Personal Invitation to Discipleship
In the New Testament era, discipleship was expressed by the teacher-student relationship. The learning process was not a matter of the disciple gaining knowledge, but it was more like an apprenticeship where the disciple learned how to “do” as the teacher “did”. It a great honor to be “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi – indicating the disciple was following his example. There are many examples of this type of relationship in both the Old and New Testaments: Moses-Joshua, Elijah-Elisha, Paul-Timothy and Jesus-His disciples.
The Hebrew root: lamed, mem, dalet: ( למד ) is very important and several key words come from it. The word for ‘study’ is lomed ( לומד ). However, the same root forms the verb limed ( לימד ) which means ‘taught’ in the past tense. The present tense, ‘teach’, is m’lamad ( מלמד ). Dr. John Garr, president of the Restoration Foundation, explains that built into the linguistics of the Hebrew language is the very important lesson that teaching and learning go together since the words for each idea come from the same Hebrew root. We cannot teach without learning and the best teachers are those who are lifelong students. Also, we learn better if we can also teach someone else what we are learning. Both learning and teaching have always been very important Hebraic concepts and literacy and education are hallmarks of the Jewish people.
Graphic from Ancient Hebrew Research Center website
These meanings are inherent in the original meaning of the first letter of the root – lamed. The original Hebrew letters looked very different from the block script of today. [Modern Hebrew letters take their look from the Aramaic alphabet.] The original Hebrew letters, often called paleo-Hebrew, were all pictographs meaning they represented a picture of a concrete object. Dr. Jeff Benner in his book, “The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet”, explains each ancient Hebrew letter. The original pictograph for lamed looked like a shepherd’s staff and had a curved end so that the shepherd could use it to capture or direct individual sheep who may be straying, etc. Dr. Benner says, “The meaning of this letter is toward as moving something in a different direction. This letter also means authority, as it is a sign of the shepherd, the leader of the flock. It also means yoke, a staff on the shoulders as well as tie or bind from the yoke that is bound to the animal.” You can see all of these ideas are the foundation to the concept of teaching. The teacher must move the student towards the desired ideas. The teacher is the authority on the subject being taught. And to successfully learn, the student must take on the “yoke” of obeying the teacher, doing the required exercises, etc. The student must be committed to learning or learning will not take place.
Another important word formed from the root lamed, mem, dalet is the noun, talmid ( תלמיד ) which means ‘student’ or ‘disciple’. It first appears in the Hebrew Bible in 1 Chronicles 25:8 and is translated in this verse as ‘scholar‘ (from the Latin scola which means ‘school’ or ‘student’). In the KJV, (New Testament) the word ‘disciple’ occurs 270 times and Jesus’ followers are always referred to as disciples.
This imagery gives us insight upon what Jesus had in mind when He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” These verses are Jesus’ personal invitation to discipleship. We are not to be disciples of other believers, no matter how learned they are or what position they hold. Jesus wants all believers to be disciples (talmidim) of Himself. We are to learn (lomed) from His example, and then we are to teach (m’lamad) others through our example.