In his Bible study series called In the Dust of the Rabbi, Ray Vander Laan popularized the idea that if a disciple wants to be a close follower of his rabbi, he needs to be close enough to get the rabbi’s dust on him. He must sit in the dust of the rabbi’s feet and keep up as the rabbi as he travels from town to town teaching. We see a picture of this in the Gospels as Jesus called His disciples to literally follow in His steps. Jesus and the disciples traveled from home to home and town to town, teaching God’s Word. Supposedly, Vander Laan heard this saying about “being covered in the dust of the rabbi” while enrolled at a Jewish university. The saying comes from the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish writings composed around A.D. 200 that in many ways gives us insight into the religious culture during the days of Jesus. This “dusty” saying is found in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), a tractate containing short sayings on ethics and wisdom. Avot 1:4 reads,
Yose ben Yoezer (a man) of Zeredah and Yose ben Yohanan (a man) of Jerusalem received [the oral tradition] from them [i.e. Shimon the Righteous and Antigonus]. Yose ben Yoezer used to say: let thy house be a house of meeting for the Sages and sit in the very dust of their feet, and drink in their words with thirst.1 [emphasis mine]
You may recognize in these verses, the oral tradition that we also called the Oral Law in our sermon a few weeks ago (Come & Rest). It refers to the traditions and cultural codes passed on orally through repetitious learning (the “613 Fence” is mentioned in Avot 1:1; “a fence around the Torah”). A “sage” (older, wiser teacher of the Law) would sit on low pillows or short chairs while disciples would sit at their feet in the dust, humbly repeating and memorizing their teaching.2 To “sit at the feet of” became an idiom for learning from a rabbi.3 Paul said in Acts 22:3 that he trained “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Young’s Literal Translation). However, not all the teaching was wise. We might recall Jesus rebuking the religious leaders and “sages” for the Oral Law that went beyond the God’s Law, which ultimately led to the crucifixion in their jealousy of Him. In Avot 1:5, one verse later, the “sage” advice is to not engage in too much conversation with women, including your wife, because it takes away from the study of Torah and in the end you will inherit gehinnom! Gehinnom is derived from the Hebrew ge Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom. It was the burning refuse heap and bone pit for child sacrifices on the southern side of Jerusalem. Jesus used Gehenna as a reference for hell (2 Ch 28:3; Jer 7:31; Matt 10:28; Mk 9:47). I’m not sure that my wife would see that as sage advice! You might want to avoid that marriage counselor!
In Luke 10:39, Jesus was welcomed into the home of Martha, who had a sister named Mary. While Jesus was teaching, Martha was busy and distracted with all her preparations. Mary, however, is,
seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.
When Martha gets upset with Mary’s lack of assistance, she tells Jesus to make her help! Jesus calmly replied,
Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
What about you? Does your life look more like Mary or Martha right now? Have you chosen the good part? Are you still taking time to sit at the feet of the Rabbi and learn His ways? Are you still thirsty for the His teaching? Still following Him closely and getting powdered with His dust? In this busy and distracting world with many unbiblical and temporal cultural teachings being passed around, we must make sure that we are still sitting at His feet and learning how to become like Him. Jesus had a busy life too! He ministered to people from sunup to sundown on occasion. However, He always made time to spend time alone with the Father as an example for us, even while busy. One man said, “It’s okay to have a busy life. It’s not okay to have a busy soul.” Maybe you need to be reminded of the words of Jesus today that when we take time in His Word and in prayer we are choosing the good part. Encouraging you to reconnect with God this summer,
2 Lois Tverberg, Ann Spangler, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 18.
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