoration Foundation, explains that built into the linguistics of the Hebrew language is the very important lesson that teaching and learning go together since the words for each idea come from the same Hebrew root.  We cannot teach without learning and the best teachers are those who are lifelong students.  Also, we learn better if we can also teach someone else what we are learning.  Both learning and teaching have always been very important Hebraic concepts and literacy and education are hallmarks of the Jewish people.  

Graphic from Ancient Hebrew Research Center website

These meanings are inherent in the original meaning of the first letter of the root – lamed.  The original Hebrew letters looked very different from the block script of today.  [Modern Hebrew letters take their look from the Aramaic alphabet.]  The original Hebrew letters, often called paleo-Hebrew, were all pictographs meaning they represented a picture of a concrete object. Dr. Jeff Benner in his book, “The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet”, explains each ancient Hebrew letter.  The original pictograph for lamed looked like a shepherd’s staff and had a curved end so that the shepherd could use it to capture or direct individual sheep who may be straying, etc.  Dr. Benner says, “The meaning of this letter is toward as moving something in a different direction. This letter also means authority, as it is a sign of the shepherd, the leader of the flock. It also means yoke, a staff on the shoulders as well as tie or bind from the yoke that is bound to the animal.”  You can see all of these ideas are the foundation to the concept of teaching.  The teacher must move the student towards the desired ideas.  The teacher is the authority on the subject being taught.  And to successfully learn, the student must take on the “yoke” of obeying the teacher, doing the required exercises, etc.  The student must be committed to learning or learning will not take place.    


Another important word formed from the root lamed, mem, dalet is the noun, talmid ( תלמיד ) which means ‘student’ or ‘disciple’.  It first appears in the Hebrew Bible in 1 Chronicles 25:8 and is translated in this verse as ‘scholar‘ (from the Latin scola which means ‘school’ or ‘student’).  In the KJV, (New Testament) the word ‘disciple’ occurs 270 times and Jesus’ followers are always referred to as disciples.  


This imagery gives us insight upon what Jesus had in mind when He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” These verses are Jesus’ personal invitation to discipleship. We are not to be disciples of other believers, no matter how learned they are or what position they hold.  Jesus wants all believers to be disciples (talmidim) of Himself.  We are to learn (lomed) from His example, and then we are to teach (m’lamad) others through our example. 

Tongue of the Prophets


Tongue of the Prophets


The rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken modern language in Israel is truly a great miracle! A bit of history will help us to understand the magnitude. The Bible (T’nakh) clearly teaches that God created Adam and Eve with the gift of language. It is clear from Genesis 11:1 that there was only one language before the Tower of Babel and conservative Judeo-Christian tradition has always held Hebrew as the mother of all languages, i.e., the original language. Dr. Jeff Benner of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center believes the Semitic peoples continued to speak Hebrew after the confusion at Babel. Hebrew was the language of Moses and all the prophets and of course, the language of the T’nakh. It was a living language used by the Israelites until the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. when it began to be replaced by Aramaic, the political and cultural language of the Near East. The fact that the Word of God had to be translated when read to the returning exiles by Nehemiah (Neh. 8:8) after the Babylonian Captivity indicates the Isralites had lost fluency in Hebrew. Once they returned to the land of Israel, and under Nehemiah’s leadership, they did regain their use of Hebrew and it remained the common spoken language of the Israelites until the Dispersion in 70 AD.  


The Dispersion (Hebrew: Galut – גלות) lasted almost two millennia, much longer than the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, thus the Diaspora Jews adopted as their common vernacular, the languages from the lands where they resided. Dr. Alvin Schiff was once the the President of the National Center for the Hebrew Language. In his essay, “Why Hebrew is Fundamental” (1999), he writes that Hebrew, “never ceased to be a medium of religious expression for the Jewish people” and that “it is the vehicle of the sacred past, of eternal Jewish values.” Ahad Ha’am (1893), in his essay, “Imitation and Assimilation”, viewed the role of Hebrew during the Dispersion, as both the expression of Judaic heritage and the key to the survival of the Jewish people during the long millennia. He thought that when the Holy Land was once again the ‘physical center of the Jewish people’, then ‘the Hebrew language would be the bridge between the Land and the Diaspora.’  


Dr. Schiff writes, “although the initial steps towards the revival of Hebrew in modern times took place in Europe, its full-blown development occurred in the Jewish homeland” with the arrival in the Holy Land of Eastern European Zionist pioneers, chief of whom was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda originally from Lithuania. According to the excellent biography, “Fulfillment of Prophecy” written by Ben-Yehuda’s grandson of the same name, at age 19 Ben-Yehuda already had a vision of a national and spiritual home for the Jewish people. He felt that a Jewish state would need a common language to unify the people and he thought it should be Hebrew. He dedicated his life to this goal. Ben Yehuda and his wife, Devorah, moved to Jerusalem in 1881. He told her they would speak only in Hebrew in their home. Their first son, Ben Zion, was the first Hebrew speaking child in two millennia. With a child about, they had to speak about every day topics – all in Hebrew. Ben Yehuda began to “invent” Hebrew words for things that he did not have a word for. His wife and children must also receive full credit for the revival of Hebrew because they put his ideas into practical, everyday life and sacrificed greatly to “birth” modern Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda suffered with tuberculosis much of his life and his wife, Devorah, contracted it from him and  died of it in 1891. At Devorah’s own request, Ben-Yehuda eventually married her younger sister, Hemda who encouraged and helped him in what is probably his greatest work – his Hebrew dictionary. From the 7,704 Hebrew words contained in the T’nakh, Ben Yehuda produced a Hebrew dictionary with over 100,000 Hebrew words that he had gleaned from extra-Biblical writings.  He ‘invented’ about 300 Hebrew words. [There is a great movie called “The Word Maker” about Ben-Yehuda’s life that I highly recommend.]  Ben-Yehuda died before completing the dictionary, but Hemda and his son Ben Zion completed and published it in 1922.  


Dr. Schiff concluded his essay with a powerful observation: “the survival of Hebrew as a Holy Tongue, the survival of the Jewish people in their homeland and in the Diaspora, and the continuity of Jewish nationalism are interdependent.” Hebrew has been the language of the Jews throughout their existence. During dispersions from the Land, its use has waned. During returns to the Land, there have been revivalists of the language like Ben-Yehuda and Nehemiah before him. These visionaries have realized that Hebrew was essential for the survival of the Jewish people, for their spiritual continuity and for the establishment of the Jewish state. So of course, before the nation of Israel was reborn in 1948, the language of that nation had to be reborn and the “mid-wife” was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda!  There are some differences between Biblical and Modern Hebrew, (obviously Modern Hebrew has a larger vocabulary), but basically the language is one and if Moses or the prophets could walk down Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem today, they would certainly understand much of the Hebrew that they heard!  No other language on earth can claim this type of continuity!   

Windows on the Word

Social Media: