Why walk on top of the water? Why did Peter ask the unthinkable… to get out of the boat into a stormy sea? Why did Y'shua let him take that "leap of faith"? Why did he sink? Why does John's Gospel tell us that once Y'shua and Peter got into the boat, they were immediately, supernaturally at their destination?
If we are going to answer any or all of the above questions, we need to know some things…we need to know everything that the disciples knew in their day - which we do not know in ours. Indeed one of the purposes is to impart to the modern student (removed from the historical events of the Bible) as much as possible about the time, culture, customs and traditions, the belief systems and practices of the ancient people who were alive when the events were unfolding.
Three languages and thousands of years removed from the events described in the Bible robs a person of the ability to truly understand what was going on at that time. Our task is to recreate an understanding of what people understood at that time.
The people of Y'shua's day were longing for the Messiah to appear, in order to end the exile from our land and bring about the redemption. The gospels clearly show that some Jews were living in the land of Israel and they were not living in "exile". True, but the vast majority of the Jewish people were not anywhere near the land of Israel during the time of Y'shua and Paul? In a way that seems strangely parallel to today, some were living there, but most of the Jewish people had never returned either from the Assyrian expulsion (centuries before Solomon's Temple was destroyed) or from the Babylonian expulsion in the time of Daniel and Ezekiel. They were scattered throughout the world then, just as we are today.
What then, was the purpose of this miracle? What did it teach other than to say to his terrified students that He had supernatural mastery over the natural realm? Couldn't He have demonstrated it another way? Indeed, we know that his disciples clearly got the message from the time when He was sleeping in the boat and they thought that they were going to drown, only to have Him wake up and rebuke the wind and the waves. At that time, they said, "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?"
An Expectation and Some History
The book of Nehemiah describes the actual numbers of Jewish people who returned to Israel after they were allowed to return by their captors. They account for less than 10 percent of the Jewish captives from the Babylonian exile alone. Indeed, because of the events chronicled in the book of Esther, many Jews did not feel the need to return to a desolate land to rebuild a difficult life among ruins when, for the first time since the exile began, they were being given a new freedom to practice their beliefs safely in a protective and nurturing environment. Most of Judah did not rush home and almost none of the northern kingdom of Israel had returned to their birthright. This is the climate into which a 20 year old general named, Alexander ascended the throne of his late father, Phillip II.
Greek Influence Sweeps Over the World
When Alexander the Great conquered most of the entire ancient world, it become one large Macedonian/ Greek kingdom. The Greek influence was so widely felt that it affected the language and culture of the Jews living everywhere on earth. Alexander forced his religious system and culture upon everyone on earth… almost. For a strange and fascinating reason (which we will not explore in this writing), he allowed the Jews to continue their "peculiar" ways in peace and gave them complete freedom to move throughout the world safely, so the whole world became the Jewish learner's classroom. G-d had supernaturally protected the Jews' right to remain Jewish in a non-Jewish, Greek world… but sadly much of the Jewish world became enamored with the Greek world and rather than being a "light to the nations", was heavily influenced by it. Assimilation (then known as "Hellenization") became the greatest crisis facing the Jew then, just as it is today.
The largest Jewish population in the world at that time was in Alexandria, Egypt - so named for the conqueror. Greek became the universal language of the day, in much the same way that English is now the worldwide accepted "bridge" language. Had air traffic controllers existed in Alexander's day, they would have been landing planes all over the world using Greek to do so, just like English is used today in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, etc.
So many Jewish people no longer were speaking or teaching their children Hebrew, that a need developed to translate the Jewish Bible into the language that most Jews spoke: Greek. Seventy rabbis began a translation which would bring the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the prophets and the Psalms to their quickly assimilating brethren all over the Greek speaking world. This translation was known as the Septuagint. Remember, all of these things took place a couple of centuries before the time of Jesus, and long before Rome was a world power.
In many ways, the existence of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) would later be a great help for translators of the New Testament and there are many examples in the New Testament where the writer quotes the Greek Septuagint translation of a prophecy rather than the Hebrew. It all points to how prevalent the Greek way of thinking had become to people in Y'shua's day.
The “Land of the East”: Babylon
The second largest Jewish population in the ancient world still lived in what the Bible refers to as Babylon and Persia (today's Iraq and Iran). The greatest schools of Jewish learning were from these areas. The Babylonian Talmud (Mishnah - commentary on the Bible and Gemara - case studies of the Mishnah) was penned by Jewish scholars during the two centuries following the second (Herod's) Temple's and Jerusalem's destruction by the Roman armies, long after Jesus' departure and shortly after Paul's death.
This helps to explain the reference to "wise men from the east", used in the gospels to denote those who came to seek out the promised king of Israel and why there would be Jewish "magi" (the Aramaic [Babylonian] term for men of wisdom and understanding was "mag"). Daniel the prophet, who lived in Babylon, was made the ruler over all of the magi of Babylon.
Reminders of Moses
To the Jewish people who lived in the land of Israel, the long awaited Promised One would not just be someone coming to restore Israel to the glory days of King David, but would be someone far more earthshaking... a second Moses.
Moses, the one who stood in defiance of Pharaoh and wrought G-d's wrath upon the land of Egypt so that all the nations of the world trembled to hear of it; Moses, the great prophet who talked with G-d face to face, the man who ascended to the top of Mount Sinai and brought down the very Word of G-d inscribed on stone, to give it to the people; Moses, the man who on several occasions when the people had sinned, stood before G-d asking for forgiveness for all of Israel, and each time G-d granted his request; Moses, who led the people of Israel out of the exile of Egypt and brought them to the Land that G-d had promised to their fathers. Israel heard the words of G-d delivered through the mouth of Moses, and learned also that rebellion against Moses was tantamount to rebellion against G-d Himself. How could there ever be another prophet like Moses?
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses' words to the people are recorded: "The L-RD your G-d will raise up a prophet from your midst, from your brothers, like unto me; you must listen to him." This prophecy of one who would come in the future, who would be "like unto Moses", was one of the foundations for Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah. Though the book of Deuteronomy concludes with the words, "there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like unto Moses," yet the people had faith in G-d's promise that such a prophet would someday arise, and they longed for his arrival.
Many traditions had arisen about the Messiah's coming, what he would do and what he would say, and many passages of Scripture were studied and applied to the arrival of the Messiah, but at the bottom of all of the traditions and legends was one foundational premise: the Messiah would resemble Moses in every conceivable way. "The final Redeemer [the Messiah] will be like the first Redeemer [Moses]" was a common rabbinic axiom.
Thus, when we look at the words and actions of Y'shua, it must always be remembered that the expectation of the people of His day was that the Messiah would be "like unto Moses". Moreover, this explains the often asked question, "Is this the prophet who was to come into the world?"
Remember that during Jesus earthly sojourn, the Bat Kol (the voice from heaven) had proclaimed, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hearken to Him." (a direct reference to the prophecy from Deuteronomy).
So what would happen if we examined Y'shua's walk on water for similarities to the life of Moses? Was there any event in Moses' life that foreshadowed this early morning walk of faith?
(To be continued . . .)
(To be continued . . .)