The Whims of the Culture
There is a strong pull in our day to conform to some kind of cultural ideology; to get on board one kind of ship or another, and then bad-mouth anyone not on your ship.
The problem is this: all of the ships sailing around aren't good vessels. They may have a stripe of something good here and there, but they all lack, because they aren't built by the right manufacturer - and they sure ain't captained by the right people.
In order to judge right from wrong, you've got to have a standard, else you're just spouting your opinion. You can't just decide capital punishment is wrong or right by yourself. You can't just say we have to go to war with that nation or this nation, or that we need or don't need the government's help in schooling our children. People go round and round about matters as these, and you hear one opinion after another. One "solution" after another.
In order to make a decision about your marriage, or family, or job, or whatever... you've got to have some kind of blueprint to go by. Some say that blueprint is what you feel is best, but then comes along another person with a "what-they-feel-is-best" blueprint, that doesn't match yours.
Some people think the Democratic Party is the blueprint. Others think it's the GOP. Then you've got the Libertarians poking fun at both of them, while trying to build an industrial hemp plant.
The reason there is so much bickering is because most folks have somehow made the decision to NOT allow the Creator to make all the decisions. They've decided what He says might be alright sometimes, but when they run across something He says that they don't like, they run back to some other level (or un-level) measurement.
The other day my wife was showing me some amendments that people could vote on here in Georgia (our home state). As I read through each one of them, the only thing that crossed my mind is: what does the Creator say in His law? I've trained my mind to think like that. It's taken a while, but it helps to be a creature with a heart that's being written on by the Almighty Himself. He's helped me get to where I am today. I think like He thinks, because He has made me think like He thinks.
There was one amendment that was about alcohol sales on Sunday (before noon I think I was). I remember when you weren't able to buy alcohol on Sunday, and I get where that comes from here in the southern "Bible belt." But... the Creator doesn't say anything in His law about buying a 6-pack on Sunday. He doesn't forbid it, so that was an easy one for me to vote on. Plus I like to drink, so there's that. (In moderation of course... for all you people who think drinking means getting drunk.)
My point is that I have a standard, and that standard is the law of Yahweh, the Creator, and the author of the Torah, His instructions and guidance for humanity. I'm pro capital punishment, because He is. I'm anti-homosexual practice because He is. I'm pro helping widows and orphans and foreigners because He is. I really couldn't care less about what anyone else says. All other arguments are mute to me. You might as well talk to a telephone poll if you are trying to get me to okay something that He forbids, or to forbid something that He allows. I'm not listening. I'm closed minded.
It makes life easier to have such a standard. I'd argue that it's the only standard in the universe, but regardless... I have one. It's not me. It's not my feelings. It's not a political party. It's not a denomination. It's the holy law of the Creator of all things. He created us, so I let Him call the shots. I go by what He says.
What's your standard? What do you judge everything by? Why do you think the way you do? What makes something a sin to you? Why do you allow some practices and forbid others?
Everyone judges by something. I'd suggest making that something Yahweh's Law, else you'll always end up changing with the whims of the culture.
Resources for Hebrew Culture
One of the best ways to understand Scripture in all its fullness is to get into the life setting and culture of the time period. Trying to read into Scripture 21st century concepts will never work.
My children enjoy watching "Leave it to Beaver." When they first started watching they thought it was so funny because of many of the sayings on the show from the 50's. One of the "weirdest" ones to them was "he's giving you the business." I actually had never heard of that one myself until hearing it on the show. We don't say "he's giving you the business" anymore, and unless you go back even to the 1950's to understand what that phrase means, you won't get the most out of the show. I'll let you do the research on that one yourself. ;)
One of my favorite passages to go to when talking to people about understanding the culture of the ancient Hebrews is Deuteronomy 22:5. There are entire organizations or denominations who will quote this verse and declare that it is an abomination for a woman to put on a pair of pants. This is because as they grew up in the 1900's in America, pants were considered to be the garment of men. They then take a 20th century mindset and force it into a text that was written thousands of years ago. What they should have done is go back to the culture and life setting, when the commandment was first uttered. Just a little bit of study shows that both men and women wore the same basic apparel, robes or tunics. Yahweh was not telling the man to not put on a skirt, nor was he telling the woman not to wear pants. Something entirely different was being commanded, but of course you'd never know that if not studying the culture.
Many more examples could be given, but what I'd like to do is share a few resources that have been helpful to me in studying Hebrew culture. Hopefully these will aid you in your studies as well.
1. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus (by David Bivin)
Mr. Bivin deals heavily with the sayings during the time of Yeshua. This book helped me understand what Yeshua was actually saying when he said he didn't come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. I discovered that Matthew 5:17 was even abused to some extent by pro-Torah teachers.
2. Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church (by Dr. Ron Moseley)
Dr. Moseley covers so many Hebrew idioms in the teaching of Yeshua in chapter 2, and he also points out that we must recognize that there was more than one group of Pharisees in Yeshua's day. There were actually seven groups! Much more is covered as well.
3. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (by Alfred Edersheim)
Mr. Edersheim lived in the 1800's and was born to Jewish parents before converting to the Presbyterian branch of Christianity. Mr. Edersheim has done much of the "leg work" when it comes to understanding the life setting of Yeshua's day. This volume is priceless as it is over 1,000 pages in length.
4. The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (by Alfred Edersheim)
Another excellent work by Edersheim, focusing in on what took place at the Temple in Jerusalem. Covers all of the festivals (including the Sabbath and New Moon), and the order and meaning of the sacrifices. From this book I learned what Yeshua really meant when he said in Matthew 6 not to sound a trumpet when you give alms.
5. Commentary on the NT from the Talmud and Hebraica (by John Lighfoot)
Bishop Lightfoot lived in the 1600's and studied extensively into the traditions of the elders that we call the Talmud. Understanding this helps greatly in understanding Yeshua's controversies with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes of his day.
6. Manners and Customs in the Bible (by Victor H. Matthews)
Geography, Burial Customs, Food, Weapons, and so much more is covered in this work by Mr. Matthews. This is another invaluable source when trying to get "into the mind" of ancient Hebrews.
7. And of course you have the Works of Philo and the Works of Josephus, two men which lived right around the time of the Messiah. One cannot really say enough about these two historians and their works. They are a must have for the library of the serious student of Scripture.
I'm certain there are other books in my library that I've learned Biblical culture from, but these are the ones I go to the most in my studies.
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.