One of the problems facing western Christians is that of trying to understand the Hebrew Scriptures through a Hellenic mindset, or paradigm. Between the Hebrew and the Hellenic cultures, there is a vast gulf, which means that to transfer the thought processes of the one to the other is quite difficult, at best. The Hellenistic thought process is to seek orderly rules and established structures into which details can be fitted; they look for the big picture and then accommodate the detail within that big picture.
The Hebrew mindset, on the other hand, works in the opposite direction, from details to rules. Traditional Jewish Biblical interpretation used an “associative” method that built up a broad narrative from detail, as in; “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Jews saw this as a reference to the Messiah; the Midrash Rabbah says; “this was the spirit of the Messiah, as it is written in Isaiah 11:2, ‘And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him’”.
The Bible therefore, as a book written by and for the Hebrew, is neither dogmatic nor systematic, as such; rather, it is a narrative, from which may be drawn rules to guide the path of the believer.
To approach the Bible as a book of knowledge or wisdom to be studied will inevitably end in frustration; any dynamic understanding of what the Biblical narrative means to an individual can only derive from a dynamic relationship with the author, who is God. Of course, it may be studied by anyone, and various conclusions may be drawn as to what it all may mean, but they will not be dynamic, that is life-giving, outside of a living relationship with the living God.
The rabbinical writings refer to Genesis as the “Book of Creation”; all of the beginnings are there; the beginning of the world in which we live, the beginning of mankind, the beginning of desolation and darkness caused by the Fall, the beginning of God’s redemptive plan, the beginning of the Hebrew tribe and the beginning of the revelation of a redeemer and prophet, in Whom man may find his way back into God’s service and favour.
The Jewish associative method of scriptural interpretation is illustrated in the following example.
“Let there be light; and there was light; and God saw the light that it was good” (Genesis 1:3).
These were the first recorded words spoken by God. The rabbis considered that the Hebrew word for light – nehora – was a secret name for the Messiah and that the two great lights that God created (Genesis 1:16) were a secret allusion to the Messiah. The Midrash Pesikhta, which was read on feast days, asks; “Whose is this light which falls upon the congregation of the Lord” and answers ‘It is the light of the Messiah’”. Other rabbinical writings add to the exposition of this verse; “This is the Light of the Messiah, as it is written in Psalm 36:10 ‘In your light, we see light’”.
Other Midrashic references to the Messianic nature of the Light are in Daniel 2:22, where; “He knows what dwells in the darkness and light dwells with Him”. The Midrash understands the words of Daniel 2:22 Messianically and says; “And Nehora dwells with Him; this is the Messiah King, for it is written; ‘Arise shine, for your light has come’” (Isaiah 60:1). Furthermore, both Isaiah 42:6 and 60:1-3 were seen as portrayals of the Messiah as the “light of the gentiles”. Thus, the style of exposition in the Midrash is to elucidate every single detail from the Torah.
With all this midrashic tradition it is amazing that the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, particularly since Jesus Himself announced that He was the light of the world and that those following Him would not walk in darkness (John 8:12). The Jews knew exactly what He was claiming by these references, which speak eloquently from their own midrash of the Messiah who was to come. Jesus’ claim here is unequivocal to the Jewish mind brought up on the traditional Jewish interpretation of the scriptures.