To TEACH: yarah. Verb. (Strong’s 3384).
Sounds like: yah-rah
It’s back to school season and my girls are already in the swing of things, starting their grade 11 and grade 9 years. I work at a University library, which is now buzzing with the excitement of a new school term. The first week is always fun, helping students find their classes and get started on learning how to use the library and begin their research. It really is a wonderful feeling to work at a place that cherishes learning, knowledge, research and understanding.
There are at least two Hebrew words for teaching/instructing/training. In this posting we will focus on yarah, which is a kind of directed teaching, but there is also lamad (3925), a verb meaning to instruct, teach, or train with authority or expertise. We’ll look at that one another day.
Before we get started let me take this moment to give a shout-out to my favourite teachers: Mr. Tom Cuthbert (gr. 2 & 3 at Kincardine Township Tiverton Public School), Mr. Peter Carver (history, at Kincardine District Secondary School), Dr. Tom Yoder Neufeld (New Testament professor at the University of Waterloo), and Professor Martin Carver (my Master’s dissertation supervisor and Archaeology professor at the University of York, England). These four humans ignited a passion in me for learning. They taught me to seek out what you love, find it, and deeply dive in.
Teaching, in his Heart
To be a teacher, guiding people down the path of learning, is a huge responsibility. The Bible emphasized the importance of gaining wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Teaching was described as a gift from the heart:
Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, YHWH has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. He [YHWH] also has put in his heart to teach [u-l’hohroht], both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He [YHWH] has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.”
Although the NASB doesn’t capture it here, the phrase is actually u-l’hohroht natan b’liboh… meaning And, to teach, He has put the gift [natan] into his heart. Bezalel and Oholiab had the gift of teaching. It was placed in their heart. There was a passion for their profession and students who followed them would receive the skills to perform the artisan tasks because their instructors had hearts that were filled with the gift of teaching.
Ready, Aim, Teach…
The Hebrew word, to teach, also meant to shoot, to aim, to direct, so sometimes the word showed up in a way that had nothing to do with teaching. For example:
2 Chronicles 26:14-16a
Moreover, Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, body armour, bows and sling stones. In Jerusalem he made engines of war invented by skillful men to be on the towers and on the corners for the purpose of shooting [liroh] arrows and great stones. Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong. But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to YHWH his God…
This word (to point, to shoot), when added to the concept of teaching, meant pointing instruction and aiming it towards the student. It was like being shot by knowledge… an attack, so to speak, which could be burdensome and it could hurt (anyone studying for a final exam knows that), but it could, and would, also illuminate.
YHWH, the Ultimate Teacher
For the most part this Hebrew word was translated as to teach, and YHWH was represented as the ultimate Teacher:
Then Moses said to YHWH, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” YHWH said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, YHWH? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you [w-horeh’tika] what you are to say.”
But even with these comforting words Moses still begged for someone else to be the orator of God’s words, anyone would do, just not him. YHWH, angry at Moses and his inability to trust that he would be able to do anything through God, allowed Aaron to be the spokesperson. YHWH then said to Moses, I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach [w-horehti] you what you are to do.” (Exodus 4:15)
We tend to put Moses up on a pedestal as a shining example of great faith, but here his overwhelming fear of public speaking was more powerful than his trust in God. Anything can happen if God wishes it to happen. If he wants you to fly, you’ll fly… if you let Him. You can do anything, with YHWH as your Teacher. Even when the Hebrew people were without a teaching priest, they could seek out YHWH and find, in Him, the only Teacher they really needed. But you have to trust the Teacher. He would be with you, if you were with Him:
2 Chronicles 15:1-4
Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: YHWH is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For many days Israel was without the true God [elohe emet] and without a teaching priest [cohen mohreh] and without law. But in their distress they turned to YHWH God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him.”
Learn, Learn, Learn
Whether from a teaching priest, a parent, or from God, humans were meant to learn and grow mentally and intellectually. Solomon wrote about the important teachings that his father, King David, instilled upon him:
Proverbs 4:3-6, 10-13
When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, then he taught me [wa-yohreni] and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live. Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; love her, and she will watch over you… Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many. I have directed you [hoh’rehtika] in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; and if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.”
Teaching the WAY
Parents have been commissioned to teach their children how to become good, community-based, well-behaved, human citizens. Priests taught the laws and commandments of the Torah. But what, exactly, did God teach?
Over and over we read that YHWH would teach us the way. This was the path we needed to humbly walk down so we could live well in this world.
Good and upright is YHWH; therefore He instructs [yohreh] sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches [wi-lamed] the humble His way. All the paths of YHWH are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O YHWH, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Who is the man who fears YHWH? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land.
Even YHWH claimed it Himself:
YHWH: I will instruct you and teach you [w’ohrka] in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
The Prophets became teacher’s on YHWH’s behalf, also teaching the way. Samuel was one of the first, and he promised to pray for the people and instruct them in the good and right way:
1 Samuel 12:20-24
Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following YHWH, but serve YHWH with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For YHWH will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because YHWH has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against YHWH by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you [w-hohrehti] in the good and right way. Only fear YHWH and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”
King Solomon also prayed to God asking Him to teach them the good way:
1 Kings 8:35-36a- part of Solomon’s prayer (See also 2 Chronicles 6:26-27)
“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and of Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way [tohreh et ha-derek ha-tovah] in which they should walk…”
The prophet Isaiah directly called YHWH “Teacher”, and announced His words of instruction:
O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He [YHWH] will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although YHWH has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher [mohreka] will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher [mohreka]. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it”…
The Psalmist consistently prayed to YHWH, asking to be taught “the way”:
Teach me Your way, O YHWH, and lead me in a level path because of my foes.
Psalm 119:33-34, 99-104
Teach me [hohreni], O YHWH, the way of Your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart…
…I have more insight than all my teachers [m’lam’dai], for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged because I have observed Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not turned aside from Your ordinances, for You Yourself have taught me [hohretani].
How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
YHWH was called “Teacher”, we also know that Yeshua (Jesus) was called “Teacher”. Rabbi or rabboni was a term for a teacher of the Jewish religion, but Yeshua was more than just a religious instructor, teaching laws and ethics. He was a teacher of “the way”, and even his enemies recognized it:
The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him [Jesus] that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor. They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But He detected their trickery and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.
They announced that Yeshua taught “the way of God in truth”. Yes, these men were pretending to be righteous and using their words to trap Yeshua, but they fell into their own trap. They made a Biblical proclamation (we know that You speak and teach correctly), regardless of whether they intended it to be, or not. Whatever their intentions were at the beginning of the conversation, by the end Yeshua’s simple teaching amazed them to the point of silence. They thought they knew how to capture Jesus with words. They were very wrong. He captured them.
Don’t be a Know-it-All!
We humans often act like we know it all, when we really don’t. The concept of teaching plays a significant part in the book of Job. Job’s friends tried to give him advice and instructed him with empty words, but Job recognized that they had no right to instruct him with judgement:
Job 4:14, 24-26
Job answered his friends: “For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty…
…Teach me [hohruni], and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred. How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?”
All along God had listened to the discussion between Job and his three friends and eventually He spoke up:
Then YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me [w-hohdi’ehni]! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid (directed) [yarah] its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Essentially YHWH was saying, ‘You want to be teacher?! Go for it. Instruct me! Since you know it all, teach me. Who did these things?’
Of course the answer would be, “You did, YHWH. And I was nowhere when you laid the foundations of the earth”. Humbly, we’ve been schooled!
It’s a bit embarrassing that we think we know it all… We have to be careful that we don’t act like we have all the answers. I know I don’t. This grand Biblical Hebrew text is very puzzling, and that’s what I love about it! I want to figure it all out, but if I ever claim that I know it all, that I’ve figured out all there is to figure out, then I’m in dangerous territory. Undoubtedly YHWH would have the same thing to say to me… ‘You think you know it all? Okay, instruct Me, and we’ll see how much you know.’
The key to ignorance is education. It is continual, constant, learning. You’re never too young and you’re never too old to learn. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be taught. We are called to gain knowledge, and wisdom, and understanding… it’s a Biblical directive. The Levite priests who truly loved and revered YHWH were earthly guardians of YHWH’s message. They were the preservers of knowledge, but that knowledge was to be shared, and all the people were to seek out God’s truth through them:
“My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and
men (they, the people) should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts.”
To clarify, this passage did not say men should seek instruction… the Hebrew word for man [ish], or even human [adam], was not there. In the Hebrew it merely indicated that the generic “they” should seek instruction. I was once told, in 2016, that I could not study at a particular American seminary because I was a woman… they would not be willing to teach me. So, naturally, I couldn’t let that pass, and I sent a letter to the president of the institution to obtain his reasoning. Here was his initial reply:
Thanks for contacting us. The XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX holds that church officers should be male. The doctoral programs presuppose a “teaching” function. Hence, the doctoral programs are open to male applicants only.
I replied to that with what I considered to be a, kind and solid, Biblically based argument (including Galatians 3:28) as to why a woman had the same right to learn as any man, but he still concluded that they would not be willing to offer me an education (which I already knew I did not want from his institution anyway). Here was part of his response:
Yes, we are all ONE in Christ. It does not say that we are all EQUAL in Christ. Equality is not a Biblical concept but rather a political one. Scripture clearly teaches that God has assigned roles to both men and women. He simply has not assigned the role of elder/deacon to women. To go against Scripture is neither wise nor safe…
And in response to my efforts of pointing out many of the Biblical women in positions of leadership, he said this:
God used a Donkey as His advocate in one instance, but that does not mean that He wants to use a donkey at all times…
Maybe I misinterpreted this, but it seems to me that he was saying this: God may use a woman sometimes, but he also used an ass, so don’t get too excited.
Regardless of your feelings about whether a woman should preach or teach, we should all be on the same page that women have the right to learn and gain an education. I feel confident that I gave some fine reasons as to why all women should have equal access to education, Biblical or otherwise, however, I really wish I had presented the story of Manoah’s wife.
Listen! YHWH will Teach to whomever He chooses
There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of YHWH appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”
Then Manoah entreated YHWH and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us [w-yohrenu] what to do for the boy who is to be born.”
Now it appears to me that Manoah did not trust that the Angel of YHWH told his wife everything that she needed to know. Maybe he wasn’t getting the full account? What about the details of this child’s life? God certainly had more to teach them.
God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me.” Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.” Manoah said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?”
If the angel of YHWH had wanted them to know this information that they sought, would he not have told Manoah’s wife when they first spoke? The Angel of YHWH had given all the instructions that were needed. His intention was to instruct Manoah’s wife, which is why he appeared to her twice. He didn’t need to speak to Manoah. That may have been hard for Manoah to accept.
So the angel of YHWH said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said. She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded.”
It’s almost like the angel of YHWH was saying, ‘mind your own business Manoah… the message was for her, not you. What I said is all she needs to know.’
We need to have faith that God has given us all the information that we really need to know. And He directs that knowledge to anyone He wants to… women, men, children, the poor, the wealthy, those who follow Him and those who don’t. God will speak directly with anyone He chooses. We should never assume that we know who those people are. Manoah’s wife was given the teaching from the angel of YHWH, not Manoah. He didn’t believe it and neither did she.
Mary Magdalene was also given instructions directly from the Son of God. After Yeshua’s agonizing death on the cross, Mary wept at his tomb. While there, she saw a man (who she assumed was the gardener) but did not recognize that he was actually Yeshua.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.
Yeshua spoke to Mary alone in the garden and told her to proclaim (preach/teach) the good news to the disciples… the good news that Yeshua had overcome death and would ascend to God the Father. He taught her what to say, and gave her all the information she needed, to share the news. This was Yeshua’s first agenda as the risen Saviour… to start the mission of good news, and he gave Mary the job. She started the teaching that would revolutionize the world: Yeshua is risen! He is risen indeed!
Let the Spirit be your Teacher
But long before He went to the cross, Yeshua told His disciples that He would be leaving, and to comfort them He gave them this promise:
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
Teaching in the Last Days
The Spirit within us is now our Teacher… and it will remain with us until the final chapter in our own earthly story comes to its end. Life has triumphed over death, but we still wait for the day of YHWH, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are realized and we are able to sit in the Presence of Our Creator and hang onto His every word. All nations will seek Him out and will sit as pupils in the classroom of our Great Teacher and Path Guide.
Micah 4:1-4 (see also Isaiah 2:3-4)
And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of YHWH and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us [w’yohrenu] about His ways and that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken.
In what the Bible calls the last days, many nations will turn to YHWH and seek out His teaching about the way of His path. His path leads to life and order… where there will be no war, and there will be abundant goodness.
Teach me [hohreni] Your way, O YHWH; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever. For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
And all the students said, “Amen!”
Next week: To Fall