The Hebrew Education Model
“What would Jesus do?” is a popular question today. We should also ask questions like: “How did Jesus teach?” “What kind of education did Jesus receive?” “What were Abraham and Sarah’s educational goals for their children?” “Would Jesus have been at the head of His class if He had attended the Academy of Plato?” “How was Paul taught?”
Today there is a surge of interest in ancient Greek education methods, but we reject those methods, as the ancient Hebrews did, and look to God’s Word for instruction. To build a thoroughly Christian educational system, we must begin with a thoroughly biblical definition of education. What does the Bible tell us about education?
Who Should Teach the Children?
Education in the Home
The family home was set apart for something special. The Hebrew word me`at (meh-atґ) (Strong’s 4592) means “little” (Ezekiel 11:16). God made the home the “little sanctuary.” The home was a house of prayer, worship, and study (all study—academic and spiritual).
Today’s Christians have it backwards. The primary sphere of religious activity should be in the home, not the Church. The dinner table was a place to gather, not just for food (Deuteronomy 8:3), but also to study God’s Word, to pray, to praise, and to worship. The home was more important than the synagogue. The center of all training—religious, academic, and family—was the home.
Most people tend to view life as quartered: partly religious, partly educational, partly professional, and partly for leisure. Yet everything we do, regardless of our occupation, whether homemaker, businessman, ditch-digger, or dentist, we should do unto our King. We should be praising and acknowledging Him in learning, work, recreation, and worship—in all things. In the same way, our children need to see all their lives revolving around our King, including their reading, writing, daily routine, studies, experiments, and friendships.
The Hebrew word for parent is similar to teacher. It is horeh, which is from the root word yarah, meaning “to cast, throw or shoot.” The Bible commands the father, the priest of his little sanctuary, to instruct the children (Deuteronomy 6). The father is to diligently impart wisdom and knowledge to his children.
Teaching the Whole Child
Collier’s Encyclopedia explains that education during Abraham’s times taught the whole child:
The keynote of biblical education appears as early as Genesis 18:19 in the revelation made to Abraham: For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment….This same note runs throughout the Old Testament in various injunctions: Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6), and Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
The aim of education was ethical and religious. The education of youth was an obligation of the parents, and was intimately associated with the performance of ritual observances and with learning the Mosaic law, both of which were regarded as essential to the survival of the Jews as a people. In the educative process, both father and mother were equally concerned, and both were to be equally honored (the fifth commandment). For a long time, the method of instruction in the home was oral, and learning was accomplished by practice. These methods were continued outside the home in gatherings and assemblies held for both worship and instruction.
Corporal punishment was regarded as an essential element in training. He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes(Proverbs 23:24) is a precept frequently repeated both in Proverbs and in Ecclesiastes.
Visual aids, including monuments as records of history, were employed. The setting up of “great stones” with inscriptions on them implies an early knowledge of writing (Deuteronomy 27:2, 3, 8, and elsewhere). The scribes were not only copyists but also teachers and interpreters of the Law of Moses. There existed a knowledge of arithmetic and astronomy; music, dancing, games, and sports were cultivated; and moral instruction was an essential part of education.
What Should We Teach Our Children?
Deuteronomy 6 tells us to teach our children God’s commands.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deut 6:5-9
In a previous passage (5:1–33), Moses repeated the Ten Commandments, the basis for God’s moral law. In fact, the rest of the book of Deuteronomy is actually an amplification and application of these commandments.
Israel was to hear, learn, keep, and do these laws (v. 1), for in obeying the Law they would be honoring God and opening the way for victory and blessing.
The New Testament verses concerning God’s law explain that those who love God will follow God’s instructions—His ways, His paths (Romans 2:23; Ephesians 6:2-3; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Hebrews 10:16; James 1:25; 2:11; 8-26; 1 John 2:3-4, 24; 3:22; 5:2,3; 2 John 6; Revelation 22:14).
When Should We Teach Our Children?
All Throughout the Day
The moral and biblical education of children was accomplished best, not in a formal teaching period each day, but when the parents, out of concern for their own lives as well as their children’s, made God and His Word the natural topic of a conversation which might occur anywhere and anytime during the day.
…When thou walkest by the way…(Deuteronomy 6).
To walk means to go along with, to follow a course of action or to live, follow a way of life.
Alfred Edersheim explains in Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the time of Christ:
When we pass from the heathen world into the homes of Israel, even the excess of their exclusiveness seems for the moment a relief. It is as if we turned from enervating, withering, tropical heat into a darkened room, whose grateful coolness makes us for the moment forget that its gloom is excessive, and cannot continue as the day declines. And this shutting out of all from without, this exclusiveness, applied not only to what concerned their religion, their social and family life, but also to their knowledge. In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other—in fact, denounced it—than that of the law of God.
How Should We Teach Our Children?
The Hebrews have always placed God’s Word at the center of their education. Modern religious Jews (especially Hasidic Jews) continue to focus on God’s Word.
The book The Chosen by Chaim Potok, is an absorbing novel about two Jewish boys, Reuven and Daniel, which takes place in New York in the late 1940s just after World War II. It’s a deep, heartfelt novel about the struggles of overcoming religious differences, with several lessons on Jewish history and traditions skillfully woven in along the way.
The novel begins with Danny and Reuven as high-school boys and concludes with their graduation from college. God’s Word was consistently the priority in the boys’ education. Throughout the book, both boys regularly studied the Torah with their fathers, especially on the Shabbat, usually for several hours at a time. Once they entered college, they studied the Torah from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then they began academic studies at 3:15 p.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.!
What a lesson in priorities—and what a story of fruit! The Hebrew education method of diligent Bible-focused study has been passed down over thousands of years. The unbelieving Jews don’t have the Messiah nor the Holy Spirit, but they focus their study on God’s Word. Compare this fruit with the fruit from the Greek classical methods used in Christianity. How many hours a day do we devote to God’s Word?
The American Jewish community is famous for academic attainment. Twenty to forty percent of students at Ivy League schools are Jewish.13 In the 20th century, Jews, more than any other minority, ethnic or cultural, have been recipients of the Nobel Prize, with almost one-fifth of all Nobel laureates being Jewish. Twenty-two percent of Nobel Prizes in all categories awarded between 1901–2003 were Jewish. This is an astonishing percentage for a group of people who add up only a twenty-fourth of one percent of the world’s population. 14
Marvin Wilson explains in Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith:
There is no shortcut method to a sound education. If spiritual training is to be a priority in your children’s education, you will be required to make a major commitment of your time and your resources. As the psalmist wrote: His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:2). Although ancient Israel had no formal system of schooling, learning and knowledge were considered the greatest goals in life—parents today would be wise to make the spiritual education of their children just as high a priority.
So strongly did the early rabbis feel about the priority of education that they said it should not be interrupted, even for the rebuilding of the Temple. Israel was to acknowledge the Lord’s authority in every circumstance and turn of the way (see Psalm 16:8 and Proverbs 3:5–6). The ultimate prophetic vision in the Bible was that all peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other (1 Kings 8:60).15
How Should We Teach Our Children?
With Object Lessons
The Bible’s object lessons provide the answers to mankind’s fundamental questions about life. Jesus’ entire life, teaching, death and resurrection are all object lessons.
As a teacher it is your responsibility to know God’s Word well enough to teach these types of lessons to your children, not only during daily Bible study but by seizing teachable moments throughout the day.
God teaches through object lessons. God commanded His children to put up stones as a reminder in Joshua 4.
The stones were specifically put up in order to prompt children’s questions. When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? The parent’s response is to explain what God has done for them. The lesson is that God cares for His people and provides for them.
And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.—Joshua 4:20–5:1.
We need reminders and we need to remind our children. The Hebrews have a tradition of placing a mezuzah on the doorpost of their homes (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21). It is customary, upon entering or leaving a residence, to touch the mezuzah. This reverence acknowledges belief in the shema: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. In Jewish tradition teachers introduced letters of the alphabet on a slate covered with honey; the child then licked the slate so that the words of the Scriptures might taste as sweet as honey.
In Numbers 15:28 God told His people to wear tassels or fringes on the four corners of their garments to remind them of God’s commandments. Speak to the Israelites and say to them:
“Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.”
Today, many Jews wear a prayer shawl, or tallit to fulfill this commandment. It has fringes called tzitzit which are tied to its four corners; the tassels are tied into knots, as a reminder of all 613 of the laws of Moses (248 prohibitions and 365 positive commands). The numerical value of the letters of the word tzitzit is 600; there are eight threads in each fringe, and five knots; add these all up and you get 613. The shawl is often worn in religious services.
Reminders are a form of teaching. Some people wear a mustard seed pendant as a reminder of Jesus’ words, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20).
The rainbow is a reminder of God’s covenant with Noah. I have a friend who uses each shirt she irons as a reminder to pray for that family member. I have another friend who uses the days of the week as a reminder to pray for a specific grandchild. I use the photographs on my refrigerator, dresser, and fireplace mantle as reminders to pray for our twelve grandchildren (I go through the list by chronological age and occasionally reverse the order to make sure every child receives equal time).
The superstition of walking under a ladder being considered bad luck actually began as a reminder of God because medieval theologians suggested that a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle and, therefore, is a symbolic reminder of the Holy Trinity.
For more on What the Bible Says about education see
The Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach
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