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Yeshua Explored


todayAugust 30, 2021 17

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Here’s a statement made by many a Christian theologian; “Thirty minutes on your knees in prayer is time better spent than three hours of study in a book.” It seems wise, but is it true? To a Jew at the time of Jesus, this would have been an odd statement to make because, for him, studying Torah was the chief duty and greatest privilege of every Jew. Consider this:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Also, when asked what was the greatest of all the commandments, his answer was one that any pious Jew would give, the Shema, (Deuteronomy 6:4):

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

Here is the preamble in the Shema: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one

This is the supreme theological declaration of Judaism and all Biblical faith. It’s considered so holy that it’s the prayer on the lips of many a Jewish martyr and, when recited in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews cover their eyes with their right hand. It reminds us that the God of Israel is God alone, the creator of heaven and earth, the one true God.

The One New Man Bible translation is closer to the true thoughts behind the words.

Listen! Obey O Israel, the LORD, is our God, the LORD, is One.

It is interesting that the majority of Bibles translate the first word, shema, as “hear”. But the One New Man Bible acknowledges that this word is far more powerful than it seems. It’s not a case of just hearing but the actions that proceed from that process. It is about obeying God, in fact that is another meaning for shema elsewhere in Scripture. Hebraic understanding has no truck with just hearing but what effects the Word of God has on you. If you are not moved to action, then you haven’t really heard.

God’s revelation and our recognition of who He really is compels obedience. If knowledge of God is our greatest good, then obedience is our highest virtue, and teaching and study are our essential tasks. So the appropriate response is first to “hear” Him and then to obey Him by teaching His ways (as we saw in the previous chapter). To remind you …

 Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on 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. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

We are to impress the Lord’s revelation upon our own hearts and we are commanded to “impress them on your children …” This was a factor behind God’s selection of Abraham:

For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him (Genesis 18:19). 

The Psalms speak eloquently of the great love the Jewish people had for the Torah, the Word of God. The scene is set right at the beginning:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

The Jews did not think of Torah as “Law” but instead regarded God as the teacher and Torah was His revelation. It was God’s gracious gift of guidance, direction, and instruction, pointing us ever toward life and away from death.

But what of many Gentile Christians today? Is the shema their greatest commandment too? What about the ‘Great Commission’ to evangelise the world? We mustn’t forget that Jesus was himself a Jew, a rabbi, who taught Jewish people in the Hebrew language using well-known rabbinic teaching techniques. And his followers, including the Apostles, were all Jews. They did not forsake their Judaism to follow Him; they forsook themselves to embrace Him as the promised Messiah and to follow Him as their Lord. So, with that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the ‘Great Commission’:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus’ emphasis is actually upon learning. Make disciples, he implores. A disciple is a learner, a student, one who engages in limmud, study. Paul’s early rabbi, the great Gamaliel, was noted for having 500 disciples! We too must not only proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God but also that the converts are taught, in order to become disciples, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Teaching and obedience, once again, are inseparable priorities, just like in the shema.

Paul was hot on this:

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”  Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. (Acts 20:7-12)

Because of their intense desire for teaching, he speaks until midnight – a six-hour sermon! Young Eutychus falls asleep in the window and slips to his death three stories below. Then, at Paul’s hand his life is renewed and then Paul and the saints immediately return upstairs to get back to business – study. Paul instructs them for another six hours, until daylight! If this was the modern Church one suspects that the narrative would focus on the miracle, with much twittering and facebooking, rather than the continued study. The greater truth is that the teaching of the Lord renews life (Psalm 19:7). It is accompanied by signs and wonders because the Word of God is powerful; properly understood and obeyed, it will never return void but always yields a bountiful harvest. 
So we have seen that study, to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, was more than a duty, it was a priceless heritage and an awesome privilege. Before reading the Word of God, the Jew would pray, “Praise the Lord to whom all praise is due. Praise the Lord to whom all praise is due forever and ever. We praise You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who chose us among all people to reveal to us Your Torah. We praise You, O Lord, Giver of the Torah.”  Study, to the Jew, was an act of worship, the highest form of worship. According to one rabbi. “Greater is the study of the Torah than the rebuilding of the Temple“. (Meg. 16b)

Why the premium upon study? Because it is through the renewing of our minds that we become transformed vessels for true service, fully equipped to do God’s Will.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Our minds, therefore, are important. We were created by God with our minds, and as Creator, He wants dominion over them. He commands us to worship Him with our minds, and empowers and quickens our submitted minds to understand the revelation of Himself in His word and in His Word made flesh. And through this renewal process, we are liberated to life, as He promised we would be.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

So, let us return to our earlier question. Which, then, is better? Thirty minutes of prayer or three hours of study? This is a very Greek, ‘either/or’ situation. The Hebrew mind instead declares that both are essential, interrelated, and complementary. Both are expressions of worship. But the worship by the mind must not be neglected or negated. To do so is to deny the clear Biblical witness and to displease our Lord who earnestly desires that we add to our faith, knowledge. And, in the words of Dwight Prior, if we should hear the view that “thirty minutes on your knees in prayer is time better spent than three hours of study,” let our response be: “Why not spend three hours on your knees in study?!” Amen. 

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at

Is study more important than prayer?

Written by: Rufus Olaniyan

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