There have been innumerable sermons and countless books written on the subject of doctrine. Christians, whether they are scholars, clergy, or laity, are enamored with the subject. The correct doctrine of the Messiah, according to 2 Yochanan (John) 10, is the litmus test for allowing their entrance into your house. The correct Christian doctrine has been the focus of the western church ever since the early church fathers brought it to the forefront. The focus of a myriad of church councils and summits over the centuries has been the right creed. After all, it is saying and believing the right “stuff” that separates the righteous from the heathen, or at best, the informed from the deceived. No believer would deny the importance of correct doctrine. How we behave as believers is supposed to be, according to Yeshua’ (Luke 6:45), based upon what we think and believe. It is not the importance of correct doctrine that should be the issue. The focus should be on how one arrives at good sound doctrine. The answer is found in the Proverbs:
Mishlei (Proverbs) 11:1
A false balance is an abomination unto YHVH, but a just weight is His delight.
So, what is a just weight, and what did YHVH mean by a false balance?
In the period of time this proverb was written, and up to the time of Yeshua”s ministry, products were bought and sold in a bartering process. Products were exchanged for coins or other products or services. Coin exchanges and product booths were set up in the streets and even in the Temple. In order to ensure an eye for an eye, scales were employed to keep everyone honest, or so everyone believed.
Here is an example of how the process worked. A fig farmer would bring his basket of figs into town. He would search for someone to exchange their coins for his figs. After finding someone who needed figs, the fig purchaser would bring out the weighing scales. This is the determiner of the just weight referred to in Mishlei 11:1. The purchaser would then open up his bag of weights. Each one was marked according to its weight. The fig farmer would place his figs on one side of the scale. The purchaser would begin to place each weight on the other side of the scale until the trays were balanced. He would then count up the weights and pay the fig farmer so many coins for each increment of weight. Pretty simple, right? A fair and balanced transaction? Not always. Many times it was balanced but not a just weight. How can this be? The answer comes from what we today would call a stacked deck. Much too often the purchaser, the one with the weights, would mark his weight as being lighter than it actually was. Say for instance, a certain weight actually weighed 1 Roman pound, about 12 ounces, but the weight was marked as weighing ten ounces. This meant that the purchaser could place less weights on the scale to achieve a balance. But as you can see, it was a false balance, because the purchaser has not used a just weight. He has loaded his side to make it appear to be balanced. This transaction becomes very deceptive when both sides overstate or understate their product. Both sides give the appearance of balance. Neither side presents a just weight. It is with this background in mind that Solomon writes, “a false balance is an abomination unto YHVH, but a just weight is His delight.”
How does one arrive at a just weight? How do I keep from presenting a false balance? The western church can begin by learning from her eastern roots! How did the Jewish prophets, apostles, and disciples interpret Scripture? The western church mindset generally has two views of any one particular doctrinal subject. The right view and the wrong view. We have been trained by our culture to see issues two ways. In our society it is conservative or liberal, Republican verses Democrat, black against white. In the civil war it was North verses South, Yankee against rebel, blue or gray. You’re either a feminist or a male chauvinist, pro-life or pro-abortion, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force or a homophobe! In Christian circles, we follow the same pattern. You are either pre-tribulational or post- tribulational, pre-millennial or amillenial, charismatic or non-charismatic, Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or non-evangelical. The spiritual gifts are either for today or they are straight from hell. Water baptism is either the requirement for salvation or it is simply a symbolic ritual. And, of course, in the south you are either Southern Baptist or you are not! In the same way there are only two kinds of music in the south: country or western! So we choose a subject and in our Pavlov’s dog way assume there are two views. We convince ourselves of one view and proceed to write scathing rebuttals to the other view. We spend countless hours of study time building and researching our view. We meticulously develop a case against the other side. We find Scriptures and anecdotes that overtly or covertly support our side, and look for anything that would seem to blow the other view out of the water. This is how we study.
The ancient sages, however, looked at Scripture much differently. Yes, they fought, fussed, and grappled with each other, but it was with the intent of wanting life-changing results. They reverenced YHVH’s word because from their view, the word was YHVH Himself. It was the very building blocks of life. Their ‘Elohiym was all-knowing. He knew the end from the beginning. Every word would then have timeless application and purpose. Each word would also reveal and teach much more than our finite minds could discover. Therefore, from their perspective, any one teaching was not limited to our view verses the other view. Because these sages could see YHVH’s multiple ways of revealing Himself to us, they employed a 4-fold interpretive method.
When these sages would sit down to study a particular section of Scripture, they would begin by seeking the p’shat of the text. The p’shat was the literal meaning of the verses. This kind of view seems to have stuck to the Pharisees to give them their reputation of being interested in only the letter of the law. These early Rabbi’s, however, took YHVH always at face value as they began their search, and so the p’shat was always the initial interpretation. If the text, for instance, was the opening chapters of Bere’shiyt (Genesis), the Jewish student of Scripture would look for the literal view of the narrative first. In other words, he would see that ‘Elohiym created the world just exactly the way He said He did. He knew that literalness had to be established before symbolism could have any meaning.
Next, he would look for the remez of the text. A remez is an insight into something far more profound, usually prophetic, than the literal view. The student searching for the remez might see prophetic teaching on the entropy laws, biology, astronomy, and even hints at the nature of Yeshua’ haMachiach. As you can see, this view would always be an on-going learning process.
Now, the ancient sage would begin his search for the drash of the text. This method would lean toward a more homiletical approach, i.e., what is this teaching me about me? How does this apply to my life right now? Much can be learned about the Sabbath, sin, the new birth, and the nature of the human being right in the text of the first 3 chapters of Bere’shiyt. “God cares about me right now””, he would say. “How does this change my life?”
And finally, the curious treasure seeking mystical side of all of us is ready to be satisfied. The last search would look for the sod of the text, that is, the things that are hidden in the text. This interpretative system has many variations. Since the Hebrew alef-bet had numbers applied to each letter, he would search out various ways of adding and multiplying the letters to see hidden messages in the words of the text. These messages, they believed, were designed by YHVH for the more serious student of Scripture, and are quite fascinating. These ancient sages, however, would leave sod for last, as it can be abused. Countless hours upon hours of this kind of research was devoted to each word of Scripture. Seeking all they could out of each verse was imperative for proper balance. Understanding that all of these views, when properly applied, was necessary for a just weight. All four views were correct. It was not simply one view against another. Typical western thinking, however, would have us to choose one view and oppose the others. Perhaps we would have written a revealing book about the other views.
YHVH hates a false balance. Arriving at a just weight is His delight. Balance is not compromise. It is not acquiescing on an issue just to get along. It begins with a profound understanding that ‘Elohiym is not limited to our two-dimensional view of things. The church can begin by learning the mindset of the people who wrote the Scriptures. The western church, by nature, forces its culture into The Word. The writers of Scripture took the word into their culture.