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Why We Need to Understand the Hebrew Roots of the Christian Faith

Christian Living

by Ray Bentley

Why We Need to Understand the Hebrew Roots of the Christian Faith

Israel is a people, I realized. Not just “the Holy Land.” Not merely a prophetic clock on the wall.

Israel is a people whose history is the foundation of our faith and whose future will help determine our own.

Israel is a nation of people with a story, and God was telling me to “step into the story.

The Church, over the centuries, has been systematically removed from her Hebrew roots, at great loss to our understanding of Scripture. It is time to reconnect. I ended a chapter of my book, "The Holy Land Key," with this observation: “My journey to understanding Israel is far from over. I recently learned that Hebrew rabbinical traditions teach there are seventy layers of meaning to sacred Scripture—‘seventy faces of Torah’—and that we really only dabble in the first few. I am eager to go deeper.”¹

To overcome this loss and to go deeper, I began to study scripture, from a Hebrew point of view, to a degree I had not done before. As I added The Complete Jewish Bible as well as Jewish and Messianic commentaries to my resources, I began to examine not only the original language but more of the context and history as well. I learned the significance of Jewish feasts and holy days ordained in Scripture. As Christians, we are not under a law, nor obliged to observe any of these practices. But some, like the seven Feasts of the Lord ordained in Leviticus 23, are filled with prophetic meaning and revelations of Jesus the Messiah.

To ignore them is to miss out on a significant part of God’s Word!

Leviticus 23: 1-2, “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” God’s appointed feasts. The word feasts in Hebrew is moed, meaning, “ A divine appointment; also a signal, appointed beforehand.”² The Hebrew word for convocation is miqra, which means, “A public meeting or [dress] rehearsal.”³ Do you know that four of the seven Feasts are exact dress rehearsals of Jesus’ death and resurrection, followed by Pentecost and the birth of the Church? The other three feasts foreshadow the rapture of the Church, the Lord’s return, and the bringing home of a harvest of souls.

Every year now, September finds our congregation and hundreds of guests blowing shofars and dancing to Middle Eastern music, as we celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, a joyous celebration of what is to come. The feasts have been dress rehearsals for centuries of the first and second coming of Jesus the Messiah.

Signs and Signals

Even the story of creation takes on added layers of meaning with deeper study. At the dawn of first light, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…and let them be for signs and seasons” (Genesis 1:14).

What signs was He referring to?

Signs in Genesis comes from the Hebrew, oth, which means, “Signal" (literally or figuratively), a distinguishing mark or miracle, a remembrance, omen, banner, warning or proof.4

” In the ancient Hebrew pictorial language, the word oth was interpreted as the “leader nailed to the cross.”  The signs in the stars were always meant to point us to the redemption of the human race. God declared that Yeshua, the Lamb of God, was slain from the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8). The story was always there, and from the beginning; God put the story in the heavens for us to know.

When I first taught the book of Genesis as a young pastor, I relished in creation and was satisfied to know that God created heavenly lights to order the universe. But I didn’t realize that they had an equally important job: To communicate, to signal creation when something important is happening. To be part of God’s revelation before the written word came through Moses. Some traditions and historians credit Seth, the son of Adam, as the first astronomer.5

A Day of Mourning

A significant Jewish holy day is the Ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar. Also known as Tisha B’Av, it is the day observant Jews around the world mourn and remember the drastic events that have shaped their national consciousness—and their faith. The list of remarkable events that have afflicted the Jews on this date begins with the destruction of the Temple on the Ninth of Av, 586 BC, up to the recent expulsion of Jews from Gaza on the Ninth of Av 2005.

These events not only altered the course of Jewish history, but also set the Jews on a path that would coincide again and again with world changing events.

In close proximity to the Ninth of Av, on the Hebrew calendar, is Elul, the 30 day period of meditation and repentance that precedes the 10 days between the Feast of Trumpets and the national day of repentance, the Feast of Atonement—totaling 40 days.

Moses spent 40 days on the mountain, receiving God’s Word. 

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. Forty days is no coincidence.

Then there is the mostly forgotten (until recently), Shemitah year, set apart by God as a Sabbath year for the land and finances (see Deuteronomy 15:1; Leviticus 25:3-4). My congregation has responded enthusiastically to “going deeper” in studying familiar stories. I hear things like, ”Now I get it!” For example, the story of Abraham and Isaac where God said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… and offer him as a burnt offering ” (Genesis 22:2).

How can we grasp what God asked Abraham to do — or Abraham’s willingness to comply?

Even the most faithful believers struggle with what today would be labeled insanity or worse. In Hebrew commentaries, the rabbis emphasize that Abraham lived in a culture immersed in the idolatry of human sacrifice. The story of Isaac becomes a striking demonstration against human sacrifice.

The divine intervention to stop the sacrifice was more astonishing than the order to carry it out. God was showing Abraham and his descendants how God abhors human sacrifice. A slightly different twist to the story, as told from the rabbis’ point of view with a context that surprised a lot of my congregation and helped them understand Abraham’s behavior. Yet, not detracting from the powerful foreshadowing of the only human sacrifice God ever allowed, His only begotten and beloved Son.6 

As I continue to go deeper into the layers of God’s Word, my Jewish brothers and sisters have blessed me with their perspective of our faith and our Messiah.

This article barely dips into the spiritual treasures waiting for us in the Hebrew language and culture.

I encourage every believer to “step into the story” of our faith and of the people God chose. Read Scripture with an eye for the Hebrew context and meaning. Study the holy days and feasts ("Feasts of the Lord" by Rosenthal and Howard is a good place to start). Visit sites like Hebrew for Christians or Maranatha Chapel’s website and learn about the Nehemiah Project, our outreach and support of the Jewish people.

Jesus was born and nurtured in Jewish tradition. I want to embrace what He knew and understand the promises and prophecies He alone fulfilled. I have a ways to go, but what a wonderful, rich journey it is.  A more in-depth discussion of these topics and more can be found in Pastor Ray’s book, "The Holy Land Key."

 1 See Stephen M. Wylen, The Seventy Faces of Torah, the Jewish Way of Reading the Sacred Scriptures (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2005). See also John J. Parsons, Seventy Faces of Torah.
2 James Strong, Abingdon’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1894, reprint, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1986), 83, ref.4150, Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary.
3 Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 94, refs.4744,7121, Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary
4 James Strong, Abingdon’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1894, reprint, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1986), 11, Hebrew dictionary section, ref. 226.
5 Flavius Josephus, The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston (Philadelphia, Pa.: The John C. Winston Company, 1737), Book 1. Ch. 2, 36.  6 http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Vayera/Akedah/akedah.html

Ray Bentley

Ray Bentley is the senior pastor at Maranatha Chapel located in San Diego, CA. Ray is married to Vicki. Please visit his website. Also, follow Ray on Twitter, @RayBentley.