This is the 8th post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible. If you would like to read the earlier posts, the series starts here.
The culture of the ancient Hebrews has all but been erased. Today, the closest thing we have to this ancient culture are the Bedouins. Like the Bedouins of today, the ancient Hebrews lived in a culture of semi-nomadic tribes of farmers and herdsmen. They traveled in small, familiar groups, lived in tents made of goats hair tarps and had few material possessions. Their wealth was measured in terms of children and the size of their herds. As such, they were used to living in the wilderness. Their lives consisted of traveling from watering hole to watering hole and pasture land to pasture land, all according to the seasons and the rains they brought. As desert dwellers, the lives of the ancient Hebrew literally depended upon the rain, so everything about their lives was focused on the rain and the life-sustaining crops that it yielded.
Consequently, it is no surprise that the ancient Hebrew tended to stress the importance of rain. But not only the rain: he also placed a great deal of importance on the crops and pasture lands the rain provided. To the ancient Hebrew, the three were all connected to the continuation of his life and the lives of his family, and that connection was further extended to his dependence upon God to provide those life-giving rains. Thus, the ancient Hebrew didn’t think, he knew that his life was entirely dependent upon the Lord. If the Lord held back the rain, the ancient Hebrew was in peril of dying. Given this, it is only natural that we should expect to see the ancient Hebrew relating to God through images connected to their way of life and, more importantly, the things which God provided to sustained their material lives.
The ancient Hebrew was also thought in material or concrete terms. To him, if you could not see, taste, smell, hear or feel it, then it made little sense. This is not to say he did not have any understanding of the abstract, because he did. The ancient Hebrew was very religious, and by its very nature, religion is an abstract thing. It just means that the ancient Hebrew tended to use concrete imagery to describe and discuss abstract thing. Here again, if we do not understand this concrete way of thinking and we try to overwrite our modern world view, which is so rooted in the abstract, we are not likely, but guaranteed to misunderstand the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.
The ancient Hebrew also thought of time in a very different way than we do today. Today, we think of time as being a linear thing, with a starting point and moving constantly forward. Thus, we think in terms of ‘past,’ ‘present’ and ‘future.’ But the ancient Hebrew did not think this way. To him, there was only those things that ‘had already manifested’ (i.e. had already came to be, or happened) and those things which ‘were yet to manifest’ (i.e. had not yet came to be, or happen). Given that the ancient Hebrew would have thought this way, then we should expect that he would have communicated with this assumption in mind, as well. Therefore, if we try to force our modern, linear perspective of time over top the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, we are not likely to misunderstand, we are all but guaranteed to misunderstand.
Another interesting characteristic of the ancient Hebrew is that he was an excellent historian in a time when man had not yet started to care about history. In fact, it could be argued that the ancient Hebrews were the fathers of modern history. Before them, men did record things, but they usually only recorded things to glorify some important person or event, and even then, they tended to embellish what actually happened, and/or leave out the negative. This is not the case with the ancient Hebrew. To him, the history of his people was his religion: the two were inseparable. Consequently, he recorded everything — good and bad — as accurately as he could because, in his eyes, that history was a record of God’s Hand in the lives of his people.
This brings us to the final point I’d like to make about the ancient Hebrew culture, which is that their faith was central to everything they did. It was their very existence. In the mind of the ancient Hebrew, everything he did was part of a relationship with the Lord. Thus, to live a righteous life was to live in harmony with the Lord’s ways.
Now, all of this should naturally be expected to reflect in the way the ancient Hebrews spoke, and, as we will see in my next post, it is. But, for now, we should understand that, just as our dependence upon technology influences the way we see and relate to the world, the ancient Hebrew’s dependency on God to provide rain shaped and influence the way he saw the world. And, just as we work the things of our daily lives into the way we communicate, the ancient Hebrew worked the familiar things of his daily life into the way he communicated, including his writings — and, yes, even Scripture.
You can find the next post in this series here.
ADDITIONAL READING ON ANCIENT HEBREW CULTURE