Feast on the Word of God
The Hebrew language is a language for communicating emotion, rather than one for calculated certainties. Hebrews think in pictures; westerners think in bullet points and lists. If you were to close your eyes and think about the words mentioned in the previous chapter, “wise,” “love,” “righteous,” or “holy,” what comes to mind? For me, words appear. Perhaps definitions. Maybe an example or two, written in descriptive language. Now, what comes to mind when you think of the words “living water,” “rock,” or “fresh-baked bread”? I bet pictures of those words appear. If you linger on them long enough, you may even begin to smell the bread coming fresh out of the oven.
Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, taught in pictures. Bread was a concept that Jesus continually connected to Himself. Bread, or manna, was the source of sustenance throughout the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. He used the same imagery when tempted by Satan in the desert. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus’ first response to the devil connected bread to the Scriptures.
Even the city into which Jesus was born spoke of bread. Bethlehem is made up of two Hebrew words: bet and lechem. Bet is the Hebrew word for house, and lechem is the word for bread. Jesus was born in the house of bread or a bread factory.
He feeds the crowd on two occasions by multiplying bread right before their eyes. Still, the disciples, much like us, are slow to understand, forcing Jesus to connect the dots for them. Mark 8:17 reads, “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to Him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to Him, ‘Seven.’”
Much Ado about Bread
Jesus executed two different feeding miracles, both involving bread, in two different locations. This carries a special weight that would have been (or should have been!) heavy in the minds of the Hebrews. The 12 tribes of Israel inhabited the western region of Palestine, the region that became known as the Land of the 12. According to Jewish tradition, the Decapolis, or “Ten Cities,” was known as the Land of the 7. Ray Vanderlaan, on his site Follow the Rabbi, suggests that the Land of the 7 was named so because it represented “the seven pagan nations driven from Israel in Joshua’s day. Jews believed that the area was dominated by the devil. The pagans were known for worship of fertility gods, and many of their practices were detestable to God’s people.” A Hebraic scholar, Bargil Pixner, supports his claim:
In the Talmud and in the writings of the church fathers, the people of this area were described as belonging to the seven pagan Canaanite nations driven out of the Promised Land by Joshua and the Israelites (Josh. 3:10; Acts 13:19). These nations worshiped Baal and ate (and sacrificed) pigs (Isa. 65:3-5, 66:3). Apparently, the pagan practices of the people of the Decapolis and their anti-God values seemed to be continuations of the practices of the Canaanites, who used sexual perversions and even child sacrifice in their worship. It is probable that the people of Jesus’ day, who took their Scriptures seriously, viewed the Decapolis as very pagan. Although we do not know how many Jews actually believed that the people of the Decapolis were the descendants of the Canaanites, the fact that there is a link between the blasphemous practices of these two peoples helps establish the validity of this Jewish view.
Keep this thought in mind as we return to the two feeding miracles. After the multiplication of bread in the feeding of the 5,000—with women and children, there were probably more like 15,000, even 20,000 people—Jesus enlisted the disciples with a task: gather the leftover bread in baskets. Isn’t this odd? Why didn’t he send the leftover bread home with the people? Couldn’t he have left the pieces for the wild dogs that roamed the land?
Jesus is about to teach a lesson with, all things, bread. Upon completion, the disciples likely lined up before Jesus. He counted out loud, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.” Each of the disciples held a basket in hand. Jesus was visually demonstrating that He was the bread of life for the 12 tribes of Israel. The food was multiplied for more than merely feeding one’s stomach; He showed them that He was their source and sustainer, and that He was capable of providing for every need.
The disciples were slow learners, though. They missed the meaning of the miracle. Mark 6:51 says, “After Jesus got into the boat after walking on the water, the disciples were utterly astonished, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” A few chapters later, Jesus gave them a second chance at the mid-term exam.
The disciples were following their Master through the region of Tyre, “by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis” (Mark 7:31). Remember that the Decapolis was considered to be full of demonic worship and was called the Land of the Seven.
A crowd gathers. Jesus performs yet another feeding miracle, and then He sends His disciples out again to gather up the leftovers. However, this time, Mark 8:8 records the exact number of baskets that were filled with leftover bread: “They then collected seven large baskets of leftover pieces.”
Without saying a word, Jesus communicates, “I am not only the God of the Jews, but I’ve also come to save pagan Gentiles.” We can read these stories and miss the point by applying our Western influence to a Hebraic text. He plainly explained in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.”
In contrary to famous paintings depicting the event, Jesus didn’t break a big loaf of French bread at the Last Supper. He palmed a thin slice of unleavened bread, gave thanks, and tore it into several pieces as he distributed it to His disciples. “This is my body,” He told them. “Take it and eat it.” By the way, he blessed God for the food, not the food for the men.
Did He want us to eat His flesh? Of course He didn’t. He completes the thought: “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He commanded them to accept Him, His teachings, His life, and His example. He urged them to remember His words, obey His truths, and savor His teaching. He asked His disciples to not live on bread alone, but “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And He communicated this all by breaking a piece of bread, a foreshadowing of his sacrifice to come on the cross.
I know what some are thinking at this point: “Why didn’t Jesus just come out and say all of that stuff? Why didn’t He simply state, ‘I am the God of Israel, but I’m also the God of the Gentiles’? Why was He so cryptic about something so important?” But see, He did come out and say it—just as a Hebrew, not as a Westerner. He painted a picture instead of listing a sheet of facts, and pictures are worth thousands of words. Jesus’ Lordship isn’t something to memorize, like information for a test; it is Truth to embrace like a loved one after a long trip. It is a warm blanket and a mug of coffee on a rainy afternoon. It is the burst of air in your lungs after holding your breath while driving through a tunnel with your children. The Rabbi didn’t fill the mind with endless bullet points of the goodness of God; He wanted you to taste, see, and experience that the Lord is good.
High Definition Pictures
If a Jewish rabbi asked me why so many teenagers are dropping out of high school, I may answer, “The people they spend time with affect them the most. Their parents are the role models in the home, whether they admit it or not, and have the biggest impact on how the children will act.” I’d explain it with as much logical detail as I could, perhaps citing some studies or research to back up my claims. If I asked a rabbi for his thoughts about the same question, he would offer a different response. “If the father sits on the couch all day and the mother lets the dishes pile up in the sink, the child will likely never clean his room.” The rabbi is saying the same thing that I am; only, he says it like a Hebrew would. Who does that sound like? Jesus.
Remember the first time you watched a sporting event or a movie on an HD television set. The players looked three dimensional, as if they were in the living room with you. Movies mimicked your memory: vivid and full of detail. The action was intense, the fight scenes thrilling, and the romance was emotional. The same movie or sporting event you’d seen perhaps dozens of times before came to life from a different point of view.
The Bible is filled with Hebraic insights that we miss when we read it for head knowledge only, or worst checking boxes to finish a plan. Each account was written to be meditated over; their smells were meant to be savored, their pictures adored. Can you come to saving faith in Jesus Christ without understanding the lesson of the twelve baskets of leftover bread? Of course you can.
Do you have to come to the same conclusion I did? Not at all. But does not the disciple want to digest everything his Master has to teach? Placing ourselves in the Hebraic context of the first century brings the accounts into High Definition.
Get into the Word Until the Word Gets Into You
My passion for making disciples stems from my love for Jesus. I’m not raising the banner of discipleship. I’m raising the banner of Christ. When we talk about Jesus, the conversation must always include discipleship.
The textbook for discipleship groups is the Bible. It should be the centerpiece of our time together. Our relationship with Christ is cultivated through a deeper understanding of His word. When we know God more, we love him. When we love him, we obey him. When obey him, he manifests more of himself to us. We will never serve God faithfully until we love Him fervently. Our goal should be to create believers who get in the Word until the Word gets into us.
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