The sages or rabbis of ancient Israel used a variety of techniques to teach and interpret the text. Some of these techniques remind me of “battle raps” or “scripture kung fu,” if you will.
I’ll take a look at an example of some of these techniques each Friday and try to explain the technique and what we can learn from it. One of the principle and most prevalent techniques used by Jesus was something often called “Remez,” or “Kesher Connections.” This technique was a method of hinting at a particular verse or text, and the hints were often quite subtle and sophisticated, but easy to spot if you know what to look for.
One thing to keep in mind was that Jesus’ audience in the first century would have been studying and memorizing the scriptures since they were small children. In present day Israel, you can even go into an orthodox school and a child will be able to tell you (from memory) every instance a bird appears in the Torah in order, just to give one example. It is quite remarkable.
Lois Tverberg provides an excellent present day example of the use of Kesher connection or Remez in her book “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.” In 1991, a teacher and his former student, who were in a heated debate/rivalry with each other, encountered one another at a conference and the Elder scholar rebuked his former student with this simple phrase “Banim gidalti veromumti.” The younger scholar recalled the phrase from the book of Isaiah, but didn’t immediately realize how stern the rebuke was. The stated phrase simply meant “I have raised children and brought them up.” This is where the Kesher connection or Remez, comes into play. The younger scholar later opened up his Bible to Isaiah 1:2 and realized what the elder scholar was “hinting” at. Isaiah 1:2 reads, “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me!” The younger scholar realized that his former teacher was using the classic rabbinic technique of Kesher connection, quoting part of a verse and leaving the rest (usually the main or principle point) unsaid.
Probably the most brilliant example of Kesher connection use comes in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector. This story took place just outside of Jerusalem in a town known as Jericho.
The name Jericho literally means “a fragrant place.” Jericho is the oldest-known city in the world, with archaeological remains dating back as far as 8,000 BCE. It is located 15 miles outside of Jerusalem and has a lush oasis and very pleasant climate. Jericho was also home to several Sadducees, the wealthy religious leaders in the first century. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection, so they were sad, you see? A little horrible Bible humor for you. In any case, the Sadducees didn’t want to handle money from the temple as it would make them ceremonially unclean, so they created a whole class of unclean people to do this for them, known as “tax collectors.” One of these tax collectors was a wee little man known as Zacchaeus.
When Jesus meets Zacchaeus in Luke 19, Jesus says (Luke 19:10), “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” The statement in Luke 19:10 is what many scholars declare the most brilliant use of Kesher connection (later called remez) on record.
The statement Jesus makes in Luke 19:10 was a hint or Kesher connection to Ezekiel 34. In Ezekiel 34, God is angry with Israel’s leaders for scattering and harming his flock. As a result of the failure of the religious leaders, God states that he will become the shepherd and will seek the lost ones and save them.
Based on this, the people of Jesus’ day understood that the Messiah to come would “seek and save” the lost. By using this phrase, knowing that his listeners knew the Scripture, Jesus communicated three significant things at once.
1. To the people, he communicated, “I am the Messiah and also God.”
2. To the religious leaders (Sadducees in particular), whose influence kept Zacchaeus out of the crowd, he said, “You have scattered and harmed God’s flock.”
3. To Zacchaeus, he said, “You are one of God’s lost sheep and he still loves you.”
** For more information on the Kesher Connection/Remez technique, see Dwight Pryor’s Behold The Man! video series, Lois Tverberg’s wonderful books Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus and Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, and Ray Vanderlaan’s website followtherabbi.com