It’s a terrible truth that we – even dedicated believers – often painfully underestimate the power contained within the Scriptures. I will honestly say that there are portions of the Bible that, at times, feel to some as though they drag-on. This is our problem though, not some issue with the Word itself; we often desire to be entertained or provoked, and in the long passages of genealogical information and the like, some people find themselves slipping into disinterest. That’s not to say that this material isn’t valuable! Never make the mistake of ever considering anything in the Scriptures as useless or fluffy or just bulk material; every single word, every single phrase, every name and number has it place and purpose and is there because the Lord directed it to be. What’s really profound is when we take the time to dig into these places – indeed the Word as a whole – and see that there is so much more than just the obvious words on the page before us…
In our modern way of approaching the words of Scripture, we often miss out on some critical and powerful additional insights. If we just read the words on the page as we would any other literary work, we seriously underestimate what’s before us. You see, the ancient way the Hebrews interpreted the Scriptures – not just the Old Testament but the New Testament also – was through an understanding that they, being divinely inspired, were more than just words on a page. They understood that to fully appreciate them, there must be an interpretation that took into account several levels of application. To guide them through these levels of application, they used the word “PARDES.”
The core of the Hebrew word Pardes, you see, is composed of four letters – P. R. D. S. – and each of these stand for another word:
The way these four words come together may just change the way you view Scripture. These words represent a descent into something deeper and more profound than just the obvious letters on the page, and the implications they present are often staggering.
Beginning with the uppermost layer of interpretation, we have the P’shat. This is the simple or literal meaning of the text. Now, don’t misunderstand what I mean by calling it “simple or literal,” for though it is the most obvious layer of the text, it can and does contain many, many forms of rhetorical devices including allegory, idioms, hyperbole, and the like. So, in that way, it is the most obvious of the layers, being on the surface, and it presents us with the basic message of the Scripture. As the Rabbis saw it, the P’shat can never be changed or discarded because in doing so we would lose our ability to accurately understand and appreciate the message of the Word. If the literal understanding of Scripture is abandoned, then we are left to be tossed adrift amongst restless waves of subjectivity and idle speculation! The P’shat is critical to our overall understanding of God’s Word.
The next layer of Hebraic understanding is the Remez. The Remez is a hint of something deeper in the text. While the P’shat gives us the direct meaning of a verse or passage, the Remez goes deeper, finding application on a broader level. The book of Proverbs provides a number of verses that lend themselves to the identification of the Remez. For instance, Proverbs 20:10 tells us:
“Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.”
The obvious, or P’shat, message is clear that God finds dishonesty in business abominable, but as for the Remez, could the message go further, calling our attention to God’s disdain for dishonesty in the life of all? The Remez, as the Rabbis saw it, was just like this, a clue to some deeper message that God was subtly delivering to us.
The next layer is the D’rash, which means “concept.” Most churchgoers are familiar with this notion even if they don’t recognize the Hebrew. In effect, the D’rash is the practical or homiletic application of what has been revealed through the P’shat and or the Remez. It is the way in which the message of the Scripture – obvious or otherwise – comes into effect in our own lives, how it can be applied to us as individuals. In other words, its very much in this way like what one would find in a given sermon: an application of the text for our personal reference.
Finally, and perhaps most tantalizing of all, is the Sod. The word “Sod” translates to “hidden,” and it certainly lives up to its name, for this last and murkiest of the layers of Hebraic interpretation presents us with the mystical meaning of a given passage. In many cases the Sod can be controversial given the mystery that surrounds it, but when the pieces are laid out and a deeper, hidden light begins to shine, it can be an extremely gratifying and energizing moment for those who take the time to seek them out and the truths revealed by them.
So there you have it, the mysterious Rabbinical layers of Scriptural understanding. As they went through these in analyzing the text, they remembered them through that word I noted earlier: PARDES.
Pardes means “garden,” or even “paradise,” and it was a fitting way to remember the various levels of interpretation because, for the Rabbis, the idea of being deeply immersed in God’s Word, understanding it in the multifaceted way it meant to be appreciated, was like being back in Eden, walking with the Lord through His Garden paradise.
Isn’t that fascinating? I bet you’ll look at the Scriptures in a whole new light now…
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