Stories define who we are, what we find to be truth, and how we live our lives. We write our own narratives in our heads about who we are, our friends, enemies, and even what the Bible says. Yes, some people may find this concept hard to wrap their minds around but if you live in the United States I'm sorry to say you most likely have allowed your Western worldview lens define the way you interact with the book that is the base of your faith. In some cases this lack of understanding doesn't really change what you were supposed to take away but in others the meaning is drastically changed.
Take for example one of the most famous psalms 23, I'm sure many Christians can recall this one from heart having memorized it at some point in your Bible school career.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul..."
If you're a Westerner you probably picture a field of belly deep hay where you could eat your fill and quietly rippling clean crisp water to drink from. Tell me your life as a Christian has been that easy! So what's wrong with our western image? Well... we're forgetting the land in which the story was written! One of the biggest shortcomings I see today in churches is illiterate Christians, too many people think the Bible was written TO them, no it was written FOR you but it was written TO an audience of Jews who lived in a small pocket of land half the world away over 2 thousand years ago.
If a Jew from that time read these words they would know sheep were found out in the desert, in fact the Hebrew word for desert and pasture are the same word (Midbar). And so "green pastures" are a rocky hillside with small tufts of grass. As sheep would walk through the heat and rocky hills they would find a hill that a small amount of dew settled on and allowed these grass clumps to grow. Quiet waters in Hebrew culture implies still water which is the opposite of living water, flowing water. It's a puddle of water that may not be the most clean but it's enough. In both cases the image that we are shown through the proper lens is of a shepherd who provides his flock with JUST ENOUGH to survive the day and each of these things comes from following the shepherd. This is one of the most obvious and easiest to shock people with but the Bible is full of Hebrew poetry, location based stories and word play that you NEED to know the culture of the time to understand. So next time you're going to study the Bible take off your Western glasses and be ready to consider the lens of an ancient Jew.
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