Then he came down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his talmidim was there with great numbers of people from all Y’hudah (Judea), Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and the coast around Tzor (Tyre) and Tzidon (Sidon); they had come to hear him and be healed of their diseases. Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being healed; and the whole crowd was trying to touch him, because power kept going out from him, healing everyone. Luke 6:17-19 CJB
In a visual sense, Yeshua’s withdrawal and ascent up the mountain, followed the next day by His descent with the Twelve, announced them to the gathered multitude from near and far. It also implicitly signalled to the diverse crowd the formal organization of His new community – the establishment of a new foundation of 12 – soon after Yeshua had told them the parables about the “new” and “old” (Luke 5:36–39). This was part of the new wineskin to carry the new wine that He brought.
Yeshua had been up on the mountain praying all night (possibly Mount Arbel). After the sun rose He had called His talmidim (disciples) to Him and chosen 12 of them whom He designated apostolos (apostles), and had given these Twelve authority to do what He had been doing – healing the sick and casting out unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1, Mark 3:14-15). Now He came down from the mountain with His newly appointed apostles, along with the rest of His talmidim, to a level place where the growing crowds had been gathering.
In the hills that ring the Sea of Galilee on the east, north, and west sides, a single area stands out as an extensive level area that matches Luke’s description. It lies on the northwest shore about three miles west of Capernaum and stretches away from the lake for about a mile before abutting high hills. It is called the Plain of Ginosar (Gennesaret).
The assembled crowd included not only people from Galilee, and from Judea and Jerusalem where He had taught and done miracles during the Jewish feasts, but also from places that Yeshua had not been to: “from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him” (Luke 6:17). By the time that Yeshua delivered this Sermon on the Plain, people had heard about Him from far away and travelled great distances to listen to Him and be healed by Him. The access road for those from these coastal regions to the northwest was through the Arbel Pass that leads down from Upper Galilee and brings travellers onto the flat area of the Plain of Gennesaret.
At the beginning of the Jewish month ofElul, as they entered a season of teshuvah (repentance),we had seen Yeshua ascend the Mt of Beatitudes to sit down and teach the people, as was done in the synagogues, proclaiming His Sermon on the Mount, searching and exposing the hearts of all the people before the light of God as He declared the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now He was leading His Twelve newly appointed and empowered apostles, along with the rest of His talmidim (disciples), down Mt Arbel to meet the needs of the gathering masses on the level ground of the Plain of Gennesaret. Here there was no opportunity to formally sit and teach – Yeshua stood on a level place as power kept going out of Him, healing everyone who sort to touch Him. None was excluded and none was left out. No one went away disappointed that they had not received the miracle they’d come for. Everyone was healed.
They had come to this level place from as far away as Judea and Jerusalem in the south, and Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast to the north-east. Several days worth of walking had brought Jews and Gentiles alike to listen to Yeshua teach, and to be healed of their ailments. The Hebrew prophets’ use of the word “level” (pedinos in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings) provides the background for its use here. “Pedinos” often referred to places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning (see Jeremiah 9:22; 14:18; 30:4; Daniel 3:1; Joel 1:10, 20; 2: 22; 3:19; Habakkuk 3:17; & Zechariah 12:11). At the same time, the prophets foresaw God renewing the level places. The glory of God (salvation) would be revealed in them (see Isaiah 40:4, 18 & Ezekiel 3:22, 23; 8:4). Yeshua brings healing and deliverance and teaches the ways of the Kingdom to all who have come from their very different walks of life to the ‘pedinos‘ place, in need of Him. There were no exemptions. There on the level place, the power of God’s love healed everyone.
Although Yeshua had given the Twelve apostles authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons (Mark 3:15), there is no record of any of them joining Him in meeting the people’s needs yet. They had the authority but were not practiced in using it. They were still just watching and learning. Interestingly, when Yeshua turned His attention to teaching them it was not instructions on using their newly acquired authority to heal and deliver that He gave them, but teachings dealing with the attitudes of their hearts.
There, on the ‘pedinos‘ place, Yeshua turned His gaze towards His Talmidim and taught them. Yeshua‘s words, like those of every Jewish rabbi in His day, were designed to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation. His words contained a wisdom that was contrary to how the people thought then, even as it is contrary to most teaching now.
“Blessed” – μακάριος, makarios – describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. It is the joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.
“Woe” – οὐαί, ouai – is an interjection of grief or of denunciation. It is suggestive of being under divine judgment awaiting great loss and pain.
He looked at his talmidim and said:
“How blessed are you poor! for the Kingdom of God is yours. “How blessed are you who are hungry! for you will be filled. “How blessed are you who are crying now! for you will laugh. “How blessed you are whenever people hate you and ostracize you and insult you and denounce you as a criminal on account of the Son of Man. Be glad when that happens; yes, dance for joy! because in heaven your reward is great. For that is just how their fathers treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already had all the comfort you will get! “Woe to you who are full now, for you will go hungry! “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and cry! “Woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is just how their fathers treated the false prophets! Luke 6:20-26
Although the multitudes were there, pressing in to get a blessing from Yeshua, to get healing from Him, it was not to the multitudes that Yeshua directed this next teaching, but to His talmidim, to those who had chosen to follow Him and learn of Him how to live as citizens of the Kingdom. The values of His Kingdom are so opposite to the values of this world. Still today, many of those who claim to walk with Yeshua have difficulty with what He taught us here:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God – But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied – But woe to you who are well fed now, for you shall be hungry.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh – But woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Blessed are you when all men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way your fathers used to treat the prophets – But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.
Yeshua begins this teaching by pronouncing a blessing on the poor – πτωξος, ptochos – “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” Blessed, in receipt of God’s favour, salvation and joyous fulfilment, are those who are totally destitute with no means to care for themselves or others. Those who are greatly devalued in this world are greatly honoured in the Kingdom of God. It is an exhortation for the crouched down ones to stop believing they aren’t worth anything and start lifting their heads up as royalty, as children of the King. Yeshua had begun the Sermon on the Mount, heralding the Jewish time of teshuvah (repentance), with an exhortation: Blessed are the poor in spirit, referring to those who are repentant – coming to God recognising that they are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness. It was an invitation to bow low. Now He begins the Sermon on the Plain with an invitation for the despised lowly ones to raise up and stand tall: “blessed are the poor”.
That Yeshua was here speaking about physical poverty, not the repentant attitude of being ‘poor in spirit‘, is confirmed by His corresponding woe to those who are rich and living in comfort. He then goes on to deal with three aspects of living in poverty – being hungry, weeping, and being despised. For each He pronounces blessing and provides an eternal promise – to be fed, filled and satisfied; to laugh with joy; and to receive a great reward in heaven – to be honoured before all creation. Yeshua’s words turned man’s thinking upside down. They comforted the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable. They lifted the disciple’s focus from the things of this world to the things of heaven.
Who do we give more honour to – those who are wealthy and popular, or those who are poor and despised? Are we viewing people from a worldly perspective or from God’s perspective?
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 NIV
“To you who are listening”… multitudes were coming and pressing in to receive what they wanted, to get their healing and deliverance, but only some were listening – eager to learn from and be changed by the Son of God.
Having raised them up as having great value, worth and authority, Yeshua now instructs His talmidim in the purposes and use of such high esteem. We are not raised up in His Kingdom in order to crush our enemies, but in order to love them. We are not raised up in order to withhold, but in order to give over and above. We are not raised up in order to execute revenge but in order to be willing to suffer further loss and pain for the sake of those who were trying to oppress us and hold us down. Our reward is not in what we can get from man. Our reward is what we receive as children of God, from our loving Father, as our lives reflect His character. For the Kingdom of God is not of this world.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?
The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:37-45 NIV
As He had done in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua, again contrasted judging others with discerning what is good or evil. His command to avoid judging and condemning was not a command to blindly accept everything as good. It was not a tolerance of sin, but an abhorrence of the sin of failing to love our neighbour. We need our eyes opened by Christ’s word and not blindly follow or lead others to destruction. We need to be fully trained by Yeshua such that we have become like Him. Both planks and specks are injurious and need to be removed from our eyes. Trees are recognised by their fruit. Our words and actions reveal what we have stored in our hearts.
What is the state of your heart?
Again, Yeshua finished His sermon with a warning of the need to not only hear His words, but to put them into practice. Just memorising God’s Word is not enough, we need to LIVE what He says at all times. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” Luke 6:46-49 NIV
It doesn’t matter how big or fancy our ministry is, it doesn’t matter how much work we have put into making it look spectacular, if it is built without a deep foundation of obedience it will surely collapse and we’ll lose everything when the storms of life come and beat against it. The ONLY foundation that can hold our lives up is Jesus. To secure our lives to the Rock of Ages we have to obey everything He says. Partial obedience is not sufficient to withstand the storms of life, we must take heed to everything Yeshua has told us and fully obey it all.
1. Thomason, Steve. and stood on a level place | A Devo on Luke 6:17-26. Following the Cloud. [Online] February 1st, 2017. https://www.stevethomason.net/2017/02/01/stood-level-place-devo-luke-617-26/. 2. Allen, Ronald J. Commentary on Luke 6:17-26. Working Preacher. [Online] February 17th, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3960.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What do you think the significance was of Jesus going down from the mountain to the level plain before teaching His disciples? * What insights have your congregation gained from memorising Jesus’ teaching on the level place? * Where did you meet Jesus, what was happening in your life at the time? * How would you describe the power that kept going out from Jesus and healing everyone? * Luke keeps telling us that everyone who came to Jesus was healed. To what extent are we following in His example? Why are some people who come to us not healed – can we know the answer? * It sounds like a very chaotic, noisy class – trying to teach his disciples outside in the midst of a crowd of thousands all pressing in trying to touch Jesus and receive their healing. Why do you think Jesus chose that setting for these lessons? How did Jesus’ sermon fit in with what He was teaching them through His actions? * Often people think that acts of loving our enemies (like letting them take from us) show weakness, how are they really acts of strength? *How do you describe the difference between judging and discerning? *How can we fully obey all that Jesus said?
Under the clear blue summer sky, Yeshua continued unfolding the principles of the kingdom of heaven. The term (Gk) ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (“the kingdom of heaven”), is a major theme of Matthew’s Gospel, occurring 32 times (3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21, etc…). Since the expression ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶ occurs in Matthew 5:19 and 20, directly following Yeshua’s statements about the fulfilment (Gk: πληρόω, v. 17) and the accomplishment (Gk: γίνομαι, v. 18) of the Torah (Gk: νόμος) and the Prophets (Gk: προφῆται), it appears to be an integral part of that fulfilment.
Yeshua had just promised this crowd of Jews, God’s chosen people, the people in covenant with Him, that if they hungered and thirsted for righteousness they would be filled. He had reminded them that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world through their good deeds bringing glory to God. Now, He began explaining to them what such righteousness looked like in practical application.
First, Yeshua confirmed what the Scribes and Pharisees taught – that righteousness equalled obeying Torah, in the broad sense of everything that God has spoken to them through the Hebrew scriptures.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV
It was more than 1,300 years since God had come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the Jewish people, with thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain followed by a shofar blast sounding so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled as God gave the Law to Israel (Exodus 19-20). There had been major upheavals in the world since that time, empires had risen and fallen, cultures and ways of life had changed, but neither God, nor man’s nature, had altered in all that time. Yeshua declared that the Torah was just as relevant in His day as it had been when first given to Moses. He had not come to destroy or do away with any of God’s Law. The kingdom of heavenYeshua came to proclaim was not a replacement for the Torah, but a fulfilment of it, an empowering of God’s people to live His Law, an infilling with His righteousness. Yeshua taught that even the commandment of God which we think to be of least importance is of great importance in the kingdom of heaven, and not the slightest detail of any of His Torah will be removed until all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 NKJV
The prophets had been sent to Israel throughout the ages to redirect the people to God’s idea of what obeying Torah involved. Everything that Yeshua was teaching them was an expression, a fulfilment, a completion of what God had already told them through the Torah (Law) and the Neviim (Prophets). Over the centuries God’s intent had been twisted and distorted by man’s ways, His priorities upended, and His words endowed with meanings quite different to what He had spoken to Moses and reiterated to the prophets. Yeshua had come as a Jewish reformer, to restore their understanding and practice of His Torah. Yeshua had come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through living them fully. He had also come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through being the fulfilment of what the Hebrew scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and establishes a New Covenant.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… …” Jeremiah 31:31-34
As the summer fruits were ripening, Yeshua outlined the fruits of righteousness which were to be produced in their lives, the proper outworking of the law of love that had been given to govern their lives. The Scribes and Pharisees had so many outward displays of “righteousness” in their conspicuous observance of all the “Oral Law” established in their community, but Yeshua declared that such was by no means adequate for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He agreed with the Pharisees on the need to live in obedience to Torah, but disagreed with their interpretation of Torah. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven, He declared, required first and foremost being poor in spirit, being repentant, acknowledging that neither their birth as Jews, nor all their outward displays of ‘righteousness’, met God’s requirement of holy perfection.
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NKJV
Next, Yeshua went through some examples of how the way that the Scribes and Pharisees were living Torah failed to display the true righteousness of God required of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these Yeshua uses the formula “you have heard that it was said to those of old…. … but I say to you... ….” in order to contrast the legalistic observance of the Torah with the heart-motivated observance of the Torah in living out God’s love and holiness.
Any harsh word or judgment against our brother is a breach of the law of love. Exodus 20:1-17 lists the 10 Commandments, and “You shall not murder” (Vs 13) is the 6th of these. Murder was against the law of the land and would be judged and punished by the Sanhedrin (Jewish council/law court, who both defined the law and executed judgment on serious law breakers – the highest court of the Jewish people). Unjustified anger, and any insults or put-downs are against God’s law of love, the law of the kingdom of heaven, and will be judged and punished by the King in fulfilment of all righteousness.
Yeshua was quick to remove all sense of complacency about their standing before God. The righteousness required by the kingdom of heaven was far greater than the outward compliance with the law that they were used to, and the alternative to the kingdom of heaven was the fires of Gehenna. The word translated “hell” in many English versions of the scriptures is “Gehenna”, which is derived from the Hebrew words “גי” and “הנם,” which mean “Valley of Hinnom.” This steep, narrow valley just outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem was notorious as the place where king Ahaz had led Judah in sacrificing children by fire in worship of the heathen God Molech (2 Chronicles 28:2-3), as did his grandson king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6) and Manasseh’s son Amon (2 Chronicles 33:22). Josiah, the reforming king, had stamped out that worship, and had ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place (2 Kings 23:10). Jeremiah likewise prophesied against this valley (Jeremiah 19:2-6). In consequence of this, the Valley of Hinnom became the place where the refuse of the Jerusalem was cast out and burned. It is also the location where the bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. It has been suggested that the Romans, the only people living in this region who cremated their dead, also performed this rite in the Valley of Hinnom. Always the fire smouldered in it, and a pall of thick smoke lay over it. Isaiah 66: 24 speaks of looking upon the eternally suffering of the dead who had rebelled against God; “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” The ancient Aramaic paraphrase translations of the Hebrew Bible known as Targums supply the term “Gehinnom” frequently to verses touching upon resurrection, judgment, and the fate of the wicked. So Gehennah, the Valley of Hinnom, had become identified in people’s minds with all that was accursed and filthy, the place where useless and evil things were perpetually destroyed by a fire that was never quenched. This picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in ancient Jewish writings such that it is recorded in the Mishnah in Kiddushin 4.14, Avot 1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t. Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b. Bereshith 28b. Gehenna had become a synonym in Jewish thought for the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, and it was in this sense that Yeshua used it when warning the people of the dangers of unrighteousness.
It was no light matter for Yeshua to tell this crowd that being angry with their brother will be judged and a penalty for such will have to be paid. Even more serious was His warning that whoever calls his brother ‘Raca‘, a derogatory term meaning worthless, empty headed fool, would be guilty before the highest religious court in the land, the Sanhedrin, if they judged properly. Then comes Yeshua’s most devastating pronouncement; that the one who denounces another as a fool, a wicked rebel against God, is in danger of the fires of God’s eternal punishment. Verbal attacks, gaslighting and bullying have no place in the kingdom of heaven. How greatly we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness!
The Hebrew scriptures spoke much about anger and the power of our words:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:8
Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. Proverbs 11:12
Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18
A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace. Proverbs 18:19
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21
In times to come a Pharisee in training, Saul, would be transformed by the risen Christ to become the apostle Paul, and write this description of the kingdom love we are to demonstrate to our brother:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV
Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, reminding His audience that they could as likely be the one who had done wrong as the one who was in danger of being angry because they had been wronged or let down.
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26
According to the Oral Law, the requirements for Temple sacrifices took precedence over everything else. Hence the instrumental worship in the Temple that was not allowed anywhere else on Shabbat. Yet, Yeshua, here stated that the Kingdom of Heaven law of love took precedence even over this. Nothing, not even a sacrifice in worship of God, is more important that righting our wrongs and being reconciled to one another. Like Yochanan the Immerser, Yeshua‘s teaching on righteousness focused on treating all others with love and respect.
Yeshua then moves on from the 6th Commandment to the 7th – “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14. Contrary to many in His day, and the teachings of many even today, Yeshua places the full responsibility on the man for his lust:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.If your right eye causes you to sin (stumble or offend), pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:28-30
Our sin is our responsibility, no one else’s. Yeshua did not say, “if the woman’s dress causes you to sin“, but “if YOUR eye causes you to sin“. Sin is birthed in the heart of the person who commits it, not in the actions or clothes of others. Joseph here provides the perfect example for us (Genesis 39). Regardless of how Potiphar’s wife dressed or what she did to try to entice him, Joseph remained steadfast in His commitment to God and His righteousness. Likewise, Job declared:
I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. Job 31:1
Indulging in pornography is not the righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. The people who were listening to Yeshua speak up on that mountain did not have ready access to pornography, such increased greatly when printed materials became readily available, and has exploded to epidemic proportions with the internet – so much so that it is now ensnaring women as well as men. One survey of 18-35 year olds in a western nation (Daspe et all 2017) found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months. $3,075.64 is spent on internet porn every second, that’s $265,735,290 every day. Think how many orphans and widows could be fed around the world with over two hundred and fifty million dollars a day, if all those people lived by the Kingdom of Heaven‘s law of love instead of gratifying the lust of their eyes! Disturbingly, far too many Christians, and even church leaders, have fallen prey to this evil. According to a survey by the Barna Group in 2016: 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn on a regular basis and are currently struggling. That’s more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders. 43% of senior pastors and youth pastors say they have struggled with pornography in the past. Only 7% of pastors report their church has a ministry program for those struggling with porn.
Yeshua’s words are even more necessary for us now than at any time in history (and could well include “if your computer causes you to sin“, or “if your phone causes you to sin“):
“If YOUR eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you.… … And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you;…”
Lustful looking is contrary to the law of love. It involves regarding others solely as opportunities for one’s own gratification. Lustful looking offends God as much as adultery does. He has called us to love which respects and delights in others for who He created them to be, not for what we can get from them. His righteousness is love which seeks the good of others and the honouring of God, love which is faithful to covenant. All of this was God’s intent with the 7th Commandment. All of this is the fruit of being filled with His righteousness, which Yeshua promises to do for us if we hunger and thirst for it.
Yeshua, like Yochanan the Immerser before Him, was a reformer who spoke truth to power. The two institutions of legal and religious power in Jewish society at this time, the synagogue and the Sanhedrin, consisted solely of men. Thus we see later on (John 8:1-11), when a couple were caught in the act of adultery, only the woman was brought to Yeshua with the charge: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women“. Yeshua’s confrontation with the prevailing power structures blaming women for men’s lust did not in any way condone women lusting after men as Potiphar’s wife had done, it just removed all excuses men had for blaming women for their own sin of lust. Yeshua was safe for women to be with, He treated them with love and respect, like sisters. He expected His disciples do to likewise, and never even contemplate anything else. In the kingdom of heaven women do not have to carry the responsibility for men’s lust, but each one stands before God for their own heart attitudes, words and actions.
Yeshua had warned about the fire of hell (Gehenna) in his discourse on the 6th Commandment, prohibiting murder. Now He twice warns about your whole body being cast into Gehenna in His discourse on the 7th Commandment, prohibiting adultery. There is an alternative to the Kingdom of Heaven, there is an alternative to being poor in spirit (repentant), there is an alternative to taking responsibility for your sin and casting it away from you, there is an alternative to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You can choose to satisfy the lusts of the flesh and have your whole body cast into Gehenna.
Notice the slight change in wording here. A shift from “you have heard that it was saidto those of old“, to just “it has been said.” Yeshua is still speaking on the topic of adultery. The shift has been made from the 7th Commandment to a practice that God never commanded, but allowed because He knew what hardened hearts would do if not regulated in some way. Divorce was never part of what it was to be God’s chosen people, set apart as an example to the nations of how people were created to live. It appears to have been a practice that the Israelites took with them from Egypt, as the process under the Pharos was much the same as what they adopted. In Pharaonic Egypt, if a husband wanted to divorce his wife, in addition to saying: “I’m leaving you as a wife”, he had to also hand over a written divorce document confirming the end of the marital relationship between them and explicitly giving her the freedom to marry another if she wants. The passage in Deuteronomy, which is the only scripture in the Torah mentioning any procedure for divorce, alludes to the Israelites having continued this practice after leaving Egypt:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NIV
You can see that Moses is not here commanding divorce, or even saying that only the man and not the woman can divorce their spouse, but simply acknowledging that, despite God’s word which says the two are now one (Genesis 2:24), divorce sometimes took place among the Israelite people, so He adding a limit on it that the man could not later go back and remarry a woman whom he had previously divorced (Vs 4). The Pharisees in Yeshua’s day had re-interpreted this passage in terms of an argument between them over what grounds God’s law permitted for a man to divorce his wife. This was hotly contested between the two major schools of Pharisees in Yeshua’s day – Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Here is a snippet of some of the debate between them:
“The house of Shammai say, a man may not put away his wife, unless he finds some uncleanness in her, according to (Deuteronomy 24:1) The house of Hillell say, if she should spoil his food, (that is, as Jarchi and Bartenora explain it, burns it either at the fire, or with salt, i.e. over roasts or over salts it,) who appeal also to (Deuteronomy 24:1). R. Akiba says, if he finds another more beautiful than her, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 24:1) “and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.“
On most topics Yeshua’s teaching was more in line with that of Bet Hillell than that of Bet Shammai, but He would have nothing to do with such a degrading of covenant and leaving women totally at the mercy of the man’s whim (Matthew 19:3-9). Divorce is not one of the kingdom principles, and indicates only a failure, by one or both marriage partners, to live by those principles. Interestingly, since Jewish society at this time gave all the power to the man, claiming it was God’s law to do so – both schools of Pharisees interpreted this passage as God giving approval for man to divorce his wife but forbidding a woman from divorcing her husband, Yeshua laid all the responsibility on the man, stating that his divorcing of the woman “caused her” to commit adultery. By divorcing his wife and sending her out from their marriage, the man was putting her in the position of needing to be joined to someone else, thus “causing her” to commit adultery and so bearing the guilt for this. The only exception to the man being responsible for the ensuing adultery was if his decision to divorce his wife was because she had been sexually immoral, unfaithful to their marriage covenant and therefor an adulterer before he divorced her. Those who have the power also carry the responsibility, and will have to answer to God for the impact their decisions have on those they exercise power over.
As we follow the life of Messiah, we will see how strongly committed He is to the covenant of marriage being honoured in the kingdom of heaven. Divorce may be prevalent in the world, but our citizenship is in a kingdom built on faithful love and such is the salt and light this world needs. If you enter into covenant you are not to look for ways out of it, God desires faithfulness in His people – faithfulness to Him and to one an other.
Yeshua moved on to the focus of the ninth Commandment – honesty and integrity. Speaking the truth so consistently that none have reason to doubt that your “yes” is truly “yes” and your “no” is truly “no”. The basis for this in the Torah included both the ninth commandment, and teaching in Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy:
Do not give false evidence against your neighbour. Exodus 20:16 & Deuteronomy 5:20 (The Ninth Commandment)
Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai. Leviticus 19:12 CJB
...when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. Numbers 30:2 CJB
If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NIV
“Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not break your oath,’ and ‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1); and not ‘by Yerushalayim’ (Jerusalem), because it is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48:1-2). And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. Matthew 5:33-37 CJB
The Torah provided for basic justice in Israel’s courts. Wrongdoing that brought harm to another would be repaid with equal harm being inflicted on the one who did wrong – no more and no less. This provided deterrent to inflicting harm, a sense of justice being done, and limited any retribution to the harm that person had inflicted on another. It also took retribution for wrongs out of the hands of the individual who had been wronged, or their family, and put it into the hands of the legal system – it was the responsibility of the state to execute justice so as to maintain the good order of society.
If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25
Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Leviticus 24:19-20
The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:18-21
As Yeshua had said at the beginning of this discourse, His words were not to be construed to be undermining or contradicting any of the Law given to Moses for governing the people: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” He was not critiquing the Law given for governing the people, nor the operation of their courts, but taking things deeper to the heart level where only God sees.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. ” Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV
The first thing to note in Yeshua’s words here is His directness is describing the one who slaps you on your cheek, wants to sue you for your tunic or compel you to go a mile with them as “an evil person“. These are wrongs that are being done, not accidentally but through evil intent. They are unjust actions, and the sort of wrongs that society should protect you from and execute judgment on the “evil person” doing the wrong. The responsibility on those in power, and society as a whole, to deal with such wrongs is not diminished by Yeshua‘s exhortation for our heart response and personal actions.
At first glance, Yeshua’s instruction not to resist an evil person seems so unjust. Why just let someone abuse you? Under Roman occupation Yeshua’s audience had plenty of experience of being unjustly treated. Occupation soldiers often took out their frustrations on innocents in the population, or sort to enrich themselves by taking from the peoples of the land. The Zealots had an answer for such – get revenge, gorilla warfare, take from the Romans every time they took from the people of Israel, murder Romans for every Israelite they killed. Yeshua’s response was the total opposite. His advice for regaining personal power in the situation was not to resist the evil person, but to go above and beyond what they demand. Do extravagant good to the evil person. Do not allow their evil to dictate your actions or entice you to respond with corresponding evil. Choose to be different. Choose to stand apart as God’s special people displaying His character by doing good, no matter what.
Some oppressed peoples have taken hold of Christ’s words here and seen the power in them. Dr Martin Luther King stated it thus: “The ancient law “an eye for an eye” will make all people blind. It is immoral because it is trying to subdue the enemy, and not to achieve his understanding, it seeks to destroy, not to win over.”
Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, as He had done with His teaching on murder and anger, taking His hearers from the place of being oppressed by those more powerful to that of being the ones with the power, the ones capable of giving and lending to those less fortunate than themselves: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” This again, is a fulfillment of Torah:
If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Deuteronomy 15:7-8
Yeshua continues with His theme of responding to evil with good, of responding to hate with love, of the kingdom of heaven being an outworking of love so powerful it conquers all else. This is what the Torah has to say on it:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. … And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Exodus 23:4-5
And the Proverbs say:
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” Proverbs 24:17
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” Proverbs 25:21
Note that Yeshua again omitted the phrase “to those of old”, for only half of this saying was in the Torah, the second half was a more recent addition within the tradition of the community. The command to love your neighbour is in the Torah, and Yeshua confirmed this, but the Torah contains no command to hate your enemy. Thus, in commanding His disciples to love their enemy Yeshua was again urging full obedience to Torah, rather than contradicting or doing away with it. What Yeshua was contradicting was a popular adage among the Zealots: “Love your neighbour, but hate your enemy.” That is to say, “Love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbour), but hate the Romans.” The Dead Sea community in Qumran went even further. They taught their followers to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,” understanding the sons of light as members of their own sect and sons of darkness to be other Jews outside of their sect (Dead Sea Scrolls). Yeshua was calling those Jews gathered up on that mountain with Him to repent from such a distortion of Torah and return to it’s true meaning, in line with the demands of the kingdom of heaven:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV
Once again Yeshua presents love as the empowering force with which they were to combat all hatred, curses, abuse and persecution. Here He promises the same reward as that accorded to the “peacemakers“, those who confront sin and offer God’s terms for reconciliation, being sons of God, sons of our Father in heaven. Our love is to extend beyond those in our own social circle, extend beyond those of our own tribe, extend beyond those who are kind or friendly towards us, extend beyond all boundaries to include all people, even those who do evil to us or rule unjustly over us.
Yeshua concludes this portion of His sermon with a crescendo. Everything He has being teaching with regard to “you have heard that it was said…. but I say unto you” has been building to this point. You are not to be like the peoples of other nations. You are not even to be like the Scribes and Pharisees. Don’t compare yourselves to other people. God has called and chosen you to be like Himself, to be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect. This has echoes of what has been referred to as the ‘fundamental commandment’ of the Hebrew scriptures: For I am Adonai your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44). Perfect (τέλειοι) here refers to being complete, fully developed, mature, even as your Father in heaven is. Such a state is not reached by human efforts, but by being in union with the perfection of God. It is that which His righteousness accomplishes in us as we are filled in response to hungering and thirsting for His perfection. It comes through being poor in spirit, repentant from every reliance upon self to meet God’s standards; through mourning, bringing all our pain and woundedness before God; through meekness, yielding everything to God; and through hungering and thirsting of desperate necessity for righteousness.
1. Toit, Philip La Grange Du. The fulﬁlment of the law according to Matthew 5:17: A dialectical approach. Research Gate. [Online] December 2018. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329613156_The_fulfilment_of_the_law_according_to_Matthew_517_A_dialectical_approach. 2. Westerholm, Stephen. The Law in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 5:17-48. Criswell Theological Review. [Online] 1992. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/ctr-nt/westerholm-lawinseronmount-ctr.pdf. 3. Covenant Eyes. Pornography Statistics. Covenant Eyes. [Online] https://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/. 4. New World Encyclopedia. Gehenna. New world Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: May 17th, 2020.] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gehenna. 5. Gill, John. Matthew 5:22. Bible Study Tools. [Online] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-5-22.html. 6. Cochrane, Ross. Matthew 5 – Part 13 – Am I Going To Hell For Calling Someone A Fool? . Sermon Central. [Online] January 3rd, 2010. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/matthew-5-part-13-am-i-going-to-hell-for-calling-someone-a-fool-ross-cochrane-sermon-on-hell-142699. 7. Dashish, Ali Abu. Divorce in Ancient Egypt. See News. [Online] September 11th, 2019. https://see.news/divorce-at-ancient-egypt/. 8. MJL. Jewish Divorce 101 – An overview of how marriages are traditionally dissolved. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-divorce-101/. 9. Greenberg, Blu. Divorce in the Bible. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/. 10. Guzik, David. Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/deuteronomy-24/. 11. Krol, Peter. Context Matters: You Have Heard That it was Said…But I Say to You. Knowable Word. [Online] July 27th, 2018. https://www.knowableword.com/2018/07/27/context-matters-you-have-heard-that-it-was-said-but-i-say-to-you/. 12. Chery, Fritz. Eye For An Eye. Bible Reasons. [Online] Jenuary 12, 2020. https://biblereasons.com/eye-for-an-eye/. 13. Love your Neighbor but Hate Your Enemy.Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: May 25th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/love-your-neighbor-but-hate-yo.html. 14. Pennington, J.T. 2008. The kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12(1):44-51 15. Mitch, C. & Sri, E. 2011. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture). 16. Evans, C.A. 2012. Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). 17. Carson, D.A. 1984. Matthew. In: F.E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 3-599. 18. Daspe M, Vaillancourt-Morel M, Lussier Y, Sabourin S & Ferron A (2017): When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What insights have your people shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon? * In what ways was Jesus fulfilling what is written in the Old Testament Law and Prophets? * How does Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount help us to teach and obey God’s commandments? * How can our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? * If Jesus was to come and teach on a hill in your area and started saying “you have heard that it was said … … but I say unto you” what misunderstandings, distortions and false teachings do you think He would address, and how would He correct them?