On Developing a Hebrew Mind and Heart
by F. Scott Nickerson
To enter into the story of the creation and redemption of humankind requires a special kind of understanding. It means learning to see the world and our place in it through a different set of “eyes,” ones that we are not actually born with. Our new life under His care and authority needs a transformed mind, not according to this world, but in conformity to an unseen realm of the Spirit of God. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 12:2 that we need a reformation of how we think. In this we are then able to discern the will of the Father and “see” through His perfect eyes. This however is a process and does not come instantly to us as much as we would like that to be the case. It is preferable to begin this transformation as soon as we come into covenant relationship with Him. Then we are able to enter a different world, one that exists within the revelational language and culture of the Hebrews.
To think Hebraically requires two hands. Tevye, the transparent Jewish milkman in the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, used the expression “On the other hand” to show his constant pursuit of knowing God’s mind about his life. “On the one hand,” this is how I see things. But, “On the other hand,” God may have another perspective that he wants to show me. Through this way of “seeing” life, we open our minds to the Mind of Messiah (Philippians 2:5-8).
To get to the core of understanding the Hebrew mind, we must realize that the Hebrew mind is much more comfortable with unresolved dilemmas and ambiguity. It accepts paradox and uncertainty much more so than the western mind. The western mind is inherently uncomfortable with paradox. But the bible happens to be full of paradox. This creates a tension in the western mind until we learn to think more biblically, that is, Hebraically.
The effective use of paradox in the scriptures is largely as a reminder device, which is to say, it helps us remember who we are and to whose Kingdom we belong. If we truly understand the power of paradox in Hebraic thinking, we will run from hypocrisy, the behavior of the proud and religious, which Yeshua pointed out quite a few times in the Gospels.
Some Hebrew concepts were passed on to the early messianic believers.
B. The personal nature of Elohim. He has a meaningful, self-describing revealed name; YHVH.
C. The verbal revelation of scripture.
D. Elohim desires to be intimately involved with us. He is not passive.
Hebrew thinking stands in contrast to the thought systems of the world. Many of these systems existed at the time of the Gospels. Most of the thought systems of today are merely iterations of these same systems from the past; Roman/Greek/Hellenism, pluralism, syncretism, logic, philosophy, rationalism, gnosticism, expediency. Gnosticism was a threat even hinted at by Rabbi Paul in Colossians 2:8, in which reality is all spirit and no body; where there’s no need for atonement; sin is an illusion; and we are “saved” by special knowledge of the mind. This is the antithesis of Hebrew thinking and rejects the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of His Kingdom. This leads to belief systems based on merely a scientific knowledge of the world and human nature, which is the idea behind nearly all the current philosophies of our day such as Marxism, Secular Humanism, Postmodernism, and Progressivism.
Scientism, the belief that truth only comes from science, only builds more layers of knowledge on top of our Greco-Roman mindset that undermines our desire to think and act more Hebraically. Early on in my Hebraic walk, in a moment of clarity, I realized the inherent connection between language and thought. To train one’s mind to think in terms of a different culture one must learn the language of that culture. Linguists have realized this for some time. Therefore, it is greatly beneficial to learn and study the Hebrew language, the language and culture of the bible, then assimilate the truths of scripture into this new grid. This speaks to the core of the Hebrew experience, that we learn then act in the context of relationship. All biblically Hebraic truth is relational. All of the Ten Words/Commandments form a relational matrix between God and man. In other words, commandments 1-5 speak of our relationship with God and commandments 6-10 speak of our relationships with our fellow man.
One of the ideas we have inherited from our Greco-Roman past is the gap between professional clergy and mostly inactive laity. This actually has a name and it’s called Nicolaitanism. The concept that the church body is an audience, watching leaders conduct services and do all the work of the ministry is not supported by scriptural evidence. The gifts of the Spirit, both the motivational ones (Romans 12:6-8) and manifestation ones (I Corinthians 12:1-11), are given to all believers in order to function fruitfully within body-life and ministry. Leadership is certainly important, as borne out by examples in scripture from Abraham to Moses to Joshua to David and others, and in the messianic writings when describing elders, bishops, presbyters, apostles, et al. But the leadership assignments shown in scripture are not the same as the hierarchical and paid structures we find in modern church organizations.
Typically, when we meet other believers, we ask “Oh, what church do you attend?” For the Hebrew mind, this is irrelevant. Following a more Hebrew way, we would ask, “What has YHVH/God shown you lately and what are you doing about it?” The Hebrew way always involves both vision and action. This is what changes your life and the world around you. This is what we are called to join and seek to participate in; the vision and work of His Kingdom. His work of reconciliation and restoration.
Hebrew words are best understood in the everyday, simple life of all believers. When Hebrew turns our “lights” on in passages like Isaiah 40:31: “they that wait upon YHVH shall renew their strength….” “Wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is the Hebrew קָוָה, qavah, which means ‘to twist, or to bind, like a rope.’ This verse reveals the active nature of intertwining one’s life with the life of God. When intertwining is being done, that person is made stronger. He who “waits” (twists his life with God’s) upon YHVH is made strong.
We westerners habitually apply Greek thought patterns to practically everything. It is unexpectedly difficult to overcome these patterns and enter into the Hebraic mindset. We stubbornly render everything into logically consistent patterns, systematize it and organize it into tight, carefully reasoned theologies. We can hardly live with inconsistency or contradiction. Our perceptions of God must be tightly defined and structured. We cannot live with the Hebraic idea that God is simply ineffable, and that God’s book doesn’t lend itself to systematization. As Abraham Heschel wrote, “To try to distill the Bible, which is bursting with life, drama, and tension, to a series of principles would be like trying to reduce a living person to a diagram”(1)
We think, for example, in terms of “prophetic timetables.” Here again the western concept of time amounts to points on a line. The Hebrew mind thinks of “the day of the Lord” – that is, the day or time when the Lord acts. The sequential order in which God will do things is of no concern to the Hebrew – only that he WILL act. The western mind wants to have this “prophetic timetable” neatly arranged in linear time and space. We want to “check off” events as they occur according to a pre-ordained schedule. This mentality is foreign to the Hebrew mind. For God, time is non-linear. The bible often makes use of block logic. Marvin Wilson wrote this about Hebraic reasoning: “Concepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine”(2).
Another example is if I were to ask you, Who is God? What would you say? You may say He is love, He is almighty, holy, just, righteous, awesome or omnipresent. Close your eyes and tell me what you see when I say these words; Love, just, holy. You don’t see anything, because these are not picture words. They are definitions. This is information that doesn’t really affect us. It is abstract.
The Hebraic mind and heart would want to see who God is in the form of story or picture. If you ask them, Who is God? They would answer: God is my rock, shepherd, bread, shade, living water, Father. This is all very personal. God is “my,” is also very pictorial…you can see these! The most common Tanakh(3) symbol for God is “shepherd,” the second most common is “rock.”
In western theology, we have sometimes abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture in favor of allegorical interpretations. This too is very Greek. It opens the door to myriad of “creative” expositions that leave the student of scripture confused and disoriented. And it causes people to invent beliefs out of thin air in order to fill a perceived “gap” in our understanding.
If we are to understand the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) and walk in His ways, then we will have to understand it Hebraically, not Hellenistically, nor with our Western Greco-Roman mindset. This will require a paradigm shift on our part. It will mean pursuing the scriptures from an entirely different perspective. It will mean learning to think like the Hebrews who thought more like God.
- “God in Search of Man” by Abraham Heschel, 1976, p. 20.
- “Our Father Abraham”, by Marvin Wilson, p. 150).
(3) Tanakh – from the words for Torah(5 books of Moses’ instruction),
Neviim(Prophets), Ketuvim(Writings), becoming TNK and with vowels,