Teaching and What the Old Testament Says About It – Doctrinal Study

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

– Romans 12:7

Recently in our Thoughts from Scripture daily devotional we have been studying spiritual gifts. We are told that spiritual gifts are given to EVERY Born-Again Believer (1 Corinthians 12:7,11; 1 Peter 4:10). Today we present a Doctrinal Study on teaching, one of the spiritual gifts. Where preaching is concerned with proclaiming truth, teaching is concerned with imparting truth (see Spiritual Gifts – Part 5). You can’t preach a congregation. You can preach TRUTH to a congregation, but you can’t preach a congregation. You can, however, teach a congregation. Teaching focuses on causing the LISTENER to learn. This is the idea behind the Hebrew words translated “teach” in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament uses SEVEN words to highlight different aspects teaching. Hebrew differs from English in a lot of ways. [Warning. . . it gets just slightly technical for just a little bit.] One special way Hebrew differs is in the use of verb patterns. In Hebrew, a verb usually consists of 3 consonants (non-vowels). You can then add on different vowels and consonants to produce different verb patterns which change the meaning of the word. For instance, one Hebrew word, zachar, means to remember. However, you can change the verb pattern to produce a word meaning commemorated. In this case, the word signifies that the object is CAUSED to BE IN A STATE of remembrance. You can change the verb pattern another way to make the word mean reminded. In this case, someone is CAUSED to remember. Don’t worry about the technicalities, though I believe this will help us to understand the Hebrew words behind the word, teach. In EVERY one of these words, the idea is that the teacher CAUSES the listener to do something. Let’s first take a look at the most used root word behind the word teach“lamad.”

“Lamad” – למד

“Lamad” means to learn. However, there is in this word the idea of correction. The Hebrew letter, “Lamed,” comes from the same word and has been traditionally accepted to be the shape of an ox goad. The ox LEARNS to stay straight through the use of a goad. The farmer would use a sharp stick to prick the ox when he got off the desired way. This type of learning is not fun. It takes time, effort, and correction to LEARN. Learning can be painful. Learning can go against your desires. Would you like to memorize a whole book of the Bible? It’s not just an easy walk in the park. It takes time and dedication. Do you want to learn Bible doctrine? It takes effort! Now, by changing the verb pattern, we come up with a word which means to CAUSE to learn – i.e. to teach. In Deuteronomy 4:1 the Lord proclaims “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them . . .” God did His part in TEACHING. It then took EFFORT on the part of the Israelite to listen intently and actively to the reading of the Law. It required giving up their old desires. It required energy and initiative to obey it.

Let’s now look at the teacher in the church. The teacher causes the listeners to learn. Now, PAY ATTENTION to this. Many church-goers come to Sunday School expecting to be passive listeners, apathetically sitting there warming up a seat. The teaching ministry of a church is SUCH an important part! Every person in Sunday School should listen actively and intently to the teacher. The student is to do whatever it takes to absorb the lesson and meditate upon its truth throughout the week. It might even be painful. It’s very possible that if it’s not causing you pain, you may just not be putting forth enough effort in learning. The teacher is not there to tickle ears but to instruct in truth. Truth hurts.

“Yarah” – ירה

I love this word! “Yarah” means something seemingly unrelated – to throw, cast, or shoot. In Exodus 15:4 we read, “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea . . .” The word “cast” is our word, “yarah.” It’s been translated many times to signify the shooting of arrows. Jonathan uses the word in 1 Samuel 20:20 to explain his plan to protect David from Saul, “And I will shoot arrows on the side thereof . . .” When the messenger came to inform David of Uriah’s death and the siege of Rabbah, the messenger explained, “And the shooters shot from off the wall . . .” (2 Samuel 11:24).

What has this got to do with teaching?! Well we can change the verb pattern to make a word which means to cause to be shot – translated teach, instruct, or direct. What’s the ONE similarity in causing a rock to be thrown, a net to be cast, and an arrow to be shot? The aim. You point out the direction you want the arrow to go, and THEN you shoot. To cause an arrow to be shot is to aim or direct. When we see this word used in the Bible for teaching, teaching refers to directing the right way from the wrong. The teacher points out which way the student should go. The teacher also points out which things to stay away from. This word is also the word from which we get the Hebrew word, “Torah” – the Law. God gave the Law to direct the Israelites IN the good way and AWAY from the bad way. The Psalmist says in Psalm 27:11, Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path . . .” The Psalmist pleads before the Lord to be taught which way is right and which is wrong. He wants to be directed in a clear and plain path. When Jacob made the journey to Egypt at Joseph’s invitation, Jacob sent Judah ahead to Joseph “to direct his face to Goshen.” The result was that Jacob was taught where Goshen was.

We see in the use of this word that teaching involves direction. The teacher in the church directs the listeners IN the good way and AWAY from the bad way. Just as an archer would point his arrow at the target, the teacher POINTS out truth and error. We NEED teachers in the church to point out error and direct to truth!

“Yada” – ידע

Most of the time “yada” is translated “to know.” The focus of this word is on WHAT is being known. This word is used to signify when someone is very familiar with the in’s and out’s of a subject. It’s said of Esau that he “was a cunning hunter . . .” (Genesis 25:27) Our word “yada” is here used to give the idea that Esau knew his stuff when it came to hunting. He didn’t just know facts about hunting, he was a professional in his knowledge – experiential knowledge. What’s interesting is if you remove the last letter of the word, you would have “yad” which means “hand.” The knowledge “yada” signifies is an in-depth, experiential, hands-on type of knowledge.

A teacher causes the student to know. When we see this use of the word, the emphasis is on causing the student to experientially know the in’s and out’s of the subject. The psalmist says in Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” The psalmist wants the Lord to cause him to experientially know and deeply understand how fleeting life is. He wants the Lord to cause him to TRULY understand that we must use what time we have to gain spiritual wisdom.

This is the job of a teacher in the church. The teacher is not there to give shallow lectures but deep, insightful lessons rich with truth. The student is to absorb and meditate upon this truth to gain a deep, experiential knowledge. It’s one thing to know facts about Scripture. It’s another thing to EXPERIENCE Scripture. Has God’s Word ever come ALIVE to you? Have you ever gotten lost in the deepness, richness, and vastness of God’s Living Word?

“Zahar” – זהר

This word means to shine or be bright. “Zahar” is used Daniel 12:3 to describe the state of the wise after the great tribulation – “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

When we change the verb pattern to indicate that someone is causing something to shine, we obtain a word that is usually translated, “to warn”. When explaining some of the responsibilities that God gave to Ezekiel as a preacher in Ezekiel 3:19, God says, “Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” Ezekiel was to WARN the wicked of their wickedness. In other words, Ezekiel was to put a spotlight on their wickedness. Ezekiel needed to make sure their wicked ways STOOD OUT. Ezekiel CAUSED their wickedness to SHINE in the sense of exposing and making clear. This is how the word is mostly used in the Bible. However, there is one time it is translated “teach.” This occurs in Exodus 18:20 when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, advises him on how to govern and judge the Israelites – “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” Jethro didn’t use the word “lamad” to emphasize correction, nor did he use the word “yarah” to emphasize direction. He didn’t use the word “yada” to indicate deep learning. He uses this word, “zarah,” to emphasize the need to WARN the Israelites of the ordinances and laws. Jethro knew very well the consequences of violating the Law of God. The Israelites needed a TEACHER to WARN. They needed someone who would cause the ordinances and laws of God to STAND OUT, SHINE, and BE BRIGHT to them. They needed someone to POINT OUT the consequences of violating the Law of God.

This is one of the jobs of a teacher in the church. They are to WARN. They are to put a spotlight on the Truth of God’s Word and the dangers of rejecting the Truth. They are to EXPOSE sin. When you attend Sunday School, expect to have your own sin exposed. The fact is that the Word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). A Biblical teacher bases his lesson on the BIBLE! Be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to use the teacher to point out where you are failing. During the lesson, be sensitive to the searching, discerning work of the Holy Spirit as He exposes sin.

Shanan” – שנן

“Shanan” means to be sharp. In Psalm 45:5 the psalmist uses the word to describe the Lord’s arrows against the king’s enemies – “Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.” In Psalm 140:3 David uses the word to describe the tongues of the evil men – “They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent . . .”

There is one time in Scripture when we find this word changed to imply someone is causing something to be sharp. This is found in Deuteronomy 6:7 – “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” This verse is part of the Shema – the most central, fundamental, and important prayer of the Jew. The words, “teach diligently,” come from our word, “shanan.” To teach diligently is to cause to be sharp. This type of teaching required repetition and devotion. The Israelite man was to talk of the Law when he sat in his house, when he walked outside, when he went to bed, and when he got up out of the bed. His children would hear the father drill into their heads the words of the Law. The children would hear them over and over and over. Their minds would be sharpened in their knowledge of the Law of the Lord. This is a great reminder of the responsibilities parents have in training their children in Biblical knowledge. Parent, how much Scripture have you taught your children? How much Scripture do they hear? What do they hear when you get them ready ready for school? What do they hear when you drive them to church? Do they hear Spiritual things? Teach the Bible diligently to your children! This requires time, devotion, and repetition! Sharpen your kids with Scripture!

The Biblical teacher sharpens the students in the same way! Teacher, cause your students to be SHARP in the Word! Drill the Bible into their heads! Saturate your lesson with the Word! Let the lesson overflow with Biblical Truth! Student, let the Lord use the lesson to chip away at carnality and refine your heart. The Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword. Be sharpened!

“Alaph” – אלף

This is word means “to become familiar with, to cleave to.” There is also in this word the idea of association. In other words, “alaph” is used to indicate that someone becomes so familiar with something that he begins to associate with it. This is a very intense form of knowledge. We saw earlier a similar idea in the word, “yada”. Where “yada” refers to in-depth knowledge, this word refers to associative knowledge. A term we use in our everyday language which has a similar idea is “rubbed-off on.” In Proverbs 22:24-25, we read “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.” If you make friendship with an angry man, you will learn his ways in an associative way. You will spend more time around him and his ways will rub off on you. You didn’t just sit down and let the angry man outline for you on a chalkboard the many aspects of his ways. You made friends with him, spent time around him, and learned his ways associatively.

A teacher causes the student to learn associatively. Elihu is the only person in the Bible to use the word in this way. He uses it in Job 33:33 and Job 35:11. In Job 33:32-33 we read, “If thou hast any thing to say, answer me: speak, for I desire to justify thee. If not, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I shall teach thee wisdom.” Elihu actually had some pretty wise words to say. Elihu told Job to hold his peace, and he would teach him wisdom. The idea Elihu was emphasizing was that if Job would be quiet and listen to his words, Elihu’s wisdom would rub off on Job. Elihu was indeed wise beyond the years of Job’s three friends. He wisely rebukes Job’s attitude of self-righteousness in Job 33:8-12. He also wisely rebukes Job’s friends’ view of suffering. Elihu argues that suffering is one of the ways God speaks to people (Job 33:14-19). In Job 36:7-12 Elihu argues that suffering is God’s way of refining the righteous. Not only did Elihu have this spiritual wisdom, He wisely waits for the others to say their words before he spoke up. It would do us good to get around wise people! Too many Born-Again Believers are too close to the wrong people. Get around the right people, and you will associatively learn the right things.

A Biblical teacher causes a student to learn the Bible associatively. A Biblical teacher strives to cause the student to cling to the Word. When the lesson is immersed in Bible truth accompanied with the teacher’s burning desire for the lesson to be meaningful to the student, Biblical truth can rub off on the student. Biblical teachers should pray their students cling to the Word. The Biblical teacher desires to see Christ in his students. When you listen to a Bible teacher, does Biblical truth rub off on you? Or are you covered up so much in the carnal dust of the world that Biblical truth doesn’t seem to affect you much? “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well . . .(Isaiah 1:16-17a).

“Hacham” – חכם

One last word – “hacham.” This word is mostly translated as “wise” or “be wise.” This word is used a lot in the book of Proverbs, the theme of which is wisdom. We see the word in Proverbs 6:6 – “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” It’s also used in Proverbs 8:33 – “Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.” There are three types of wisdom found in the Bible – worldly (1 Corinthians 3:19), earthly or fleshly (2 Corinthians 1:12), and spiritual wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:7). Proverbs has much to say about earthly and spiritual wisdom. Earthly wisdom is not necessarily a bad thing. Earthly wisdom helps us to know things like how to use our money wisely and treat people with respect. Anybody can have earthly wisdom. Spiritual wisdom on the other hand can only be possessed by someone Born-Again. This is akin to having the mind of Christ (see Who Hath Known the Mind of the Lord? – Parts 1 and 2).

A teacher can CAUSE someone to be wise. In Psalm 105:20-22 the psalmist rehearses the story of Joseph to magnify God’s gracious plan for Israel. “The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: to bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.” Notice who Joseph taught – the senators. The English word, “senate,” actually comes from a Latin word meaning “old man.” A Roman senate was a group of counsellors – usually older men. The Hebrew word behind the word “senators” also has the idea of older counsellors. Joseph caused older “wise” men to be truly wise. Joseph taught them.

A Biblical teacher desires the student to grow in wisdom. It’s discouraging to a teacher to see his students stagnating in their spiritual growth. The teacher is one who causes to be wise. In order for one to cause to be wise, he must be wise himself. This is a high obligation. Student, when you sit under Biblical teaching, seek out wisdom – spiritual wisdom. Let this time of learning be an enriching spiritual experience. Put on the mind of Christ!

Summary: Applications for the Biblical Teacher

  • Lamad : to correct and instruct; to drill; to prick
    • Learning is difficult, not necessarily enjoyable. Make sure the lesson is rigorous and challenging.
  • Yarah : to point out and aim; to direct
    • Make a distinction between the right and the wrong ways. Guide your student in the right direction.
  • Yada : to cause the student to have an experiential, hands-on, in-depth knowledge
    • Make sure your lessons are filled with Biblical truth. Make the lesson enriching and fulfilling.
  • Zahar : to warn; to cause to stand out; to cause to be bright
    • The student needs to be warned of sin and the consequences of sin. Put a spotlight on what the Bible says about sin. Highlight the practical takeaways of the lesson.
  • Shanan : to make sharp; to teach diligently, rigorously, or repetitively
    • Make sure the lesson is filled with ways for the student to soak up Biblical truth. Saturate the lesson with Biblical truth. Encourage the student to make use of the lesson in everyday life. Encourage Scripture memory and meditation. Encourage the students to make the Bible the foundation for their lives.
  • Alaph : to teach associatively; to cause the student to cling to or associate with
    • Cause the Bible to rub off on the student. Your goal is to see Christ in your students. You can have a small part in that!
  • Hacham : to make wise
    • Desire to see your students grow in spiritual wisdom. It takes growing in spiritual wisdom on your part as well. Put on the mind of Christ!


Isn’t it amazing what the Old Testament has got to say about the Biblical teacher?! The role of a teacher is a HIGH CALLING! It’s not something to be taken lightly! On the physical side of things, it takes time, energy, dedication, study, and focus. On the spiritual side it takes love, wisdom, experience, and a genuine burden. Preachers, the role of a teacher many times falls upon YOU. Remember that although Jesus spent much of His time preaching, He quite possibly spent just as much if not more time teaching. There is a dire need for truth to be PROCLAIMED, but there is also a dire need for Born-Again Believers to be nurtured through teaching. Teachers, do your students see Christ in you? Paul said “not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Students (which in the context of a church is EVERYBODY!), God has in His infinite, gracious wisdom placed teachers in our churches for our edification. Thank the Lord for the teachers He has placed in your life.

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