Sitting at the Feet of Yeshua
We continue our quest to explore what I have been calling the Eternal Torah. In this post, will begin to take a closer look at what Yeshua himself says about the first of six important topics contained in the Torah ~ do not murder and be reconciled.
Do Not Murder
“You have heard that our fathers were told: ‘Do not murder,’ and that anyone who commits murder will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment; that whoever calls his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing!’ will be brought before the Sanhedrin; that whoever says, ‘Fool!’ incurs the penalty of burning in the fire of Gei-Hinnom!” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Statistically, murders are “crimes of passion” caused by anger among friends or relatives. Yeshua did not say that anger leads to murder; He said that anger is murder.
In this passage Yeshua is arguing as any Rabbi might argue. He is showing that he was skillful in using the debating methods that the wise men of His time were in the habit of using. There is in this passage a different shade of anger and an increase in consequences.
Here is a person who nurses anger against his brother. In Greek there are two words for anger. One is described as being like the flame that comes from dried straw or flash paper. It is the anger that quickly blazes up and just as quickly is extinguished. The second type of anger is the anger of the person who nurses wrath to keep it warm; it is the anger over which a person broods, and which he will not allow to die. This anger is liable to the judgment court. The judgment court is the local village council that dispensed justice. That court was composed of the local village elders.
Then Yeshua goes on to speak of two cases where anger turns into insulting remarks. The Jewish teachers forbade such anger and such words. They spoke of “oppression in words,” and of “the sin of insult.” They had a saying; “Three classes of people go down to Gei-Hinnom and return not – the adulterer, he who puts his neighbor openly to shame, and he who gives his neighbor an insulting name.” Anger in a man’s heart and anger in a man’s speech are equally forbidden.
First of all, the man who calls his brother Raca (here: “You good-for-nothing”) is condemned. Raca is an almost untranslatable word, because it describes a tone of voice more than anything else. Its whole purpose is that of contempt. To call a man Raca was to call him a brainless idiot, a silly fool, an empty-headed blunderer, a good-for-nothing. It is the word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt.
The sin of contempt is liable to an even severer judgment. It is liable to the judgment of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel. It is as if Yeshua said: “The sin of brooding anger is bad; the sin of contempt is worse.”
Then Yeshua goes on to speak of the man who calls his brother fool. The Psalmist spoke of the fool who has said in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Such a man was a moral fool; a man who lived an immoral life, and who in wishful thinking said that there was no God. To call a man a fool was not to criticize his mental ability; it was to cast aspersions on his moral character, it was to take his name and reputation from him, and to brand him as a loose-living and immoral person.
So Yeshua says that he who destroys his brother’s name and reputation is liable to the severest judgment of all, the judgment of the fire of Gei-Hinnom.
Gei-Hinnom is a word with a history. It is often translated as “hell.” The word was very commonly used in Israel (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). It really means the Valley of Hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom is a valley just to the southwest of the city walls of Jerusalem. It was notorious as the place where Ahaz had introduced into Israel the fire worship of the heathen god Molech, to whom little children were sacrificed in the fire. Josiah stamped out that worship and ordered that the valley should be forever an accursed place. Consequently, the Valley of Hinnom became the place where the garbage of Jerusalem was cast out and destroyed. It was the public incinerator. So Gei-Hinnom became identified in people’s minds with all that was accursed and filthy, the place where useless and evil things were destroyed.
Consequently, Yeshua suggests that the gravest thing of all is to destroy a man’s reputation and to take his good name away. No punishment is too severe for the malicious talebearer that murders a person’s reputation. Such conduct, in the most literal sense, is a hell-deserving sin.
Anger is such a foolish thing. It makes us destroyers instead of builders. It robs us of freedom and makes us prisoners. To hate someone is to commit murder in our hearts (1 John 3:15). Sinful anger robs us of fellowship with God as well as with our brothers and sisters.
Sinful anger must be faced honestly and must be confessed to God as sin. We must go to our brother or sister and get the matter settled, and we must do it quickly. The longer we wait, the worse the bondage becomes! We put ourselves into a terrible prison when we refuse to be reconciled. It has well been said that the person who refuses to forgive his brother destroys the very bridge over which he himself must walk.
“So if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
When Yeshua said this, he was doing no more than recalling for the Jewish people a principle that they well knew and ought never to have forgotten. The idea behind the sacrifice was quite simple. If a man did a wrong thing, that action disturbed the relationship between him and God, and the sacrifice was meant to be the cure that restored that relationship.
Sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true repentance. True repentance involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The Torah was quite clear that a person had to do their utmost to put things right before they could be right with God.
Yeshua is quite clear about this basic fact – we cannot be right with God until we are right with one another. We cannot hope for forgiveness until we have confessed our sin and done our best to remove the practical consequences of it. We sometimes wonder why there is a barrier between God and us. The reason may well be that we have erected that barrier ourselves because we have wronged someone and have done nothing to put things right.
“If someone sues you, come to terms with him quickly, while you and he are on the way to court; or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer of the courts, and you may be thrown in jail! Yes indeed! I tell you, you will certainly not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)
Here, Yeshua is giving us very practical advice. He is telling us to get trouble sorted out now, before it multiplies into a worse mess in the future.
What Yeshua is saying is: “If you want happiness in time, and happiness in eternity, never leave any unreconciled quarrel or an unhealed breach between yourself and your brother or sister. Act immediately to remove the barriers which anger has raised.”
In my next post, we will continue to unpack Matthew 5:21-48 by looking at adultery and divorce.