How big is your family
How Big Is Your Family?
The concept of family appears repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. In fact, I found more than 45 synonyms used to describe clans, groups, households, tribes, etc. Two Hebrew words, however, were primarily used for family: “Mishpachah" and "Bayith".
"Mishpachah" is defined in the Holman Bible Dictionary as a larger patriarchal clan including those related by blood or marriage, as well as slaves, animals, and strangers or sojourners. Notice how broad this category is and how vastly it differs from the way many people think of family (typically a “nuclear family” with two parents plus kids). While we don't use the word “clan” as much any more, it is perhaps a better translation. We are talking here about most of the extended family, servants, animals, and family friends.
The other primary word used for family, "Bayith" is defined in the same dictionary as a place of residence or household; those closely involved, living together and sharing property, with dependence on each other. The oldest male was viewed as the father/master and authority over this group. This is a smaller unit than is talked about with the word "Mishpachah". This would be closer to what we think of as the immediate family today because it included everyone who would actually live together and share their daily life. However, at that time this definition would still have included a much larger network of people who lived and worked together as a unit (for example, extended family members and servants who often lived with the family). So, in the Old Testament you might have your bayith clan, which was then part of a larger mishpachah clan. Clans would belong to tribes, and tribes made up a nation.
In future posts we may look at how family size has declined over the years and the factors that contributed to it, as well as what we should (and shouldn’t) take away from the examples of family life we see in Scripture. Understanding family is important not only to our personal lives but also to the church since the New Testament often uses the concept of family to describe the relationships within the Body of Christ. (Matthew 12:49-50, Eph. 1:5, 1 Cor. 12:12-26)
For now, how might these different terms for family give us a framework for how we think about our church family? Who makes up your “spiritual bayith”--your sphere of doing-life-together Christians? Are you a loner or do you share in each other’s lives by visiting each other's homes, helping each other in practical ways, keeping in touch by phone or email, or even (gasp) handwritten letters? When you use technology like Facebook, is it to share and help one another in daily life or is it just an info gathering, curiosity sparking, and gossip enabling tool? As for our “spiritual mishpachah,” how can we practically serve brothers and sisters who are farther away but still part of the bigger clan (i.e. the body of Christ)?