Truly I tell you that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and has no doubt in his heart but believes that it will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.Mark 11:23-24
These verses have been used in many ways over the years, most notably by the “name it and claim it” mindset prevalent in some of the various strains of Christianity. Within those groups, it is common to understand the meaning of this passage as being used as a measure of someone’s faith to serve their own greed. If one simply believes enough, they can have anything they desire.
However, in a 19th-century commentary on this passage from John Lightfoot, we find an interesting reference from the Talmudic literature of the Jews that may help to explain this unusual term:
The Jews used to set out those teachers among them, that were more eminent for the profoundness of their learning, or the splendor of their virtues, by such expressions as this: הוים ﬠוקר הוא He is a rooter up of (or a remover) of mountains. “Rabbah Joseph is Sinai and Rabbah is a rooter up of mountains.” The gloss [or the interpretation is]: “They called Rabbah Joseph Sinai, because he was very skillful in clearing difficulties; and Rabbah Bar Nachmani, A rooter up of mountains, because he had a piercing judgment.”John Lightfoot. Commentary on the New Testament From The Talmud and Hebraica. Hendrickson Publishing. 1989. p. 283.
A modern commentary expands on this idea.
The Jews used to call their greatest teachers by the expression ‘removers of mountains.’ They would say for example that there was not in their days such a ‘rooter up of mountains’ as this teacher. He was so skilled that he could root up mountains. The expression was used to highlight the fact that the teacher had a profound insight into weighty or mountainous problems. Nobody could deal with those difficult problems. But this man could handle them. He was able to move these mountains as though they were small things.Yves I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A., You will say to this mountain – Mt 17(14-21) (meetingwithchrist.com)
We all had this kind of experience. One day, you wrestle with a particular issue, and it feels like you are facing a big mountain because you don’t know how to handle it. You just can’t move it out of your way. Every time you think about it, you find that you can’t cope with it. And then, you meet a very wise person. He understands your problem. He is able to help you. As he guides you, the problem you thought was so difficult suddenly becomes manageable. The obstacle, the mountain, has been removed.
Rabbi Rabbah bar Nachmani was a person like that. He was called ‘a rooter up of mountains’ in the Talmud ‘because he was exceedingly acute in subtle disputations.’ He had piercing judgment. The problems that people found insurmountable, this great rabbi could see right through it.
So this expression was applied to people who had deep spiritual insight.
While the term may apply to those who have great spiritual insight and discernment, we need to keep the meaning of this metaphor within its proper context. Yeshua bases this whole notion of having great spiritual insight on a key principle: “Have faith in God,” (Mark 11:22).
As we review the language in that statement a little more closely, we see that it also carries several shades of meaning, as represented in various English translations:
- Have faith from God
- Have the faith of God
- May the faith of God be in you
The qualifier is not stated in the Greek; typically when God is identified, the phrase is ho theos (the God). But when the qualifier ho is not there, as it is in this passage, it can also mean something along the lines of “godly faith” (the faith of God or from God) which some of these other versions bring out.
Having godly faith, even as small as a mustard seed, can provide a path through even the most difficult of problems. A godly faith is one that trusts that God ultimately has all things under his control, and that there will be a way through whatever challenge may be facing us.
Yeshua completes the thought by saying, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” (Mark 11:24). This isn’t a magic charm of faith to say that if we believe strongly enough, we can have whatever we want. Instead, armed with the metaphor of being “rooters of mountains,” believers always have the opportunity to trust God in finding a way through whatever barriers they may face. By committing all of our difficulties to God in prayer, we need to trust he has already provided the answers we need; we just need to open our spiritual understanding as “rooters of mountains” to see them.
The godly faith is one that trusts God for all things: our food, our drink, our clothing, as well as insights for a way through any challenges we may face. If this is the case, then what more can a person possibly need in this life that God has not already provided for us as believers?
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