Orientalisms of the Bible

(Part Two)

In Part 1 of "Orientalisms of the Bible" we looked at five examples of passages in the Bible that are descriptive of Eastern culture. Those of us from Western cultures (Europe and the Americas), may not understand these passages, or even misinterpret them because we don't understand the culture of the times in the Bible.  In this teaching, we will study four (4) more examples so we can better understand the Word of God.

1. Buy without money.

Isaiah 55: 1 -- Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

This verse sounds like a vendor is giving away his goods for free.  How else could someone buy without money and without price?  This orientalism relates to how birthdays are celebrated in Eastern cultures.  In Western culture, when someone has a birthday, we expect others to give us gifts.  In the East, the custom is quite the opposite.  Someone who celebrates a birthday shows gratitude to God by giving to others.  It is considered a gift to God to even provide a cup of water to someone who is thirsty.

In the marketplace, the vendor of water, milk, and wine will cry out the price of his goods, much like the hot dog vendor walking up and down the rows at a baseball stadium.  He will announce that each drink is so much per jug. Those wishing to buy will know exactly what the price is when they approach.  If someone in the crowd is celebrating a birthday, they will go to the vendor and purchase a certain amount of the goods.  But instead of taking it home, he has the vendor change his announcement to 'come, buy without money and without price'. The people who hear this know what has happened, that someone has paid the price of the water, wine, and milk.  Anyone with need can go and 'buy' without money. The benefactor stands by, and they can express their gratitude to him as their jugs are filled.

Isaiah's use of this orientalism was not just descriptive of everyday life in the market place, but he used it for its spiritual significance.  Mankind has always come short of the glory of God.  We were never able to be 'good' enough, make enough sacrifices, or follow the Old Testament law without making mistakes.  Man cannot pay the price for his deliverance. That is why Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, came into the world.  He paid the price for us by dying on the cross.  Now we can 'buy without money', and drink of the living waters of Holy Spirit, because it has already been paid for. This is the great revelation of Isaiah 55: 1.


2. Fishing for money.

Matthew 17: 24 - 27 -- And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money  came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?  He saith, Yes.  And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon?  of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?  Peter saith unto him, Of strangers.  Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.  Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money:  that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

In Western culture, the idea of finding money in the mouth of a fish is rather far-fetched, but not so in the East.  Although neither Simon nor Jesus had money to pay the tribute, Jesus knew how and where to get it.  In the middle east, there is a fish called Musht.  It is about 6 inches long and has a large head with a bag under its mouth. This fish will pick up shiny and sparkling items like gold coins and jewels from the bottom of a lake or river, and hold them in the bag. The Musht is very difficult to catch however.  Some may fish in the waters for years and never catch one.  Some men have become rich by hooking just one of them.  It all depends on the blessing of God.

How do money and jewels end up in the water, you may ask. That is another eastern custom.  Five times a day, on the hour, eastern people pray to God.  Part of praying is also making an offering to God.  In order to give an offering in secret, and not receive the praise of men, valuables are often thrown into the water. This is how the Musht gets the money in its mouth.

Peter was a fisherman, and he knew how difficult it was to catch such a fish.  He had probably never caught one before in his life.  Yet he did not doubt Jesus or make an argument.  He went out with his hook and caught a fish. That fish was a Musht, and it had enough tribute money in its mouth for both him and Jesus. This is what we need to do every day in our lives.  We must believe God's Word, that He will bring it to pass.  If God tells us to go fishing for money, we go get our fishing pole.

Romans 4: 21 -- And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.


3. Bartimaeus.

Mark 10: 46 - 52 -- And they came to Jericho:  and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou  son of David, have mercy on me.  And many charged him that he should hold his peace:  but he cried the more a great deal, Thou  Son of David, have mercy on me.  And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.  And they called the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.  And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?  The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.  And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith [believing] hath made thee whole.  And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

In order to understand the importance of this record, we need to first understand the concept of 'beggar' in the East.  A beggar would normally go to the back door of a house and ask for help in meeting his or her needs. This is how they would receive food and drink.  Most of the so-called beggars seen in public places are not there to beg for money or food. They usually have a physical challenge, such as being, blind, lame, or having a disease like leprosy. They have no hope of a cure from doctors, so they place their believing on a cure from God.  So they go to public places to find a holy man of God who can heal them.

The last place someone may go for deliverance is just by the roadside.  If a holy man passed by even his shadow may heal the sick and lame. This is where Bartimaeus was that day.  He was not begging for bread, but for healing. There is nothing in the record to indicate that Bartimaeus was a poor man, but he was blind, and he wanted to see.  Imagine how he felt when he heard that the famous Jesus of Nazareth was walking down that very road.  That is why he cried out so loudly.  He embarrassed some of those standing nearby, and they told him to be quiet, but he cried out all the louder.  He knew that it was his time to be healed, and he wasn't going to let it pass.  When Jesus stopped and called for him, Bartimaeus tossed aside his robe and went to him. The robe is a symbol of a man's status in the community, which is another indication that Bartimaeus was not a poor beggar.  But he laid it aside when he went to Jesus, to show he was willing to lay aside his earthly status in order to be made whole. This is a lesson for every believer to this day, to lay aside earthly symbols and go to God with a believing heart. This is the lesson we learn from the 'beggars' in the bible.

We see similar records like Bartimaeus in the bible, and note that there are certain places people go to seek healing. One place to go is to holy waters:

John 5: 2, 3 -- Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market  a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

Here a man, sick for 38 years, found healing by Jesus Christ, and he didn't even have to go into the water!  [Read the rest of the record from verse 4 to 9].

Another place people go to be healed is the gate of the temple. There are always crowds of people about, and one of them may be a holy man, like the record in Acts.

Acts 3: 1 - 7 -- Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being  the ninth hour  [3:00 p.m.].  And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms [ask for help] of them that entered into the temple;  Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.  And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.  And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.  Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him  up:  and immediately his feet and ancle bones received strength.


4. Father Knows Best.

Luke 11: 11 - 13 -- If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?  or if he ask  a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children:  how much more shall your  heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

How could a stone be mistaken for bread, a serpent for a fish, or a scorpion for an egg?  But by understanding the Eastern cultures we see what these words really say.

Bread in the East is not like the bread we eat.  Each piece is round and flat, cooked on both sides. The bread is then stacked on a round stone the same size as the bread. Then, another stone is placed on top of the stack to protect them.  One of the ingredients in the bread is called ghee, and is similar to what we call butter. Over time the ghee seeps into the stones, so they begin to resemble the bread stacked between them.  One could see why a child might mistake this stone for bread. The father, of course, would know the difference between the two.  If the child asked for bread, the father would remove the top stone and give the child a piece of bread.

There are many different kinds of fish in the East, most of which would be unfamiliar to those from the West.  And, there are some serpents that look like fish.  A fisherman in the east would be able to tell when a serpent is caught in the net, and they would throw it out.  A child would not know the difference, however, since they look very much alike.  So again, a father would give the child only what is good to eat, the fish.

The same is true of the scorpion and egg.  In the East there is a white scorpion, whose body is the shape of an egg.  If it is cut open it is yellow and white inside, just like an egg.  An inexperienced child may think one of these scorpions is an egg, but the father would know the difference.

These verses are not implying that a father would deliberately give any of these bad items to a child.  What they say is that an earthly father can tell the difference, and give the good things to his children.  How much more so shall our heavenly Father give only good things to us?  In verse 13, it specifically mentions the gift of holy spirit that shall be given to those who ask for it. There is absolutely no question that we will receive it from the Father if we ask.  That is the promise in the Word of God.


* Note:  Material for this teaching was provided by Volume 1 of Orientalisms of the Bible by Bishop K. C. Pillai.