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?

Developments in Judaism under Persian Occupation (430 – 332 BC)

Read Nehemiah 8-13

Nehemiah was written around 430 BC.  Persian kings continued to rule over the Jewish people for the next hundred years.  During this time there were concerted efforts to re-establish Jerusalem as the centre of Jewish religious life.  To this end, groups of Torah scholars were set up in Jerusalem to help establish it as the hub of Torah authority, as well as the epicentre of the sacrificial system. They let it be known that all important questions of Jewish law should be sent to Jerusalem and there is historical evidence of a faraway group of the Jewish diaspora writing to the High Priest with questions about how they should practise the Torah (1).   

The elaborate garments worn by the priests are described in Exodus 28, and again in Exodus 39:1–31. Four of these garments are worn exclusively by the High Priest. They alone are called בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, the holy garments. The ephod’s precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes, are said to serve as אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן “stones of reminder” to remind God of Israel, and the same is true of the twelve stones on the breastplate. Thus by his very person, the High Priest personifies the whole of the Israelite people לִפְנֵי ה’ “before YHWH,” (Exodus 28:12, 29; 39:7). The Urim and Thummim, connected with the breastplate, enable the High Priest, each time he enters the sanctuary, to inquire of God for His judgment on matters (Exodus 28:30). The robe is “worn” for its bells, their sound alerting the divine presence to the High Priest’s approach as he enters the sanctuary “so that he not die” (Exodus 28:35). Finally the diadem on Aaron’s head is said to remove from God’s abode any wrongdoing connected with Israel’s offerings and to ensure, by means of the inscription proclaiming that Israel’s worship is קֹדֶשׁ לַה’ “Holy to Yhwh,” that God graciously accept their sacrifices (Exodus 28:38). Thus the High Priest’s garments transform him who “wears” them into a walking embodiment of the whole nation of Israel, and they play indispensable roles in the worship that he enacts on Israel’s behalf. Having such a High-Priest, we come boldly to the throne of grace.

There remained, however, significant Torah schools in Babylon and the role of the synagogue in Jewish life did not diminish with the re-establishment of temple worship.   Jews now had two centres of spiritual authority and worship – the central authority of the temple in Jerusalem and the local authority of the synagogue. Influencing both of these were the Torah schools in both Babylon and Jerusalem.

Several of the innovations of the Babylonian exile were continued and built upon in Jerusalem, and throughout the diaspora, after the temple was rebuilt. These were attributed to Ezra’s highly respected leadership in Torah study and teaching. Being a scribe, Ezra also produced copies of the Torah and other Jewish religious books (notably the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) that would come to be accepted as part of the Hebrew Scriptures). The practises further developed during this period included the prominent use of the singing of Psalms, prayer and instruction as part of the Synagogue service. Synagogue worship and rabbinical teaching continued to operate alongside the temple worship and reading of Torah (2). Formalised prayers that had been developed to replace temple worship during the exile continued to be used and a universal Jewish prayer service was established (3).  To give these prayers a clear framework the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei, Eighteen Blessings, was standardised as well as the blessings before and after food, before and after performing a mitzvah (good deed done within a religious duty and keeping of the commandments), and before and after the Sabbath (Kiddush and Havdalah) (4).

During this period the Levites translated the Torah into the Aramaic vernacular and explained it so the people could understand.

“The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Nehemiah 8:7–8  

This made it much more accessible to the diaspora for many of whom Aramaic was now their mother tongue.  For those in Judea, and especially in Jerusalem, Hebrew was emphasised even though many still used Aramaic as a trade language.  Everything in the Temple and synagogues of Judea was in Hebrew, as was the learning in the synagogue schools. (5)

Origins of the Sanhedrin and Recognising the inspiration of all the TaNaKh (OT)…

Ezra is credited by rabbinical Judaism with having brought like-minded Torah scholars together for what became called the “Great Synagogue” or Sanhedrin following on from the Nehemiah 8-10 gathering, although there is no historical evidence of a Sanhedrin existing at this time. Ezra certainly engendered a grass-roots movement of Torah study and public Torah reading and explanation, which was much needed because many of the population were now Aramaic speakers who lacked understanding of the finer nuances of the Hebrew language.  With like-minded scholars and students he is said to be responsible for the canonisation of the Prophets (Nev’im), and Writings (K’tuvim) into the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible – what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). (6) (7) (8).   

TaNaKh is an acronym referring to the traditional Jewish division of the Bible into Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kituvim (Writings). The Tanakh that Ezra and his disciples compiled, and that Yeshua and all the original apostles grew up with, and is still used by Jews today, consists of twenty-four books.  This is less than the usual Christian count of thirty-nine because each of the following are considered to be a single book: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, the twelve Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles.  The order, groupings and names of books are also different to the Christian Bible.  The TaNaKh is divided into:
1. Torah (Law/ Teachings) – consisting of the five books of Moses;
2. Nevi’im (Prophets) – consisting of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel & the twelve minor prophets;
3. K’tuvim (Writings) – consisting of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. 

In Christian Bibles, following Greek tradition, the books are named according to their main theme, but in Jewish Bibles the books were named according to their first words.  What we call Exodus (the book about the Jewish exodus from Egypt) the Tanakh calls Sh’mot (Names), because it starts with “These are the names…”.  Hence we do not see Yeshua or the B’rit Hadasha (New Testament) writers using the same referencing of the Tanakh as Christians do today.

Not all priests were in agreement with the Canonisation of the Nevi’im and K’tuvim, giving them the same status as the Torah, although they generally saw great spiritual value in these works.  Thus a division started appearing in Jewish religious thought and practise between those who believed that their lives should be based just on the Torah or just the Torah and the Nevi’im, and those who believed that their lives should be based on the whole Tanakh.

Yeshua would endorse all three sections of the Tanakh in Luke 24:44 “that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Torah of Moses and the Nev’im (Prophets) Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (by “Psalms” Yeshua was using the Jewish convention of stating the first to refer to the whole. The K’tuvim (Writings) section in the Tanakh begins with the book of Psalms, not Job as in the OT).  It was not until much later that the dispute was settled unequivocally in Jewish circles. Only after the Sadducees had lost all power and influence with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple did Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakki convene the Council of Yavneh, in about 90 C.E., to conduct a final Jewish review of the canon where the whole Tanakh at last was confirmed as the Jewish canon.

The Jewish “Oral Law”…

Halakhah also continued to be developed and passed down orally from sage (rabbi) to talmidim (disciple / student) after the restoration of the temple and sacrifices. They taught: “Be deliberate in judgment; raise many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah” (Avos 1:1). This fence around the Torah consisted of rules and practises deemed necessary to keep the people from straying away from Torah observance, or their cultural heritage, and becoming in any way like their heathen neighbours.   

Halakhah – הֲלָכָה, the Way – is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “written Torah” and the “oral Torah”.  As such it consists of:
* Mitzvot D’Oraita (an Aramaic word meaning “from the Torah”) – the 613 commandments (mitzvot מִצְווֹת, plural of mitzvah מִצְוָה) that Jewish rabbis and sages had reasoned from the Torah; and
* Mitzvot D’rabbanan (Aramaic for “from the rabbis”) all three categories of rabbinic commandments, which also became known as the “Oral Torah” and came to be attributed to Moses’ revelation on Mount Sinai, thus giving them, according to many pharisees, the same status as the Written Torah (ie. books of Moses, first 5 books in the Bible). :
~ Gezeirahlaws instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidently violating a Torah Mitzvot.  Commonly referred to as a ‘fence’ around the Torah.
~ Takkanotlaws unrelated to the Biblical commandments that were created by the rabbis for the public welfare, to ‘make the world a better place’. 
~ Minhag – all long-standing customs of the community.

An example of how this developed is in one of the dietary laws.  The Torah states: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26).  The Mitzvot D’Oraita derived from that verse decrees: “Do not eat flesh with milk” – the 164th commandment in their list of 613 commandments “from the Torah”.  This is then explained by the rabbis to be a prohibition on consuming any meat with any dairy products – a cheeseburger would be “illegal” for an observant Jew to eat.   Then, to prevent the people from accidently consuming any meat and cheese together Gezeirah were instituted which included declaring that any utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, plates and flatware from which they are eaten, and anything used in cleaning such as the towels with which the utensils that have come in contact with meat are dried, cannot be used with dairy, and vice versa.   The only “safe” way to run the household is to have two sets of pots, pans and dishes – one for meat and one for dairy.  In addition to all that, one must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy (different schools dictated different amounts of time) because fatty residues or meat particles could cling to the mouth and therefore still be present when the dairy was consumed if enough time had not lapsed between the two.

These rabbinical teachings came to be considered of equal authority to the Torah and by around 100 BC were starting to be referred to by some scholars as the Oral Law.   This elevation of cultural practises and rabbinic reasonings to the same status as the Torah was again not accepted by all priests or Torah scholars.  Among those who espoused the Oral Law there was considerable debate over what the correct practises, interpretations and laws were. (4). Even the mitzvot d’oraita (Torah commandments) contained differences in listings of commandments between the different schools (9).

There was, however, little dispute over the number of commandments (mitzvoth) because of the significance attached to the number 613.  The Talmud notes that the Hebrew numerical value (gematria) of the word “Torah” is 611, and there’s a midrash that says the first two of the Ten Commandments were heard by the Jewish people directly from God, so 611+2 = 613. These are divided into 365 negative commandments (do not do) “like the number of days of the sun”; and 248 positive commandments (do this) “like the parts of a person”. Other significances have also been given to the numbers 613, 365 and 248, all pointing to the overriding importance placed on the keeping of mitzvot d’oraita. (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) 

Many of the mitzvot cannot be observed apart from the temple in Jerusalem, although they still retain religious significance. According to one standard reckoning, out of the total 613 mitzvoth, there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments that can be observed today, of which 26 apply only within the Land of Israel. (15) (16)

Development of the Permanent Jewish Calendar…

A major accomplishment of the Torah scholars of this period was the development of a permanent Jewish calendar.  The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. However, if it were a strict lunar calendar then every year would be 11¼ days less than the solar year. The problem then would be that in three years an entire month would be lost.   Therefore, the Jewish sages added a leap month to the Jewish year. The solar and lunar years line up exactly every 19 years so seven times every nineteen years an entire month, Adar I, is added.

Jewish leadership under the Persians…

Torah scholars who gained renown were generally referred to as sages during this period, but sometimes the term of honour, rabbi (‘master/teacher’), was used – this term gained increasing popularity over the centuries that followed.

The High Priests during this period included men of noble character and those corrupted by power and greed. Although the First Temple saw only 18 High Priests throughout its 400 years, over 300 served during the Second Temple’s 420 years! Several were righteous, and their combined service accounts for around 141 of those years. Soon after Nehemiah the position of governor faded from view and the High Priest was left as the single governing authority over Judea under the Persians.

After Eliashib, who was High Priest during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, his son Joiada (Nehemiah 12:10) held this position from 433-410 BC.  As the sole leadership position, the High Priesthood ceased to be determined purely on a religious hereditary basis and became subject to Persian appointment.  Joiada’s son, Joshua, was promised the High Priesthood by Bagoses, general of Artaxerxes II.  He was killed by his brother, Johanan, in the temple during a quarrel.  Bagoses, being horrified that Johanan as a priest would perpetrate murder in the temple, forbade him from entering its holy precincts again.  Johanan justified his act, took up the High Priest’s office and entered the temple for the duties of that office from 410-371 BCE. Bagoses had the Persians respond by attacking the temple and imposing a tribute on the Jews. 

Johanan’s son Jaddua (also known as Shimon Ha Tzaddik / Simion the Just) served as High Priest from 371-320 BCE.  He restored the temple, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and earned the respect of all.  Tradition has it that Simion met Alexander the Great on his way to attack the Temple. Alexander prostrated himself and promised to treat the Jews benignly, explaining that before every battle he would see a vision of Simeon leading his troops to victory. Simion is also traditionally considered to be one of the last members of the Great Assembly, and there are claims that after his death men ceased to utter the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) aloud. (17) (18) (19)

Developing Messianic Expectations…

This was also a time of developing Messianic expectations in the aftermath of exile and cessation of the Davidic dynasty.  In the light of what God had promised King David, hope arose that He would someday restore a godly king to Israel: 

Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”          2 Samuel 7:16 NASB

 “I will save my flock; they will no longer be prey; and I will judge between sheep and other sheep. I will raise up one shepherd to be in charge of them, and he will let them feed — my servant David. He will pasture them and be their shepherd. I, Adonai, will be their God; and my servant David will be prince among them. I, Adonai, have spoken.”                                Ezekiel 34:22-24 CJB

For many, the expectation went beyond just a godly Davidic descendant to reign over Israel and extended to one who would also rule justly over all the gentile nations.  Such expectations were fuelled by scriptures such as these that hinted that the coming anointed one, the Messiah, would be God Himself:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might,the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.   Isaiah 11:1-5 NIV

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.  Daniel 7:9-14 NIV

Other scriptures that were interpreted in the light of the Messianic hope during this period included (20):

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  Genesis 49:10 NIV

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.   Numbers 24:17 NIV

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.    Zechariah 9:9 NIV

Developing Understanding of the World to Come…

Associated with this development of doctrines of the Messiah were also those of Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come), which included immortality of the soul and resurrection of the dead in an age to come.  While the focus of Judaism remained on living and doing the best in the here and now, the present troubles and injustices were not seen the end of the story; there was a reward, an inheritance, still to come for those who lived in obedience to Yahweh.  As Daniel had prophesied that so many troubles would come to the Jewish people in the foreseeable future, it was comforting to know that was not all there was to come.(21)           

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”    Daniel 12:13 NIV

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise; awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew is like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.   Isaiah 26:19 CJB

At that time, your people will be delivered, everyone whose name is found written in the book. Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and abhorrence. But those who can discern will shine like the brightness of heaven’s dome, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1b-3 CJB

 These doctrines were not developed in any systematic way during this period, as it was before the systematic thinking of Hellenization had impacted this part of the world and the Torah scholars were organic rather than systematic thinkers.  The general picture that emerged was firstly of the state of the soul in heaven after the death of the body, followed by the Messianic age here on earth “at the end of days” and then the resurrection of the dead which embraced a nationalistic hope of the resurrection of all Israel. (21)

Enlightened by these revelations in the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings), many sages and scholars also saw evidence of existence after death in the Torah.   Several noteworthy people are referred to as being “gathered to their people”, which they understood as a separate event from the physical death of the body or the burial.  Examples included: Gen. 25:8 (Abraham), 25:17 (Ishmael), 35:29 (Isaac), 49:33 (Jacob), Deut. 32:50 (Moses and Aaron), and II Kings 22:20 (King Josiah).  Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 31:14 refer to sins for which the punishment is being kareit “cut off from his people”, which they saw as referring to the soul losing their position in Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come). (22)                     

Reference List

1. Jewish History.org. The Men of the Great Assembly. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-men-of-the-great-assembly/.
2. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/effects-did-babylonian-exile-jewish-religion-7222.html.
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Beginning of the Second Commonwealth. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-beginning-2nd-commonwealth/.
4. The Sanhedrin English. Historical Overview. The Sanhedrin. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.thesanhedrin.org/en/index.php?title=Historical_Overview.
5. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.] http://www.hope-of-israel.org/h&a.html.
6. Encyclopedia Judaica: The Great Synagogue. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0019_0_19428.html.
7. Hirsch, Emil G. Ezra the Scribe. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5967-ezra-the-scribe.
8. Mindel, Nissan. Ezra the Scribe. Chabad.org. [Online] Kehot Publication Society. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111905/jewish/Ezra-the-Scribe.htm.
9. Levine, Jason. Judaism: The 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/613_mitzvot.html.
10. Hartman, Osher Chaim Levene & Rabbi Yehoshua. 613: Your Wish is My Command. Aish. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] http://www.aish.com/h/sh/se/613-Your-Wish-is-My-Command.html.
11. dlevy. Lies We Were Taught in Hebrew School, or why 613 is a Meaningless Number. Jewschool – Progressive Jews & Views. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] https://jewschool.com/2009/05/16277/lies-we-were-taught-in-hebrew-school-or-why-613-is-a-meaningless-number/.
12. The Number 613: Properties and Meanings. VirtueScience. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] http://www.virtuescience.com/613.html.
13. McGough, Richard Amiel. The Number 613. The Bible Wheel. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblewheel.com/GR/GR_613.php.
14. Rich, Tracey R. A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.
15. Chaim, Chofetz. Sefer HaMitzvot HaKatzar (in Hebrew). Jerusalem : Feldheim., 1990.
16. HaCohen, Yisrael Meir. The Concise Book of Mitzvoth: The Commandments which can be Observed Today. s.l. : Feldheim, 1990.
17. God’s Secret. 2nd Temple History and More – Persian and Hellenistic Periods (538-142 BCE). [Online] 19th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 19th Sept. 2016.] https://godssecret.wordpress.com/2008/09/19/what-do-you-want-know-who-you-stand-before/.
18. The Jewish Temples – High Priests of the Second Temple Period (516 BCE – 70CE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] AICE. [Cited: 14th March 2020.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/high-priests-of-the-second-temple-period.
19. Gniwisch, Leibel. The High Priest in Jewish Tradition. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 14th March 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4195084/jewish/The-High-Priest-in-Jewish-Tradition.htm.
20. Evans, Craig A. A Closer Look: Messianic Expectations. Christianity Today. [Online] 7th March 2012. [Cited: 5th Nov. 2016.] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/march/closer-look-messianic-expectations.html.
21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Jewish Resurrection of the Dead. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-resurrection-of-the-dead/.
22. Rich, Tracey R. Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and some of the following questions…

* What were some of the changes in Judaism during this time?
* What happened with the high priests became both the civic and spiritual leaders of the Jewish community?
* How can we prevent church leaders becoming corrupted by money and/or power?
* What are some of the similarities and differences between Jewish culture during this, and your culture?
* What “oral laws” has your community, church or denomination developed?
* What did the OT scriptures say about the coming Messiah?

A New Judaism – without Land or Temple (586 – 537 BC)

Read Exodus 19-35:3; Leviticus 7:22-27, 11-20, 23-27;
Deuteronomy 4-26; Jeremiah42-52; Ezekiel 29-34
& Daniel 3-8
The Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple, and the city of Jerusalem, with fire. This destruction, and later disasters in Jewish history, are mourned with fasting by the Jews every year on 9th Av. This day of mourning is called Tisha B’Av. (Image from an 1850 painting by David Roberts).

Judgment brought repentance and renewed religious fervour…

The loss of the temple and sacrificial system left a vacuum in Jewish religious life and identity that had to be filled with something.  Sin (failure to keep Torah) had brought this destruction upon them, but there was no more sacrifice for sin without the temple where such sacrifices had to be made.  So how could the people find any redemption?

There was only one thing they could do, seek redemption through repentance and obedience to the commands of the Torah that could be followed outside of the temple, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, purity laws, and dietary prescriptions (1). The captives set about purifying their religion by rejecting all foreign gods and practices, focusing on that which God had commanded through Moses (2).  They gave up all idolatry and were never again led into its evil practices as they been wont to do before.  A vital sense of repentance was created and private devotion and prayer encouraged.  Their elaborate nation-wide ceremonials, great festivals and temple sacrifices were replaced with local community prayer, fasting and Sabbath observances.  The latter included assembling the people together for prayer and the reading of the scripture (3). Study of the Torah became the focus of practice, with weekly meetings in public study houses (1).  The result was the rise of the Synagogue among the Jews dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire (4).   Having Jewish life in the dispersion revolve around the Synagogue, and the teachings of the Synagogue, protected the Jews from the integration that had caused the northern kingdom of Israel to disappear into the melting pot of nations.

Priestly role of teaching Torah now open to all men…

This rise of the Synagogue in turn resulted in a significant shift in the role of teaching the people the meaning and practice of the Torah. From Moses until the end of the first temple period the Levitical priesthood had been responsible for the whole sacrificial system; maintenance of the tabernacle and then the temple; ministering to God through music, song, prayer and incense; and with teaching the people Torah observance, reading the books of Moses to them and explaining the meaning (Deut. 17:18-20; 28:58-63; Deut. 30:9-10; Deut. 31:24-26; Joshua 1:8; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:21; 1 Chr. 16:37-40; 2 Chron. 18; 2 Chron. 31:2-3; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 8; Neh. 10:28-29; Neh. 13:1 & Daniel 9:13).   Jewish religion had centred on the Temple and the Temple was the domain of the Levitical priests, only they were qualified to serve in its precincts.

There were no such restrictions on service in the Synagogue.   As Synagogues were established wherever ten Jewish families could gather, many of them did not have any Levites as members, so the reading of Torah and leading of the services often fell to those of other tribes.  Thus a new class arose as scholar, teacher and spiritual leader to explain God’s expectations to the common people – the Rabbi (4).  Although not an official title until after the destruction of the second temple, the function of rabbi began to develop during the Babylonian captivity. 

Aramaic was the international language of the ancient Near East. It is a Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew. The Jews in Babylon quickly adopted the Aramaic language as they started businesses, traded with their neighbours and rose to positions of political power and social influence.  The language of the Torah remained Hebrew. As increasing numbers of Jews, particularly the younger generations, spoke Aramaic in their everyday lives, the Synagogue Torah reading increasingly included explanation of the meaning of the text in Aramaic. (5) 

From repentance, to observance, to legalism…

The necessity of remaining as a distinct people while scattered throughout the Babylonian empire expanded the rabbinical role from just reading and explaining the Torah to ‘building a fence’ around the Torah, legislating additional laws and enforcing cultural traditions and customs to keep the Jews separate from all other peoples (6).  Thus began the development of oral traditions added to the Torah to explain its meaning in practice as a minority in a pagan society (7).  Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, plus additional laws instituted by the rabbis, plus the customs of the community, became jointly known as halakhah and all became binding on every member of the community as Jewish Law or “the path that one walks / the way” (8).  Whereas the prophets speaking God’s heart to His people made it easy for the most simple person to understand what God requires of us; “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), the teachers of the law made it so intricate and complicated that only highly trained scholars had any hope of understanding all the requirements they attributed to God.

Halakhah  הֲלָכָה, is often translated as “Jewish Law” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation is “The Way” or “the path that one walks”.  The word is derived from the Hebrew root ‘Hei-Lamed-Kaf‘, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel. Halachah is “the way” for a Jew to walk through life, “the way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life; encompassing civil, criminal and religious law.

During the Babylonian captivity teachings began to emerge in connection to the Torah that were not in the text. These involved interpreting, modifying and enacting rules of conduct for every aspect of Jewish life. This body of teaching continued to be developed over the following centuries so that it was quite extensive, dictating every aspect of Jewish life, by the time of Christ.

Halakhah was developed from three sources:
1) Mitzvot D’Oraita (Commandments from the Torah)- the 613 mitzvot (commandments) that were developed by the rabbis from what God gave the Jewish people in the Written Torah. Some are direct quotes from scripture but others have a fairly tenuous relationship to what is written in the Torah. These 613 mitzvot are subdivided into 248 positive commandments, “mitzvot aseh” (commandments to do), and 365 negative commandments, “mitzvot lo ta’aseh” (commandments not to do).
2) Mitzvot D’Rabbanan (Laws Instituted by the Rabbis) – these rabbinic laws are also referred to as mitzvot (commandments) and are considered to be as binding as Mitzvot D’Oraita. Mitzvot d’rabbanan are commonly divided into three categories: gezeirah, takkanah and minhag.
…..a) Gezeirah (literally “fence”) are the fence rabbis built around the Torah – laws instituted to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. For example, a gezeirah commands Jews on the Sabbath (Shabbat) not to even handle an implement that could be used to perform ‘prohibited work’ (such as a pencil, money, or a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work.
…..b) Takkanah (literally remedy or fixing) is a rule unrelated to biblical laws that was created by the rabbis for the public welfare. For example, the “mitzvah” to light candles on Chanukkah, a Jewish holiday instituted after the OT was written.
3) Minhag Mitzvot are customs that developed for worthy religious reasons and had continued long enough to become a binding religious practice, often referred to in the NT as “traditions of the elders“. These ‘traditions of the elders‘ are considered a binding part of halakhah (the ‘Oral Law’ / the ‘Way’), just like a mitzvah, a takkanah or a gezeirah. (8, 9)
The word “minhag” is also used in a looser sense, to indicate a community or an individual’s customary way of doing some religious thing. For example, it may be the minhag in one synagogue to stand while reciting a certain prayer, while in another synagogue it is the minhag to sit during that prayer.

Imagine how audacious it would have sounded when Yeshua (Jesus) came and claimed to be “the Way” (John 14:6).   Instead of following “the law” of the community, He was the embodiment of “the law” of God. He challenged the culture of His people with the culture of His kingdom.

“…the God we serve is able to save usBut even if He does not

585 BC King Nebuchadnezzar celebrated his conquests by making an image of gold, thirty metres high and three meters wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  Then he summoned the provincial officials to the dedication of his image, among them were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would now have been in their thirties and spent half their lives in Babylon.   These three refused to fall down and worship the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar had set up and so were tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace that had been heated seven times hotter than usual in the king’s rage.    The soldiers who threw them in were consumed by the flames, as were the ropes that bound them, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were walking around unharmed in the furnace with a fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar described as looking like a son of the gods.  Such was the impact of this that Nebuchadnezzar promoted these three faithful ones and decreed that anyone who spoke against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble. (Daniel 3)

A true friend urges repentance…

Three years later Nebuchadnezzar had another dream which greatly disturbed him.  Again, none had the wisdom or courage to give the king the interpretation of his dream except Daniel.  The dream contained a warning that Nebuchadnezzar would be cut down and appear destroyed, left wandering with the wild animals and eating grass like cattle for seven “times” until he acknowledges that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, at which time his kingdom would be restored to him.  Daniel pleaded with Nebuchadnezzar to repent and renounce his sins by doing what is right and being kind to the oppressed.  Twelve months later, as Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride declaring: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my power and for the glory of my majesty,” God’s judgment fell upon him and he became so insane that he was driven away from people and lived out in the open eating grass.   In due season Nebuchadnezzar repented of his pride, raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored, and with that his kingdom as well. (Daniel 4)

Wrongdoing brings fear, which brings rebellion…

Back in Judah, the Babylonians had allowed some of the poorer survivors of their conquests to remain to tend the land and placed Jedediah, a grandson of Josiah, over them (2 Kings 25:22). He was soon murdered (2 Kings 25:25) and the people, fearing that Nebuchadnezzar would avenge his death, decided to flee into Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). Jeremiah had warned them against taking this decision (Jer.42:9-22.) but was overruled and, along with his scribe Baruch, was dragged along with them (Jer.43:6-7). They settled in the Egyptian town of Tahpanhee (Jer.44:1), and built a Jewish community there, keeping many of the customs of their heritage but continuing in disobedience to God and every direction He gave them through the prophet Jeremiah.   Tradition has it that they eventually stoned Jeremiah to death (13) (14) (15).  In 569 BC Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in fulfilment of Jeremiah 43:8-13; 46:13-26 and Ezekiel 29:19, taking captives back to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC and was succeeded by his son, Evil Merodach in 561 BC.  Just five years later Evil Merodach was succeeded by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nabonidus. Then in 553 BC Nabonidus left his son, Belshazzar, to reign as coregent in Babylon while he travelled west into Arabia to gain more land and rebuild temples in the Assyrian city of Harran. (13)    Neither Nabonidus nor Belshazzar were popular with the people, having alienated the priests, politicians and military alike.

The historic/prophetic context of Messiah’s coming…

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel, who was now about 67yo, had a prophetic vision while lying on his bed.  Scripture records five interwoven prophetic visions which Daniel received over a period of 68 years.  These fuelled Jewish Messianic expectations and speculations.  The first, as we had seen, was back in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, 604 BC, when as a teenager Daniel had a vision of the king’s dream of a great statue with golden head, silver chest, middle and thighs of bronze and legs of iron that was struck by a stone that became a great mountain which filled the whole earth (Daniel 2).   In Daniel’s second recorded vision, 52 years later, the great sea of humanity was stirred and four different beasts came up out of it (Dan. 7:2). These were four kings (Dan. 7:17) who correlated to the four kingdoms depicted in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:31-41).  

The significance of these four beasts was that they were Gentile kings whose kingdoms would rule over Israel one after another until the coming of Messiah

As in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, they were judged by the Ancient of Days who gave everlasting dominion and glory and a Kingdom to “One like the Son of Man” (Daniel 7).   These first two visions both began with a depiction of what already was ruling over the Jews – the Babylonian Empire.

First Beast – Head of Gold –
Babylonian Empire

The first beast in Daniel’s vision was “like a lion and had eagles’ wings” (Dan 7:4).  The lion is used as a symbol for Babylon in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:7; 49:19; 50:17), and eagles symbolize Babylonian armies (Jeremiah 49:22).   This correlates with the head of fine gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, whom Daniel had identified as Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God had given the kingdom of Babylon (Dan. 2:37-38).  Nebuchadnezzar was the Babylonian ruler who had conquered the Jews in his expansion of the empire. (14)  “Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it.” (Dan. 7:4).   This could be referring to Nebuchadnezzar’s mental break and restoration (Dan. 4:19-37) or just to the weakening of the kingdom after his death.  

Daniel’s third vision, just two years later and still under Belshazzar’s rule, was of a ram and a goat and the fierce king who would arise in the latter time of the goat’s kingdom (Daniel 8).  This was depicting the next two kingdoms that were yet to rule over Israel, and correlated with the next two beasts of Daniel’s earlier vision.

In 539 BC, the first major event predicted in these prophetic visions took place, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.   Belshazzar sought to display his greatness by holding a massive feast for a thousand of the Babylonian nobles, gave orders that the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem be used for the wine as they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.  The sudden appearance of a hand writing on the wall revealed what they had been too busy revelling to notice – God’s judgment had arrived and the kingdom of Babylon had been given to the Medes and Persians.  That same night Belshazzar was slain by the Medo-Persian army who had diverted the Euphrates River so they could enter under the city wall through the lowered water.

Second Beast – Chest & Arms of Silver – Ram with Long and Longer Horns Medo-Persian Empire

The second beast was like a bear (Dan. 7:5).  The second kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been the chest and arms of silver, which would arise after Babylon (Dan. 2:39a).  This kingdom is seen in Daniel’s third vision as a ram with two long horns, one longer than the other, and none could stand against him as he came from the east butting westward, southward and northward (Dan. 8:3-4). That ram is identified as the kings of Media and Persia in Daniel 8:20.  The bear of Daniel 7 is described as being “raised up on one side”, just as the ram had one horn longer than the other, and Persia was stronger than Media. The combined strength of the Persians and the Medes led to the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC with the resulting extension of their empire over much of the Middle East, including Israel. Isaiah had prophesied the Medes overthrow of Babylon 175 years before (Isaiah 13:17-20), noting their disdain for silver and gold, the very gods that Belshazzar was worshipping when they broke into the city, overran it and killed him (Daniel 5). (15) Jeremiah had also prophesied that God would raise up the Medes to destroy Babylon (Jer. 51:11, 28-31).

As we continue on our journey towards Messiah’s birth we will see how accurately Daniel’s prophesies foretold what was to come and how each historical fulfilment increased the expectation that God would send their Messiah.

References

1. Thomas, Christine M. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] Winter Quarter 2006. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
2. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: After the Babylonian Exile (538 – 332 BCE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile1.html.
3. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
4. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/effects-did-babylonian-exile-jewish-religion-7222.html.
5. Spiro, Ken. Babylonian Exile. SimpleTo Remember.com Judaism Online. [Online] [Cited: 16th Aug 2016.] http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/babylonian_exile/.
6. Landis, Brad. A Hedge Around the Law. Bradlis7. [Online] 9th October 2013. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://s.bradlis7.com/2013/10/a-hedge-around-the-law/.
7. Jacobs, Louis. Encyclopedia Judaica: Halakhah. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0008_0_08206.html.
8. Rich, Tracey R. Halakhah: Jewish Law. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm.
9. MJL. Halacha: The Laws of Jewish Life. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 7th March 2020] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/halakhah-the-laws-of-jewish-life/
10. Emil G. Hirsch, Victor Ryssel, Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg. Jeremiah. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8586-jeremiah.
11. Bible Pages. The prophet Jeremiah – where did he die? Bible Pages. [Online] 28th July 2016. [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.biblepages.net/eya124.htm.
12. Sacred Texts. Chapter XXXII Of The Death of the Prophets; How They Died, and (where) Each One Was Buried. Sacred Texts. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/bb/bb32.htm.
13. Timeline for the Life and Times of Jeremiah. Generation Word. [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.generationword.com/notes/jeremiah/prelim-notes.pdf
14. Rashi. Daniel – Chapter 7. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16490/jewish/Chapter-7.htm#showrashi=true.
15. Walvoord, John F. 6. The Medes And The Persians. Bible.org. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-medes-and-persians.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and consider the following questions…

* What is your response to difficulty and hardship?
* What has God taught you through the troubled times in your life?
* What were some of the healthy responses that the Jews had to their great losses?
* What were some of the unhealthy responses that they had to their losses?
* In seeking to live wholeheartedly for God, how can we avoid becoming legalistic or judgmental?
* Has your church made up extra rules to try to make your people pure and righteous?
* What are the customs in your church? How do those customs strengthen your community? Do any of those customs cause any problems?

Israel Replaced with Samaritans & the Kingdom of God Prophesied (931-627 BC)

Read 1 Kings:12-22; 2 Kings:1-17; 2 Chronicles 10- 28;
Amos & Hosea
Chart of Israel's history from Solomon until the Assyrian's conquered and replaced the people.
Elijah and Elisha were both sent by God to speak His word to the 10 rebellions tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel. (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 13)

After the death of King Solomon the northern tribes of Israel rebelled against his son Rehoboam.  From this point on there would be two kingdoms of Hebrews, Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  These kingdoms were frequently at war with one another.  All the kings of Israel were evil and corrupt, leading their people in worship of other gods and governing poorly.  God raised up many prophets to call the leaders and people of Israel back to Himself.  These included Elijah (870-845BC) and Elisha (845-800 BC), but even the most promising responses to the prophets were only temporary. Israel’s leaders and most of her people, although not all, continued in the practices of the peoples God had removed from the land before them.

Be careful who you form an alliance with, do not be unequally yoked…

When Judah formed an alliance with Israel to stop their fighting against one another and jointly defend against their enemies, as Jehoshaphat did with Ahab, the results were not good.  The unequally yoked marriage between Jehoshaphat’s son and Ahab’s daughter led the young man far away from his father’s righteousness.  Instead of this unifying of the nation bringing wholeness, peace and prosperity, it opened the door for the sin of Israel to permeate throughout Judah and bring it down as well.

God’s last pleas to Israel to forsake her spiritual adultery came through Amos (765-754 BC) and then the lived prophesy of Hosea and his adulterous wife (758-725 BC); yet still they would not repent.   So in 722 BC God’s warnings through the prophets came to pass. The Assyrians conquered and decimated Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23).  Their king, Sargon, in an inscription found at Nineveh, wrote that he carried away into captivity 27,290 of the survivors (2). Those who had fled and those taken into captivity integrated into the surrounding nations and disappeared from history as a distinct people, although even today there are some who trace their roots back to these Israelites. 

Lions pave the way for evangelism…

After his conquest of Israel, the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim to repopulate the Israeli cities. The land was no longer called Israel, but re-named after its capital Samaria.  These newcomers had no knowledge or fear of God.  Yahweh sent lions among them, so they begged the king of Assyria to send them a priest from the land to teach them the rituals of the god of the land.  One of the Israeli priests who had been taken captive was sent and dwelt at Bethel to teach all the people how they should fear the LORD (2 Kings 17:24-41). The people in Samaria were soon worshipping Yahweh as well as their own gods. 

The First Two Names for God in Scripture

 Ĕlōhîm is the first word used for God in the scriptures: “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1.  It is used 2,750 time in the Old Testament.  Ĕlōhîm is the plural of Eloah, the word construction is understood to be a plural of majesty and so means “supreme one” or “mighty one”, emphasising God’s greatness, power and prestige. This plurality also hints at the triune nature of the One true God: “Then Ĕlōhîm said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26).

Yahweh יְהוָ֥הis the personal Hebrew name for God, and most significant name in the Old Testament, written 6,828 times; 1,820 of those in the Torah.  Because it consists of four Hebrew consonants (YHWH) it is called the Tetragrammaton.  This name is built on the word for “I am” and closely connected to God’s covenant with Israel.  Yahweh is the eternal self-existent One who enters covenant with His chosen, and as such His divine name should not be taken in vain (Exodus 20:7). After the destruction of the second Temple (AD 70) the doctrine developed in Judaism that God’s name Yahweh was too holy to be spoken.  Yahweh is therefore translated LORD (all caps) in most English versions of the Bible. (3) (4) 

Yahweh is first used as the name for God in Genesis 2:4 “…When the LORD God (Yahweh ĕlōhîm) made the earth and the heavens.” 

Proving more faithful…

Within a couple of centuries, the peoples in Samaria (the land that had belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel) would be worshipping Yahweh exclusively – proving more faithful than Israel had been. These Samaritans, who had intermarried with the poor Israelites who had been left in the fields, adopted almost all the Hebrew Torah and cultic practices but kept no genealogies like the people of Judah (Jews) to prove their ancestry.  The Samaritan Israelites called themselves “the sons of Israel”. They also referred to themselves as “Shomrim” (the keepers), considering themselves the be the keepers of the old ways, the ancient faith, the covenant promise. The Samaritans followed in the footsteps of the northern kingdom of Israel before them in opposing the worship of God in Jerusalem, convinced that the centre of Israel’s worship should be the mount of YHWH’s covenant blessing (Deuteronomy 27:12), Mount Gerizim, where they had built their own temple to Yahweh. They had a fourfold creed:

  1. One God – YHWH
  2. One Prophet – Moses
  3. One Book – Torah
  4. One Place – Mt Gerizim (8)

The Jews (Judean Israelites) and Samaritans each believed that they were the true worshippers of God and the others were heretics and imposters who had taken the wrong path when the two had separated after Solomon’s death. The Jews were angered that the Samaritans would dare to sacrifice to Yahweh outside of Jerusalem (5). 

The Torah
Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible.  They are sometimes called the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch.  In Hebrew, each of the five books is identified by its incipit (first words). In English the names for each book is derived from the Greek Septuagint (the first translation made into Greek) and reflect the theme of each book.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (‘Pentecost’ in Greek) commemorates the anniversary of the day when Yahweh gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.

God’s judgments are for our redemption…

During the time of Israel’s destruction God sent Isaiah (760-673 BC) and Micah (738-698 BC) to warn Judah that they would likewise be destroyed if they did not repent (Isaiah 1,3,5,13,22,29,30:1-17,31,57-59,65:1-12, Micah 1-3).  Although Assyria and Egypt would give Judah a taste of God’s judgments as a warning, it would be the Babylonians who would destroy the nation if they failed to heed the admonitions to repent with their whole hearts.  Yet God’s judgments would be for their redemption, His discipline would teach them to repent and honour Him so that His mercies could again be poured out on them. 

These prophets told not only of the coming judgment for Judah’s sin but also of their later restoration and then, even more wonderful, the coming of Messiah and the kingdom of God, a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 2, 4, 7:14, 9:1-7, 11-12, 14, 24:21-23, 25, 32:1-8, 35, 40, 42, 45, 52:7-56:8, 60-62, 65:17-66:2, Micah 4 & 5).  The Jews were failing to live as a kingdom of God on earth so God Himself would come and set up His kingdom to restore the earth to His intent and put His Spirit in them and give them new hearts to qualify them for citizenship.  Not only Judah, but God would gather all nations and all tongues to come and see His glory and serve Him (Isaiah 66:18-21).

———————————————–

References

1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
2. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
3. Levine, Douglas Knight & Amy-Jill.The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (1st ed). New York : HarperOne, 2011. 0062098594.
4. Gainotti, Charles R. The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH. [book auth.] Roy B. Zuch. Vital Old Testament Issues: Examening Textual and Topical Questions. Oregon : Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012.
5. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: The Babylonian Exile. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile.html.
6. Santala, Risto. THE PROPHETS OF THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM, JUDAH . [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/OT/OT17.html
7. The Bible Study Site. Kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible Study Site. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/israel-kings.html.
8. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. The Samaritan woman RECONSIDERED. ISBN: 9781713300366. 2019

In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:

* What does it mean to be faithful to God?
* What paved the way for evangelism in your nation or community?
* What do God’s names Ĕlōhîm, and Yahweh tell us about Him?
* Do you have clashes between different tribes or groups of people in your area? How can peace be brought to that conflict?
* What has God been saying to your nation?
* What has God been saying to the church in your nation?
* Is there something happening in your nation that you see as God’s judgment?