At one time, the human population’s survivability rested on its general fitness level. Hunters had to have a healthy cardiovascular system to catch their prey. Farmers needed the endurance and strength to till the ground, making the landscape suitable for growing crops. Nomadic tribes needed strong durable legs to walk miles at a time, and still have the energy to set up camp when they got to their destination.
As technology progressed, our lives became easier and with that ease, we adopted a sedentary lifestyle. We sit when we work (not all jobs but a fair amount), when we eat, watch tv, read books, play games, driving, etc. No longer are we forced to be fit to survive.
Because being fit is no longer essential for living, people have viewed exercising as optional. A hobby that some people take up. But being physically active is necessary for living a healthy life. I know many older people who work out regularly and have great mobility. They also take way less medication than their counterparts.
Keeping fit spiritually is important, and any serious follower of Messiah will stay refined. But what about maintaining a healthy body through regular exercise? I believe, for the most part, that the body of Messiah is lacking in this area. As our bodies have become the dwelling place for the Set-Apart Spirit, we should take care to have a beautiful temple. This does not mean we must be star athletes, but being morbidly obese cannot be what the Father wants for us.
“Or do you not know that your body is the Dwelling Place of the Set-apart Spirit who is in you, which you have from Elohim, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price, therefore esteem Elohim in your body and in your spirit, which are of Elohim.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
While the Bible may not directly state or overemphasize the importance of fitness, there are several examples of people being physically strong or capable.
Tanak Examples of Fitness
Noah Builds the Ark:
“Make yourself an ark of gopherwood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with a covering.” (Genesis 6:14)
“And He commanded Noah to make him an ark, that he might save himself from the waters of the flood. And Noah made the ark in all respects as He commanded him, in the twenty-seventh jubilee of years (year 1307), in the fifth week in the fifth year (on the new moon of the first month)” (Jubilees 5:22)
Building such a large vessel takes some serious strength and endurance, and while he did have some help and it took time. That does not take away from his physical conditioning being top-notch.
Jacob Wrestles the Messenger:
“And Ya‛aqoḇ (Jacob) was left alone. And a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. And when He saw that He did not overcome him, He touched the socket of his hip. And the socket of Ya‛aqoḇ’s hip was dislocated as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I am not letting You go until You have blessed me!” So He asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Ya‛aqoḇ (Jacob).” And He said, “Your name is no longer called Ya‛aqoḇ (Jacob), but Yisra’ĕl (Israel), because you have striven with Elohim and with men, and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:24-28)
Wrestling, let alone for long periods at a time, is very taxing and utilizes the entire body. If Jacob was not physically fit, he would not have been able to contend with the Messenger of Elohim.
David’s Mighty Men:
“These are the names of the mighty men whom Dawiḏ (David) had: Yoshĕḇ-Bassheḇeth the Taḥkemonite, chief among the officers, he was Aḏino the Etsnite (Eznite), for eight hundred slain at one time. And after him was El‛azar son of Doḏo, the Aḥoḥite, one of the three mighty men with Dawiḏ (David) when they taunted the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Yisra’ĕl (Israel) had gone up. He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary, but his hand clung to the sword, so יהוה brought about a great deliverance that day. And the people returned after him only to plunder. And after him was Shammah son of Aḡĕ the Hararite. And the Philistines had gathered into a company where there was a plot of ground covered with lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the middle of the field, and delivered it, and struck the Philistines, and יהוה wrought a great deliverance.” (2 Samuel 23:8-12)
These three warriors not only possessed a mastery over the art of combat but had to have the physical capabilities to do all that they did. Of course, they were blessed by Yah, but that does not mean they didn’t have to put the work in. A farmer may be blessed by Elohim but the farmer still had to till the ground and plant the crops.
This can be said for any soldier mentioned in the bible, or anytime the Hebrews had to travel long distances. To put into perspective the kind of endurance and strength that is required to be nomadic, get a hiking backpack, fill it up until it weighs 20-40lbs, and then walk 12 miles. Our ancestors maintained a good level of fitness and those same sentiments carried over into the writings of the apostles.
haBrit haHadasha (Messianic Writings/ New Testament) Examples of Fitness
“Do you not know that those who run in a race indeed all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to obtain it. And everyone who competes controls himself in every way. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we for an incorruptible crown. Therefore I run accordingly, not with uncertainty. Thus I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I treat my body severely and make it my slave, lest having proclaimed to others, I myself might be rejected.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
While this is not a literal example, the fact that Paul uses athletes to represent how we should live following Elohim’s will is significant. Furthermore, it would be difficult to understand the level of discipline necessary to run a race or fight, without having some level of experience competing. I’ve done both, I’ve run mud runs, half-marathons, one marathon, and competed in martial arts tournaments. I know the overwhelming sensation of wanting to win, not to prove that I’m better than the others but to prove to myself that I could endure till the end. Having a firsthand account, I’m able to appreciate and understand what Paul is saying in its entirety. So too can all those who have competed, with the hours of training and studying to enhance your abilities. It’s the same mindset I bring to following Yeshua Messiah, studying the word daily, researching, applying, spreading the good news, etc.
Being self-disciplined enough to put your body through uncomfortable situations, such as exercising, can translate to having a more resolute stance in the faith. It also signals to others that those who follow Messiah are healthy. Once again, I’m not saying we all need to be star athletes but maintaining proper nutrition and exercise is something we all could use. Continue to test all things, and may the Ruach lead you into all truth.
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