I pray that you are blessed and encouraged in your walk with Christ as you work through these lessons and read the insightful comments made by other ministers doing the course. That your love for Christ Jesus will deepen and your commitment strengthen. That your faith will prove genuine and endure to the end with joy unspeakable and full of glory, as we receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
Each lesson is linked below, to make it easier to work through the whole course…
This course is focused on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach. We begin by developing an understanding of the world He was born into, and how it had been shaped in preparation for His coming – looking at the developments in Judaism from the Babylonian exile until the rule of Rome, and how the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophesies elicited strong expectations of Messiah’s coming.
In SECTION 2 we take an in-depth look at Yeshua’s life in the context of this culture which we have seen develop in the centuries leading up to His birth. As language is an essential part of culture, names in this course are often written in their original Hebrew (along with the English translations that most of us are more familiar with).
Yeshua finished this sermon, up on a mountain near Capernaum, with some memorable sayings to teach the people the difference between godly discernment and unrighteous judgment of others. All prejudices are based in unrighteous judgment. Pre-judging others on the basis of their colour or race, tribe, gender, social status, height, weight, disability, wealth, education, literacy, age, health, language, nationality, or any other worldly attribute is an unrighteous judgment. In response to all these Yeshua taught: “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged” and “treat people the same way you want them to treat you,” Matthew 7:1 & 12 NASB. None of us wants to be pre-judged on the basis of what someone thinks “all those people” are like. Those of us who are seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness value conviction and correction of anything in our lives that is not of Christ.
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you. Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!” Matthew 7:1-5
“Don’t judge” was written in the Negated Greek Present Imperative tense, meaning this action must be stopped if it is already underway and constantly avoided, continually resisted. We are to keep resisting the temptation to wrongly judge others or to try to divert attention from our sins by focusing on those of others.
Notice that in denouncing judgment of others Yeshua was not advocating blindly accepting everything others say or do. He was not advocating a permissiveness that accepts every sin as though it were righteousness and every evil as though it were goodness. Rather, He was commanding us to clean up our own act first, seek His righteousness in our own lives first, before helping others deal with their sin. Too often people try to hide their own sins behind condemnation of others, thinking they can make themselves look more righteousness by drawing attention to the sins of others and demanding such be punished harshly and eradicated. “Moral crusaders” who highlight other’s faults, demanding harsh punishments for such, while refusing to acknowledge or deal with their own sins find themselves coming under the judgment of these verses. Yeshua here issued a just reproof to those who condemn small faults in others while ignoring greater faults in themselves.
In this illustration, Yeshua used the language of a carpenter.
A “log” (i.e. dokos, δοκός) is a beam of timber, a plank of wood such as is used in a weight-bearing capacity in construction. It is large and thick and unyielding.
Notice how Yeshua described a ‘small’ fault – as a splinter in the eye. While not as totally blinding and dangerous to others as having a huge log in our eye (a phrase used for the hilarious memorable word picture it creates), having a splinter in the eye is still very painful and could quickly become debilitating. Splinters, as well as logs, need to be removed before we can be well, comfortable or see clearly.
One difference between a splinter and a log is that, because of its size, we can (or, at least, should be able to) see and remove the log from our own eye – it’s that massive thing protruding out from the front of our face; whereas we cannot see a little splinter in our own eye, just feel the pain of it, and need another’s assistance to remove it.
He who removes a painful splinter from his brother’s eye does him a good service, but none of us wants someone blinded by a log in their own eye trying to perform such a delicate operation on us.
We must judge ourselves, and judge our own acts, recognise any log in our own eye and remove it. We need to take the path of the beatitudes to be filled with God’s righteousness, not deceived by self-righteousness, if we are to see well enough to provide the delicate service to our brother of removing the painful splinter from his eye. Our debt of love compels us to lay aside our premature judgments, which keep agape love from flowing out of us. Blind prejudice can do nothing but maim and blind others as that hefty log swings around with every turn of the head, knocking others out and leaving a scattering of splinters imbedded in those it strikes. When we become unconditional lovers, seeing Christ’s beauty in the other and desiring only that which will benefit them and honour God, only then can we see clearly enough to remove a splinter from another’s eye and thus relieve their pain.
“Don’t give to dogs what is holy, and don’t throw your pearls to the pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, then turn and attack you.” Matthew 7:6 CJB
“Don’t give” was written in the Negated Greek Aorist Imperative tense, conveying in the original text: “Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about doing this.” Dogs, in Jewish culture at this time, were associated with violence and uncleanliness. They were not household pets, but roamed as a pack animal that scavenged anything, attacked the vulnerable and had the most disgusting habits. They liked to hang around humans for what they could scavenge from them.
Symbolically, dogs were unholy and free to partake of the unholy, even as the Jewish people were holy to God and forbidden to partake of anything unholy.
“You shall be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” Exodus 22:30
Dogs were considered synonymous with pigs in that they were both ritually unclean:
“Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening.” Leviticus 11:27
“The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.” Deuteronomy 14:8
It was totally unthinkable to a Jew to allow any dog to ever enter the holy temple courts where the sacrifices were made to God and lick up some of the blood of the sacrifice or chew on some of the sacrificial meat. Only those who were in covenant with God were allowed to partake of that which He set apart for His people.
Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about giving to dogs what is holy (ἅγιος , hágios). The core meaning of hágios is ‘different’. In the NT hágios has the technical meaning of “different from the world” because of “likeness of nature with the Lord“. In Yeshua’s time the Jewish people knew they needed to be hágios, different to all the other peoples around them through their obedience to Torah. God had commanded Aaron:
“You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean, so that you may teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given them through Moses.” Leviticus 10:10-11 BSB
Ezekiel 22 records Yahweh‘s judgment on Jerusalem as He outlines the sins of the different sectors of society. In verse 26 God charges the priests:
“Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” Ezekiel 22:26 NIV
Ezekiel 44 describes the restored priesthood and again commands them:
“They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Ezekiel 44:23 NIV
Dogs don’t discriminate. They totally fail to distinguish between what is holy and what is common. If allowed, they would lick the blood of the holy sacrifices one moment, eat some animal’s faeces the next, and then delight in chewing on a pig bone while they roll in something dead that smells disgusting. Do not ever, not even once, don’t even think about giving what is holy, separate and different from the world, to such as these who will treat it as just another worldly thing to satisfy their desires.
…and don’t throw your pearls to the pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, then turn and attack you.” Matthew 7:6b CJB
“Don’t throw“, like the previous “don’t give” was written in the Negated Greek Aorist Imperative tense, conveying in the original text: “Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about doing this.” The adages and interpretations of the rabbis were figuratively called “pearls” at this time. Other Jewish rabbis also counselled against sharing the treasures of Torah with those they considered unworthy of such. These, they defined as individuals who were not suitably trained, idolaters, Gentiles, or a generation that does not cherish the Torah:
A treasure must not be revealed to everyone, so also with the precious words of Torah. One must not go into the deeper meaning of them, except in the presence of those individuals who are suitably trained. (y.Avodah Zarah 41d)
Rabbi Ammi said, “The teachings of the Torah are not to be transmitted to an idolater, for it is said [in Psalm 147:20], “He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them.” (b.Chagigah 15a)
Rabbi Hillel used to say, “If you see a generation that does not cherish the Torah, hold in your words.”
Yeshua used very colourful and poetic language that would immediately invite a visceral response in his Jewish audience, when describing those who were not worthy of the treasures of Torah and His teachings. Of all non-kosher animals, the pig is far and away the most reviled by Jews. It’s not just because it may not be eaten: there are plenty of other animals that aren’t kosher either, but none of them arouse as much disgust as the pig. Colloquially, the pig is the ultimate symbol of loathing; when you say that someone “acted like a chazir [pig],” it suggests that they did something unusually abominable. That is because, in Jewish thought, pigs symbolize deception and hypocrisy. There are two identifiers of a kosher animal: cud-chewing and split hooves. A cow is an example of an animal that fulfils both requirements, and is thus kosher. A horse is not kosher because it fulfils neither. There is only one animal in existence that appears kosher because it has split hooves, but is really not kosher because it doesn’t chew its cud — the pig. When it lies down, the pig stretches out its split hooves as if to fraudulently say, “See, I am kosher.” Pigs are intelligent and have the outward appearance of being ceremonially clean animals, but when you carefully examine their behaviour it reveals the true nature of the animal’s inward condition – it’s digestive system is not that of an animal that chews its cud. For Judaism, nothing could be worse than making a holy façade when your inside is unclean. To Jews, pigs represent hypocrites who display pious pretentions and profess to be holy and honourable but have a hidden unholy agenda. They are the self-righteous who claim to be rich in spirit and reject God’s righteousness. Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about throwing pearls to pigs.
Next, Yeshua taught us what we need to do in order to have the discernment needed in order to be free from any planks in our own eye, skilfully remove the painful splinter from our brother’s eye, avoid giving to dogs what is holy or throwing our precious pearls to pigs. It comes from our relationship with God, we need to ask, seek and knock.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV
“Ask“, “seek“, and “knock” were all written in the Greek Present Imperative tense – they each command ongoing action that is repeated progressively and continuously to become a habitual lifestyle, a regular long-term way of acting. Ask and make it your frequent habit to keep asking. Seek and make it your frequent habit to keep seeking. Knock and make it your frequent habit to keep knocking.
“Ask” comes from the Greek word αἰτέω – aiteō – it involves asking in keeping with an existing connection. Our connection to God is through Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of the new covenant by which we are called sons of God and can refer to Him as our Father in heaven. It is a covenant in which Jesus is both our saviour and Lord, so our asking is to be under His Lordship – ie as directed by Jesus. Asking for things to satisfy our fleshly desires or sinful nature is not in keeping with the nature of our connection to God. Jesus’ promise here is not to satisfy our lusts, but to empower us to be and do all that He is calling us to. David provides us with an example of asking in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 BSB
“Seek” comes from the Greek word ζητέω – zēteō – it involves seeking by inquiring, investigating to reach a binding resolution. It focuses on the moral attitude and internal convictions driving the seeker. Seeking God’s direction in His Word so as to come to a binding resolution of what we are to do next. Seeking God that we might truly know and walk with Him, reflecting His nature and bringing honour to His name. Our motives in the seeking are continually reviewed by the Lord and the promise of finding is dependent on pure motives, an undivided heart.
But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. Psalm 14:2 ESV
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 ESV
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Proverbs 8:17 ESV
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 ESV
“Knock” comes from the Greek word κρούω – krouō – and means to strike, to knock at a door. Having sort God’s will so that we now know which door He wants us to go through, we go to that door, knock and keep on knocking until it opens for us. What Jesus opens for us no man can shut.
“I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “ Isaiah 22:22 BSB
Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia: “…See, I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut...” Revelation 3:8 BSB
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11 NIV
We can come to God as our Father in the absolute assurance that He is good and will only ever give us good gifts. Our heavenly Father gives to those who seek Him all they need to live righteously. Yeshua made this even more explicit in a later sermon recorded by Luke:
So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! Luke 11:10 BSB
As we ask, seek and knock we receive what we need from our heavenly Father. He will never give us something worthless or harmful in place of what we are asking for.
In both sermons Yeshua referred to us as being “evil” πονηρός – ponērós – in the Greek, which means burdened pressed and harassed by toils, diseased, pain-ridden, heavy labours, annoyances, hardships and perils. All these things were the consequences of the fall in Genesis 3.
“I will sharply increase your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children…. cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread... ” Genesis 3:16-19
The other meaning of πονηρός – ponērós – is second-rate or worthless. This describes our position in contrast to God who is holy and perfect and worthy of all glory, honour and praise. Yet, despite our inherent comparative worthlessness as sinful creatures, God places such great value on us as to send His holy Son to die for us.
Yeshua described the gifts we give when providing bread and fish to our children, in contrast to our pain-ridden worthless nature, as “good” ἀγαθός – agathós – in the Greek. ἀγαθός – agathós means inherently intrinsically good in its character or constitution and beneficial in its effect, bringing health and joy. It describes what originates from God in our lives, as indeed God created both grains and fish to nourish our bodies and enable a child to be healthy and grow. In asking for bread or fish the son is requesting something that is inherently good for him, and even pain-ridden human fathers who are burdened, pressed and harassed by toils and hardships will respond by giving their son this good that he needs and not something worthless like a rock or harmful like a snake. How much more so will our heavenly Father give us what we need to be nourished when we ask Him for it?
“Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 CJB
Yeshua had a way of making things simple, yet profound. The Jewish sages had complicated things, teasing out 613 “Torah mitzvot (commandments)” from the books of Moses, but Yeshua condensed it all into one: “always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” In everything, make sure that every action you undertake involves doing for others what you would like them to do for you. Just as a father gives good gifts to his son, and our heavenly Father continually lavishes good gifts on us as we habitually ask, seek and knock – so we are to continually do to all others.
The implications of this single command are so transformative for society that it has been called the “Golden Rule”. Imagine what your community would be like if everyone lived like this. Imagine what your nation would be like if all those in power and with money lived like this. Imagine what the world would be like if we all followed this one command. There would be no more wars or brutality, no more poverty or hunger, no more slavery, rape, slaughter or theft. All children would be loved and cared for, all elderly would be honoured and assisted. This is the law of the kingdom of heaven and the fulfilment of the commandments.
“Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ” Matthew 7:13-14 CJB
“Go in” – from the Greek Εἰσέλθετε – eiÎseÑrxomai – means come into, or enter into for an important purpose, it stresses the purpose (result) of the entering in. It was written in the Greek Aorist Imperative tense which commands the action to reach completion, do this immediately and decisively.
“through” – from the Greek διά – diá – meaning to go all the way through, “successfully across”. Not stopping half way, not sitting on the fence trying to be in two places at once. Go all the way through the narrow gate, total commitment to that path alone, leaving every other way behind.
“narrowgate” – from the Greek στενός – stenós – meaning narrow (from obstacles standing close about) or strait; and πύλη – pylē – which is a feminine noun in the Greek and refers to an exit door or gate with the focus on what proceeds out of it (the masculine noun pylon referring to an entrance gate – opportunity to go into something).
So, Yeshua is saying “enter in to His way through the narrow exit from where you are”. The gate that leads to life is an exit from all the ways of the world. It is a narrow exit – to get through it we have to leave everything behind. We cannot carry the things of this world through that gate, so many choose instead the wide gate that allows them to carry all their worldly longings, lusts, pride, possessions, ambitions and sins. To “always treat others as you would like them to treat you” sounds simple, but the cost to our own personal ambitions is so great that most refuse this narrow path and choose instead the popular, broad highway that allows them to carry all their fleshly desires with them.
That broad way most choose leads to “destruction” – from the Greek ἀπώλεια– apṓleia – which comes from the Greek word apollymimeaning to “cut off”. It speaks of destruction where someone is completely cut off from what could or should have been. It is not a ceasing to exist, but an existence that is cut off from all that we were created for. It focuses on what is forfeited, or lost, by the choice made. It is the total destruction, ruin and waste of a life that results from being utterly detached from our potential, completely detached from God and His purposes for our life. In trying to keep what we have, we loose everything we could be.
In this version the road the leads to life is described as “hard“, several other versions translate it as “narrow“. The Greek word θλίβω– thlibō – means to squeeze, to press together (as grapes in making wine), to crush, squash, hem in, compress, press hard upon, a compressed or narrow way; metaphorically it refers to trouble, affliction or distress. It is not the easy life that leads to the fulfilment of what God created us for, eternal life, but the narrow, pressed in, squeezed, difficult, afflicted and distressed pathway. The track to the mountaintop is not a broad highway but a difficult, steep narrow path. That is why so few choose to follow it. Yeshua urges each one of us to be among those few, for the alternative is to be totally cut off from all that we were created for.
Beware of the false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves! You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire! So you will recognize them by their fruit. Matthew 7:15-20 CJB
Having exhorted His audience to go into the kingdom of heaven through the narrow gate, Yeshua now warns against those who would suggest that the wide gate and easy, comfortable route can lead to life – false prophets. He spoke of things that they all knew well, wolves & sheep, grapes & thorn bushes, figs & thistles, and trees that bear fruit. Yeshua often explained spiritual principles using things of the natural world that His listeners could see all around them.
In verse 6 we learn to discern not to give the spiritual treasures of Christ’s deep teaching to those who are like dogs or pigs, and now we are warned not to receive teaching from those who are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, thorn bushes, thistles or trees bearing bad fruit.
“False prophets” comes from the Greek ψευδοπροφήτης – pseudoprophḗtēs – those who specializes in the art of misimpression, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, pretending to speak the word of the Lord while uttering falsehoods. A phony, an imposter, who claims to have been commissioned by God to spread their teaching and in Jesus’s name, but deceitfully declares untruths as they operate by self and for self. We will know them by their fruit, they refuse to enter by the narrow gate or walk the crushing path of treating others the way they would like to be treated.
“Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in heaven wants. On that Day, many will say to me, `Lord, Lord! Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we expel demons in your name? Didn’t we perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I will tell them to their faces, `I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!'” Matthew 7:21-23 CJB
Yeshua masterfully brings our attention back to our own state before God. Yes, we need to discern dogs and pigs so as to avoid a dishonouring of the holy and the highly valued treasures, and we need to discern false prophets so as not to be led astray by them, but we have no business judging if others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Once again we are brought back to the place of checking our own eyes for logs. Paul, as an apostle, took this warning seriously:
I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27 BSB
It is good to call Jesus “Lord”, to prophesy and cast out demons and do miracles in His name. All these things are needful, but they are not our qualification for the kingdom of heaven – that comes from a depth of relationship which is demonstrated in lives of obedience to the Father’s will, demonstrated in the practical display of God’s love that treats others as we would like them to treat us. To call Jesus “Lord” while failing to obey His word is to live a lie – regardless of how many “good” or “spiritual” things we might say or do. We do not get to enter the Kingdom of Heaven on our terms but on His. Our relationship to God is demonstrated in how we relate to others.
Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God. Those who do not love, do not know God; because God is love. … God is love; and those who remain in this love remain united with God, and God remains united with them. … If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Yes, this is the command we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother too. 1 John 4:7-8, 16b, 20-21
Again, we’re brought back to that place of recognising our own spiritual poverty and needing to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Sitting on a rock on that mountain just outside Capernaum, overlooking the Sea of Galilee where ferocious storms could arise and down whose slopes flooding rains could turn into destructive torrents, Yeshua spoke of the house that could survive any onslaught and that which was doomed to collapse when the elements turned against it.
“So, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed — and its collapse was horrendous!” Matthew 7:24-27 CJB
Each and every person who hears ἀκούω– akoúō – gives attention to, carefully considers and understands the full meaning of Yeshua’s words is building a house. The treasure of His words provides all the materials for building a very fine and large house. Yet, not every large house remains intact. Each and every one of our lives will be assailed by storms. Those storms will reveal what foundation we have built our house on.
It is not enough to just hear Yeshua’s words, not enough to just memorise them. Unlike the Hellenizers’ exhortation of “knowledge”, the Jews focused on how that knowledge was demonstrated in the way a person lived. The Jewish religion had never been a matter of saying that one believed in God but of demonstrating that belief through obedience to Torah in every aspect of daily life. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah (70-135AD) lived and taught in the years following the destruction of the (second) Beth Hamikdosh (temple) by the Romans, and expressed this fundamental principal of Judaism thus:
“The man whose knowledge exceeds his works, to whom is he like? He is like a tree which had many branches, and only a few roots; and, when the stormy winds came, it was plucked up and eradicated. But he whose good works are greater than his knowledge, to what is he like? He is like a tree which had few branches, and many roots; so that all the winds of heaven could not move it from its place.”
Following Jesus is not a matter of what we say that we believe, but of how we demonstrate our belief in the way we live. Disciples did not just learn their rabbi’s teachings, they lived their rabbi’s ways. Daniel had revealed something of this rock as the Kingdom of Heaven:
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.” Daniel 2:44-45a NIV
When Yeshua had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at the way he taught, for He was not instructing them like their Torah-teachers but as one who had authority Himself. Matthew 7:28-29 CJB
Yeshua had delivered the edicts for His kingdom, with the authority of kingship. It is a kingdom established in holiness and built on love. A kingdom whose every subject is to exude the nature of the Father in all we do and say. A kingdom of those set apart for the Father’s glory and filled with His righteousness, manifesting itself in continual acts of love for others, treating them as we would like to be treated. This had been the most strict, pure, holy, profound, and sublime sermon ever delivered to man; and yet so amazingly simple that a child could apprehend it! The young tax-collector, Matthew, had drunk in every word and taken meticulous notes. He’d never been terribly impressed with religious teachers before, but there was something so different about Yeshua – He was one that Matthew would like to follow, but no one in Israel would ask a despised tax collector to be their disciple.
1. MJL. Judaism and Dogs. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: July 18th, 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-dogs/. 2. Dogs, Pigs, and Holy Pearls. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: July 18th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/dogs-pigs-and-holy-pearls.html. 3. Kaminker, Mendy. Pigs & Judaism – Deep revulsion, but a promising future. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2376474/jewish/Pigs-Judaism.htm. 4. Greenbaum, Elisha. Jews Vs. Pigs. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/281647/jewish/Jews-Vs-Pigs.htm. 5. Shurpin, Yehuda. May a Jew Raise Swine? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/976496/jewish/May-a-Jew-Raise-Swine.htm. 6. Editors. What did Jesus mean when He said to not cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)? Got Questions – Your Questions. biblical Answers. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/pearls-before-swine.html. 7. Polsley, Evie. Reader Question: Throwing Pearls to Swine (Matthew 7:6). New Living Translation. [Online] October 31st, 2018. https://wpmu.azurewebsites.net/nlt/2018/10/31/throwing-pearls-to-swine-matthew-76/. 8. Mindel, Nissan. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 24th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112067/jewish/Rabbi-Elazar-Ben-Azariah.htm. 9. Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary Matthew 7. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: July 24th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/clarke/matthew/7.htm. 10. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* How would you describe the difference between the judgment of others that Jesus forbids and the discernment of others that He commands? * Describe an example that you have seen of someone with a ‘log/beam’ in their eye trying to remove the ‘splinter’ from another’s eye, and what damage they caused. Then describe an example when the person had dealt with the wrong in their own life and skilfully and compassionately removed a ‘splinter’ from another’s eye. * What things do you think are logs or splinters? * Jesus spoke about dogs and pigs because of how they were thought of in Jewish culture at that time. If He was speaking in your city or village, what animals do you think Jesus would use to illustrate those who have no appreciation for what is holy and for those who display a holy façade but have an unholy hidden agenda? * What is the purpose of asking, seeking and knocking? * Fish and bread were the stable foods for those who lived on the shores of the sea of Galilee. What are the stable foods in your community, the ones every child is told are most essential for growing strong and having the energy to work? What foods would Jesus have described a son asking for in your region? * In Jesus’ day you had to go through the city gates of Jerusalem to go into or out from the city. Some of those gates were larger, and some were smaller. To go out through the city gate would take you away from the safety and security of the city to start your journey. The roads to other cities were wide and many travelled on them so they were considered to be the safest routs, yet Jesus told us to choose the narrow, difficult, way – can you describe when Jesus has called you to leave the security of what you know and risk all to follow Him? * Both grapes and figs are very sweet fruit that many farmers grew around the Capernaum area. Grapes were also used to make wine. What fruits and thorny plants in your area would Jesus talk about to illustrate the difference between true and false prophets? * What insights have people in your congregation shared with you from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7?
Having cautioned against seeking the praise of men and taught the people how to pray, Yeshua had challenged them: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He continued stirring up in them a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of this world. Our focus, and our longing, needs to be on God and His goodness.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV
λύχνος – lychnos, refers to an oil-fed portable lamp. The Jewish lamp was made of clay (even as we are), shaped to carry oil and with a wick which could be lit to provide a portable source of light that could fill, illuminate, the whole room. While many different types of oil could be burned for a smoke light, the cleanest burning oil is olive oil (representative of the Holy Spirit). As such lamps were used in every Jewish home, they would all know from experience that impure fuel, having anything else mixed in with the pure olive oil, could fill the room with chocking smoke. The other cause of a smoking lamp is having the wick too high. Doing our good deed before men to be praised by them is raising our wick up too high – instead of the pure light of the Holy Spirit we produce a lot of smoke. Make sure that your wick is either trimmed flat or into a point, and that there are no carbon deposits around the top from the last time it was lit, if there are, trim them off. We need to be trimmed for our eye to be good and our vision clear
Our eye needs to be ‘good‘, this version says, a more accurate translation would be “focused“. The NASB translates this ‘if your eye is clear‘, the ASV ‘if therefore thine eye be single‘, the CJB ‘if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous]‘, the AMP ‘if your eye is clear [spiritually perceptive]’, TPT ‘unclouded‘, YLT ‘perfect‘, Phillips ‘If your eye is sound‘, and the OJB ‘if your eye is unblurred‘. The Greek word translated in all these different ways, ἁπλοῦς – haploús, has a literal meaning of “without folds“, and refers to having a pure, single, uncompromised, undivided focus with nothing hidden. The Septuagint uses haploús with the sense of generous – “The generous(Hebrew = berakah = a blessing; Lxx = haploús) man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25) Having all our treasure in heaven, not some in heaven and some on earth; having all our focus on the kingdom of God, not some on His kingdom and some on the kingdoms of men; being concerned only with what God thinks of us and not live for the approval of man or the acquisition of wealth. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of the world. Haploús is the opposite of diplous, which means ‘double’ and can be related to being two-faced or deceitful. A diplous eye tries to focus on worldly possessions (material gain) and on God at the same time which confuses the person (“spiritual double vision”) and they cannot see their way clearly as they walk through life. Our vision must be fixed solely on God. If it is the pure oil of the Holy Spirit that is illuminating our life then all that we do in our body will be full of light (the manifestation of God’s presence) and free from obscuring smoke.
“If your eye is bad...Greek πονηρός – ponērós – is derivative of πόνος – pónos – toil, laborious trouble, pain ridden; and σαπρός – saprós – rotten, putrid, corrupted and no lounger fit for use, degeneracy from original virtue, second-rate or worthless. A πονηρός – ponērós -eye is not focused on the things of God so cannot see them clearly, which makes it useless and worthless. It may work hard and strain to see, but its focus is captured by the wrong things so it fails to do that which it was created for. Like someone who is so cross-eyed that they can only see their own nose and not any of the wonders of creation around them.
“…your whole body…” every part of you, your total being, all your actions “…will be full of darkness” σκοτεινός – skoteinós – comes from σκότου – skotos – opaque, not letting any light in so left in total darkness. If our focus is on the things of this world and on the troubles and painful difficulties in our life, on the wrongs that have been done to us, on being a victim of other’s attitudes and actions, then we become opaque instead of transparent and our focus stops any light from entering our lives so we remain in pain riddled darkness.
“If therefore the light…” φῶς – phṓs – light, source of light, radiance; figuratively: manifestation of God’s self-existent life, divine illumination to reveal and impart life. “…that is in you is darkness…”σκότος – skótos – darkness, obscurity, darkened eyesight or blindness; (metaphorically) ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery in hell, the principle of sin with its certain results. “…how great is that darkness!” C H Spurgeon wrote:
A man should live up to his light; but if that light is itself darkness, what a mistake his whole course will be! If our religion leads us to sin, it is worse than irreligion. If our faith is presumption, our zeal selfishness, our prayer formality, our hope a delusion, our experience infatuation, the darkness is so great that even our Lord holds up his hands in astonishment and says — “How great is that darkness!”
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24 NKJV
This verse starts with an emphatic οὐδείς –oudeís – no one, none, not even one, nobody, never – it powerfully negates any possibility and rules out by definition. There are no exceptions, no extenuating circumstances that could make this possible. Not a single person can ever, in any way or under any circumstances, serve these two masters. As we gain an understanding of the depth of meaning in the word ‘serve‘ we start to gain insight into why this is. δουλεύω – douleúō – is to serve as a slave with all personal ownership rights assigned to the owner, it focuses on the fact that the slave belongs to their master. We belong to God who created us, yet we sold ourselves to sin, but He redeemed us back from slavery to sin through the cross of Christ so that we can be free to once more live as those who belong exclusively to God. κύριος– kýrios – refers to one who is supreme in authority, one who exercises absolute ownership rights, lord, master. We cannot, it is absolutely impossible, to live under the complete authority of God in total obedience to Him, and under the complete authority of anything or anyone else at the same time. Not a single one of us can serve two masters.
“…for either he will hate the one” μισέω– miséō – speaks of a comparative hatred, to love someone or something less than someone or something else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favour of another. The comparative meaning of miséō is grounded in moral choice, elevating one value, person or thing over another. “...and love the other” ἀγαπάω – agapáō – to prefer, to love, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection, valuing someone or something above all else. God must be the first preference in our lives, and everything else submitted under Him. If food, clothing, housing, transport or money is your top priority then God is not.
“… or else he will be loyal to the one” ἀνθέξεται – anthexetai – holding on in a way that is corresponding to that being held. “…and despise the other.” καταφρονήσει – kataphronēsei – bring down in your estimation, devalue, deeming to be unworthy and hence despised or scorned. The word does not denote a mere feeling of contempt – it is active, and thus includes the actions which demonstrate a putting down, devaluing contempt to the extent of “making absolutely nothing of”.
“You cannot serve (douleúō) God and mammon.” μαμωνᾷ – mamōna – an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ‘aman (to trust), the wealth a person trusts in. In the Greek, a literary device called “contrast emphasis” is used with God and mammon to highlight how opposite trusting in God is to trusting in things (money, house, car, food, motorbike, wealth, etc). The two are opposed to one another in seeking to own us.
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25 NKJV
For this reason – because God owns us and we have chosen to trust in Him and exalt Him above all else, because we have chosen to put our trust in God rather than mammon – we are not to be worried about what we will be able to eat, drink or wear. Yeshua spoke these words to an oppressed people under Roman occupation and heavily taxed by their oppressors. He spoke these words to people who worked hard to try to earn enough to feed and cloth their families, many of the were day labourers and many knew what it was to go without. To illustrate His point and help them remember it in the everyday moments of their lives, Yeshua drew the people’s attention to God’s creation in the Galilee area on this beautiful summer’s day – the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
I say to you: λέγω – légō – summarise into a final opinion, bring to a conclusion, bringing His listeners to the end-point moral lesson of what He had been talking about, laying the matter to rest.
Do not be worried: μεριμνᾶτε – merimnate – drawn in opposite directions, go to pieces as pulled in opposite directions, divided by the force of sinful anxiety, disunified within and robbed of God’s peace (His gift of wholeness). It has been said: “anxiety pulls in different directions making our head go one way… and our feet another!” God’s love makes us whole, being worried divides us and brings us into conflict with ourselves. We overcome being driven by worry and anxiety when overcome by the love of the Lord.
About your life: ψυχῇ – psyxē – soul, unique personhood, personality, identity. It corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ – nephesh – soul, whole being, unique person. It includes both personality and the living physical body through which this is expressed. After God had formed man from the dirt, from the land, God breathed into man’s nostrils and he became a living נֶפֶשׁ – nephesh (Genesis 2:7).
Food and drink is necessary for life, without such we will die – but Yeshua concludes that we are not to worry even about such necessities. We can live in the wonderful peace of God (שׁלום – shalom – whole and complete, living in a state of well‑being, tranquillity, prosperity and security).
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Matthew 6:26-32 NASV
Yeshua’s argument for ceasing to worry was not that food and clothing are unimportant, He used these as examples of the necessities of life, but that God can be trusted to provide these for us. Our loving heavenly Father abundantly feeds the birds flying over the see of Galilee and magnificently cloths the grass of the fields in the surrounding hills – God is willing and well able to likewise care for our needs.
ζητεῖτε – zēteite – to seek by inquiring, investigating to reach a binding resolution, to search through all the layers to find the true essence of the matter. This word focuses on the moral attitude behind the searching, the personal motivation shaping how one comes to a decision, the premises that guide our search will determine whether we only look for information to confirm our biases or seek accurate (unbiased) information, wherever that may lead us. It is not just about desiring to gain knowledge but the purpose one is wanting to use that knowledge for. Zēteite (seek) is written in the Greek present imperative tense, which means that it commands ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting. We are to seek and keep on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness habitually, continuously and progressively as a lifestyle.
Not only are we to seek and continuously keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, we are to do so πρῶτον – protos – first, foremost. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with an overriding concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or a passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion. Our number one priority is to seek and keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first thing in the morning before you do anything else in the day. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness as first priority throughout the rest of the day and night, let that seeking govern what you do and how you respond to everything else in the day.
This fits with blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled, and is contrasted with the previous verse which talks of the Gentiles eagerly seeking the necessities of life – food, drink and clothing. Our freedom from worrying over such things is not because they cease being necessary for life, but because we know that God is loving and trustworthy, He knows our need of these things and promises here that all (πάντα – panta – each and every one of) these things προστεθήσεται – prostethēsetai – will be put towards, will be increased for, will be added to, us.
Note that Yeshua was not saying here that there is anything wrong with owning material things, just that it is wrong to allow them to own us. In Judaism wealth is viewed as a blessing from God that is bestowed on those who live right, and from the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) there has been a strong culture of wealth creation within Judaism:
Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Genesis 13:1-2
Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. Genesis 26:12-14
Thus the man (Jacob) became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. Genesis 30:43
But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:18
Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who delights greatly in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; The generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches will be in his house, And his righteousness endures forever. Psalm 112:1-3
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. Proverbs 28:19-20
These were scriptures that everyone up on that mountain had memorised and Yeshua had said that He did no come to do away with any of this which had been written in the Torah, but to fulfil it. He was speaking to people living in difficult situations, suffering from the effects of the sins of their nation, oppressed and largely despised by their Roman overlords. It was a time when many were struggling just to provide the basics for their family and these scriptural promises of blessings and wealth seemed very far off to most. It was a time when many were worried about how they would be able to feed or cloth their family, and yet they had left all that behind to follow Yeshua up this mountain and learn from Him. He was encouraging them that God was indeed able to care for them and provide for their needs as they put Him first.
Lastly, in this declaration against worry, Yeshua addresses our fears for the future, fears of what might happen tomorrow. Do not worry, do not allow yourself be torn apart inside, about what might happen. How much time and emotional energy is wasted worrying about things that never actually come to pass? Such worry reveals only a lack of trust in God. Tomorrow is in God’s hands and God is love, and in His love He is well able to take care of whatever might happen. Ours is just to rest in him, trusting in His goodness and His ability to carry us through all things. Don’t let your thoughts get consumed with worry about what will happen, or what might happen, but instead discipline your mind to focus on God and His goodness, discipline your mind to focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness and on doing all in this moment to honour and glorify Him, to live in this moment as citizens of His eternal kingdom.
1. Spurgeon, C.H. Exposition to the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6. God Rules. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] http://www.godrules.net/library/spurgeon/45spurgeon9.htm. 2. Hurt, Bruce. Matthew 6:22-23 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_622-23. 3. Strong. Strong’s #4655: skotos (pronounced skot’-os). Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G4655/skotos.htm. 4. 4655. skotos. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/greek/4655.htm. 5. “Light” and “Fire”. Christ’s Words – What is Lost in Translation from Greek. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://christswords.com/content/light-and-fire. 6. Henry, Matthew. Matthew 6. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/6.html. 7. Guzik, David. Matthew 6 – The Sermon on the Mount (Continued). Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-6/. 8. Matthew 6:24. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/6-24.htm. 9. The Discovery Bible software.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* In this section of His sermon, Jesus calls attention to what we are focusing on, for this will determine the direction of our whole life. What are the things that people in your area are focused on and what impact is that having on their lives? * As pastors and ministers we can get focused on many things that seem good or needed but take our attention away from Jesus. What are some of the things that you have noticed can take away from our devotion to Christ and what effects can this have on our ministry? * Money is needed for doing many things in the church, how can we keep from serving mammon while seeking the provision for all these things? * What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:22-34? * How do we keep from worrying in the midst of difficult situations when it looks like we will not have what we need?
Yeshua had begun his sermon on this mountain with the beatitudes, urging His listeners to recognise their spiritual poverty, that we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven, and need to yield totally, hungering and thirsting for that righteousness. The answer to all our struggling and striving to be good enough is to give up trying to accomplish what only God can do, and instead cultivate our hunger and thirst for the beautiful purity of His righteousness. For then, Yeshua promises, we shall be filled.
Throughout the rest of His sermon, Yeshua is focused on stirring within us that hunger and thirst. No one who thinks themselves full, hungers and thirsts – but only those who recognise how empty they are. Thus Yeshua goes through the different aspects of our heart attitudes, revealing how lacking we are, so that we can be stirred to desire to be filled. Now He shifts the focus from wrongdoings to be avoided, to righteous doings requiring pure motives.
Tzedakah (Hebrew: צדקה) is a Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness“. It is the Jewish social justice religious obligation to do what is good and just in providing for the poor. In Jewish thought, giving to people in need is not something extra; it’s just the correct, honest thing to do in obeying Torah. Hence, some English versions render it: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others” (NIV); and others: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men” (NKJV). For these Jews, charitable deeds (giving to meet the needs of the poor) was one of the most fundamental and essential forms of righteousness.
The Jewish ‘mitzvahof tzedakah‘ is considered to be one of the most important of their 613 commandments derived from the Torah. Tzedakah is so hardwired into the Jewish faith that the Talmud in Tractate Baba Bathra 9a says: “Charity is equal in importance to all other commandments combined.” This critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone – rather, it must be done with someone. In Hebrew, the word meaning “to give” is Natan. In Hebrew and in English, the word can be read forward and backward, showing that in Jewish philanthropy the idea of “to give” it is also about “to receive.” As the poor receive money or other material assistance, the donor receives the merit of sharing the Almighty’s work and in so doing ensures that God will hear his prayers. This has significance for what Yeshua has to say here, that giving in order to be able to be seen by men negates any reward you might have been expecting from heaven. God doesn’t wait for an audience before He gives to us, and bestows so much good on each of us without any announcement that if any one of us were to start counting all that God has blessed us with we would be humbled and amazed.
“Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, when you do tzedakah, don’t announce it with trumpets to win people’s praise, like the hypocrites in the synagogues and on the streets. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you do tzedakah, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Then your tzedakah will be in secret; and your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4 CJB
Other Jewish rabbis would also develop teachings against publicly announcing your giving. The Talmud, in Hagiga 5a, tells the story of Rabbi Yanai, who once saw a man give money to a poor man publicly. He said, “It would have been better for you not to have given him anything rather than giving to him as you did, causing him embarrassment.” Yeshua’s focus, however, was on the effects on our relationship with God, and need for heart righteousness fit for the kingdom of heaven.
Since, to the Jewish mind, tzedakah and having God hear and answer your prayers were closely linked, Yeshua’s progression to instruction on prayer would have made perfect sense to his audience.
Yeshua began with the same contrast between doing good out of our relationship with God, and putting on a performance of ‘good’ to gain the approval or respect of man. Too many of the religious leaders prayed to men rather than to God; whatever was the form of their prayer, the scope of it was to beg the applause of men, and capture man’s honour and respect. The kingdom of heaven is not about outward appearances but about heart attitudes, about the secret things that only God knows and sees. In all personal prayer we should strive to be alone with God, to enter into that place of intimacy with the Almighty where secrets are shared and hearts laid bare.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners, so that people can see them. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6 CJB
This was not a rebuke of public prayer where people gather together to seek God in unity, but of displaying our private prayer in public in order to win the respect and adulation of others.
From there, Yeshua went on to instruct us how to pray. His focus here was on making things simple and real. We don’t have to use a lot of words when we pray, or keep saying the same thing over and over again. God is not deaf, He hears us the first time. He knows what we’re going to say even before we open our mouth.
And when you pray, don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 CJB
Yeshua was not here forbidding either a long prayer, or the use of the same words in a prayer, when the heart sincerely prompts the utterance. He himself prayed at great length, even continuing in prayer all night (Luke 6:12), and in the garden he thrice repeated the same words. What He is counselling against is making lengthy prayers to try to gain esteem among men, or trying to badger and nag God into doing things through continuous repetition: “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” (NKJV). Our faith is to be in God, our Father in heaven, not in our supposed ability to manipulate Him and get Him to answer our prayers through repetitions or religious formulas. The purpose of our prayers is to connect with the heart of our heavenly Father, not to gain esteem from men.
Next, Yeshua gave them an example of what to pray. Peacemakers, those called sons of God, can come boldly to the throne of grace and cry out “Our Father“. Start with the focus on God, our Father, on His nature, His kingdom and His will. This is the basis for everything else we pray.
You, therefore, pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven! May Your Name be kept holy. May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us the food we need today. Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us. And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One. For kingship, power and glory are Yours forever. Amen. Matthew 6:9-13 CJB
Once we’ve got our focus and priorities right we can petition God for our needs to be met, confident in His love and power to provide for us. Our basic physical needs, like enough food for today. Our spiritual needs, for forgiveness and protection from the attacks of the evil one. Just mentioning each need once is sufficient, our prayers don’t have to be long and flowery for God to hear and respond to them. He knows our needs even before we bring them to Him in prayer. Praying about our needs is not to inform God of our need, but to remind ourselves of our dependence on Him for the meeting of that need, and to put our confidence in His goodness.
After we’ve brought our needs to God, Yeshua encourages us to bring our focus back to where it belongs, on God whose kingship, power and glory are eternal. Our faith is in the very nature of God, not in our own religious endeavours. God gives because of who He is, not because of how we ask. He is the loving sovereign Lord over all. Nothing is too difficult for Him, no matter how impossible it looks to us. His is the kingship, power and glory forever.
One of our basic needs is that of forgiveness. Both the gift of forgiveness to be able to bestow on those who have wronged us, and the forgiveness of our wrongs.
Again, Yeshua brought everything back to our relationships with one another, and the need for these to be governed by holy love. There is no relationship with God that is independent of how we treat others. We are not to seek to impress them, for that is just lying to them about whom we really are. Our relationships with others are to be open, honest and loving, seeking always the good of the other, even at personal cost. One of those sitting listening to Yeshua this day would later pen these words:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 BSB
People mess up and hurt one another over and over again, just as we have messed up and dishonoured the Father over and over again. God stands always ready to forgive. He keeps calling us back to repentance so we can receive the full benefits of His forgiveness. How can we accept such forgiveness and refuse to offer it to others?
For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours. Matthew 6:14-15 CJB
What wrongs have others done to us? As hurtful as those things are, the debt they owe us for this wrong is still small compared with the debt we owe God for our wrong against Him. If we find ourselves lacking in forgiveness for others we bring this need to our Father as well, for they have wronged Him even more than they have wronged us and He has enough forgiveness to cover both their sin against Him and that against us. If we are willing and hungry, God will give us the forgiveness we need for each one who has done wrong to us.
Our giving is to be in secret, our prayer is to be in secret, and our fasting is to be in secret. None of these are for the purpose of looking good to others or earning the admiration of others. Notice how aptly Yeshua exposes the subtle ways we use to try to get others to notice and admire our “spirituality”. Without even a word we try to make others see what sacrifices we are making for the kingdom. God is not impressed. Citizens of the kingdom are to be motivated by our relationship with God, all our good works, prayers and sacrifice simply an outworking of that relationship. Our relationship with God is that which is expressed in the secret place, where no one else sees or knows. Pride demands that others know of our good deeds and give us the recognition that we feel we deserve, humility is content for God to be the only witness. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25. Are we more concerned about what man thinks of us or about what God thinks of us? Where are we laying up our treasure?
Yeshua continued teaching in His easy to relate to, easy to memorise way. The subject was deep and confronting, but the teaching used common things that everyone could relate to – moths, rust and thieves.
The things of this earth are ravenous, corrosive and untrustworthy, so easily destroying what we try to establish on this earth. All our efforts to become rich in the things of this world, whether material things or social standing or political power, are subject to the destructive forces of this world. It is not only ungodly to focus on building up wealth and stature for ourselves in this world, it’s stupid. All our efforts can so easily be laid to waste. But when our focus is on the kingdom of God, when we are seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, when our treasure is our right standing before God, when we joy in His delight, nothing and no one can take that from us. Only then are we truly prosperous, wealthy and secure.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
1. My Jewish Learning. Tzedakah 101. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: May 31st, 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tzedakah-101/. 2. DeGroot, Jacquelyn. Jewish Philanthropy: The Concept of Tzedakah. Learning to Give. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/jewish-philanthropy-concept-tzedakah. 3. Posner, Menachem. 15 Facts About Tzedakah Every Jew Should Know. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4203668/jewish/15-Facts-About-Tzedakah-Every-Jew-Should-Know.htm. 4. Friedlander, Marty. Tzedakah, the Jewish Concept of Charity . Haaretz. [Online] August 16th, 2015. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/tzedakah-the-jewish-concept-of-charity-1.5387488. 5. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – McGarvey and Pendleton. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=four&b=40&c=6. 6. Gill, John. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=gill&b=40&c=6.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* In what ways did Jesus make his teaching easy to memorise and easy for the common people to relate to? * What insights have your congregation shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon? * What is Jesus stirring us to hunger and thirst for in this section of His teaching? * Why is it important to keep from trying to earn prestige through our giving, prayer or fasting? * Is there a time when God enabled you to forgive something that had impacted you or your family really badly? * What importance does your culture place on meeting the needs of the poor? * How do you give in a way that honours and enables the person receiving, and doesn’t foster dependence?
Under the clear blue summer sky, Yeshua continued unfolding the principles of the kingdom of heaven. The term (Gk) ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (“the kingdom of heaven”), is a major theme of Matthew’s Gospel, occurring 32 times (3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21, etc…). Since the expression ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶ occurs in Matthew 5:19 and 20, directly following Yeshua’s statements about the fulfilment (Gk: πληρόω, v. 17) and the accomplishment (Gk: γίνομαι, v. 18) of the Torah (Gk: νόμος) and the Prophets (Gk: προφῆται), it appears to be an integral part of that fulfilment.
Yeshua had just promised this crowd of Jews, God’s chosen people, the people in covenant with Him, that if they hungered and thirsted for righteousness they would be filled. He had reminded them that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world through their good deeds bringing glory to God. Now, He began explaining to them what such righteousness looked like in practical application.
First, Yeshua confirmed what the Scribes and Pharisees taught – that righteousness equalled obeying Torah, in the broad sense of everything that God has spoken to them through the Hebrew scriptures.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV
It was more than 1,300 years since God had come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the Jewish people, with thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain followed by a shofar blast sounding so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled as God gave the Law to Israel (Exodus 19-20). There had been major upheavals in the world since that time, empires had risen and fallen, cultures and ways of life had changed, but neither God, nor man’s nature, had altered in all that time. Yeshua declared that the Torah was just as relevant in His day as it had been when first given to Moses. He had not come to destroy or do away with any of God’s Law. The kingdom of heavenYeshua came to proclaim was not a replacement for the Torah, but a fulfilment of it, an empowering of God’s people to live His Law, an infilling with His righteousness. Yeshua taught that even the commandment of God which we think to be of least importance is of great importance in the kingdom of heaven, and not the slightest detail of any of His Torah will be removed until all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 NKJV
The prophets had been sent to Israel throughout the ages to redirect the people to God’s idea of what obeying Torah involved. Everything that Yeshua was teaching them was an expression, a fulfilment, a completion of what God had already told them through the Torah (Law) and the Neviim (Prophets). Over the centuries God’s intent had been twisted and distorted by man’s ways, His priorities upended, and His words endowed with meanings quite different to what He had spoken to Moses and reiterated to the prophets. Yeshua had come as a Jewish reformer, to restore their understanding and practice of His Torah. Yeshua had come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through living them fully. He had also come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through being the fulfilment of what the Hebrew scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and establishes a New Covenant.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… …” Jeremiah 31:31-34
As the summer fruits were ripening, Yeshua outlined the fruits of righteousness which were to be produced in their lives, the proper outworking of the law of love that had been given to govern their lives. The Scribes and Pharisees had so many outward displays of “righteousness” in their conspicuous observance of all the “Oral Law” established in their community, but Yeshua declared that such was by no means adequate for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He agreed with the Pharisees on the need to live in obedience to Torah, but disagreed with their interpretation of Torah. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven, He declared, required first and foremost being poor in spirit, being repentant, acknowledging that neither their birth as Jews, nor all their outward displays of ‘righteousness’, met God’s requirement of holy perfection.
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NKJV
Next, Yeshua went through some examples of how the way that the Scribes and Pharisees were living Torah failed to display the true righteousness of God required of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these Yeshua uses the formula “you have heard that it was said to those of old…. … but I say to you... ….” in order to contrast the legalistic observance of the Torah with the heart-motivated observance of the Torah in living out God’s love and holiness.
Any harsh word or judgment against our brother is a breach of the law of love. Exodus 20:1-17 lists the 10 Commandments, and “You shall not murder” (Vs 13) is the 6th of these. Murder was against the law of the land and would be judged and punished by the Sanhedrin (Jewish council/law court, who both defined the law and executed judgment on serious law breakers – the highest court of the Jewish people). Unjustified anger, and any insults or put-downs are against God’s law of love, the law of the kingdom of heaven, and will be judged and punished by the King in fulfilment of all righteousness.
Yeshua was quick to remove all sense of complacency about their standing before God. The righteousness required by the kingdom of heaven was far greater than the outward compliance with the law that they were used to, and the alternative to the kingdom of heaven was the fires of Gehenna. The word translated “hell” in many English versions of the scriptures is “Gehenna”, which is derived from the Hebrew words “גי” and “הנם,” which mean “Valley of Hinnom.” This steep, narrow valley just outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem was notorious as the place where king Ahaz had led Judah in sacrificing children by fire in worship of the heathen God Molech (2 Chronicles 28:2-3), as did his grandson king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6) and Manasseh’s son Amon (2 Chronicles 33:22). Josiah, the reforming king, had stamped out that worship, and had ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place (2 Kings 23:10). Jeremiah likewise prophesied against this valley (Jeremiah 19:2-6). In consequence of this, the Valley of Hinnom became the place where the refuse of the Jerusalem was cast out and burned. It is also the location where the bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. It has been suggested that the Romans, the only people living in this region who cremated their dead, also performed this rite in the Valley of Hinnom. Always the fire smouldered in it, and a pall of thick smoke lay over it. Isaiah 66: 24 speaks of looking upon the eternally suffering of the dead who had rebelled against God; “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” The ancient Aramaic paraphrase translations of the Hebrew Bible known as Targums supply the term “Gehinnom” frequently to verses touching upon resurrection, judgment, and the fate of the wicked. So Gehennah, the Valley of Hinnom, had become identified in people’s minds with all that was accursed and filthy, the place where useless and evil things were perpetually destroyed by a fire that was never quenched. This picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in ancient Jewish writings such that it is recorded in the Mishnah in Kiddushin 4.14, Avot 1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t. Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b. Bereshith 28b. Gehenna had become a synonym in Jewish thought for the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, and it was in this sense that Yeshua used it when warning the people of the dangers of unrighteousness.
It was no light matter for Yeshua to tell this crowd that being angry with their brother will be judged and a penalty for such will have to be paid. Even more serious was His warning that whoever calls his brother ‘Raca‘, a derogatory term meaning worthless, empty headed fool, would be guilty before the highest religious court in the land, the Sanhedrin, if they judged properly. Then comes Yeshua’s most devastating pronouncement; that the one who denounces another as a fool, a wicked rebel against God, is in danger of the fires of God’s eternal punishment. Verbal attacks, gaslighting and bullying have no place in the kingdom of heaven. How greatly we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness!
The Hebrew scriptures spoke much about anger and the power of our words:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:8
Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. Proverbs 11:12
Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18
A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace. Proverbs 18:19
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21
In times to come a Pharisee in training, Saul, would be transformed by the risen Christ to become the apostle Paul, and write this description of the kingdom love we are to demonstrate to our brother:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV
Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, reminding His audience that they could as likely be the one who had done wrong as the one who was in danger of being angry because they had been wronged or let down.
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26
According to the Oral Law, the requirements for Temple sacrifices took precedence over everything else. Hence the instrumental worship in the Temple that was not allowed anywhere else on Shabbat. Yet, Yeshua, here stated that the Kingdom of Heaven law of love took precedence even over this. Nothing, not even a sacrifice in worship of God, is more important that righting our wrongs and being reconciled to one another. Like Yochanan the Immerser, Yeshua‘s teaching on righteousness focused on treating all others with love and respect.
Yeshua then moves on from the 6th Commandment to the 7th – “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14. Contrary to many in His day, and the teachings of many even today, Yeshua places the full responsibility on the man for his lust:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.If your right eye causes you to sin (stumble or offend), pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:28-30
Our sin is our responsibility, no one else’s. Yeshua did not say, “if the woman’s dress causes you to sin“, but “if YOUR eye causes you to sin“. Sin is birthed in the heart of the person who commits it, not in the actions or clothes of others. Joseph here provides the perfect example for us (Genesis 39). Regardless of how Potiphar’s wife dressed or what she did to try to entice him, Joseph remained steadfast in His commitment to God and His righteousness. Likewise, Job declared:
I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. Job 31:1
Indulging in pornography is not the righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. The people who were listening to Yeshua speak up on that mountain did not have ready access to pornography, such increased greatly when printed materials became readily available, and has exploded to epidemic proportions with the internet – so much so that it is now ensnaring women as well as men. One survey of 18-35 year olds in a western nation (Daspe et all 2017) found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months. $3,075.64 is spent on internet porn every second, that’s $265,735,290 every day. Think how many orphans and widows could be fed around the world with over two hundred and fifty million dollars a day, if all those people lived by the Kingdom of Heaven‘s law of love instead of gratifying the lust of their eyes! Disturbingly, far too many Christians, and even church leaders, have fallen prey to this evil. According to a survey by the Barna Group in 2016: 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn on a regular basis and are currently struggling. That’s more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders. 43% of senior pastors and youth pastors say they have struggled with pornography in the past. Only 7% of pastors report their church has a ministry program for those struggling with porn.
Yeshua’s words are even more necessary for us now than at any time in history (and could well include “if your computer causes you to sin“, or “if your phone causes you to sin“):
“If YOUR eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you.… … And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you;…”
Lustful looking is contrary to the law of love. It involves regarding others solely as opportunities for one’s own gratification. Lustful looking offends God as much as adultery does. He has called us to love which respects and delights in others for who He created them to be, not for what we can get from them. His righteousness is love which seeks the good of others and the honouring of God, love which is faithful to covenant. All of this was God’s intent with the 7th Commandment. All of this is the fruit of being filled with His righteousness, which Yeshua promises to do for us if we hunger and thirst for it.
Yeshua, like Yochanan the Immerser before Him, was a reformer who spoke truth to power. The two institutions of legal and religious power in Jewish society at this time, the synagogue and the Sanhedrin, consisted solely of men. Thus we see later on (John 8:1-11), when a couple were caught in the act of adultery, only the woman was brought to Yeshua with the charge: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women“. Yeshua’s confrontation with the prevailing power structures blaming women for men’s lust did not in any way condone women lusting after men as Potiphar’s wife had done, it just removed all excuses men had for blaming women for their own sin of lust. Yeshua was safe for women to be with, He treated them with love and respect, like sisters. He expected His disciples do to likewise, and never even contemplate anything else. In the kingdom of heaven women do not have to carry the responsibility for men’s lust, but each one stands before God for their own heart attitudes, words and actions.
Yeshua had warned about the fire of hell (Gehenna) in his discourse on the 6th Commandment, prohibiting murder. Now He twice warns about your whole body being cast into Gehenna in His discourse on the 7th Commandment, prohibiting adultery. There is an alternative to the Kingdom of Heaven, there is an alternative to being poor in spirit (repentant), there is an alternative to taking responsibility for your sin and casting it away from you, there is an alternative to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You can choose to satisfy the lusts of the flesh and have your whole body cast into Gehenna.
Notice the slight change in wording here. A shift from “you have heard that it was saidto those of old“, to just “it has been said.” Yeshua is still speaking on the topic of adultery. The shift has been made from the 7th Commandment to a practice that God never commanded, but allowed because He knew what hardened hearts would do if not regulated in some way. Divorce was never part of what it was to be God’s chosen people, set apart as an example to the nations of how people were created to live. It appears to have been a practice that the Israelites took with them from Egypt, as the process under the Pharos was much the same as what they adopted. In Pharaonic Egypt, if a husband wanted to divorce his wife, in addition to saying: “I’m leaving you as a wife”, he had to also hand over a written divorce document confirming the end of the marital relationship between them and explicitly giving her the freedom to marry another if she wants. The passage in Deuteronomy, which is the only scripture in the Torah mentioning any procedure for divorce, alludes to the Israelites having continued this practice after leaving Egypt:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NIV
You can see that Moses is not here commanding divorce, or even saying that only the man and not the woman can divorce their spouse, but simply acknowledging that, despite God’s word which says the two are now one (Genesis 2:24), divorce sometimes took place among the Israelite people, so He adding a limit on it that the man could not later go back and remarry a woman whom he had previously divorced (Vs 4). The Pharisees in Yeshua’s day had re-interpreted this passage in terms of an argument between them over what grounds God’s law permitted for a man to divorce his wife. This was hotly contested between the two major schools of Pharisees in Yeshua’s day – Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Here is a snippet of some of the debate between them:
“The house of Shammai say, a man may not put away his wife, unless he finds some uncleanness in her, according to (Deuteronomy 24:1) The house of Hillell say, if she should spoil his food, (that is, as Jarchi and Bartenora explain it, burns it either at the fire, or with salt, i.e. over roasts or over salts it,) who appeal also to (Deuteronomy 24:1). R. Akiba says, if he finds another more beautiful than her, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 24:1) “and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.“
On most topics Yeshua’s teaching was more in line with that of Bet Hillell than that of Bet Shammai, but He would have nothing to do with such a degrading of covenant and leaving women totally at the mercy of the man’s whim (Matthew 19:3-9). Divorce is not one of the kingdom principles, and indicates only a failure, by one or both marriage partners, to live by those principles. Interestingly, since Jewish society at this time gave all the power to the man, claiming it was God’s law to do so – both schools of Pharisees interpreted this passage as God giving approval for man to divorce his wife but forbidding a woman from divorcing her husband, Yeshua laid all the responsibility on the man, stating that his divorcing of the woman “caused her” to commit adultery. By divorcing his wife and sending her out from their marriage, the man was putting her in the position of needing to be joined to someone else, thus “causing her” to commit adultery and so bearing the guilt for this. The only exception to the man being responsible for the ensuing adultery was if his decision to divorce his wife was because she had been sexually immoral, unfaithful to their marriage covenant and therefor an adulterer before he divorced her. Those who have the power also carry the responsibility, and will have to answer to God for the impact their decisions have on those they exercise power over.
As we follow the life of Messiah, we will see how strongly committed He is to the covenant of marriage being honoured in the kingdom of heaven. Divorce may be prevalent in the world, but our citizenship is in a kingdom built on faithful love and such is the salt and light this world needs. If you enter into covenant you are not to look for ways out of it, God desires faithfulness in His people – faithfulness to Him and to one an other.
Yeshua moved on to the focus of the ninth Commandment – honesty and integrity. Speaking the truth so consistently that none have reason to doubt that your “yes” is truly “yes” and your “no” is truly “no”. The basis for this in the Torah included both the ninth commandment, and teaching in Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy:
Do not give false evidence against your neighbour. Exodus 20:16 & Deuteronomy 5:20 (The Ninth Commandment)
Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai. Leviticus 19:12 CJB
...when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. Numbers 30:2 CJB
If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NIV
“Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not break your oath,’ and ‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1); and not ‘by Yerushalayim’ (Jerusalem), because it is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48:1-2). And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. Matthew 5:33-37 CJB
The Torah provided for basic justice in Israel’s courts. Wrongdoing that brought harm to another would be repaid with equal harm being inflicted on the one who did wrong – no more and no less. This provided deterrent to inflicting harm, a sense of justice being done, and limited any retribution to the harm that person had inflicted on another. It also took retribution for wrongs out of the hands of the individual who had been wronged, or their family, and put it into the hands of the legal system – it was the responsibility of the state to execute justice so as to maintain the good order of society.
If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25
Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Leviticus 24:19-20
The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:18-21
As Yeshua had said at the beginning of this discourse, His words were not to be construed to be undermining or contradicting any of the Law given to Moses for governing the people: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” He was not critiquing the Law given for governing the people, nor the operation of their courts, but taking things deeper to the heart level where only God sees.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. ” Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV
The first thing to note in Yeshua’s words here is His directness is describing the one who slaps you on your cheek, wants to sue you for your tunic or compel you to go a mile with them as “an evil person“. These are wrongs that are being done, not accidentally but through evil intent. They are unjust actions, and the sort of wrongs that society should protect you from and execute judgment on the “evil person” doing the wrong. The responsibility on those in power, and society as a whole, to deal with such wrongs is not diminished by Yeshua‘s exhortation for our heart response and personal actions.
At first glance, Yeshua’s instruction not to resist an evil person seems so unjust. Why just let someone abuse you? Under Roman occupation Yeshua’s audience had plenty of experience of being unjustly treated. Occupation soldiers often took out their frustrations on innocents in the population, or sort to enrich themselves by taking from the peoples of the land. The Zealots had an answer for such – get revenge, gorilla warfare, take from the Romans every time they took from the people of Israel, murder Romans for every Israelite they killed. Yeshua’s response was the total opposite. His advice for regaining personal power in the situation was not to resist the evil person, but to go above and beyond what they demand. Do extravagant good to the evil person. Do not allow their evil to dictate your actions or entice you to respond with corresponding evil. Choose to be different. Choose to stand apart as God’s special people displaying His character by doing good, no matter what.
Some oppressed peoples have taken hold of Christ’s words here and seen the power in them. Dr Martin Luther King stated it thus: “The ancient law “an eye for an eye” will make all people blind. It is immoral because it is trying to subdue the enemy, and not to achieve his understanding, it seeks to destroy, not to win over.”
Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, as He had done with His teaching on murder and anger, taking His hearers from the place of being oppressed by those more powerful to that of being the ones with the power, the ones capable of giving and lending to those less fortunate than themselves: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” This again, is a fulfillment of Torah:
If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Deuteronomy 15:7-8
Yeshua continues with His theme of responding to evil with good, of responding to hate with love, of the kingdom of heaven being an outworking of love so powerful it conquers all else. This is what the Torah has to say on it:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. … And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Exodus 23:4-5
And the Proverbs say:
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” Proverbs 24:17
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” Proverbs 25:21
Note that Yeshua again omitted the phrase “to those of old”, for only half of this saying was in the Torah, the second half was a more recent addition within the tradition of the community. The command to love your neighbour is in the Torah, and Yeshua confirmed this, but the Torah contains no command to hate your enemy. Thus, in commanding His disciples to love their enemy Yeshua was again urging full obedience to Torah, rather than contradicting or doing away with it. What Yeshua was contradicting was a popular adage among the Zealots: “Love your neighbour, but hate your enemy.” That is to say, “Love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbour), but hate the Romans.” The Dead Sea community in Qumran went even further. They taught their followers to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,” understanding the sons of light as members of their own sect and sons of darkness to be other Jews outside of their sect (Dead Sea Scrolls). Yeshua was calling those Jews gathered up on that mountain with Him to repent from such a distortion of Torah and return to it’s true meaning, in line with the demands of the kingdom of heaven:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV
Once again Yeshua presents love as the empowering force with which they were to combat all hatred, curses, abuse and persecution. Here He promises the same reward as that accorded to the “peacemakers“, those who confront sin and offer God’s terms for reconciliation, being sons of God, sons of our Father in heaven. Our love is to extend beyond those in our own social circle, extend beyond those of our own tribe, extend beyond those who are kind or friendly towards us, extend beyond all boundaries to include all people, even those who do evil to us or rule unjustly over us.
Yeshua concludes this portion of His sermon with a crescendo. Everything He has being teaching with regard to “you have heard that it was said…. but I say unto you” has been building to this point. You are not to be like the peoples of other nations. You are not even to be like the Scribes and Pharisees. Don’t compare yourselves to other people. God has called and chosen you to be like Himself, to be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect. This has echoes of what has been referred to as the ‘fundamental commandment’ of the Hebrew scriptures: For I am Adonai your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44). Perfect (τέλειοι) here refers to being complete, fully developed, mature, even as your Father in heaven is. Such a state is not reached by human efforts, but by being in union with the perfection of God. It is that which His righteousness accomplishes in us as we are filled in response to hungering and thirsting for His perfection. It comes through being poor in spirit, repentant from every reliance upon self to meet God’s standards; through mourning, bringing all our pain and woundedness before God; through meekness, yielding everything to God; and through hungering and thirsting of desperate necessity for righteousness.
1. Toit, Philip La Grange Du. The fulﬁlment of the law according to Matthew 5:17: A dialectical approach. Research Gate. [Online] December 2018. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329613156_The_fulfilment_of_the_law_according_to_Matthew_517_A_dialectical_approach. 2. Westerholm, Stephen. The Law in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 5:17-48. Criswell Theological Review. [Online] 1992. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/ctr-nt/westerholm-lawinseronmount-ctr.pdf. 3. Covenant Eyes. Pornography Statistics. Covenant Eyes. [Online] https://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/. 4. New World Encyclopedia. Gehenna. New world Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: May 17th, 2020.] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gehenna. 5. Gill, John. Matthew 5:22. Bible Study Tools. [Online] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-5-22.html. 6. Cochrane, Ross. Matthew 5 – Part 13 – Am I Going To Hell For Calling Someone A Fool? . Sermon Central. [Online] January 3rd, 2010. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/matthew-5-part-13-am-i-going-to-hell-for-calling-someone-a-fool-ross-cochrane-sermon-on-hell-142699. 7. Dashish, Ali Abu. Divorce in Ancient Egypt. See News. [Online] September 11th, 2019. https://see.news/divorce-at-ancient-egypt/. 8. MJL. Jewish Divorce 101 – An overview of how marriages are traditionally dissolved. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-divorce-101/. 9. Greenberg, Blu. Divorce in the Bible. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/. 10. Guzik, David. Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/deuteronomy-24/. 11. Krol, Peter. Context Matters: You Have Heard That it was Said…But I Say to You. Knowable Word. [Online] July 27th, 2018. https://www.knowableword.com/2018/07/27/context-matters-you-have-heard-that-it-was-said-but-i-say-to-you/. 12. Chery, Fritz. Eye For An Eye. Bible Reasons. [Online] Jenuary 12, 2020. https://biblereasons.com/eye-for-an-eye/. 13. Love your Neighbor but Hate Your Enemy.Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: May 25th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/love-your-neighbor-but-hate-yo.html. 14. Pennington, J.T. 2008. The kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12(1):44-51 15. Mitch, C. & Sri, E. 2011. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture). 16. Evans, C.A. 2012. Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). 17. Carson, D.A. 1984. Matthew. In: F.E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 3-599. 18. Daspe M, Vaillancourt-Morel M, Lussier Y, Sabourin S & Ferron A (2017): When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What insights have your people shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon? * In what ways was Jesus fulfilling what is written in the Old Testament Law and Prophets? * How does Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount help us to teach and obey God’s commandments? * How can our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? * If Jesus was to come and teach on a hill in your area and started saying “you have heard that it was said … … but I say unto you” what misunderstandings, distortions and false teachings do you think He would address, and how would He correct them?
Yeshua’s voice was strong, yet gentle. His teaching was clear and simple, yet incomprehensible. What He said had the ring of the scriptures they had memorised as children and heard in the Synagogue every Shabbat, yet so different to the interpretations they were used to hearing from other religious teachers. He spoke with a profound authority, yet compassionately. This man viewed the world through a different lens. The crowd mulled over what He had called blessed and the way that He was introducing the kingdom of heaven to them. It was both familiar and yet strikingly unique.
Those last words on being blessed if you are persecuted had struck a nerve.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
It was their own people who had persecuted the prophets. The Jews liked to think of themselves as a people who honoured the prophets and heeded their words, but their history, as recorded in their scriptures, told a different story. Prophets spoke a word from God that the people did not want to hear. They called the people to repentance and set forth God’s terms for them to be reconciled to Him, but most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His. Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets rather than conform to God’s terms for relationship with Him.
Yeshua had set forth a vision of the kingdom of heaven which included being peacemakers – boldly declaring God’s conditions for being reconciled with Him. Then He had related such to being persecuted. He connected living in God’s righteousness with being persecuted. He had spoken about being reviled, falsely accused and hunted down by their own people for righteousness sake, just as the prophets before them had been. Those were not easy words to hear when all their lives they had been taught that they would be honoured in their community for being righteous like the Pharisees.
Some commentators have suggested that Jesus’ teachings here were for that select group called ‘disciples’, or even just for “the twelve” (who had not yet been selected), for those who were ‘part of the kingdom’, “genuinely committed believers”, and not for the multitudes who had followed Yeshua up this mountain to hear His teaching. What they failed to recognise was that Yeshua had not come to ‘start a new religion’, but to reform Judaism – to call the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, back to God’s original purpose for them and help them understand what it really means to live in obedience to God’s Law.
First centenary Jewish society did not have “believers” and “non-believers” the way we think of them in modern western nations. Their distinction was between Jews and non-Jews. Knowledge of God permeated every aspect of Jewish life, it was woven into the fabric of their culture and coloured every activity of daily life. It was the aim of the Jewish people to be part of the kingdom of heaven, it was their birthright as Jews. This was tied up in their expectations of a coming Messiah. Everyone of the multitude of Jews who followed Yeshua up that mountain and listened to this ‘Sermon on the Mount’, had a hope and expectation of being citizens of this kingdom. Everyone of them knew that Yeshua’s words were for them. This was what God had established Israel to be – His kingdom, salt and light to the world.
Yeshua continued His teaching with two simple illustrations which were easy to remember, yet profound. Again, these were designed to be memorised, meditated upon, discussed, lived, and shared with others.
“You are the salt of the earth; … Matthew 5:13a NKJV
Salt is essential for life in general. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, thus salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. Salting is also an important method of food preservation. With the spread of civilization, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. Wars have been fought over salt and it has been used as currency and to raise tax revenues. It was prized by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese. Salt thus became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans.
Salt had an especially strong significance for the Jewish people. It is a very stable mineral – tastes the same in a week’s time, in a year’s time, in a hundred years time, in ten-thousand years time. Other elements of a meal – meat, grains, vegetables and herbs all degraded over time. Salt carried a sense of permeance, of endurance, it hinted at eternity. Not only that, but it helped preserve these other foods, it lengthened their life and improved their flavour. So salt had become an essential part of any covenant. In a covenant of friendship between families the meal shared had to include salt, include that which is enduring. Likewise, in God’s covenant with Israel the sacrifices offered to God had to be salted.
You shall season your every offering of meal (grain) with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt. Leviticus 2:13
When you offer them (young bull, male goat without defect and ram form the flock) before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Ezekiel 43:24
And whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail. Ezra 6:9
God also made two lasting covenants which He referred to as berit melakh, “covenant of salt“. The first was with Aaron and his descendants to be priests and partake of the offerings “for all time“. The second was with David and his descendants to have kingship over Israel “forever“. Thus, God kept the two branches of governance over His people, the priesthood and the kingship, separate so that each would be accountable to the other and all accountable to Him.
All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for God I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring as well. Numbers 18:19
Surely you know that the God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel forever—to him and his sons—by a covenant of salt. 2 Chronicles 13:5
This second covenant of salt is particularly interesting because of it’s connection with Messiah, stating clearly that he must be a descendant of David. Anyone having messianic rule over Israel who was not a descendant of David would be a breach of this enduring covenant. God simply would not do such a thing, He is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. The genealogies in both Matthew and Luke importantly show that Yeshua was indeed a descendant, a ‘son’, of David, and thus He is the fulfilment of this “covenant of salt” that God made with David and with Israel.
All the multitude of Jews sitting up on the mountain with Yeshua knew that He was speaking to them when He said: “You are the salt of the earth…”. The Jewish people are essential to life and civilisation on earth. They are essential as a witness and example of God’s dealing with mankind. They are essential as a testimony to God’s goodness and truth. That is what God had established the Jewish nation to be, salt preserving the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In calling them the salt of the earth Yeshua gave importance to the Jews scattered throughout the nations as well as those living in their homeland, for salt has to be scattered over the whole of the offering if it is going to be accepted, not just piled up on one portion of it. Everywhere that the Jews went throughout the earth they were to be salt in that place, a testimony by how they kept God’s covenant, to the nature and goodness of the one true God, creator of the universe and husband to their nation.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6
To us, talking about salt loosing it’s flavour might not make much sense. We have been focusing on it’s enduring nature, so how could it lose its flavour? To the scientist, salt (NaCl, sodium chloride) is one of the three or four most stable compounds in the world. Virtually no natural reaction can cause salt to turn into any other compound. It does not change, it does not degrade, salt is always salt and it is always salty.
… but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13b
But these Jews had experienced salt that had lost its flavour, they knew what Yeshua was talking about. Pure salt cannot lose its flavour, but not all the salt they purchased was pure. Indeed, the cheaper salts sometimes contained a mixture of salt with some other cheap and tasteless mineral (such as Gypsum, which was also abundant in the area) that, when ground up, nevertheless looked like salt. When the percentage of impurities in the salt got too great it lost its flavour and became worthless. No man would allow it to be thrown onto his field because it would destroy the fertility of the ground. The only place for it was on the street, where it would be trampled underfoot by men.
God’s covenant with the Jewish people was both wonderful and terrible. There were blessings for obedience, but there were also curses for disobedience. The people had stood on two mountains (now located in Samaria) and spoken the blessings over themselves from one mountain, and the curses over themselves from the other (Deuteronomy 11:26-29 & Joshua 8:33-35). Yeshua was now speaking prophetically to them of what would happen if the Jewish people lost their saltiness, rejected His words, they would be good for nothing as far as the kingdom of heaven was concerned, thrown out of their holy city of Jerusalem and trampled underfoot by men.
The need to remain pure was not new to Judaism. All the laws of the Pharisees were focused on keeping the people pure. The ‘fence they built around the Torah‘ was to keep the people pure. All their ritual hand washings and mikvah’s were to ensure the purity of the people. What Yeshua was saying was, in many ways, very close to what the teachers of the law were saying about the need for them to be pure before God. And yet, it was also so very different. Yeshua had just told them what the Father required in their purity, and there was not a ritual washing or shunning of other peoples in it – be poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Pride and self-righteousness, judgmental and hateful attitudes were the sort of impurities that Yeshua was warning against as things that could make them tasteless and useless to the kingdom.
The title “light of the world” appears frequently in rabbinic literature to describe a source of wisdom, goodness, or holiness. Different rabbinic sources use the term “light of the world” to describe the menorah, the Temple, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, the sages, specific rabbis, the whole nation of Israel, the redemption, the Torah, and even God Himself. The concept of the Jewish people being the light of the world was founded on Deuteronomy 4, in combination with Isaiah 42, 49 & 60, and depicted in the menorah.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you…. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2 & 6-8 NIV
“I, Adonai, called you righteously, I took hold of you by the hand, I shaped you and made you a covenant for the people, to be a light for the Goyim (Gentiles).” Isaiah 42:6 CJB
“I will also make you a light to the nations, so my salvation can spread to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6b
“Arise, shine [Yerushalayim], for your light has come, the glory of Adonai has risen over you. For although darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples; on you Adonai will rise; over you will be seen his glory. Nations will go toward your light and kings toward your shining splendour. Isaiah 60:1-3 CJB
Israel was to model before the nations a lifestyle governed by the light of God’s instructions. The successful and blessed lives that they would live in obedience to the Word of God would enlighten the Gentiles and turn them to God. As they elevated the light of the menorah, Israel would also be exalted. The Jewish people see in the seven flames of the menorah the collective souls of Israel as God’s light to the nations. Even the words of the commandment for lighting the menorah speak of Israel’s being elevated so as to enlighten the Gentile world. The command is, “When you raise the light” (Numbers 8:1). Israel was designed to lift up God’s fire upon a lampstand so it would give light to the household of humanity. They were not to hide, or lower, the light. They were to raise it, exalt it, make it glorious. Israel itself was elevated above the other nations of the world for the express purpose of raising the light: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, NKJV). Israel was chosen in order to raise God’s light, to be a demonstration of God’s holiness. God had formed Israel according to the heavenly pattern to be a menorah, a lampstand on which the light could be raised to radiate into the world. God had chosen to place His light in an insignificant, nomadic tribe and, by illuminating their lives with the goodness of His Torah, make them His menorah to the nations.
Even today the Jewish people recognise God’s intent that they be the light of the world, as can be seen in the selection of the menorah as the national emblem of Israel, and their prime minister’s words:
“…as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as ‘Light Unto the Nations’.” Benjamin Netanyahu, 2010.
Yeshua was not saying anything new to these Jews gathered up on the mountain to hear His teaching. It was a generally accepted doctrine that God had established their nation to be the light of the world. But Yeshua placed this teaching in a different context, in the context of the Beatitudes. In the context of being peacemakers, inviting all to be reconciled to God.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14b-15 NKJV
Every Jew immediately thought of Jerusalem as the city set on the hill, the city that was ordained to light the whole world with the knowledge of God. Here again was a prophetic hint at the coming destruction of that city if they continued to fail to shine the light of obedience to God’s covenant with them. A lamp placed under a bowl extinguishes itself for lack of oxygen. Likewise, the light of the world where the Temple stood, the menorah burned, the Sanhedrin convened, the rabbis taught, the Torah was studied, and the nation of Israel assembled, was in danger of being extinguished. Poverty of spirit, repentance, was needed to bring the nation back to God’s intent.
The interior walls of first-century houses had small niches in which the homeowner placed an oil lamp for illumination, and from that perch the lamp “gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). All of a sudden the pharisees’ “Eighteen Articles”, exclusivist measures which included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours, seemed like a pretty poor addition to what God had commanded them. To hide from, and cut off all positive contact with, their heathen neighbours would hide their lamps under a basket of hatred for the other. God had called them to shine before all men of all nations so that they, too, could be drawn to Him.
This teaching was not just for the Jews sitting up on the mountain listening to Yeshua, it was for them to share with all their Jewish neighbours and the Jewish traders from different areas who came to this major trading centre of Capernaum for business. “This teacher says that we are the salt of the earth, wherever you live and travel you need to keep covenant and remain pure to show all peoples what the one true God is like.” And then again; “this teacher says that we are the light of the world, we are not to hide ourselves away from others but to show them God’s goodness through our good deeds.” Listening, learning, memorising, living and sharing – that was the task of all who sat as disciples (students) of Yeshua this day.
1. Chan, Edmund. What does it mean to be Salt of the Earth? Salt & Light. [Online] 23rd January 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://saltandlight.sg/faith/edmund-chan-what-does-it-mean-to-be-salt-of-the-earth/. 2. Henry, Matthew.Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise) . 1706. 3. Ellicott, Charles John.Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1863. 4. Benson, Joseph.Benson Commentary. 1857. 5. Barnes, Albert.Barnes Notes on the Whole bible. 1838. 6. Nicoll, William Robertson.The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 1897. 7. Emil G. Hirsch, Immanuel Benzinger, Cyrus Adler, M. Seligsohn. SALT. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13043-salt. 8. Donovan, Richard Niell. Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Matthew 5:13-20. Sermon Writer. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-513-20/. 9. Fleischmann, Neil. Salt of the Earth. The New York Jewish Week. [Online] 20th March 2012. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/salt-of-the-earth/. 10. Rosenfeld, Dovid. Covenant of Salt. Ask the Rabbi. [Online] [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://www.aish.com/atr/Covenant-of-Salt.html. 11. Bernard, Tim Daniel. A Covenant of Salt. JTSA. [Online] 27th March 2020. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jtsa.edu/a-covenant-of-salt. 12. Brama, Dror. The Covenant of Salt – 5767. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 23rd March 2007. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://torahmitzion.org/learn/the-covenant-of-salt/. 13. A Hidden Teaching in the Light of the World. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: 4th May 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/a-hidden-teaching-in-the-light.html. 14. Artson, Rabi Bradley. The Menorah: Let Your Light Shine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-menorah-let-your-light-shine/. 15. Quinn, Carissa. Who Has God Chosen? Bible Project. [Online] 25th November 2019. [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://bibleproject.com/blog/who-has-god-chosen/. 16. Netanyahu, Benjamin.Address by PM Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference. s.l. : Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs., 2010. 17. Garr, John D. God’s Lamp, Man’s Light – Mysteries of the Menorah. Bridges for Peace. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.bridgesforpeace.com/letter/gods-lamp-mans-light-mysteries-of-the-menorah/.18. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883. 18. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Fall 1992. [Cited: 10th May 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/. 19. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* “Most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His” – what of God’s terms do people in your area try to avoid? * What does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth, and how do we lose our flavour? * What does it mean for us to be the light of the world, and how does that light get hidden? * What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words about salt and light? * What testimonies have people in your congregation shared about how others have responded to their good works (Matthew 5:16), and to their sharing Jesus’ words?
When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.” Luke 4:42-43 CJB
So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:39 CJB
The news spread quickly, and people came from everywhere to hear Yeshua speak, and to be healed by Him. Soon there was not just Andrew, Šimʻôn, James and Yochanan (John) following Yeshua and listening to His every word, there were multitudes. Philip, from nearby Bethsaida, and Natan’el, from Cana, were likely quickly among them, eager to keep following the Lamb of God whom Yochanan the Immerser had introduced them to. We know from Acts 1:21-23 that Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthiah were also among them.
The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:24-25 NASB
Although much of Yeshua’s earliest ministry had been in Jerusalem and Judea for the feasts, it was now predominantly in the norther region, in Galilee. It appears that the author of the fourth gospel was either unaware of the new developments in Galilee, or unable to leave his responsibilities in Jerusalem at this time to join the multitudes, as this ‘John’ does not provide witness to any of this in his gospel account. On the other hand, Matthew the tax collector appears to have left his booth and followed the crowds to hear what this new teacher had to say – for he gives us a carefully compiled account of the full days’ teaching. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have been shunned in the synagogue, but there was no one policing who came up this mountain to listen to Yeshua. It had a profound impact on this outcast from Jewish religious society.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying… Matthew 5:1-2 NASB
Large crowds in towns and cities attract attention, sometimes the unwanted attention of Roman soldiers. Yeshua led His group away to the safety of a more isolated place. Here, on this unknown mountain, probably just outside Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes, the people could relax and focus on what Yeshua was saying. Just as Moses had given the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people on earth, so now Yeshua was going to explain to the people how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first part of the lesson was a very practical one – get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take time out to commune with Him.
Yeshua sat to teach the people on the mountain, just as He did to teach them in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). “He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire.“(C. H. Spurgeon). Yeshua had chosen the place for this teaching. Once He came to the perfect spot He sat down, and those following Him gathered around to hear what He would say. Yeshua spoke with an uncommon authority, He sat as a king decreeing the laws of His Kingdom, a kingdom so unlike any other they had ever known.
As the crows eagerly watched Him, Yeshua opened His mouth and began teaching them. The topography of the region around the Sea of Galilee allowed His voice to travel well as He opened his mouth to project it out to the crowd. Spurgeon wrote: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” God had spoken to His people through the prophets in times past, now He opened His mouth and spoke to them directly through His Son.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son… Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV
What Yeshua had to say goes straight to how we live every moment of our lives. Judaism had always been as much about how one lived their life as about what one believed – the two were inseparable. Belief manifests itself in attitudes and actions, in a total way of life. Yeshua’s words deconstruct our habits and ways of being and reform them into His likeness – they teach us what it is to be His disciple. Importantly, Yeshua‘s words were meant to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation.
Talmidim (disciples) were to memorise the words of their rabbi, meditate on those words, discuss those words, live out those words, and then teach others those words – that was the task of a disciple. (1)
Memorisation was essential to all first centenary Jewish education. With manuscripts being expensive, and having to be written by hand, most did not have direct access to them, so learning was dependent on being able to memorise large portions of scripture and children were expected to memorise the whole Torah through their first five years of schooling. In nations where many cannot read, or afford their own copy of the written word, and in those where persecution robs people of their written copies of the scriptures, returning to the way Yeshua taught His disciples offers opportunity to truly learn from Him. Yeshua made it easy for his first disciples, and for us, to memorise His words by presenting them in a memorable thematic structure with vivid images and poetic language. So, as we go through Yeshua’s verbal teachings, take the time to memorise what He says, and in your sermons teach your people also to memorise the words of our Saviour, recite them to each other, think on them and discuss them through the week, and share them with others.
The first section of Yeshua’s teaching is often called “the Beatitudes“, which means “the Blessings”. The Beatitudes were spoken in two sets of four, with the fourth one in each set focusing on righteousness. The first four Beatitudes speak to how we enter the kingdom of heaven – by acknowledging our lack and pain, acknowledging Jesus’ right to reign over us and longing for His righteousness. The second four speak to how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven – loyal to His covenant with us, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted because our loyalty has shifted from the world to God. There is nothing in here which is an optional extra if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. Some emphasise this with a play on words, the “beatitudes” giving the believer our “be – attitudes” – the “attitudes” we should “be.” We have no part in Jesus, or in His kingdom, if we are not committed to His ways.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12
Each statement begins with the word “Blessed“. This comes from the Greek μακάριος, makarios, which describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, makarios becomes the express symbol of a joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.
The first reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is the kingdom of heaven. Yochanan the Immerser had preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) After Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been imprisoned He began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Now He describes the state of those who will become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, those whom God will extend it to: the “poor in spirit“.
The Greek noun πτωξος – ptochos – translated “poor” in this beatitude means literally: “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” The one who is ptochos has nothing and no means to care for themselves nor to give to another, they are totally destitute. “Poor in spirit” is repentant – coming to God recognising that we have no righteousness of our own, we are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness.
We need to come to the realization of our own spiritual bankruptcy and tum in total dependence to God if we are to come into His kingdom. The Pharisees were basing their approach to God on their good works and strict Torah obedience, but Yeshua was declaring that was not the way to come to God. We are not good enough in ourselves, nor nearly good enough, nor somewhat good enough, we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...” Romans 7:18a. “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)
For the high and exalted One, He who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy says this, “I dwell on the high and holy place, but also with the contrite and humble in spirit. In order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin].” Isaiah 57:15 AMP
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one..”… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:10, 23-24 NIV
The acknowledged owners of nothing shall be the recipients of everything.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are the repentant who recognise their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The next reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is comfort. The Greek verb translated comfort, παρακαλέωparakaléō, comes from para, meaning “from close beside”, and kaléō, meaning “to call”. To be comforted is to be called near, to have God come to our side, as He describes in Isaiah 57:15 which we read above. It is not just an emotional comfort that Yeshua is offering us here, although that is an essential part of His offer. Parakaléō also has legal overtones – He is offering to be our advocate before the throne of God, as well as One coming close beside with emotional comfort.
My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik (Righteous One), who pleads our cause with the Father. Also, He is the kapparah (atonement) for our sins… 1 John 2:1-2a CJB
Mourning is the pre-requisite for this life-giving comfort. The Greek verb πτωξοςpentheo, means deep grief or intense sorrow, openly manifested by weeping audibly. This speaks of the most intense human emotional pain and suffering. It can be anguish over the personal losses we experience in life, or anguish felt within the spirit of man for the state of his own soul held captive in sin and death, or for the state of a lost sinful world. Those who mourn experience a closeness with Yeshua, the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), as they partake in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Intense pain is intense pain, and Yeshua makes no distinction here as to the cause of our deep grief and intense sorrow. All who mourn, all who suffer from deep grief and intense sorrow, all who choose not to hide from that pain or deflect it onto others, all who are willing to experience the agonies of truly loving in this world, all who mourn will be comforted.
“The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me, because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favour of Adonai and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” Isaiah 61:1-2 CJB
Blessed are those who mourn – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who do not try to hide from their pain but agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow – for God Himself shall draw near and they shall be comforted.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 KJV
Next Yeshua offers the state of blessedness of inheriting the earth. The Greek noun, γῆ gê, refers to the physical earth, to land, country, soil. Many indigenous people groups understand such a blessing, for they are closely tied to their land, even as the Jews were closely tied to their land.
It appeared as though the Romans, with their brute force, were inheriting the earth – conquering one people’s land after another. Their whole lives these people had witnessed Rome fulfilling Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast:
After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. Daniel 7:7a CJB
But Yeshua assures the people that this is not the end of the story. Despite the fact that all of history shouts that it is the brutes, the devious schemers, the warlords, who inherit the earth, yet still all of Daniel’s vision shall come to pass:
“As I watched, thrones were set in place; and the Ancient One took his seat. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head was like pure wool. His throne was fiery flames, with wheels of burning fire.A stream of fire flowed from his presence; thousands and thousands ministered to him, millions and millions stood before him. Then the court was convened, and the books were opened. … … “I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence.To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:9-14 CJB
The promise of messiah was not for the Zealots engaged in gorilla warfare to try to re-take their land, convinced that their acts of bravery and brutality would entice the anointed one to join them and supernaturally defeat the Roman armies and remove all gentiles in a great slaughter. It was not physical violence that would restore the land to Israel or bring God’s kingdom to earth.
Yeshua’s words were not new to Judaism, King David had written:
Don’t be upset by evildoers or envious of those who do wrong, for soon they will wither like grass and fade like the green in the fields. Trust in Adonai, and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to Adonai; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till he comes. Don’t be upset by those whose way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset — it leads to evil. For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Adonai will inherit the land. Soon the wicked will be no more; you will look for his place, and he won’t be there. But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:1-11 CJB
So, what is it to be meek? The Greek πραΰς, praǜs, is usually translated as ‘meek’ or ‘gentle’. It contains the idea of having power under authority, strength under control. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us without disputing or resisting, it involves relying on God, rather than our own strength, to defend us against injustice. The meek quietly accept criticism without retaliation or defensiveness. It is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Most importantly, meekness is acknowledging Christ’s lordship over us, and placing our lives in His hands to do with as He pleases.
In another context, the Greek word praǜs was used to describe a well trained horse that would respond fully, and only, to it’s rider’s command, a horse that was unmoved by everything else happening around it. A praǜs (meek) horse was one that did not demand its own way, one that went wherever the rider wanted to go at the speed the rider wanted to travel, one that you could trust to walk behind, one that did not shy or buck at sudden movements or loud noises, or even at threats like a snake or battle, because it was so yielded to its rider that its only response in every situation was obedience to the will of the rider. The strength of this powerful animal was totally under the control of the slightest whisper of the rider, or movement of their finger. Only such a horse can be trusted in battle.
Blessed are the meek – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to those who totally yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives – for they shall inherit the land.
To be ‘filled‘, some versions translate this as ‘satisfied‘, is to have all that you were longing for. It can also be translated ‘to be made fat’. Righteousness shall not evade those who hunger and thirst for it. We are not called to be content with partial righteousness, or with a little righteousness. A hungry man will not be satisfied with just one grain of rice, nor even with a handful. He will eat, and eat, and eat until he cannot fit any more food in, only then will he be full. If he has eaten in the morning, he will be hungry again before the day is through, and once more eat and eat until there is no more space left in his stomach. The offer here is to be so full of righteousness that there is no room for anything else in our lives. Such fullness is not a once only event, but a continual process of hungering and being filled, hungering and being filled. The moment we cease to hunger and thirst for righteousness we shall cease to be filled, and the resulting emptiness will attract all sorts of other things into our lives.
So, what is righteousness? The original Greek word δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosýnē, comes from dike, which translates as “a judicial verdict”. You will remember that the Greek word translated comfort, parakaléō, also has legal overtones which places Yeshua as our legal advocate before the Father who judges all. The literal translation of dikaiosýnē is “judicial approval”. God is the judge of all, so righteousness is that which has divine approval. It is that which God, as judge over the universe, approves of.
Isaiah calls to the people:
Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no silver come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3a
Yeshua calls us to hunger and thirst for both personal righteousness and community righteousness. Personally, we enter into God’s divine approval when we welcome Jesus Christ as our saviour and lord. We are to hunger and thirst for the approval of God which can only come through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. We are also to hunger and thirst for our thoughts, words and actions to be pleasing to God, to be that which He approves of. Since God isn’t about to change and start approving of sin or the works of the flesh, we hunger and thirst for our lives to be brought into line with His will, to walk by the Spirit.
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25
Righteousness produces love and concern for others and their wellbeing. It is not greedy, self seeking or corrupt. We need only look around to see that our world is grieving and groaning, longing to be made right. So many are suffering through injustice, poverty, immorality and the greed of others. It is not God’s righteousness for people to go hungry, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to suffer sickness and disease, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to be oppressed by the Devil, that is not what He approves of. Yeshua invites us to hunger and thirst, to connect to our deep longings and needs, to grieve and groan with our world, and to call on God to bring justice, peace and wholeness to our world. When we’re surrounded by so much suffering and injustice, it can be easy to become numb or indifferent to the pain around us. But God calls us to long for righteousness so much that we keep crying out to Him for it like a child cries for food or drink when they have none, and we keep living out righteousness in holiness, showing love and kindness to our neighbours.
If we do not desire God’s righteousness, we do not desire Him. If we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, both in our own actions and in this world, we do not know Him. There is no fellowship with God apart from righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who long, as a desperate necessity, for that which God approves of – for they shall be filled.
Now that we have seen what is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and be granted citizenship there, we come to the four beatitudes which describe our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. These next attributes are not ones that the natural man is capable of, hence our need for the emptying and longing of the first four beatitudes that bring us to the cross, dependent on receiving God’s righteousness through His grace towards us who are incapable of meriting such. It is only on the basis of God filling us with righteousness, as He promises in the fourth beatitude, that we are able to live the following beatitudes – merciful, pure peacemakers rejoicing even in persecution.
The Cambridge dictionary defines mercy as: kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish. While this definition describes an element of mercy, it lacks a crucial component of Biblical mercy, the Greek ἔλεος éleos, being translated from the Hebrew חַסְדֹּֽו׃ , chas·dov, which involves loyalty to God’s covenant with us (The Discovery bible). Biblical mercy is ‘covenant-loyalty–mercy‘ or ‘covenant-love-mercy‘, it is an attitude and actions that are founded on God’s covenant with us and are consistent with that covenant. It is the loving loyalty which actively affirms all that is in keeping with God’s covenant, and equally opposes all that is contrary to it. Thus, it is inextricably linked to faith. It is an act of mercy to bring God’s righteousness to a situation.
Psalm 136 is the great mercy psalm as it traces God’s actions in covenant with Israel. Some of those actions might not sound merciful to western ears, like killing the firstborn of Egypt, or drowning their army in the sea, but they were all merciful by God’s standards because they were all in fulfilment of His covenant.
To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: and brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: … … And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever: even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: and hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:10-26 KJV
God’s mercy is His covenant with us. That covenant is through Christ Jesus and His blood atoning for our sins. Again we see the graciousness and severity of God’s mercy, for it doesn’t evade His judgment on sin but rather executes that judgment on His Son in our place. God said of the Jewish people:
For I desired mercy (loyalty to My covenant), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Hosea 6:6-7 KJV
So, how does loyalty to God’s covenant fit with “kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish?” God’s covenant is a covenant of sacrificial love. When God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant they made with Him in Exodus 24, He showed unmerited kindness towards them whom He had the right and power to punish, by sending His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. God’s mercy established a new covenant.
He had promised this back in Jeremiah 31:
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” … … “Behold, the days come”, saith the Lord, “that I will make anew covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them”, saith the Lord: “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days”, saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them”, saith the Lord: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:3,31-34 KJV
Yeshua confirmed that He had come to establish a new covenant with us, this is the mercy we obtain from Him:
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 NIV
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV
This covenant was for those who deserve God’s punishment, those who were sinners and enemies of God:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Romans 5:8-10 NIV
It is a merciful covenant, but not an unconditional one. We need to remain loyal to our covenant with God:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 NIV
Blessed are the merciful, ἐλεήμονες eleēmones, those who act consistently with the revelation of God’s covenant. A believer is being merciful when we forgive another because Christ has forgiven us, regardless of whether the other has done anything to deserve forgiveness or not. Mercy is responding to God’s covenant rather than to the other’s actions or attitudes. When we remain loyal to God’s covenant in all our dealings with others then we receive all the benefits of that covenant, we receive mercy.
Blessed are the merciful – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who lovingly live in absolute loyalty to God’s covenant – for they shall receive the mercy of all the benefits of God’s covenant.
The longing to see God, to perceive His presence, to behold His glory, is at the heart of all spiritual practice. Abraham had such an experience with God and Moses did not want to move unless God’s presence would go with them:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Genesis 17:1 NIV
If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … … And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” Exodus 33:13-18 NIV
David beautifully depicted the intensity of that longing:
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2 NIV
Isaiah saw the Lord and immediately recognised his need to be purified:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. … “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:1,5-7 NIV
The Sadducees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through the temple sacrifices. The Pharisees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through strict obedience to all the laws and customs they had built as a fence around the Torah, including all their ceremonial washings and bodily immersions. Yeshua’s audience were well aquatinted with all the ceremonial washings and immersions required by the Pharisees before entering the synagogue or temple to ‘see’ God through the sacrifices, worship or Torah reading. Yeshua here reminds the people that God’s focus is not on how they wash their hands or immerse their bodies, but on the condition of their hearts.
Our perception of God is dimmed and distorted by any impurities that we harbour in our heart. To be pure, καθαροὶ katharos, in heart is to be without mixture, free from contaminants, separated from all the lusts of the flesh, all false concepts of God and all hurts and wounds that distort our perceptions. David prayed:
...give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart… Psalm 86:11-12a
Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 AMP
Such purity of heart is not something that we come to God with. It is not something that we can bring about through our own efforts. We come to Him poor in spirit, hurting and mourning, willing to yield completely to Him and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, purifies and fills us. That is His covenant with us, His mercy towards us, that we loyally honour out of gratitude for all that He has done for us by guarding our hearts.
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage] And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure. Proverbs 4:23-26
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NIV
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV
Blessed are the pure in heart – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those whose heart is free from all contamination – for they shall see and truly know God.
The previous blessing spoke of our vision of God, our capacity to perceive His presence, His goodness, in our lives. This one speaks of our relationship to God. The Greek word κληθήσονται, klēthēsontai, translates as to be called, invited, chosen. This blessing, this joyous fulfilment as God extends Himself to us, is a calling into the most exalted place. Not just called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but called to be members of the royal family, nay even more than that, called to be sons and heirs of God.
The Greek word υἱός, hyiós, is literally translated as a son (by birth or adoption). Figuratively it is used to denote anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. Hyiós, both emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father and highlights the legal right to the Father’s inheritance. We are called to share the same nature as the Father. Back in the garden we were created in God’s image. This image was distorted by sin but is now restored through Christ. Our great privilege now is to resemble our Father.
Paul expands on the theme of our sonship:
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NKJV
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 NASB
The Greek word translated as “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιός, eirēnopoiós, and it denotes a person who bravely declares God’s terms to make someone whole. That is, a person who shares the gospel with others. A “peacekeeper” might try to avoid controversy or saying anything unpopular, but a “peacemaker” confronts sin and offers God’s terms for reconciliation, which brings His gift of wholeness. Paul wrote on this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NASB
Blessed are the peacemakers – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who boldly declare the gospel, begging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God – for they shall be called sons of God, resembling the Father and being heirs.
We have returned to where we began with these blessings – the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua sandwiched all the other blessings between two assurances of the kingdom of heaven. We gain a bit more insight into the kingdom of heaven in the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NIV
The kingdom of heaven consists of people from every tribe and language and nation. This is where Yeshua had come into conflict with the good people of his hometown, Nazareth – they were convinced that God’s blessings were exclusively for the Jews and so became violent when Yeshua gave examples from the Hebrew scriptures showing that God also extends His blessings and calling to those of other nations. Revelation had not yet been written, but Yeshua’s audience had Isaiah and Daniel’s prophesies, and on this basis they had been hoping for a messiah and a kingdom. This is what they could learn from the prophets about the kingdom of heaven:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2:2-4 NIV
In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days.The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory. Isaiah 24:21-23 NIV
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 NIV
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” Isaiah 28:16-17a
Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour. Isaiah 60:17-21 NIV
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. Isaiah 65: 17-25 NIV
“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22-23
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7:27 NIV
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 NIV
As we follow through Yeshua’s ministry we will explore the many parables He told to help the people understand more of what the kingdom of heaven is like. For now they knew enough to know it was their heart’s desire to be part of this kingdom. In this blessing we see clearly how all the blessings surpass the things of this world. Blessings is not health, wealth, prestige, power or physical life, for any or all of these may be taken from us through persecution, yet still we are blessed, joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to us.
It is worth noting that the blessing is not for any and every persecution, but only for that which ignited by being filled with righteousness as in the fourth blessing. There is no blessing in being persecuted for being an idiot, for doing wrong, for lying, for being proud and arrogant, or for being bitter, critical or hateful. Where as all who mourn, agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow, are comforted, only those whose persecution arises out of their walk with Jesus receive the blessing. Only those who are living the other seven beatitudes can live this one. Only those who are living Christ (verse 11), are blessed with great reward when they are persecuted, .
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Persecution can take many forms. Three different words are used in verse 11 to describe what we might suffer for righteousness sake. The first is ὀνειδίσωσιν, oneidízō, which is to disgrace, reproach, mock, curse, insult, shame, cast blame – viewing someone asculpably guilty and therefore deserving punishment. The second is διώξωσιν, diṓkō, which is to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch. The third is ψευδόμενοι, pseúdomai, which is to lie, falsify, and wilfully misrepresent in accusing of all kinds of πονηρὸν, ponērós, that is evil which causes pain and agony. Just because a follower of Jesus is doing good does not mean that they will be honoured for that good, often the reverse is true, as it was true of our Saviour. Isaiah had written:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 NIV
Many times people will try to hide from their own sin and shame by calling evil good and good evil. Such is the opposite of being poor in spirit. Persecution aims to silence the peacemakers and cause the righteousness to suffer. It seeks to bring disgrace and shame to the righteous, casting them as being unfit for ministry, or for life. It lies. Yeshua assures us that it does not matter if others call our good evil, because the reward for the righteous is not on this earth but is great in heaven (the infinite dimensions in which God dwells).
Blessed are those who are persecuted – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who suffer disgrace, reproach, mockery, curses, insults, shame, false blame, declared guilty, are hunted down, misrepresented and accused of evil for righteousness sake – for theirs is the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
Christ leads us to the kingdom of heaven through repentance (poor in spirit), acknowledging our pain (mourning), yielding completely to God (meek) and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He answers that hunger and thirst by filling us with righteousness, the old has passed away behold all things have become new. Out of the fullness of righteousness that we receive in Him we respond with loyalty to His covenant of mercy (merciful), our filled hearts have no room for the things of this world (pure heart), we boldly declare the gospel that people may be reconciled to God (peacemakers) and suffer persecution for our shift in loyalty from this world system to God. In all this God blesses us with the kingdom of heaven, His comfort, the earth (our land), righteousness, mercy (all the benefits of His covenant with us), seeing God and adopting us as His children. How wonderous is all that Jesus offers us through His teaching on blessings.
1. Pennington, Jonathan. 3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Sermon on the Mount . The Gospel Coalition. [Online] 16th November 2017. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-things-didnt-know-sermon-mount/. 2. Spurgeon, C. H. The Beatitudes. Spurgeon Gems. [Online] 29th July 1909. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs3155.pdf. 3. Smith, Chuck. Study Guide for Sermon on the Mount. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/StudyGuides_Mount/Mount.cfm. 4. Wicker, Jim. Preaching Through the Sermon on the Mount. Preaching Source. [Online] Summer 2004. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/preaching-through-the-sermon-on-the-mount/. 5. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Vol. 35 Fall 1992. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/. 6. Piper, John. The Majesty of the Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount. Derising God. [Online] 1st August 2014. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-majesty-of-the-teacher-in-the-sermon-on-the-mount. 7. Matthew 5:1-2 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] 10th April 2020. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_51-3#5:1. 8. Ritenbaugh, John W. What the Bible says about Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/969/Sermon-on-Mount.htm. 9. —. The Beatitudes, Part One: The Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/195/The-Beatitudes-Sermon-on-Mount.htm. 10. Archer, Dr. Gary Hill & Dr. Gleason. HELPS Word-studies devotional lexicon. Discovery Bible. 11. Guzik, David. MATTHEW 5 – THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Enduring Word . [Online] 2018. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-5/. 12. John F. Walvoord. The Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible.org. [Online] 1st January 2008. [Cited: 20th April 2020.] https://bible.org/article/kingdom-heaven. 13. Allen, Judy. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Unlocking the Bible. [Online] 10th May 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://unlockingthebible.org/2017/05/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/. 14. Piper, John. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness . Desiring God. [Online] 16th February 1986. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness. 15. Kreminski, Karina. Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Common Grace. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.commongrace.org.au/beatitudes_hunger_and_thirst_for_righteousness. 16. Kinsolving, Carey. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Creators. [Online] 17th June 2013. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.creators.com/read/kids-talk-about-god/06/13/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness. 17. Doriani, Daniel. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Tabletalk. [Online] June 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/06/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/. 18. mercy. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mercy. 19. New Covenant.Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/new-covenant. 20. Travers, Joshua.Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: 27th April 2020] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/christian-conversion/the-sermon-on-the-mount/beatitudes/blessed-persecuted-righteousness-sake/
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* How have your people responded to memorising Jesus’ words? * What insights have your congregation shared with you from their week of meditating on the words of Jesus that they memorised and talking with each other about what He said? * What has been the response to members of your congregation sharing Jesus’ words with others? * How did Jesus present the gospel of the kingdom in the Beatitudes? * What additional insights have you gained about the gospel through studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:4-12
Please read Matthew 4:13-25, Mark 1:14-34 & Luke 4:31 – 5:11
There are many new starts throughout the scriptures and throughout life. God does not change, nor does His word, but everything on this earth is constantly changing. With each change comes an ending of what was and a beginning of something new. Yochanan the Immerser’s ministry had come to an abrupt end with his imprisonment. The baton of reform which he had been assigned to carry in preparation for the coming of Messiah had now been totally handed over to that Messiah, the Lamb of God.
Some of Yochanan’s most astute talmidim had responded to his exhortation and left him to follow the Messiah during the in-between time when they were both ministering to the people. To mark the end of Yochanan’s ministry, and in honour of all that he had done, Yeshua had sent these talmidim back to their homes and families who were no doubt worried about them after what had been done to Yochanan.
Now it was time for a new beginning. A beginning in this next season of Yeshua’s ministry. He had left Nazareth before, to seek out Yochanan and the immersion that would mark the beginning of His ministry. Now He was moving out of Nazareth to enter the next phase of that ministry, during which He would choose twelve of His Jewish talmidim for the foundation of this reformation. His leaving Nazareth was via Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) for the celebration of the one day pilgrimage festival of Shavu‘ot (Feast of Weeks) in fulfilment of Torah, but now he came back north to Capernaum to establish a new home.
Matthew, continuing in his theme of Yeshua’s life fulfilling the words of the Jewish prophets, records:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.“
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:13-17 NKJV
We are all familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy in verse six of chapter nine, and how this is fulfilled in Christ:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder; and His name will be called Wonderful, Councillor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NKJV
Now Matthew is taking us just a few verses back in the same chapter:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali… By the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. Isaiah 9:1b-2 NKJV
Isaiah wrote this prophesy over 700 years before, and gave a description that enabled Matthew, and others who studied the Jewish prophets, to locate where he was talking about all these centuries later when the locations and names of towns had changed.
The light (John 1:4-5,9) shone first in Nazareth (in the land of Zebulun) where Yeshua grew up, and then moved to Capernaum (in the land of Naphtali) on that ancient road and major trading route called the ‘Way of the Sea’ which ran from the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt all the way through Capernaum to Damascus in Syria.
Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. Luke 4:31-32 NKJV
Yeshua now came and dwelt (κατῴκησεν), set up house, in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13a). κατῴκησεν (katōkēsen) comes from the Greek kata (meaning down as in permanent) and oikeo (to live in a home); so literally means to house permanently. It is translated as: to dwell in, settle down as a permanent resident, be established in (permanently), in a permanent dwelling place as one’s personal residence. The change of abode seems to have included Yeshua’s whole family, except His sisters who were now married and living with their husbands in Nazareth, as in Matthew 13:56 the people in Nazareth say: “And aren’t all his sisters here with us?” (1)
The meaning of ‘Capernaum’ is “city of Nahum”, or “village of consolation”. When Yeshua moved there He brought hope to a part of God’s Land that was in desperate need of it. The dark basalt stones around the Sea of Galilee that were typically used in building were a tangible expression of the darkness felt by this region under constant threat of invasion. (2) This land had been the first to suffer in the beginning of those wars which finally resulted in the captivity of the ten northern tribes of Israel. The people of this district were smitten by Benhadad (1 Kings 15:20), and afterwards by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29 ; 1 Chronicles 5:26), until the total invasion of the Northern Kingdom and capture of their capitol city Samaria by King Shalmaneser of Assyria in 722 BC. The region is called Galilee of the Gentiles because it was inhabited by Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians, as well as by Hebrews. (3) Yeshua – the son of David – was beginning His restoration of the Davidic kingdom (and His transformation of it into the kingdom of heaven) at ground zero where God’s covenant judgment had first fallen seven centuries before. (4)
Yeshua taught in the Capernaum synagogue every Shabbat
“…and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.” Luke 4:31b – 32.
Each Shabbat (Saturday morning) Yeshua participated in the synagogue service with the rest of the Jewish community in Capernaum. His reading of the Hebrew Scriptures was confident and accurate, He spoke both scripture and His teaching on it with an authority they had not heard before.
David N. Bivin writes of the task of reading the Hebrew Scriptures in a synagogue during this time:
In Jesus’ day reading Hebrew was not an easy task—the language did not include vowel signs. These signs were only invented beginning in the sixth century A.D. A Hebrew word could often be vocalized in more than one way, allowing it to have more than one meaning. The way one vocalized a word affected the meaning of the text. To read correctly, one had to know which vowels to combine with the consonants of each word.
To read Scripture publicly was even more difficult. No errors, no matter how minor, were permitted. If a reader made a mistake, he had to back up and repeat the text correctly. There were myriad ancient traditions concerning how to vocalize the words of the sacred text, and no one dared read publicly without careful preparation. (6)
…on Shabbat Yeshua went into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself. Mark 1:21b-22 CJB
The Torah-teachers based their authority on the words of others. “The great sage …. has said this…… but then another sage ….. countered with this……, so we can conclude that…..” Yeshua had authority in Himself. He had no need to quote others to try to prove his point, He simply declared the Word of God with the authority of one who has the meaning and intent of that word within Himself.
Calling Simon Peter and Andrew, then James and John
Having sent all His talmidim back to their homes after news came of Yochanan’s imprisonment by Herod Antipas, it was now time for Yeshua to start building His team again. There would be many who would follow Him, and twelve whom He specifically called to be part of the foundation of His reformation of Judaism in establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. Judaism had been built on the foundation of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), who had become twelve tribes, even so this reformation of Judaism would be built on a foundation of twelve men. These Jews understood the significance of the number 12. As Yeshua now chooses his Talmidim we notice a departure from the norm of the time. Instead of waiting for them to come to him, he goes to them. Instead of intensive questioning to test their intellectual rigour, a simple invitation to come:
As Yeshua walked by Lake Kinneret, he saw two brothers who were fishermen — Shim‘on, known as Kefa (Simon Peter), and his brother Andrew — throwing their net into the lake. Yeshua said to them,“Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men!” At once they left their nets and went with him. Matthew 4:18-20 CJB
As he walked beside Lake Kinneret, he saw Shim‘on and Andrew, Shim‘on’s brother, casting a net into the lake; for they were fishermen. Yeshua said to them,“Come, follow me, and I will make you into fishers for men!” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16-28 CJB
Andrew had been one of the two disciples of Yochanan the Immerser who were the first followers of Yeshua. He had been quick to find his brother Shim’on and take him to Yeshua. They had already been with Yeshua at His immersion, then the wedding in Cana where His first miracle was performed, then down to Jerusalem where He cleansed the temple in preparation for Passover, then immersing multitudes in Judea, then the surprise journey to Jacob’s Well in the heart of Samaria, then back up to Cana where He had healed the official’s son with just a word and they had returned with that official to Capernaum to see for themselves the miracle which had taken place. Now they had heard Yeshua preaching and teaching in their synagogue every Shabbat and seen the respect He commanded there as He spoke with an authority none here had seen before. So, theirs was not a rash, impulsive decision. Every conversation they’d had during the long hours of fishing through the night had been about this man, this teacher, this messiah.
Now it was Yeshua who sort them out and specifically called them to be His talmidim. Something new was taking place, and a greater level of commitment would be required.
During His weeks dwelling in Capernaum and teaching them in the synagogue on their Sabbaths, Yeshua had also noticed another set of brothers. There is no record of these two having ever followed Yochanan the Immerser, nor been with Yeshua to see His miracles before now.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers — Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai (James, son of Zebedee) and Yochanan (John) his brother — in the boat with their father Zavdai (Zebedee), repairing their nets; and he called them. At once they left the boat and their father and went with Yeshua. Matthew 4:21-22 CJB
Going on a little farther, he saw Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan, his brother, in their boat, repairing their nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zavdai in the boat with the hired men and went after Yeshua. Mark 1:19-20 CJB
From the gospel accounts of the women at the cross, it has been suggested by some that Yeshua’s mother was a sister of their mother, offering the intriguing possibility that these two young men, Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan, were cousins of the Messiah. We soon learn that they were fishing partners with Andrew and Shim‘on, so these four young men were used to working with one another.
It has been suggested that Zavdai (Zebedee) was wealthy because he could afford to have hired men working for his fishing business, but any small business owner knows that having employees does not necessarily make one wealthy. Anyway, Zavdai did have the skills to employ others to work with him and keep his fishing business going when these two sons left to follow Yeshua. In Jewish society it was considered a great honour to have a respected rabbi ask your son to follow him, and to have two sons called upon by a rabbi was a double blessing, even if it made running the family business more difficult.
Preaching with authority & deliverance power
The next ShabbatYeshua had four eager talmidim with Him when he entered the synagogue in Capernaum. This time not only did Yeshua read the Torah and teach with authority, He exercised that authority in setting a man free:
They entered K’far-Nachum (Capernaum), and on Shabbat Yeshua went into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority Himself. In their synagogue just then was a man with an unclean spirit in him, who shouted, “What do you want with us, Yeshua from Natzeret? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” But Yeshua rebuked the unclean spirit,“Be quiet and come out of him!” Throwing the man into a convulsion, it gave a loud shriek and came out of him. They were all so astounded that they began asking each other,“What is this? A new teaching, one with authority behind it! He gives orders even to the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” And the news about him spread quickly through the whole region of the Galil (Galilee). Mark 1:21-28 CJB
In the synagogue there was a man who had an unclean demonic spirit, who shouted in a loud voice, “Yaah! What do you want with us, Yeshua from Natzeret? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” But Yeshua rebuked it:“Be quiet, and come out of him!” The demonic spirit threw the man down in the middle of the crowd and came out of him, having done him no harm. They were all astounded and said to one another,“What kind of teaching is this? Why, He gives orders with power and authority to the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about Him went out through the whole surrounding district. Luke 4:33-37 CJB
Yeshua healed all brought to Him…
Everything was now in order for this fresh and powerful re-start of Yeshua’s ministry. One miraculous deliverance and the word went out. Soon He would be inundated with those needing healing.
First, Yeshua returned to the home of one of his disciples, Shim‘on Kefa (Simon Peter), because Shim‘on’s mother-in-law had been too unwell to come to synagogue. Shim‘on was the only one of the twelve whom Yeshua would choose who is recorded as being old enough to already be married and old enough to have to pay the temple tax of one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20yo.
They left the synagogue and went with Ya‘akov (James) and Yochanan (John) to the home of Shim‘on and Andrew. Shim‘on’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and they told Yeshua about her. He came, took her by the hand and lifted her onto her feet. The fever left her, and she began helping them. Mark 1:29-31 CJB
And having risen out of the synagogue, he entered into the house of Simon, and the mother-in-law of Simon was pressed with a great fever, and they did ask him about her, and having stood over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her, and presently, having risen, she was ministering to them. Luke 4:38-39 YLT
The moment the Sabbath had come to an end that evening, and they were free to travel and to carry those too afflicted to walk, the people of Capernaum brought to Yeshua everyone who needed healing.
That evening after sundown, they brought to Yeshua all who were ill or held in the power of demons, and the whole town came crowding around the door. He healed many who were ill with various diseases and expelled many demons, but he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. Mark 1:32-34 CJB
After sunset, all those who had people sick with various diseases brought them to Yeshua, and he put his hands on each one of them and healed them; also demons came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But, rebuking them, he did not permit them to say that they knew he was the Messiah. Luke 4:40-41 CJB
Mark writes that Yeshua healed many who were ill and expelled many demons. Luke is more emphatic, stating that everyone whom they brought to Yeshua this evening was healed. There were no exceptions. Not everyone who was sick was also afflicted by demons, but many of them were and Yeshua delivered every one of those as part of His healing of them. Whereas Yeshua had quite openly spoken of being the Messiah before, now He was avoiding any explicit reference to such and would not even let the demons make it known. He had no need for other’s testimony about Him, the testimony of His Father sufficed.
On the road in the Father’s will…
The people of Capernaum, like most peoples, loved seeing miracles and having their needs met. It was wonderful and exciting. It was healing and liberating. It was encouraging and affirming. They wanted Yeshua to stay and keep doing miracles for them, to stay and keep meeting their needs. While He was moved with compassion for people, He refused to be bound by their expectations – it was His Father’s business that Yeshua was about, and to keep in touch with what that was He kept going off to lonely places to pray.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Yeshua got up, left, went away to a lonely spot and stayed there praying. But Shim‘on and those with him went after him; and when they found him, they said,“Everybody is looking for you.” He answered,“Let’s go somewhere else — to the other villages around here. I have to proclaim the message there too — in fact this is why I came out.” So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:35-39 CJB
When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.” He also spent time preaching in the synagogues of Y’hudah (Judah – some versions say Galilee). Luke 4:42-44 CJB
It was summer, the dry season, as Yeshua left Capernaum with His Talmidim to teach and preach in the surrounding areas. The wheat harvest had been brought in and now the vines were being tended.
1. Alford, Henry. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary Luke 4. Study Light. [Online] [Cited: 1st December 2019.] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/luke-4.html. 2. Ritmeyer, Leen. The Synagogue of Capernaum in which Jesus taught – was it black or white? Ritmeyer Archaeological Design. [Online] 15 March 2018. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.ritmeyer.com/2018/03/15/the-synagogue-of-capernaum-in-which-jesus-taught/. 3. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Jesus’ Temporary Residence at Capernaum. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/the-fourfold-gospel/by-sections/jesus-temporary-residence-at-capernaum.html. 4. Shea, Mark. Land of Zebulun, Land of Naphtali, Galilee of the Gentiles. Patheos. [Online] 27th January 2014. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2014/01/land-of-zebulun-land-of-naphtali-galilee-of-the-gentiles.html. 5. France, R.T.The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. 978-0-8028-2501-8. 6. Bivin, David N. One Torah Reader, Not Seven. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] 25th August 2012. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2787/. 7. Edersheim, Alfred.The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and some of the following questions…
* What are some of the prophesies you have noticed being fulfilled in Jesus’ life already? * What do you think Jesus would have been doing on the other six days of each week when He was not teaching in the Capernaum synagogue? Give reasons for your answer from what the scriptures have taught us about Him thus far. * What amazed the people in the Capernaum synagogue about Jesus’ teaching? * What would it take for our teaching to be like Jesus’? * What was the attitude in Jewish society towards sons being called to follow a rabbi, and how does that compare with the attitude in your society towards young men leaving the family business to study for the ministry? * What was Jesus’ first miracle in the Capernaum synagogue, and what was the people’s response? * Peter and his wife lived in the same house with his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law. What sorts of living arrangements are common in your culture? * How did Jesus respond to the multitude who came seeking healing? * What was Jesus’ response to his sudden surge in popularity in Capernaum?
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. John 5:1 NIV
Yeshua attended the Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals
A major category of Jewish holidays is the pilgrimage festival. Described in the Hebrew Bible as celebrating both agricultural festivals and events in the history of the Jewish people, these three holidays were set aside in biblical times for all the Jewish men to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God by bringing an animal sacrifice for the priest to offer on the pilgrim’s behalf. (1)
Three times a year all your men are to appear in the presence of Adonai your God in the place which he will choose — at the festival of Matzah (unleavened bread), at the festival of Shavu‘ot (Weeks – we know it as Pentecost) and at the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). They are not to show up before Adonai empty-handed, but every man is to give what he can, in accordance with the blessing Adonai your God has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17 CJB
Yeshua obeyed and fulfilled the Torah, including travelling to Jerusalem for these three pilgrimage festivals. We saw in John 2 that He travelled to Jerusalem with His first disciples for Pesach (Passover) and cleansed the temple in preparation for Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread), did many miracles during that week and had a long nocturnal discussion with the religious leader and “teacher of Israel”, Nicodemus.
8 Day Long First Pilgrimage Festival
The First Pilgrimage Festival was Matzah(Unleavened Bread). To avoid confusion, it is worth noting that the whole 8 day festival – one day of Passover followed by seven days of Unleavened Bread – is sometimes all referred to as Pesach (Passover), and sometimes as Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread). Leviticus 23 specifies that the Jewish festival year begins with Pesach (Passover).
The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. Leviticus 23:5 NIV
In the Jewish calendar, that is 14th Nisan. So Passover falls on different days of the week in different years. Leviticus 23:6 puts the second feast of this Pilgrimage Festival, on the next night (remembering that Jewish days begin in the evening):
On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; seven days ye must eat bread made without yeast. Leviticus 23:6 NIV
Leaven, or yeast, is symbolic of sin – so cleansing all leaven from the house and eating bread without leaven for the whole week symbolised being cleansed from sin and walking in holiness with God.
Also during this pilgrimage festival, on the day after Shabbat (so, always on the Sunday, regardless of which day of the week the 8 day Festival began), the Feast of First Fruits is celebrated with the very first of the harvest reaped and presented to God in the temple.
… bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. Leviticus 23:10b-11 NIV
Since they were not to eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until after this wave offering (Vs 14) it became custom to pick the sheaf and wave it before the LORD early in the morning. Whenever the people were commanded to bring a grain offering to the LORD, they were also commanded to sacrifice an animal(s) without defect.
These three feasts, Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, were all part of the First Pilgrimage Festival each year, which lasted eight days in total.
1 Day Long Second Pilgrimage Festival
The Second Pilgrimage Festival – Shavu‘ot – was to take place seven weeks after the first. Whereas the first began on 14th Nisan each year, and so on different days of the week, the second was always on the day after the Sabbath (ie, on the Sunday) – and so could be on slightly different dates.
From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and present an offering of new grain to the LORD… bring two loaves… baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. Leviticus 23:16-17 NIV
Because they were to count off the weeks to determine the date of this festival it was called the Feast of Weeks (Shavu‘ot). In Greek it was called Pentecost because it was 50 days after the feast of First Fruits. Two loaves were to be presented to God in the temple, both of them containing yeast. Some have seen this as representing the two different groups of peoples – Jews and Gentiles – both permeated with sin but both brought before God for His redemption. Jewish tradition also held that it was on this day God had given the Torah (Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai in the wilderness.
Shavu‘ot was a one day festival in Jerusalem. For many in outlying areas such as Galilee it was a long way to come for just one day, and most Jews outside of Judea did not get to all the festivals – but the crowds were still huge for each one. Even those scattered throughout the nations were determined to make it to Jerusalem for at least one festival in their lifetime. Historical texts and archaeological evidence indicate that during the Second Temple years of the Roman era, the pilgrimage festivals were a profoundly significant social and religious institution, bringing Jews from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of Jews made these festival pilgrimages, and supported a vast commercial enterprise including the raising of animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market and a complex banking community to enable pilgrims to exchange currencies. (2) (1)
Shavu‘ot was the Feast of the Jews that Yeshua had now come to Jerusalem for. Whereas the author of the fourth gospel mentions several times that Yeshua’s disciples were with Him during His previous visit to Jerusalem for the eight day Pesach (Passover) festival, there is no mention of them being with Him on this pilgrimage. The author of the fourth Gospel, like the others, had been sent back to his home when Yeshua was returning to Nazareth after news of Yochanan the Immerser’s imprisonment reached them, but unlike the others this man lived in or near Jerusalem and was there for all the Jewish feasts.
7 Day Long Third Pilgrimage Festival
The Third Pilgrimage Festival was Sukkot (Tabernacles). It celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection. It also celebrates the last harvest before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. It falls five days after Yom Kippur(Day of Atonement), usually in mid-autumn.
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. Leviticus 23:34 NIV
Yeshua fulfilled Torah by going up to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) with the multitudes for Shavu‘ot. Having come to Jerusalem He connected with the author of the fourth Gospel, who now travelled again with his rabbi and recorded His actions and words during this time away from His other talmidim. Yeshua gave different lessons to different groups of His disciples, according to where they were at in their life’s journey. This next lesson was for the religious leaders and those connected to the priesthood in Jerusalem.
Preparing to enter the Temple
As Yeshua entered the city, with the author of the fourth Gospel, to worship on Shabbat, the day before the festival of Shavu‘ot, He walked to the northern wall of the Temple to enter by the Sheep Gate. This was where they brought the sheep into the temple for sacrifices. (3) (4) Nehemiah 3:1 records Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests rebuilding the Sheep Gate and dedicating it as part of the first construct of this second Temple.
Before going into the Temple Yeshua, like multitudes of other pilgrims, took a detour through the Pool of Beit-Zata (Bethesda – which means “House of Mercy”). Archaeological evidence shows a large pool shaped like a trapezoid, varying from 50 to 60 meters wide and 96 meters long, divided into two pools by a central partition. As way typical in the construction of many Mikvah of that time, the northern pool was a large water storage to ensure a flow of fresh, clean water into the Mikvah. The southern pool (that closest to the temple and lowest down) had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was a Mikvah for ritual purification.
In Yeshua’s day the Oral Law required every Jew to engage in ritual immersion in a Mikvah to become ceremonially pure before entering the holy Temple. (5) (6) (7) With his expansions of the Temple, Herod had also built several large public Mikvah in Jerusalem for the pilgrims to use in their preparation for entering the Temple. The Pool of Beit-Zata was one of the public mikvah in Jerusalem used for this purpose. Yeshua was not in rebellion against the Oral Law, and fulfilled the requirements of His community until, and unless, they were in contradiction to His Father’s direction.
Yeshua noticed one who was ignored…
After this, there was a Judean festival; and Yeshua went up to Yerushalayim. In Yerushalayim, by the Sheep Gate, is a pool called in Aramaic, Beit-Zata, in which lay a crowd of invalids — blind, lame, crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Yeshua, seeing this man and knowing that he had been there a long time, said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” John 5:1-6 CJB
Of all the multitude going through the waters of this Mikvah for purification, and all the crowd of invalids hoping for healing in this “House of Mercy”, one man caught Yeshua’s attention. No explanation is given for why God chose to touch this man alone, except that he had been there a long time. He had been there for longer than Yeshua had been incarnate on the earth. As a Torah fulfilling Jew, Yeshua had likely immersed there, or in one of the other public mikvah’s in Jerusalem, every time He entered the Temple for each of the pilgrimage festivals every year, from the time of that first Passover as a ‘spiritual adult man’ when he was twelve years old. Each year Yeshua would immerse in the Mikvah then enter the Temple through the sheep gate to offer the prescribed sacrifices, knowing that the day would come when He would be the sacrifice. Festival after festival, year after year, He had seen this man lying near the edge of this mikvah hoping for a miracle but convinced that he was unable to receive such. Yeshua had noticed him. He notices the ones that everyone else just walks past.
This man that no one seemed to care about or notice, this man who was convinced that he had no one to help him, all those years Yeshua had noticed him. He knew this man had been there a long time because He had taken note of him, festival after festival, year after year. Just as God was not blind to Israel’s suffering under Egyptian slavery all through the years that Moses was a child and young man, so Yeshua was not blind to this man’s suffering all those years until He was endowed with power and at last heard His Father say “now”. His compassion had been stirred and now that He was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, now that His time had come, He did something about it. A powerful lesson for those connected to the priesthood who were being discipled by Him.
The place would have been abuzz with religious leaders declaring the prescribed blessing on each one of the thousands who came to be immersed so they could be considered pure enough to enter the holy Temple. But this man had no one to help him. None of them considered assisting this invalid to be part of their religious duty. He had been left in helplessness, until Yeshua arrived.
Healing that challenged their laws…
The sick man answered,“I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I’m trying to get there, someone goes in ahead of me.” Yeshua said to him,“Get up, pick up your mat and walk!” Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:7-9a CJB
Suddenly all that changed. Yeshua spoke. His words carried an authority the man had never heard before. They carried life and health and strength. Immediately, unexpectedly, he was healed – so he obeyed Messiah’s command, picked up his mat and walked.
Yeshua knew how to stir up trouble. He knew how to set things up so that the religious facade would be peeled away, and men’s hearts would be exposed. He had just done so in His conservative religious hometown of Nazareth, and now He was going to do it in the religious capital of His people, Jerusalem. If He had simply healed the man no one would have noticed or cared, the multitudes were all too busy getting themselves ready to enter the holy temple and fulfil their religious duty. So He gave the man an instruction that would capture the attention and stir up the ire of those who exercised religious authority in this place. It was Shabbat and Yeshua had told him to “pick up your mat and walk.”
Now that day was Shabbat, so the Judeans said to the man who had been healed,“It’s Shabbat! It’s against Torah for you to carry your mat!” But he answered them,“The man who healed me — he’s the one who told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” They asked him,“Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who it was, because Yeshua had slipped away into the crowd. John 5:9b-13 CJB
It is interesting that Yeshua had noticed this man all these years but the man had not noticed the Son of God until he was healed by Him. Even then, he had been too self-focused to notice who it was, or to ask. It took the religious leader’s accusations to motivate him to wonder who it was that had healed him.
Again, we have the Jewish religious authorities equating their rules with Torah. Like people now who equate their doctrines with the Word of God. As far as they were concerned, anyone who did not agree with their interpretations and their laws was a heretic and a law breaker.
There were many different Judaisms at this time, different schools of thought or ‘denominations’, just as there are many different Christian denominations now, each of which was convinced that they were the only ones who had the true knowledge and practice of the Torah. There were Sadducees whose focus was on the temple worship. There were Essenes who were so disgusted with the political manoeuvring and wealth seeking of the High Priests and ruling class that they refused to have anything to do with the temple worship. There were several different schools of Pharisees each of which was building their own particular set of rules to be a fence around the Torah to keep the people obedient to God.
As we have seen, the dominant group of Pharisees at that time had designated thirty-nine categories of work that were forbidden on Shabbat. In addition, they prohibited even coming into contact with any implement that could be used for any of those purposes (for example, one may not even touch a hammer or writing implement on Shabbat). (8) The thirty-ninth category of forbidden activity was: Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah). This law of theirs forbids transferring (carrying) something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. Carrying a mat in the public domain of the Pool of Beit-Zata was therefore illegal according to their man-made law, and there were plenty of pharisaic religious leaders down at that pool to pronounce judgment on such. To their mind, any man who would tell a Jew to carry a mat in a public domain in Shabbat was a heretic and lawbreaker.
For the last 38 years they had failed to notice this man fading away, a lone invalid losing any hope. Now they noticed him carrying his mat and pounced to condemn him. In this “House of Mercy” they showed no mercy or empathy. No rejoicing in the wonderful miracle of God that had just taken place in their midst. They cared not that an invalid had been healed, only that some ‘heretic’ had told him to carry his mat on Shabbat.
Yeshua had not stayed around for this nonsense. He had continued on with the freshly immersed crowd pulsing out of the Beit-Zata (House of Mercy) pool and into the Temple through the Sheep Gate.
Persuaded of the need to leave his mat behind, the healed man now walked into the waters of the Mikvah and immersed himself to prepare for entering the Temple that he had been waiting just outside of for all these decades.
Afterwards Yeshua found him in the Temple court and said to him, “See, you are well! Now stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you!”
The man went off and told the Judeans it was Yeshua who had healed him; and on account of this, the Judeans began harassing (Gk: diōkō) Yeshua because he did these things on Shabbat. John 5:14-16 CJB
Greek: diōkō = aggressively chase, like a hunter pursues a catch. It means “to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing, to run after, pursue,” and refers to molesting (harassing) someone – “wanting to overtake,” “hunt them down“, ie to oppress and zealously persecute. This is what the religious leaders began doing to Yeshua. They were more sophisticated, and so did it more subtly than their Nazarene counterparts who had tried forcing him over the cliffs, but their intent was the same.
Teaching that challenged their doctrines…
Here, in the very Temple precincts, the place set aside to be holy unto God, set aside for worship, these men were more concerned that their rules had been breached than honouring God who had just performed a wondrous miracle in showing mercy to a man lying in the place they had called the “House of Mercy”. Instead of praising God they were harassing Him for operating outside their box and threatening their theology. Yeshua went on to threaten it some more as He engaged in the Jewish worship of teaching them the truth of God and His Torah.
But he answered them,“My Father has been working until now, and I too am working.” John 5:17 CJB
Yeshua lived at a time when sectarianism was rife, with major tensions among Jews over how to interpret Torah. He did not shy away from stepping right into the thick of this debate. Shabbat was one of those hotly contested areas. Not only in the practical living of it, which prominent religious leaders were codifying in the forbidding of those 39 categories of ‘creative work’, but also in the theology behind it. The apparent contradiction between God resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2, Exodus 20:11 & 31:17) and His continual work sustaining creation, caring for His people (Psalm 68:19, Psalm 121:2-8, Isaiah 56:24) and directing history, ignited all sorts of heated discussions. Some Jewish theology focused on God resting on Shabbat, while others focused on His permanent nature as creator.
For the religious leaders who were seeking to hunt Yeshua down there was a profound concept of imitation dei – the imitation of God – in association with the keeping of Shabbat according to their rules. For them, God needed a rest on the seventh day and totally ceased from all creative works on this day. Therefor, to be like God we must likewise totally cease from all the works they have forbidden on this day. Yeshua challenged this head on, associating His work of healing the crippled man on Shabbat with the never ceasing work of the Father – this was His imitation dei, doing good to others and delivering them on every day. (9) While this was contrary to the theology of those attacking Him, it was not outside the theology of many Jews of His day.
There was a current of Jewish thought that empathized God’s unceasing work. The Jewish philosopher Philo, who was about 20yrs older than Yeshua, had written: “that God never ceases to create, nor takes a holiday from His works”, and again: “as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to be creating.” (10) Some argued that God’s providence remained active on Shabbat, for otherwise the universe would cease to exist. God ceased from His work of creating the world, but not from His work of moral judgment. (11) Others contended that God both endows children with human souls and brings them into covenant relationship with Himself on Shabbat, as children are born on Shabbat and the Torah commands them to be circumcised on the eighth day even when it is Shabbat. (12) Also strongly woven into the concept of Shabbat was the theme of God’s deliverance from bondage and slavery (Deuteronomy 5:14–15), yet they could not rejoice in this lame man’s deliverance.
It is good to keep the commandments of God. It is good to study God’s word and to seek to gain a greater understanding of what He desires of us. It is good to search out what it means to live in accordance with God’s word. All these things the Jewish religious leaders had been doing for generations. But they had taken it one step further, and that step put them in conflict with God Himself. They had concluded that their understanding, their opinions, their practices and traditions, were God’s law and therefor had to be embraced and obeyed by all. So, when the Son of God came and lived out the fullness of God’s law in God’s way, they accused Him of being a law breaker. When the Son of God came and spoke the truth of the nature and will of God to them, they accused Him of being a heretic and blasphemer.
Yeshua as Son of God
In His one simple sentence, ““My Father has been working until now, and I too am working,” Yeshua not only stated His theological position on Shabbat, He asserted His credentials for being the One to establish theological positions “My Father…”
This answer made the Judeans all the more intent on killing Him — not only was He breaking Shabbat; … John 5:18a CJB
How seriously wrong we can get it when we start making up doctrines for everything, devising our own set of rules for what others must believe and do. The one man who walked this earth without sin, perfectly fulfilling all God’s law, being accused of breaking the fourth commandment because He didn’t keep it the way they thought it should be kept. God Himself being rejected because they had made His law into something that He never intended it to be.
…but also, by saying that God was His own Father, He was claiming equality with God. John 5:18b CJB
It was not that referring to God as their Father was foreign to Judaism. In speaking to the religious leaders Yeshua used their own language, and concepts that would have been very familiar to them from the scriptures, but He endowed these concepts with new meanings. Last time He was in Jerusalem, Yeshua had spoken to Nicodemus at length on the Jewish religious concept of being ‘born again’. This time His long discourse was on being the Son of God.
Israel is referred to as God’s son in the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures):
Then you are to tell Pharaoh: ‘Adonai says, “Isra’el is my firstborn son. I have told you to let my son go in order to worship me… Exodus 4:22-23a CJB
There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son… Deuteronomy 1:31 NIV
Think deeply about it: Adonai was disciplining you, just as a man disciplines his child. So obey the mitzvot (law) of Adonai your God, living as He directs and fearing Him. Deuteronomy 8:5-6 CJB
You are the children of the LORD your God… Deuteronomy 14:1a NIV
For You are our father, for Abraham did not know us, neither did Israel recognize us; You, O [YHWH], are our father; our redeemer of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16 JP
…In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, they will be called “sons of the living God.” Hosea 1:10 NIV
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from Me… Hosea 11:1-2 NIV
…the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:12 NIV
… because I am Israel’s Father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. … Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 NIV
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name…” Malachi 1:6 NIV
God of armies, please come back! Look from heaven, see, and tend this vine! Protect what your right hand planted, the son you made strong for yourself. Psalm 80:14-15 CJB
The Jewish sages understood corporate, collective sonship. They could relate to the metaphor of God choosing to be a father to their nation, and of their moral responsibility in return, of honouring and obeying Him as a son is to honour and obey his father. (13) (14) (15) What they would not abide was Yeshua’s claim of a personal sonship that identified Him as one with His Father, as one with God Himself, and as reflecting the moral nature of God in perfect fulfilment of all the Torah.
Yet, in these times when Messianic hope was strong, the sages had seen the Psalms as portraying a Messiah who would be the Son of God, one who had focused within Himself Israel’s moral relationship to God. The Targum on Psalm 80:16 “the son that though madest strong for thyself” interprets the son as “the king Messiah”. There was already an understanding in Jewish expectations of their Messiah, from Psalms 2 and 89, that He would be a chosen Son of God, king and anointed one.
“I will proclaim the decree: Adonai said to me, ‘You are my son; today I became your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance; the whole wide world will be your possession. Psalm 2:7-8 CJB
He will call to me, ‘You are my father, my God, the Rock of my salvation.’ I will give him the position of firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. I will keep my grace for him forever, and in my covenant be faithful with him. I will establish his dynasty forever, and his throne as long as the heavens last. Psalm 89:26-29 CJB
The coming of the Son of God, the King messiah, was the hope so many in Israel had been clinging to. This was the hope many of the Pharisees had taught them. But they were so caught up in their own rules and regulations, in their own teachings and doctrines, that they could not recognise Him when He came.
Relationship between the Father and the Son
There was so much that Yeshua wanted to explain to these religious leaders. There was so much that He thought they should already know with all their study of scripture and all that Yochanan the Immerser had proclaimed. He was not just uniquely the only begotten Son of God, He was also the embodiment of what God had been calling Israel to be as His son. For these “teachers of the Torah” in the Temple Yeshua had long and detailed explanations:
Therefore, Yeshua said this to them: “Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does; and He will show Him even greater things than these, so that you will be amazed. Just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so too the Son makes alive anyone He wants. The Father does not judge anyone but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Whoever fails to honour the Son is not honouring the Father who sent Him.
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent me has eternal life — that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life!
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that there is coming a time — in fact, it’s already here — when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given the Son life to have in Himself. Also He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Don’t be surprised at this; because the time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment.
“I can’t do a thing on My own. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is right; because I don’t seek My own desire, but the desire of the One who sent Me.
“If I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is not valid. But there is Someone else testifying on My behalf, and I know that the testimony He is making is valid — you have sent to Yochanan, and he has testified to the truth. Not that I collect human testimony; rather, I say these things so that you might be saved. He was a lamp burning and shining, and for a little while you were willing to bask in his light. But I have a testimony that is greater than Yochanan’s. For the things the Father has given Me to do, the very things I am doing now, testify on My behalf that the Father has sent Me.
“In addition, the Father who sent Me has Himself testified on My behalf. But you have never heard His voice or seen His shape; moreover, His word does not stay in you, because you don’t trust the One He sent. You keep examining the Tanakh (Old Testament) because you think that in it you have eternal life. Those very Scriptures bear witness to Me, but you won’t come to Me in order to have life!
“I don’t collect praise from men, but I do know you people — I know that you have no love for God in you! I have come in My Father’s name, and you don’t accept Me; if someone else comes in his own name, him you will accept. How can you trust? You’re busy collecting praise from each other, instead of seeking praise from God only.
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe (Moses), the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:19-47 CJB
The whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings…
Shavu‘ot(Feast of Weeks) was the pilgrimage festival at which the giving of the Torah to Moshe (Law of Moses) was celebrated. It was at this festival that Yeshua stated “if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote” to the religious leaders policing “obedience to Moshe”.
Back in John 1:45, we saw Philip exclaime to Nathanael: “We’ve found the one that Moshe wrote about in the Torah, and about whom the prophets also wrote…” Now Yeshua was trying to teach these very learned men what the young Philip had instinctively grasped.
The Jewish leaders saw the Torah as being about their nation, but Yeshua stated that it was about Him that Moses wrote. This is not just a proof scripture here or there, although there are plenty of these, this is concerning the whole focus of the first five books of the Bible, the writings that these religious leaders claimed to honour above all else, and to be the experts on. Messiah, God manifesting Himself in a form that human eyes could see and coming as deliverer, was not just an extra thought added on to the stories of Israel, He was the story, the whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings. This was so much bigger than what most were focused on, deliverance from Roman oppression. This was God’s whole purpose since creation. This is what all the Jewish laws and feasts were pointing to. Yeshua – Emmanuel / God with us – God who is Spirit, who is invisible, whom no man can see and live, had made us in His image. As the coming Son of Man, descendant of Eve, He would bruise the serpent’s head even as His heal was bruised. He took on a form that could appear to men throughout the ages until the time came for Him to come as “a prophet like Moses“. Yeshua is He whom everything that Moshe wrote in Torah was pointing to.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves…” Genesis 1:26a CJB
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden… Genesis 3:8
I will put animosity between you and the woman, and between your descendant and her descendant; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 CJB
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. Genesis 17:1
Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Genesis 26:2
And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24
And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. Genesis 35:7
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;” Exodus 3:16
God spoke to Moshe; he said to him, “I am Adonai. I appeared to Avraham (Abraham), Yitz’chak (Isaac) and Ya‘akov (Jacob) as El Shaddai, although I did not make myself known to them by my name, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [Adonai] Exodus 6:2-3 CJB
“Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him, just as when you were assembled at Horev (Horeb / also called Mount Sinai) and requested Adonai your God, ‘Don’t let me hear the voice of Adonai my God any more, or let me see this great fire ever again; if I do, I will die!’ On that occasion Adonai said to me,‘They are right in what they are saying. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn’t listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me.Deuteronomy 18:15-19 CJB
The Jews had long understood that this prophecy in Deuteronomy would one day be fulfilled in a literal way by the coming of a “the Prophet” who would either: A) come just before Messiah or B) would, in fact, be the Messiah.
That expectation helps explain the dialogue between the Priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem, and Yochanan the Immerser in John 1:19-21. When they asked who he was, he said, “I am not the Messiah.” “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?” “No.” “Well, then, are you the Prophet.” “No.” When they said, “the Prophet,” both the delegates from Jerusalem and Yochanan the Immerser understood the reference to be Moshe’s prophecy of Deuteronomy 18. (16)
In describing how “the Prophet” would be like himself, Moshe recalls an experience of his nation that has been memorialized and burned into the Jewish consciousness:
On the morning of the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. Then a shofar blast sounded so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled.Moshe brought the people out of the camp to meet God; they stood near the base of the mountain. Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because Adonai descended onto it in fire — its smoke went up like the smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moshe spoke; and God answered him with a voice. … All the people experienced the thunder, the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled. Standing at a distance, they said to Moshe, “You, speak with us; and we will listen. But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die.”Exodus 19:16-19, 20:18-19 CJB
Just as Moshe was a mediator between God and the Jewish people, the Messiah would be a mediator between God and man.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… 1 Timothy 2:5-6a BSB
Verse 6 in 1 Timothy highlights another way in which Messiah was like Moshe, only more so: “who gave himself as a ransom for all.” While God was giving Moshe the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Israel was busy breaking all those commandments in their idol worship.
Adonai said to Moshe, “Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt! So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! … “I have been watching these people; and you can see how stiffnecked they are. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can blaze against them, and I can put an end to them! I will make a great nation out of you instead.” Exodus 32:7-10 CJB
First, Moshe interceded for the people:
Moshe pleaded with Adonai his God. He said, “Adonai, why must your anger blaze against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong … … Turn from your fierce anger! Relent! Don’t bring such disaster on your people! Remember Avraham, Yitz’chak and Isra’el, your servants, to whom you swore by your very self. You promised them… Adonai then changed his mind about the disaster he had planned for his people. Exodus 32:11-14 CJB
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Yeshua:
“is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
After seeing the horror of what the people had been doing when he was up the mountain with God, Moshe offered his own life—to take the punishment of the people’s sins on himself if God could find no other way to forgive them. He asked God that his life be an expiation for the sins of the people. As a priest he could have made grandiose offerings—thousands of lambs or bulls—but instead he simply offered his own life. Greater love has no man.
Moshe saw that the people had gotten out of control — because Aharon had allowed them to get out of control, to the derision of their enemies — … … The next day Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to Adonai ; maybe I will be able to atone for your sin.”Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Now, if you will just forgive their sin! But if you won’t, then, I beg you, blot me out of your book which you have written!” Exodus 32:25, 30-32 CJB
God did not accept Moshe’s offer. It could not suffice because he was not spotless. Like Moshe, the Messiah would offer His own life – to take the people’s sins on Himself – and His offer for the Jewish people and all mankind was accepted. Moshe led the people to the promised land but was not allowed to enter himself. Messiah is building us a dwelling in the promised land – He is both the pathway to it and the gate of entry. All that Moshe was the shadow of, Messiah would be the fulfilment of. (17)
Although much of contemporary Jewish thought sees this Prophet not as Messiah but only as Joshua who succeeded Moses in leading Israel, in more ancient times when messianic expectations were high, this passage was understood by the Jews to be referring to their coming Messiah. Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon identified the Prophet as Messiah:
“A Prophet from the midst of thee.’ In fact, the Messiah is such a Prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, ‘Behold my Servant shall prosper’ (Isaiah 52:13).…Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of God.
The Midrashic passage that Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon cites, referring to Messiah as Prophet, states:
“It is written, Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high (Isaiah 52:13). It means, He shall be more exalted than Abraham of whom it is written, ‘I lift up my hand’ (Genesis 14:22). He shall be more extolled than Moses of whom it is said, ‘As a nursing father beareth the nursing child’ (Numbers 11:12). ‘And shall be very high’—that is, Messiah shall be higher than the ministering angels.
Moshe wrote God’s word: “I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I order Him.” (Vs18) Yeshua was doing this and they were not wanting to listen, even though Moshe had written God’s instructions: “You must listen to Him” (Vs15). This Prophet Messiah would speak God’s words in God’s name. “I have come in My Father’s nameand you don’t accept Me;” (John 5:43). Moshe had given the people this warning from God: “Whoever doesn’t listen to My words, which He will speak in My name, will have to account for himself to Me.” So Yeshua said to them:
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe, the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:45-47 CJB
These religious leaders who were condemning the act of mercy of healing a crippled man were claiming to be defending Torah, but Yeshua knew them better than they knew themselves and here exposed them so they could see the true nature of their hearts, repent and be saved. What a sad indictment on those who claimed to be showing others the way to God: “I know that you have no love for God in you!” (Vs42)
Having fulfilled Torah in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), Yeshua left them to contemplate His words and returned to the Galilee region, but not to His hometown of Nazareth. Their rejection of Him became someone else’s blessing. Yeshua was moving to the town of His disciples, from whence He would establish the next phase of His ministry. It appears that the author of the fourth Gospel remained in or around Yerushalayim, maybe serving in the temple, for he tells us nothing of this important next phase of Yeshua’s kingdom reformation.
1. Kohn, Rabbi Daniel. What Are Pilgrimage Festivals? My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 14th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pilgrimage-festivals/. 2. Carlson, Thomas. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html. 3. Christ Visits the Sheep Gate. The Gospel Armor. [Online] 20th February 2014. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] http://thegospelarmor.com/john/christ_visits_the_sheep_gate_john-5_1-2. 4. Wilson, Dr. Ralph F. Healing at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus Walk. [Online] [Cited: 18th Novmber 2019.] http://www.jesuswalk.com/john/11_bethesda.htm. 5. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm. 6. Lamm, Rabbi Maurice. The Mikveh’s Significance in Traditional Conversion. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/why-immerse-in-the-mikveh/. 7. Friedlander, Marty. Why Jews Immerse in the Mikveh. Haaretz. [Online] 1st November 2015. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-jews-immerse-in-the-mikveh-1.5416019. 8. Encyclopedia Judaica. Shabbat: What is Shabbat? Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/what-is-shabbat-jewish-sabbath. 9. MJL. The Significance of Shabbat. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbat-themes-and-theology/. 10. Young. The Works of Philo. Early Christian Writings. [Online] [Cited: 28th November 2019.] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book2.html. 11. Sadananda, Daniel Rathnakara.The Johannine Exegesis of God: An Exploration into the Johannine Understanding of God. New York : Walter de Gruyter, 2014. 12. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eliyahu. The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel. s.l. : Jewish New Testament, 2015. 13. Thompson, Marianne Meye. The Promis of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament. 2000. 14. Huntress, Erminie. “Son of God” in Jewish Writings Prior to the Christian Era. 2, s.l. : The Society of Biblical Literature, June 1935, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 54, pp. Pp. 117-123. 10.2307/3259680. 15. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground? Jewish Christian Relations | Articles | Scholarly Contributions. [Online] 30th September 2003. [Cited: 29th November 2019.] http://www.jcrelations.net/God+the+Father+in+Rabbinic+Judaism+and+Christianity%3A+Transformed+Background+or+Common+Ground%3F.2771.0.html?L=3. 16. Pritchard, Ray. A Prophet Like Moses. Keep Believing Ministries. [Online] 8th December 2008. [Cited: 30th November 2019.] http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/a-prophet-like-moses/. 17. Rosen, Moishe. A Prophet Like Unto Moses. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 2nd December 2019.] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v11-n04/a-prophet-like-unto-moses/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Compare the Jewish pilgrimage festivals with the festivals in your culture. * Compare the preparations undertaken to enter the temple with any preparations undertaken to enter your church. * How do we become clean and pure before God? * What laws has your church or denomination made out of what scripture teaches? * What traditions and customs have been established in your community, church or denomination? * If Jesus was walking in your community today how do you think He would respond to your religious laws and customs? * The crippled man appears to have been totally focused on himself, yet Jesus healed him anyway. Did he do anything to earn his healing or to attract Jesus to him to heal him? * How would you describe God’s mercy?
Read Mark 1:14-15, 6:14-29, Luke 3:19-38, 4:14-30 & John 4:43-54
The climate is cooler in the Galilee region than down in the Jordan Valley, so the crops mature for harvest later in the year. The barley harvest was now underway up here and the wheat crop was beginning to ripen. (1)
After the two days He left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country). John 4:43-4 NIV
Interestingly, the Jewish priest author of the fourth gospel thinks of Judea, where Yeshua was born and where his ancestral land as a descendant of king David lay, as being “his own country“, whereas the gentile Luke refers to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, as “his own country“. The author of the fourth gospel often contrasts the rejection that Yeshua received in Jerusalem and surrounds (the likely hometown of this author) with the eagerness of the people of Galilee to receive Him. The Galileans may have been looked down upon by those in Judea as unsophisticated and spiritually inferior, but they were faithful in travelling the long distance to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals commanded by God and they were open to receiving the Son of God.
When He arrived in Galilee the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they had been there. Once more He visited Cana in Galilee where He had turned the water into wine. John 4:45-46a NIV
Significant numbers of these pious Galileans had made the long journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival in obedience to Torah. There, like Nicodemus, they had witnessed Yeshua do many miracles and knew that the power of God rested upon Him. As Yeshua travelled around the Galilee region, teaching in their synagogues, He came again to Cana where He and His early talmidim had attended the wedding and His first miracle had been performed.
Yochanan the Immerser Imprisoned…
Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) was arrested by Herod Antipas, who ruled over Peraea and Galilee. Speaking truth to power is rarely welcomed by those in power, and Herodias, Herod Antipas’ wife who had been married to his brother Philip when her affair with Herod began, was so angry she wanted Yochanan killed. Herod tried to appease her by imprisoning Yochanan, but was drawn to his words like a moth to a candle:
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done, added this also to them all, that he shut up Yochanan in prison. Luke 3:19-20 HNV
For Herod himself had sent out and arrested Yochanan, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For Yochanan said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him, but she couldn’t, for Herod feared Yochanan, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly. Mark 6:17-20 HNV
Like the prophets before him, Yochanan (John the Baptist) now suffered for his message, imprisoned and threatened with death. Yochanan’s imprisonment effectively ended his public ministry. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that Yochanan the Immerser was imprisoned in Herod’s palace of Macherus (Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, V, 2), which was located in the furthermost corner of his realm, about 24 km southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea (see the map above). (2)
None of Yochanan’s remaining talmidim had his gifting or calling, and they were rather at a loss for what to do when he was imprisoned. It was the task of every talmid (disciple) to become just like his rabbi, but these young men had not yet spent enough time with Yochanan to be like him, and now the best they could do was occasionally visit him and talk with him for whatever little time they were allowed. They were not able to continue on his ministry without him. The crowds did not come to them as they had come to Yochanan, none of them carried the presence that Yochanan carried, nor could they ‘nail it’ with their preaching as he did. Yochanan had been imprisoned before he had been able to invest enough in his disciples to pass his baton on to them. He had been ministering for less than a year.
Contrary to the usual practice of that time, Yochanan’s call had not been to raise up disciples to follow in his footsteps, but to prepare the way for the people to come to Yeshua so they could be raised up to follow in His footsteps. Yochanan’s baton had been successfully passed on, not to his talmidim as was traditional, but to the One to whom he had been attesting. What Yochanan could no longer do now that he was imprisoned, Yeshua continued and this reformation gained momentum:
From that time, Yeshua began to proclaim, and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 HNV
After Yochanan had been arrested, Yeshua came into the Galil proclaiming the Good News from God:“The time has come, God’s Kingdom is near! Turn to God from your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:14-15 CJB
Healing, but not according to expectation…
When an officer of Herod Antipas’ court heard that Yeshua had returned to Cana he came across from Capernaum where he had been nursing his dying son and:
“…went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” John 4:47 NKJV
Word had just spread through the area that Herod had arrested Yochanan, and this officer of Herod’s court comes and asks Yeshua to go with him. What would you think?
Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” John 4:48 NKJV
Yeshua’s response initially appears harsh towards a man anguishing over his son’s impending death, but its purpose was not so much to rebuke as to challenge to a deeper level of faith so that even greater could be done for him:
The nobleman said to Him,“Sir, come down before my child dies!” John 4:49 NKJV
This man was used to walking in power and authority. He expected to be obeyed, and had become accustomed to exercising control over others. But he had no control over the terrible sickness ravaging his poor son’s body, and no control over this man who was his only hope for the life of his son. All his wealth and power were suddenly meaningless, it could not provide what he most desperately needed – healing for his son.
Yeshua paid no more respect to the wealthy and powerful than to the lowliest servant. He was not after their influence in high places or generous donations to help his ministry flourish. His only concern was the Father’s will, and it was the Father’s will to set things right in this nobleman’s heart and challenge the Galileans to step up to the level of faith shown by the Samaritans in the city of Sychar, who had been willing to believe on Him simply on the basis of a woman’s testimony, and then having heard Him themselves boldly declared that He was “indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
Desperation filled the nobleman’s voice as he pleaded for the Son of God to obey him and come immediately before it was too late and his son was dead. The kingdom of God manifested on earth is not limited to how we think things need to be done in order to get a good result. We do not get to order God to do things our way anymore than this nobleman was able to successfully order the Son of God to follow his instructions for healing his son. God is good and He does good and His ways are perfect, but they are so often different to how we imagine they need to be.
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. John 4:50 NKJV
The tables were turned, and things set in right order. Yeshua did not obey this officer of the Tetrarch’s court, but rather answered his heart’s cry by speaking a word for him to obey: “Go your way; your son lives.” It was a word that required the faith to obey. It was an interaction that engendered such faith. It was the promise of a miracle greater than the nobleman had imagined, a simple word from Christ penetrating his son so far away, dispelling the terrible sickness threatening his life and bringing health and wholeness to the boy.
And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. John 4:51-53 NKJV
The news of Yochanan the Immerser’s arrest had shaken all of Israel, and especially Yeshua’s talmidim, who had first been Yochanan’s talmidim. Often such news is accompanied by rumour and speculation – ‘who is going to be next?’ ‘Had Herod imprisoned his talmidim as well?’ It appears that Yeshua sent his young talmidim back to Capernaum with this nobleman so they could witness the miracle with him and be encouraged by this display of God’s power and the need that even the mightiest have of Him, and encouraged them to go from there back to their homes to spend some time with their families, even as He was going to spend some time in His own hometown. The account in the fourth gospel suggests first-hand knowledge of the conversation between the nobleman and his servants, and Luke’s account of Yeshua’s travels from there to His hometown of Nazareth suggests that He made this journey alone.
The indications in the text are that the author of the fourth gospel returned home to Jerusalem after this, even as Yeshua’s other disciples were returning to their homes in Capernaum and Bethsaida, for we hear no more from this author until Yeshua next goes to Jerusalem for a religious feast (John 5:1).
Yeshua rejected in Nazareth…
From Cana Yeshua walked to Nazareth, where He had grown up, where he had learnt to memorise the Torah and all the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), where he had played with the village boys and where he had learned Yosef’s carpentry/craftsman’s trade. By this time almost all the boys he had played with would be married with families of their own, as young men were expected to marry between the ages of sixteen and twenty four in order to fulfil the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, although some sages at this time delayed marriage in order to focus on Torah study and teaching. (3) (4)
The evidence of the gospels suggests that on this occasion Yeshua travelled to Nazareth alone. It is interesting that the following account is only found in Luke’s gospel, as the historian sort to piece all the parts of Yeshua’s life together, it was not part of Yeshua’s training of his talmidim at this time. It is likely that His mother and brothers were still living in Nazareth, and present in the synagogue on this Shabbat – from them Luke would later learn of these details and record them for us. Yeshua’s talmidim were not yet ready for this lesson, so they had been released back to their families and their trades for a season. Such was not unusual, as both Rabbi and talmidim had to support themselves.
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. Luke 4:16 NKJV
Since His earliest childhood Yeshua had spent every Sabbath in the synagogue, partaking in His community’s worship of God and discussions on the meanings of the scriptures. For years the people in His hometown had heard Him reading the Torah and the Prophets, and expounding on their meaning. That wisdom which had been evident in the Temple in Jerusalem when Yeshua was just twelve years old had joined with the other voices teaching the people of Nazareth each Sabbath since that time. These people had received years of preparation for the revealing of Messiah through true and accurate teaching right there in their own synagogue. They enjoyed hearing Yeshua read the scriptures and preach – but there was something different about Him now, the first time He had been back home since His baptism by Yochanan.
On this day in Nazareth Yeshua was appointed to read the Haphtarah (a short reading from the Prophets which follows the reading from the Torah in a Jewish synagogue) and the reading scheduled was a messianic passage from Isaiah 61:
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor (those bent over like a beggar, deeply destitute, completely lacking resources); He has sent (apostéllō) Me to heal the broken-hearted to proclaim liberty (remission / forgiveness, releasing someone from obligation or debt) to the captives (those who have been conquered and taken captive) and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty (send forth in a state of forgiveness and with purpose) those who are oppressed (bruised, broken down emotionally, psychologically shattered, suffering the ongoing effects of past sins);to proclaim the acceptable (received favourably because it is pleasing) year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book (ie rolled up the scroll), and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. Luke 4:17-20 NKJV
It was customary in the synagogue to stand when reading the scriptures, then sit to preach on them. Everyone listened eagerly to hear what this home-town boy, who had done such miracles during Passover in Jerusalem, would say now. What derashah (sermon) would He bring from this passage that elicited such hopes and longings in the people? Yeshua’s words were sweet to His hearers as He expounded on the literal and prophetic meanings in this passage. Hungry hearts longed for such Good News to be proclaimed to them, to know that they could be the recipients of God’s favour and that their past failures did not have to determine their future. His words brought reassurance that God had not forgotten them, nor been blind to their sufferings. Indeed the favourable year of the Lord was at hand.
And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21 NKJV
How would the people respond to so bold a claim? The woman at the well had readily believed Him. The whole Samaritan city of Sychar had been so quick to confidently declare: “we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” His home-town people’s first reaction was positive, as had been everyone else’s in Galilee. These pious Nazarenes were hungry for the word of God, and eagerly awaiting their Messiah with much anticipation that surely the time was ripe for his coming. Yeshua’s words penetrated their hearts with such grace and hope.
So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Luke 4:22 NKJV
A positive response indeed to Yeshua’s declaration of being the Messiah, the fulfilment of Isaiah 61. These people had been taught well, and they had seen and heard of the miracles that Yeshua had been doing, both in Jerusalem and around Galilee, which confirmed this claim.
But He knew their hearts. It is one thing to accept, even rejoice in, a declaration about the Kingdom, but quite another to live as citizens of that Kingdom. These people knew all the theology, were strong and passionate in their doctrine, but their hearts were not open to the very nature of the Kingdom of God. All the truth they had heard and believed had been filtered through a lens of spiritual pride and racist nationalism. Yeshua was about to confront this. He went on to begin to hint at how He would be treated by them when He did.
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum,do also here in Your country.’ ” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” Luke 4:23 NKJV
Yeshua knew the barriers they had formed in their hearts against living the truth, and so now started exposing these. It seemed that He could not just leave people in their nice, comfortable feel-good religion. Like Yochanan the Immerser, He had to rock the boat, to expose those things hiding in their hearts. Yeshua was not satisfied with a lukewarm complacent acceptance of His words, and kept pushing until He had pressed all their buttons and elicited a strong reaction that exposed the real condition of their hearts.
“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except toZarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:25-27 NKJV
This struck deep into their national and religious pride, exposing the bitter anger, fears and hatred that lay below the surface of their initial ‘bearing witness’ to Him:
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Luke 4:28-29 NKJV
It was not Yeshua’s messianic claim in Vs 21 which stirred such vitriol, they had born witness to Him in response to that. He was their Messiah, their deliverer, and they expected to be the chief beneficiaries of His ministry. Here was one of their own who had surely been anointed by God to throw off the shackles of their heathen oppressors and restore their national pride. Nazareth would see the birthing of the re-establishment of the glory of Israel. All their pious religious observance had earnt them this right. This was the “favourable Year of the Lord” for them.
Yeshua’s next words had undermined and threatened all that. He paralleled His ministry with that of Elijah and Elisha, both of whom heralded judgment on Israel for their unfaithfulness to God, and performed miracles for foreigners. Yeshua went so far as to highlight that God sent each of them to minister miraculously to a foreigner instead of anyone in Israel who was suffering with the very same need (Vs 25-27). And these were not deserving foreigners, if there could be such a thing, Elisha had healed the captain of the enemies’ army who had inflicted terrible losses on Israel. Yeshua was presenting himself as a Messiah who would do likewise, take what they thought rightly belonged to them as God’s chosen people, and give it to despised foreigners and enemies. Had He not just restored the son of an officer of Herod’s court, right after Herod had imprisoned Yochanan the Immerser? That nobleman was not the only one who had wanted God to do things his way. As far as the members of this pious, nationalistic synagogue were concerned, such was NOT the task of the Messiah! His task was to redeem Israel and raise them up above all other nations and peoples. His task was to destroy their enemies, not do miraculous healing for their enemies. Every racist sentiment cloaked in national pride, and fuelled by religious fervour, was stirred up and all those in the synagogue became filled with murderous wrath.
Such nationalistic pride and despising of others as inferior to themselves was common in their neighbours as well, and taken for granted in their Roman overlords. The devaluing of “those who are different to us” is deeply rooted in the heart of man, but totally unacceptable in the kingdom of God.
Regardless of how much murderous rage Satan could insight in the good people of Nazareth, it was not Yeshua’s time to die. Nor was this the means by which He would take our sins, being pushed over a cliff on an ordinary day of the year. God’s prophetic word would be fulfilled, nothing could hinder that.
Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. Luke 4:30 NKJV
1. Morrison, Michael. Harvest Seasons of Ancient Israel. Grace Communion International. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.gci.org/law/festivals/harvest. 2. John the Baptist’s Doubts. Never Thirsty. [Online] [Cited: 11th Oct. 2016.] http://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-studies/life-of-christ-ministry-in-galilee-early-a-d-32/lh064/. 3. McArthur, Harvey. Celibacy in Judaism at the Time of Christian Beginnings. Andrews University. [Online] 1987. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.andrews.edu/library/car/cardigital/Periodicals/AUSS/1987-2/1987-2-02.pdf. 4. Bivin, David N. Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor? Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] 19th September 2012. [Cited: 5th November 2019.] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/1155/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Why do you think Jesus was accepted as a teacher in Synagogues throughout Galilee? * What impact do you think it had on the disciples to hear that John the baptist had been imprisoned? * The officer of Herod Antipas’ court had come to Jesus with expectations of what He had to do to meet his need. What sort of expectations do we come to God with? Can you think of a time when God did not do what you were asking, but did something better that you had not even imagined before? * How did the people whom Jesus grew up with in Nazareth respond to His messianic claim “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”? * What was it that changed their response from bearing “witness to Him, and marvelling at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” to thrusting him out of town and trying to throw him off a cliff? Do your people have anything that they react to with such anger? * If Jesus was to come to your church now, what do you think He would say to expose the hidden hatreds in your people’s hearts?
After their two days staying with, and teaching the Samaritans, Yeshua and his talmidim then continued on to Galilee.
Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. John 4:43 NKJV
So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. John 4:45 NKJV
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. Luke 4:14-15 NKJV
The word “synagogue” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew ‘Beit Knesset’, meaning ‘House of Assembly‘. Other Hebrew terms, less frequently used, describe the synagogue as a ‘House of Study‘, or a ‘House of Prayer‘. Whereas the structure and function of the priesthood and tabernacle (later replaced by the temple) were commanded by God through Moses, synagogues grew organically out of the Jew’s desire to maintain their identity as a community of God regardless of who ruled over them. Since the synagogue belonged to the local community that built and maintained it; there never was a higher authority that determined its policy, namely how it should be built, decorated, administered, or what sort of liturgy was to be used in it. Thus, the diversity among synagogues so evident in the first century (1). It was, therefore, not until well after the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD that the structure and governance of the synagogues was standardised.
Synagogue – the centre of Jewish community life
During Yeshua’s day each was structured according to the needs of the local community and functioned according to the teachings accepted by the local community, hence there was variety in architecture and how they operated. They were multi-functional institutions answering the many needs of the entire Jewish community in each location: schools (Josephus, Antiquities 16.43), hostels, courts (Acts 22:19), a place to collect and distribute charity (Matt 6:2), for political meetings (Josephus, Life 276-289), for communal meals (Josephus, Antiquities 14.214-216), and for worship which focused on prayer, reading and interpreting the Hebrew scriptures.
The synagogue was the social, intellectual, spiritual, political and legal centre of the Jewish community’s life in that village. (2) (3) Worship and study, friendship and community celebration, schooling, collection and distribution of charity, governing of the community and court proceedings were all done in the synagogue and by the synagogue rulers. The synagogue was thus the heart of every Jewish community and being a member in good standing was essential to being accepted in the Jewish community. (4) (5) (6)
Architecturally, synagogues were public buildings constructed, where possible, near a body of water for a mikveh and for the Tashlikh ceremony on Rosh HaShanah, or on the highest point in town, or on a raised platform. They had a large hall for Shabbat services and many also had smaller rooms for study.
They generally had a Mikveh (ritual bath / baptismal pool) for ritual washings, and this had to contain enough water for a person to walk down into it, squat and be completely submersed with water. The Mikveh had one set of steps for people to walk down into it as ceremonially ‘unclean’ and another set of steps for them to walk up out of the water ceremonially ‘clean’. Synagogues also had kitchen facilities for community feasts, and accommodation for visitors.
In some cases, the front façade of the main hall had three doors. Inside there were benches, made of wood or stone, along three or sometimes four sides of the room, with a break for the door of course. (7)
Within Jewish tradition one stood to read from the Torah and Prophets (t. Sukkah 2.10), so the centre of the room would have a small platform for the readers to stand on, and it is possible that a small menorah (seven-branched candlestick), like the one in the Temple, also stood on that platform. The floor was usually dirt or flagstones, and common people probably sat on mats on the floor, while the important people sat on the stone benches (Matt. 23:6). There was a seat for the reader of the Torah called the Moses Seat (or the Seat of Honour), because the Torah recorded the words of Moses so the reader was taking Moses’ place (Matt. 23:2). The Torah scrolls and the writings of the prophets were either kept in a portable chest and brought to the synagogue for worship or were kept in the Synagogue itself in a permanent Torah cabinet. (8) (9)
A Greek inscription dating to the first century dedicating a synagogue gives us some insight into their architecture and functions, as well as the importance that the people placed on lineage:
Theodotos, son of Vettenus, priest and ruler of the synagogue, son of a ruler of the synagogue, grandson of a ruler of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Torah and the teaching of the commandments, and also the guest chamber and the upper rooms and the ritual pools of water for lodging for those needing them from abroad, which his fathers, the elders and Simonides founded.
Three sacred spaces in Judaism
In Yeshua’s day there were three sacred spaces in Judaism, each of which had its own ordered rituals: Temple, Synagogue and Home (10). Yeshua attended and ministered in each of these spaces. For the Jews the Temple was the place of the presence of the transcendent God on earth and so the daily Temple worship involved sacrifice accompanied by worship in music and song. It was patterned after 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 where David appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD with lyres, harps, cymbals and trumpets, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD. Twelve was the absolute minimum number of musicians the Mishnah deemed appropriate for the daily psalm, and there was no maximum number. (11) Whereas the temple was governed by priests and its functions undertaken by priests, the synagogue was governed by local elders of the community and all but one optional function was undertaken by the laity. Priests and Levites were welcome to participate in synagogue life but they had no special role except that only priests could offer the blessing of Aaron from the Torah (Num. 6:23-27) at the end of the service. (8)
Synagogue as centre of community justice…
The Synagogue provided the structure whereby a qahal (community) became rooted in God. Its primary purpose was the dispensation of justice, which was defined as the study, teaching and application of the Tanakh (Torah (Law of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) – ie what we refer to as the Old Testament) and the Oral Law. Jewish tradition placed the roots of the synagogue in Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exodus 18) to select able men who feared God as rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens to judge the people. In light of that and Boaz’ gathering of ten elders of Bethlehem to witness the legal transaction that gave him possession of the land that belonged to Naomi, and Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:2-12) Jewish tradition demanded a minimum of ten persons for any public or official religious gathering. Less than ten persons was not a community and did not qualify for a communal gathering. The Mishnah preserves the ruling concerning this required minimum number:
If there are less that ten present, the congregation may not recite the Shema with its benedictions, nor may one go before the ark [to lead the prescribed congregational prayers], nor may priests lift up their hands [in pronouncing the blessing], nor may one read the portion of the Torah or the Prophets, nor may one observe the stations [when burying the dead] or say the mourners’ benediction or the mourners’ consolation, or the benediction over newlyweds, nor may one mention the name of God in the invitation to recite the blessing after the meal. Also [the redemption value of dedicated] immovable property [is assessed] by nine and a priest, and similarly, [the valuation vow] of a person. (Megillah 4:3)
The importance of this religious quorum cannot be overestimated. Rabbi Eliezer, a member of the generation that witnessed the destruction of the Temple, freed one of his slaves so that there would be a quorum of ten for the “Eighteen Benedictions,” the central prayer of the synagogue service. (12)
First Century Jewish society was communal, not individual, and that community was defined as being more than ten people. At this time women could be counted among the ten for a quorum to enable a ShabbatSynagogue Service to go ahead. The wellbeing of the individual, the family and the community were intimately tied to the proper functioning of the Synagogue and its officers.
Rulers of the Synagogue, הכנסת ראשro’sh ha-keneseth, governed the community. They formed the בית דיןBet Din, bench of three judges, who dispensed justice to the community. They were also empowered to collect taxes, buy and sell public property such as Torah scrolls, pay for the construction and maintenance of the synagogue, and pay the salaries of town officials – agronomos (market inspectors), Chazzan (synagogue officers), city guards and teachers. Ro’sh ha-keneseth had to be tsadiqim (righteous men), that is men who knew Torah and Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “Written Torah” and the “Oral Torah”) and followed these as the pattern of their lives. These synagogue rulers were also responsible for the conduct of the synagogue services. When the congregation had assembled it was the ruler’s duty to select the various persons to take the leading parts in the service on that day and send the Cḥazzān to notify them what part they were to perform – prayer, reading from the Scriptures, preaching or translating.
חזן Cḥazzān(attendant) was the other regular official of the Synagogue. They were generally provided with a salary for their service. Their primary role was to keep the synagogue clean and appropriately lit and to care for its sacred scrolls. At the proper stage of the service the attendant would take the appointed scroll out from the ‘ark’ where they were kept, unwrap it and give it to the person chosen to read, then return it to its rightful place when they were finished reading. He also blew the shofar at sunset of Friday to announce the arrival of Shabbat. All work would cease and the people gather in their homes to eat the Sabbath meal which had been prepared that afternoon. The same word, Cḥazzān, was used for the synagogue police who would bring those accused of Law breaking to be judged by the Bet Din and were responsible for whipping synagogue members found guilty. This scourging was carried out in front of the Bet Din who proclaimed during the scourging “If do not carefully observe all the words of this Law…” (Deut. 28:58).
Except in an occasional large synagogue the following positions were not permanent appointments and did not attract any salary, but were just filled on the day by those chosen by the Synagogue ruler from the congregation gathered once a quorum had been reached.
מתרגמןMeturgeman (interpreter or translator) would be appointed for each service. This man was skilled in languages and stood by those that read, to translate the Hebrew reading into the vernacular language of the synagogue so everyone could understand the message.
שליחצבורSheliach Tzibbur (angel – or messenger – of the assembly) were required to be humble, be knowledgeable of the rules of prayer and the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew text, have an agreeable voice, proper dress and a beard. They would recite the prayers on behalf of the congregation, often with musical intonation – representing the community before God in prayer. They could also be called upon to be messengers of the Bet Din and under their authority transmit Halakhah (Jewish community law), supervise the conversion procedure and lay hands.
פרנסיםParnassim (administrative officers) were responsible for the care of the poor, and often included at least one woman. They were in charge of the Mikveh, collection of alms for the poor administration of these funds, visiting the sick, attending to the orphans and widows. According to Pe’ah 8,7, the collecting was to be done by at least two persons and distributed by three.
דרשןDarshan (expounder) was the preacher who expounded the Torah in a sermon, delivered after the reading from the Prophets. This office was also in charge of helping anyone plead their case before the Bet Din. Some would be travelling preachers, visiting many different communities with their messages.
בעל מסרהBa’al Masorah(master of the tradition) was responsible for teaching proselytes in their process of conversion and integration into the Jewish community. He would also help defend against any deviation from the accepted doctrines and practices of the community as defined by the Bet Din. (13) (14)
A Shabbat Service
On Saturday morning the community gathered in the synagogue, then the Ro’sh ha-keneseth (there could be one or more of these synagogue rulers) appointed members of the congregation to various roles in the service. There was no uniform set order of service that synagogues followed, but most often their pattern was similar to the following:
Their service began with blessings offered to God, prayers read with musical intonation by the Sheliach Tzibbur appointed for that day and possibly responses by the congregation.
The whole congregation recited the Shema: “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra’el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one];” (Deut. 6:4)
More structured prayers read by the Sheliach Tzibbur and there may also be responses by the congregation or some spontanious prayers.
The Torah scrolls would be brought out by the Chazzan and would be read by the one(s) appointed that day. In some synagogues one person would be appointed to read while others might have as many as seven readers of different portions. If Hebrew was not understood by the congregation then a Methurgeman would be appointed to targum (translate) after each verse of the Torah and every three verses of the Nevi’im.
Following the Torah portion, a selection from the Nevi’im (prophets) would be read by the same or another reader.
After all the readings, the one appointed Darshan for that day would teach on what had been read. The teaching incorporated open responses by those assembled (questions and answers) rather than being a strict monologue.
The service ended with a benediction using the Aaronic blessing found in the Torah (Num. 6:24-26), if a priest was present to offer it. (8) (15) (16)
Music in Jewish Worship
The Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) clearly exhorts, and gives honoured examples of, praising and worshipping God with musical instruments, song and dance:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them:“Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider, He has thrown into the sea. Exodus 15:20-21 NKJV
Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. Leviticus 25:9 NKJV
After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 1 Samuel 10:5-6 NKJV
Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. 2 Samuel 6:14-15 NKJV
Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. 1 Kings 1:39-40 NKJV
Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 NKJV
Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of their brethren, the sons of Merari, Ethan the son of Kushaiah; and with them their brethren of the second rank: Zechariah, Ben, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, and Jeiel, the gatekeepers; the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound the cymbals of bronze; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah, with strings according to Alamoth; Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah, to direct with harps on the Sheminith; Chenaniah, leader of the Levites, was instructor in charge of the music, because he was skilful; Berechiah and Elkanah were doorkeepers for the ark; Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, were to blow the trumpets before the ark of God; and Obed-Edom and Jehiah, doorkeepers for the ark. 1 Chronicles 15:16-24 NKJV
David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps. 1 Chronicles 15:27-28 NKJV
And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God. 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 NKJV
…and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God. Now the sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers. 1 Chronicles 16:42 NKJV
Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals. And the number of the skilled men performing their service was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied according to the order of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp to give thanks and to praise the Lord. Of Heman, the sons of Heman: … … All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer in the words of God, to exalt his horn. For God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, stringed instruments, and harps, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the authority of the king. So the number of them, with their brethren who were instructed in the songs of the Lord, all who were skilful, was two hundred and eighty-eight. 1 Chronicles 25:1-7 NKJV
…and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets— indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. 2 Chronicles 5:12-14 NKJV
And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel. So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped. Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah answered and said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the Lord, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord.” So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. 2 Chronicles 29:25-31 NKJV
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”
Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10-11 NKJV
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. Nehemiah 12:27 NKJV
Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skilfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:2-3 NKJV
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. Psalm 43:4 NKJV
They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; Among them were the maidens playing timbrels. Bless God in the congregations, The Lord, from the fountain of Israel. Psalm 68:24-26 NKJV
Also with the lute I will praise You — And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. Psalm 71:22 NKJV
Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute.Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon,At the full moon, on our solemn feast day. Psalm 81:1-3 NKJV
Sing to the Lord with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a psalm, With trumpets and the sound of a horn;Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:5-6 NKJV
Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples, And I will sing praises to You among the nations. Psalm 108:2-3 NKJV
I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, Psalm 144:9 NKJV
Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:3-4 NKJV
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Psalm 150:3-5 NKJV
And in every place where the staff of punishment passes, Which the Lord lays on him, It will be with tambourines and harps; And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it. Isaiah 30:32 NKJV
Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice. Jeremiah 31:4 NKJV
Since the beginning of the nation, back in Exodus, music had been an integral part of Jewish worship of God. Something happened during the second temple period which would change all that, and it had nothing to do with what was thought proper for worship. Rather it was the laws that they built around Shabbat which brought an end to playing musical instruments in Jewish worship. Influential Pharisees feared that a musician might be tempted to replace a string or otherwise repair or tune his instrument when playing on the Sabbath, and they classed such an act as falling into the forbidden category of work called “repairing a utensil”, and so prohibited the playing of any musical instrument on the Sabbath. This ruling of the Sanhedrin affected the synagogue services, rendering their worship devoid of music. Only in the temple did the prescribed instruments for worship continue to be played, on Shabbat, and every day.
Keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath) was the fourth of the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. Here is what God said about it:
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. Genesis 2:3
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work – not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself. Exodus 20:8-11 CJB
“On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest in honour of ADONAI. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat.” Exodus 35:2-3 CJB
“You are to take fine flour and use it to bake twelve loaves, one gallon per loaf. Arrange them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure table before ADONAI. Put frankincense with each row to be an offering made by fire to ADONAI in place of the bread and as a reminder of it. Regularly, every Shabbat, he is to arrange them before ADONAI; they are from the people of Isra’el, as a covenant forever. Leviticus 24:5-8 CJB
“On Shabbat offer two male lambs in their first year and without defect, with one gallon of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with olive oil, and its drink offering. This is the burnt offering for every Shabbat, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.” Numbers 28:9-10 CJB
Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps himself from doing any evil. Isaiah 56:2 CJB
“If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI’s holy day, worth honouring; then honour it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14 CJB
Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the Sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 17:21
In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the Sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the Sabbath day? “Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18
In order to enforce regulations against work on Shabbat, the Jewish religious leaders created a legal definition of what work was prohibited. They concluded that what God ceased from in Genesis 2:1-3 was creating, and saw a connection between this and construction of the tabernacle. From that, they defined thirty-nine categories of activity needed for the construction and use of the Tabernacle, which were thus designated as ‘creating’ and therefor forbidden on Shabbat (and could receive the death penalty from the Sanhedrin). The thirty-nine categories of forbidden activities, based on the Oral Torah which was being developed and debated in Yeshua’s day are:
Planting (Hebrew: זורע Zorea) Not only planting is included in this category; other activities that promote plant growth are also prohibited. This includes watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, or planting grown plants.
Ploughing (Hebrew: חורש Ḥoresh) Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes activities whose purpose is not agricultural such as dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows, or pouring water on the ground or making a hole in the soil.
Reaping (Hebrew: קוצר Koṣer) Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is considered reaping. Climbing a tree is forbidden, for fear this may lead to one tearing off a branch. Riding an animal is also forbidden, as one may unthinkingly detach a stick with which to hit the animal. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Gathering (Hebrew: מעמר Me’amer) Initial gathering of earth-borne material in its original place. E.g. After picking strawberries, forming a pile or collecting them into one’s pockets, or a basket. Collecting rock salt or any mineral (from a mine or from the Earth) and making a pile of the produce. However, a bowl of apples that falls in a house can be gathered as 1) they do not grow in that environment and 2) they were already initially gathered in the orchard.
Threshing/Extraction (Hebrew: דש Dosh) It refers to any productive extraction and includes juicing fruits and vegetables and wringing (desirable fluids) out of cloths, as the juice or water inside the fruit is considered ‘desirable’ for these purposes, while the pulp of the fruit would be the ‘undesirable.’ As such, squeezing (S’ḥita) is forbidden unless certain rules are applied.
Winnowing (Hebrew: זורה Zoreh) Sorting undesirable from desirable. The separation of chaff from grain, or any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Rubbing a couple of grains in your hand to remove the husks before eating them would be considered “winnowing” and therefore forbidden. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Sorting/Purification (Hebrew: בורר Borer) Any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible or desirable that which was inedible or undesirable. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. Or, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts and raisins, and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing (effectively sorting) the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a ‘purified’ pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, would be Sorting/Purification as the peanuts are removed and therefor considered a serious transgression. However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one is left with undesirable peanuts (hence unrefined), not a refined component as before, and is thus permissible.
Dissection Hebrew: טוחן (Toḥen) Dissection can arise in simply cutting into pieces fruits or vegetables for a salad. Very small pieces would involve ‘Dissection’, therefore cutting into slightly larger than usual pieces would be permitted, thus avoiding cutting the pieces into their final, most usable, state.
Sifting (Hebrew: מרקד Meraked) This is essentially the same as Sorting / Purification (see above), but performed with a utensil specifically designed for the purpose of sorting, such as a sieve, strainer, or the like.
Kneading/Amalgamation (Hebrew: לש Losh) this prohibited activity is the combining of solid and liquid together to form a paste or dough-like substance.
Cooking/Baking (Hebrew: אופה/בישול Bishul/Ofeh) Any method of heating food to prepare for eating is included in this prohibition.
Shearing (Hebrew: גוזז Gozez) Severing/uprooting any body-part of a creature.
Dyeing (Hebrew: צובע Ṣovea) Colouring or enriching the colour of any material or substance.
Spinning (Hebrew: טווה Toveh) Twisting fibres into a thread or twining strands into a yarn.
Warping (Hebrew: מיסך Meseḥ) Creating the first form for the purpose of weaving.
Making Two Loops/Threading Heddles (Hebrew: עושה שתי בתי נירין Oseh Sh’tei Batei Nirin) Forming loops for the purpose of weaving or the making of net like materials.
Weaving (Hebrew: אורג שני חוטין Oreg) Forming fabric (or a fabric item) by interlacing long threads passing in one direction with others at a right angle to them.
Separating Two Threads (Hebrew: פוצע שני חוטין Poṣe’a) Removing/cutting fibres from their frame, loom or place.
Tying (Hebrew: קושר Kosher) Binding two pliant objects skilfully or permanently via twisting.
Untying (Hebrew: מתיר Matir) The undoing of any tied (see Tying) or spun (see Spinning) binding
Sewing (Hebrew: תופר Tofer) Combining separate objects into a single entity, whether through sewing, gluing, stapling, welding, dry mounting, etc.
Tearing (Hebrew: קורע Kore’a) Ripping an object in two or undoing any sewn connection.
Trapping (Hebrew: צד Ṣad) Forcible confinement of a living creature, the confining of a creature to make it easier to capture in one’s hand.
Killing (Hebrew: שוחט Shoḥet) Ending a creature’s life, whether through slaughter or any other method.
Flaying/Skinning (Hebrew:מפשט Mepashet) Removing the hide from the body of a dead animal.
Curing/Preservation (Hebrew: מעבד Me’aved); sometimes referred to as “Salting” ( מולח Mole’aḥ). Preserving any item to prevent spoiling for a long period of time.
Smoothing (Hebrew: ממחק Memaḥek) Scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness.
Scoring (Hebrew: משרטט Mesartet) Scoring/drawing a cutting guideline.
Measured Cutting (Hebrew: מחתך Meḥateḥ) Cutting any object to a specific size.
Writing (Hebrew: כותב Kotev) Writing/forming a meaningful character or design.
Erasing (Hebrew: מוחק על מנת לכתוב שתי אותיות Moḥek [al menat lichtov shtei otiyot]) Cleaning/preparing a surface to render it suitable for writing.
Construction (Hebrew: בונה Boneh) Contributing to the forming of any lasting structure. The action of joining different pieces together, e.g. inserting the handle of an axe into the socket is a derived form of this activity. Also, making a protective covering (or a ‘tent’) is forbidden.
Demolition (Hebrew: סותר Soter) Demolishing for any constructive purpose. For example, knocking down a wall in order to extend or repair the wall would be demolition for a constructive purpose. Combing a wig to set it correctly and pulling out hairs during the procedure with a metal toothed brush or comb would be constructive ‘demolition’, as each hair that is removed in the process of the wig (a utensil) is progressing its state towards a desired completion.
Extinguishing a Fire (Hebrew: מכבה Meḥaveh) Extinguishing a fire/flame, or diminishing its intensity. While extinguishing a fire is forbidden even when great property damage will result; in the event of any life-threatening fire, the flames must be extinguished, by the principle of pikuaḥ nefesh.
Ignition (Hebrew: מבעיר Mav’ir) Igniting, fuelling or spreading a fire/flame. This includes making, transferring or adding fuel to a fire. This is one of the few Sabbath prohibitions mentioned explicitly in the Torah (Exodus 35:3). Judaism requires Sabbath candles to be lit before the Sabbath; it is forbidden to light them on the Sabbath. They are intended to take the place of candles which cannot be lit on the Sabbath.
Fine-tuning / Repairing a Utensil (Hebrew: מכה בפטיש Makeh Bapetish). This activity refers to completing an object and bringing it into its final useful form. This is the prohibition by which instruments cannot be tuned nor a string replaced which lead to the prohibition on any playing of a musical instrument on Shabbat and thus barred instruments from the synagogue.
Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah) Transferring something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. All areas are divided into four categories: a private domain, a public thoroughfare, an open area and an exempt area. Transferring an object from a private domain to a public thoroughfare, or the reverse, is forbidden. Transferring an object between an open area to a private domain or public thoroughfare is prohibited. Transferring an object between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible. In addition, transferring an object for a distance of four cubits (or more) in a public thoroughfare or open area is forbidden.
In Yeshua’s day, some of this had been handed down through the generations as “traditions of the elders”, and some was still being newly formed and debated. Yeshua joined in such debates and even called into question traditions of the elders when these brought forth actions which were contrary to the intent of Scripture. In 1st Century Jewish society, the job of protecting Shabbat, and defining the other laws of the community,was ascribed to the members of the Sanhedrin – hence all the political intrigues engaged in to get a majority representation on the Sanhedrin. For each of these thirty-nine prohibitions they made rulings as to what the Jewish people were commanded or forbidden to do in keeping with the prohibition – and such rulings were the “Law”, sometimes even referred to as the “Torah” of the Jewish people. Breaching these rulings was considered to be breaking God’s law, even when the ruling had little relationship to what God had written for us in Scripture.
Thus, despite all the exhortations in Scripture for the Jewish people to praise and worship God with instruments, they were forbidden to be played as part of the Shabbat Service in the Synagogue. In another context Yeshua said of the religious leaders: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9)Music did, however, remain an essential part of services in the Holy Temple. This kind of rabbinical enactment—a prohibition designed to prevent desecration of Shabbat—is called a shvut. In general, a shvut was deemed not to apply in the Holy Temple. Music accompanied even those Temple rituals that were deemed not to essentially require musical accompaniment in order to be obedient to Torah. However, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this left the Jewish people totally devoid of music in their worship as they had enculturated the prohibition against such in their Synagogues on Shabbat. (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23)
1. Levine, Lee I.The First Centurary Synagogue: New Perspectives. Arg. 77 : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 2001. 2. Lacey, Ian. Synagogue Services. Israel & Judaism Studies. [Online] NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, 2007. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] http://www.ijs.org.au/Synagogue-services/default.aspx. 3. Spigel, Chad. First Centurary Synagogues. Bible Odyssey. [Online] [Cited: 3rd April 2019.] https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 4. The First-Centurary Synagogue – New Perspectives. Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift. Arg., 2001, Vol. 77. 5. Laan, Ray Vander. He Went To Synagogue. That The World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2019.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 6. —. He Went To Synagogue. That the World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 7. Spigel, Chad. First Century Synagogues. Bible Odessey. [Online] [Cited: 2nd April 2019.] Chad Spigel, “First Century Synhttps://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 8. Turnage, Marc. Exploring the Practices and Customs of the First Century Synagogue. [Online] 9th August 2016. [Cited: 19th April 2019.] https://news.ag.org/features/exploring-the-practices-and-customs-of-the-first-century-synagogue. 9. Synagogues – Before and After the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Hachlili, Rachel. May/June, s.l. : Biblical Archaeology Society, 2015. 10. Matthews, Doc. History of Christianity: Early Christian Worship. Youtube. [Online] [Cited: 17th April 2019.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw56BWL2cn4. 11. The Exclusion of Musical Instruments from the Ancient Synagogue. McKinnon, James W. s.l. : Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 1979, Vol. 106, pp. 77–87. 12. Sauter, Megan. Ancient Synagogues in Israel and the Diaspora. Biblical Archiology. [Online] 3rd September 2016. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/ancient-synagogues-in-israel-and-the-diaspora/. 13. Killian, Greg. The Synagogue – Bet HaKnesset. Bete Munah. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.betemunah.org/synagog.html. 14. Gafni, Professor Isaiah. Jewish Life in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/their-love-for-tilling-the-soil-is-truly-great/. 15. The Ancient Synagogue Service. Burton, Ernest De Witt. The Biblical World, Vol. 8, pp. 143-148. 01903578. 16. Hegg, Tim.The Public Reading of the Scriptures in the 1st Century Synagogue. s.l. : Torah Resource, 2007. 17. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why can’t we connect to G-d through music on Shabbat? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/965540/jewish/Why-no-music-on-Shabbat.htm. 18. Activities Prohibited on Sabbath. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_prohibited_on_Shabbat. 19. EISENBERG, RONALD L. Shabbat’s Work Prohibition. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbats-work-prohibition/. 20. Palatnik, Lori. Laws of Shabbat for Beginners. Aish He Torah. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.aish.com/sh/l/48971331.html. 21. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited by Law. OU. [Online] 17th July 2006. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.ou.org/holidays/shabbat/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/. 22. Melamed, Rabbi Eliezer. Laws of Shabbat – Volume 1. s.l. : Yeshivat Har Bracha Maggid Books. 23. Lizorkin, Ilya. Aspects of the Sabbath in the Second Temple Period. 2006.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* In what ways was worship in the Synagogue like worship in your church, and in what ways was it different? * What were the functions that the synagogue fulfilled in Jesus’ time, and what functions does your church fulfil now? * Compare the rolls of the synagogue officials with the roles of leaders within your church. * What do you think of the 39 laws that the Jews made to ensure their people kept the Sabbath as God had commanded? Can you think of any instances when Jesus commented on any of their Sabbath rules? * What are your thoughts on their reasons for excluding the playing of musical instruments in their synagogue worship and the ultimate result of such being that after the destruction of the second temple in 70AD, all Jewish worship has been without musical instruments? Is this practice of excluding instruments from worship in agreement with the scriptures?