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Sitting at His feet                                25/5/16

There is a blessing spoken by Yose ben Yoezer (yo-EHZ-er) who lived about two centuries before Jesus was born.
Let your house be a meeting-house for the Sages
and sit amid the  dust of their feet
and drink in their words with thirst
Some believe this was an encouragement for people to make their homes places of Bible study, and to welcome itinerant teachers and eagerly learn from them. Before 70 AD these teachers were called "sages" or "the wise". After that the title "rabbi" began to be used.

In 2 Samuel 20 there is an example of a sage, a wise woman, who went out to the city wall to face an army intent on destroying them. Among other things she says to their leader, "We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?" She was listened to by the army leader, and the city heeded her advice as well, consequently the city was saved from being destroyed.
Jeremiah prophesied, "Thus says the Lord of Armies, consider, and call for the mourning women, and they will do (mourn); and send for the wise women, and they will come."

In Jeremiah's day there were women who were paid to weep at funerals. They were called mourners. In some countries mourners are still paid to go to a funeral and weep.
Not all Bibles translate the Hebrew word as “the wise woman.” Some have made the mourners appear to be the wise women. They may have done this because both the wise women and the mourners were called to lament over the Lord’s wayward people. He was going to sling them out of their homes and the Lord knew if the women were called, they would mourn over Israel's sin.

Why do you think the Lord was going to let Jerusalem and Judah become a heap of ruins? Read through Jeremiah 9 to find out why.

Throughout the Bible, the Lord’s people have promised to do what He says. In Exodus 24:3 they did. In Joshua 24:24 the people also promised to serve and obey the LORD. Yet during Jeremiah’s time the shepherds had failed to seek the Lord and the people forsook Him. They wanted to be like the nations around them. The Lord told the heavens to be appalled and shocked and utterly desolate, for His people had committed two evils: they had forsaken Him, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out broken wells for themselves that couldn’t even hold water.

Surely it’s a foolish thing to make a leaky container to hold drinking water, when there is a perfectly good one on hand? Do you think the wise women were trying to drink from a broken well? Would they have been called wise if they’d forsaken the Lord? Would they be able to lament over those who had?

Jesus said, whoever drinks the water He gives will never thirst. He offers people a fount of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14). What does this say about Him?  What does it say about those who ask for this water, like the Samaritan woman Jesus was talking to?

Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise is wise and will be wise."
The saying "to sit at someone's feet" came from Yoezer’s blessing. It has sometimes been translated as "sit in the presence of" and "sit amid the dust of their feet." For some it was understood to be about humbly learning from one's teacher by sitting on the floor, while the teacher taught seated in a chair. For others it meant "walking in your teacher’s dust".

What do you think it means? How would a person powder themselves in their teacher's dust?
In the first century it didn't mean to literally sit at the feet of a wise person, although they may have done so. In those days when a Jewish boy was about sixteen he could go to a Rabbi and apply to become one of his disciples. They didn’t want to just know what a Rabbi knows, they wanted to be like the Rabbi, and this meant going where he went, and living the lifestyle He did. They used the saying "sit at the feet" to mean being a disciple. The Apostle Paul used this saying when speaking of his Jewish credentials, when he'd been a disciple of Gamaliel.

The saying was also used to describe Martha and her sister, Mary’s relationship with Jesus:

Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha received Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also, having sat at the Lord’s feet, was listening to His word. But Martha was in an uproar over much service, and confronted him, and said, "Lord, don’t you care that my sister has forsaken me so I serve alone? Command/pour forth to her therefore to take an interest in/join herlf to me. And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are in an uproar, also troubled about many things, but one thing is needful and Mary has chosen that portion from God, which will not be taken away from her."

Why do you think the gospel writer thought this episode so important it should be written up for everyone to read? 
At first glance this seems to be about Mary, whose name means beloved, not helping in the kitchen, but choosing the better portion of listening to Jesus.  There is however much more to this episode that first century Christians would have understood, while we tend to miss the point, because we aren’t familiar with their culture.

Mary was acting in a manner contrary to the traditions and customs of her day. Following a Rabbi wasn't what females did. Their place was in the home. Mary was acting like a man. Yet Martha too started out as a disciple of Jesus. However, she was drawn away from following Jesus, by servicce. Have you ever been so busy serving you didn't make time for relationship?

Martha's name meant mistress and she was mistress of her household. It was her home she'd invited Jesus into. Did she want to establish her authority in her household? Was she troubled by the thought that Mary was no longer under her control, but had forsaken her for Jesus?

Martha’s actions were not the normal action of a host. She didn’t go quietly to speak to Mary. Martha’s words and manner would have been embarrassing for everyone. She tried to correct Mary through Jesus. She was clearly letting everyone know she was not aligning herself with Mary’s unorthodox actions. Everyone would have heard her reprimand, not only of Mary but also of Jesus. Her sister failing to help wouldn't have been the real issue. The servants could have done the job. So what enraged Martha so much she was overbearing towards her Rabbi, Jesus, and drawn away from being His disciple (sitting at His feet)? Breaking cultural mores, and losing her sister to Jesus, is more likely to have this effect. Sitting at someone's feet in the first century, meant going where they went to learn to their lifestyle, not just their words.

Most people concentrate on Mary and Martha but forget about Jesus.

How did Jesus react to someone with a controlling, domineering, attitude? Someone who wanted to put Him in what they thought was His place in their home? How did He cope with Martha's angry, public, outburst?

In proverbs it says "A gentle answer turns away wrath." Jesus "poured forth" to Martha and pinpointed Martha’s problem in a manner that all could see He loved her too. Mary's name means beloved, but she wasn’t the only "beloved". Jesus did care, and his manner was gentle. "Martha, Martha".  He didn’t come under her control but affirmed Mary's choice as the one from God, which would not be taken away from her.

Sitting at Jesus feet means more than gazing at Him, or listening to Him. It means being with Him where He is in order to learn His ways and be like Him. We will never be satisfied substituting servive for relationship with Jesus.


Abraham Cohen, ed. Everyman's Talmud (New York: Schocken Books, 1887-1957). P.457.
David L. Jeffrey, ed. A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992). P.485.

Shmuel Safrai, The Jewish People in the First Century (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976) 958-69.Aboth1:4 in  Herbert Danby, The Mishnah, trans. Herbert Danby, Third Softcover ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing LLC, 2015)., p.446


References in brackets come from the Bible.