Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

Please read and memorise Matthew 6:22-34

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 darknessσκοτεινός – 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…” φῶςphṓs – 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…”σκότοςskótos – 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. δουλεύωdouleúōis 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 oneμισέω 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 otherἀγαπάω – 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 oneἀνθέξεταιanthexetai – 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: λέγωlégōsummarise 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: μεριμνᾶτεmerimnate – 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: ψυχῇpsyxē – 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 πρῶτονprotos – 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 (πάνταpanta – each and every one of) these things προστεθήσεταιprostethēsetai – 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.

REFERENCES

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?

Fulfilling Torah

Please read Matthew 5:17-48

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 heaven Yeshua 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 said to 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.

REFERENCES

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?

Salt and Light

Please read Matthew 5:13 – 16

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

… but if the salt looses 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

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.

Reference List

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.
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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?