The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 29

 

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part I

We continue our study of the Sermon in the Mount, beginning in Mattityahu 5:33.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not break your oath,’ and ‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’ 34 But I tell you not to swear at all—not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; 35 not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool; and not ‘by Yerushalayim,’ because it is the city of the Great King. 36 And don’t swear by your head because you can’t make a single hair white or black. 37 Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil.” ~ Mattityahu 5:33-37

Do not break your oath (or: “Do not swear falsely,” or: “Do not perjure yourself”). Keep your vows to Adonai. The distinction between vows and oaths is hazy not only to us but also within Judaism, and the issue doesn’t seem necessary today. The early Believers understood Yeshua not as prohibiting all vows but as prohibiting vain oaths – the Rabbis of the time did the same. In the Apocrypha compare Sirach 23:9, “Do not accustom your mouth to swearing oaths, and do not habitually use the name of the Holy One.”

Most Jewish people had black or dark hair; unless they were older, their hair turned white; verse 36 would have been heard as referring to God’s control over aging. Yeshua’s rule here is stricter than the letter of the law but according to its spirit (Deut. 23:21–23; Eccles 5:5). It is possible that the Essenes also avoided oath-taking after their initial oath to join their sect.

Retaliation

38 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’

Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21, where the context of eye for eye, etc., shows that God was not commanding revenge but controlling and limiting it. Retribution and punishment must be commensurate with the crime; contrast Cain and Lamech’s extraction of multiplied vengeance at Genesis 4:24. Although our society seems to now be woke, “the punishment should fit the crime,” it has long been the tradition in our western jurisprudence.

39 But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! 40 If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well! 41 And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two! 42 When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him.” ~ Mattityahu 5:38-42

If a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two. Literally, “And whoever presses you into service one mile, go with him two.” The context is the Roman conquest; soldiers could make subjects do their work for them. Yeshua’s advice is a specific application of verse 16:In the same way, let your light shine before people so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

Click here for the PDF file.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 28

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part H

We continue our study of the Sermon in the Mount, beginning in Mattityahu 5:27.

The Seventh Commandment

18 “You must not commit adultery. ~ Deuteronomy 5:18

27 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that a man who even looks at a woman with the purpose of lusting after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you sin, gouge it out and throw it away! Better that you should lose one part of you than have your whole body thrown into Gei-Hinnom. 30 And if your right-hand makes you sin, cut it off and throw it away! Better that you should lose one part of you than have your whole body thrown into Gei-Hinnom. ~ Mattityahu 5:27-30

The Believer has the mind of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 2:15) and is not to nurture and cherish improper sexual feelings, desires, urges, and lusts. If he does, then, for reasons explained at Ya’akov 1:12–15, he will succumb to the temptations they raise, give sexual fantasizing undue control in his life, and finally engage in wrong sexual behavior such as adultery, fornication, and homosexuality (on homosexuality see Romans 1:24–28).

The two examples Yeshua gives in verses 29–30 call for extreme measures to prevent and eradicate sin. However, they are not intended literally; they are hyperboles – deliberate exaggerations to make a point. Yeshua says that people should be vigilant in avoiding sin, making every effort to remain pure.

Divorce

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a get.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery.” ~ Mattityahu 5:31-32

Deuteronomy 24:1 mentions writing of divorcement but does not specify its contents or the conditions under which divorce was permitted. The rabbis call such a document a get and discuss divorce in the Talmud. Later in Mattityahu 19, some P’rushim came and tried to trap him by asking, “Is it permitted for a man to divorce his wife on any ground whatever?” He replied, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and that He said, ‘For this reason, a man should leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two are to become one flesh? Thus they are no longer two, but one. So then, no one should split apart what God has joined together.” They said to Him, “Then why did Moshe give the commandment that a man should hand his wife a get and divorce her?” He answered, “Moshe allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are so hardened. But this is not how it was at the beginning. Now, what I say to you is that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery!” ~ Mattityahu 19:4-9

The only text in the Torah dealing with divorce is Deuteronomy 24:1–4, and its discussion of grounds is perfunctory. Hillel and Shammai, who lived in the generation before Yeshua, took opposing sides in interpreting this passage.

The School of Shammai says a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, as it is said, … because he has found in her indecency in a matter.‘ But the School of Hillel says he may divorce her even if she burns his food, as it is said, ‘… because he has found in her indecency in a matter.'” (Mishna: Gittin 9:10)

Yeshua in v. 9 agrees with the strict-constructionist Beit-Shammai. But although Beit-Hillel‘s lenient position became the halakhic (Jewish Law) norm, Rabbi El’azar, a member of Beit-Hillel, commented in the Gemara to this Mishna, When a man divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears,” citing Deuteronomy 24:13–14 as evidence (Gittin 90b). There is a Jewish tradition that in Messianic times the stricter rulings of Beit-Shammai will become the standard.

Yeshua, in adducing Scripture, harks back to the beginning, in Gan-Eden (vv. 4–5), to support his view that marriage must not be dissolved for anything less than the most direct insult to its one-flesh integrity, adultery.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 27

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part G

We continue our study of the Sermon in the Mount, beginning in Mattityahu 5:21.

The Sixth Commandment

21 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not murder,’ and that anyone who commits murder will be subject to judgment.

You have heard that our fathers were told is an expression (or a variation) occurs six times in verses 21-48. Yeshua presents six antitheses – statements using opposites to make a point – to illustrate what it means to have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes (teachers of the Law) and P’rushim. The righteousness required of Yeshua’s disciples goes beyond the observation of the written Law. However, Yeshua’s teaching here does not overturn the existing Jewish Law; it merely supplements or elaborates its teachings with principles for living the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven.

22 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!

Verses 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44 begin with, but I tell you. Yeshua is not here abrogating the Law; so His “but” does not introduce something that contradicts or contrasts with the ideas of the prior “You have heard” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43) or “It was said” (v. 31). Yeshua is not telling His audience that they have heard something which is wrong that He is now about to correct. Rather, His “but” completes and “fills” the total sense of the Torah, which they have already heard.

Sanhedrin is a Hebrew name given to a Jewish court, but the word is Greek. Local courts had three or twenty-three judges; the central Sanhedrin in Jerusalem had seventy.

Gey-Hinnom was brought over into Greek and English as “Gehenna and usually translated “hell.” Literally, valley of Hinnom (a personal name); located both then and now just south of the Old City of Jerusalem. Rubbish fires were always burning there; hence its use as a metaphor for hell, with its burning fire of punishment for the unrighteous, as taught in the Hebrew Bible at Isaiah 66:24.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift.

Traditional Judaism expresses this idea this way in the Mishna: Yom-Kippur [the Day of Atonement] atones for a person’s transgressions against God, but it does not atone for his transgressions against his fellow-man until he appeases him.” (Yoma 8:9)

Make peace in most English translations appears as to be reconciled. The cases presented in Mattityahu 5:23–24, 25–26 highlight the theme of reconciliation and provide illustrations of the ethic Yeshua presents in vv. 21–22. The command to love is the heart of Yeshua’s ethical teaching.

25 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 court, and you may be thrown in jail! 26 Yes indeed! I tell you, you will certainly not get out until you have paid the last penny. ~ Mattityahu 5:21-26

Click here for the PDF version.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 25

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part E

We continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Mattityahu 5:17.

Yeshua Came to Fulfill the Law ~ Part 1

17 “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.

This is an essential verse for us to wrap our minds around. Briefly, Yeshua states that He wants to make the meaning of the Torah and the Prophets complete. David Stern provides some further insight for us:

The Hebrew word “Torah,” literally “teaching, doctrine,” is rendered in both the Septuagint and the Brit Hadashah by the Greek word “nomos,” which means “law.” Greek has had a more direct and pervasive influence on English and other modern languages than Hebrew has, and this is why in most languages, one speaks of the “Law of Moshe” rather than the “Teaching of Moshe”. It is also part of the reason why the Torah has mistakenly come to be thought of by Christians as legalistic (see Romans 3:20b, Galatians 3:23b).

In Judaism, the word Torah may mean:

  1. Chumash (the Pentateuch, the five books of Moshe); or
  2. That plus the Prophets and the Writings, i.e., the Tanakh (known by Christians as the Old Testament; see 4:4–10; or
  3. That plus the Oral Torah, which includes the Talmud and other legal materials; or
  4. That plus all religious instruction from the rabbis, including ethical and aggadic (homiletical) materials.

Here it means the first of these, since “the Prophets” are mentioned separately.

The word “Prophets,” capitalized, refers to the second of the three main parts of the Tanakh (both Major and Minor). When the Tanakh prophets as persons are referred to, the word is not capitalized; “prophet” in the singular is never capitalized. By mentioning both the Torah and the Prophets, Yeshua says that He has not come to modify or replace God’s Word, the Tanakh. Compare Luke 24:44–45.

The Greek word for “to complete” is plêrôsai,” literally, “to fill”; the usual rendering here, however, is “to fulfill.” Replacement theology, which wrongly teaches that the Church has replaced the Jews as God’s people, misunderstands this verse in two ways.

First, Yeshua’s “fulfilling” the Torah means that it is unnecessary for people to fulfill it now. But there is no logic to the proposition that Yeshua’s obeying the Torah does away with our need to obey it. In fact, Sha’ul, whose object in his letter to the Romans is to foster “the obedience that comes from trusting” in Yeshua, teaches that such trusting does not abolish Torah but confirms it (Romans 1:5, 3:31).

Second, with an identical lack of logic, Yeshua’s “fulfilling” the Prophets is thought to imply that no prophecies from the Tanakh remain for the Jews. But the Hebrew Bible’s promises to the Jews are not abolished in the name of being “fulfilled in Yeshua.” Instead, fulfillment in Yeshua is an added assurance that everything God has promised the Jews will yet come to pass (see 2 Corinthians 1:20).

It is true that Yeshua kept the Torah perfectly and fulfilled predictions of the Prophets, but that is not the point here. Yeshua did not come to abolish but “to make full” (plêrôsai) the meaning of what the Torah and the ethical demands of the Prophets require. Thus he came to complete our understanding of the Torah and the Prophets to try more effectively to be and do what they say to be and do.

We will learn in verses 18–20 three ways in which the Torah and the Prophets remain necessary, applicable, and in force. The remainder of chapter 5 gives six specific cases in which Yeshua explains the fuller spiritual meaning of points in the Jewish Law. In fact, this verse states the theme and plan of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Yeshua completes, makes fuller, the understanding of His talmidim concerning the Torah and the Prophets so that they can more fully express what being God’s people is all about. [1]

Well, we didn’t get very far in our study of this complete passage, but we’ll pick it up next time around.

18 Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah – not until everything that must happen has happened. 19 So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers and P’rushim, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  ~ Mattityahu 5:17-20.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 24

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part D

For those of whom may not have started at the beginning of this series, I stated in Part 1:

We will be looking at His words as best we can in chronological order using“The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order” by F. LaGard Smith. [1] While going through the Synoptic Gospels, I will focus more on Mattityahu’s version with appropriate references to Mark and Luke.

To date, we have covered the Beatitudes from Mattityahu 5 with reference to Luke’s version. As we saw in Part 21, Luke 6:24-26 includes the Woes immediately after the Beatitudes chronologically. Using a typical apocalyptic pattern, Yeshua declares that the present circumstances of the rich and poor will be reversed in the future.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you, have already had all the comfort you will get!

Comfort was a blessing of the Messianic era (e.g., Isaiah 40:1; cf. Luke 16:25). Most of Yeshua’s hearers were poor, but Luke’s urban, Greco-Roman readership was probably better off (1:3–4); Luke pulls no punches for his audience. Laughter was often associated with scorn.

25 “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 who are full now continues describing the rich, who have no worldly cares but are not rich in faith (cf. 1:53; James 5:1). Woe to you who are laughing now is not a condemnation of all joy and laughter, only the condescending, boastful, or mocking laughter of the callous, complacent rich who care little for others or God. They shall mourn and weep when God’s judgment comes.

26 “Woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is just how their fathers treated the false prophets! ~ Luke 6:24-26

The fourth woe warns that, while true prophets were hated, excluded, reviled, scorned, beaten, tortured, and killed (cf. Heb. 11:32–38), false prophets were well spoken of, for they prophesied what people wanted to hear (or as we would say today “tickled their ears”). This is a warning against seeking the world’s approval rather than being faithful to God.

We now return to Mattityahu’s version of the Sermon on the Mount.

You Are Salt & Light

13 “You are salt for the Land. But if salt becomes tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except being thrown out for people to trample on. 14 “You are light for the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Likewise, when people light a lamp, they don’t cover it with a bowl but put it on a lampstand so that it shines for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. ~ Mattityahu 5:13-16

Jewish Believers are the salt, seasoning, and a preservative, for the Land of Isra’el, that is, for the Jewish people, and light for the world, for the Gentiles, as taught in Isaiah 49:6. God established a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19), which is applied to King David and his descendants – that is, to the Messiah – in 2 Chronicles 13:5.

Then, the Jewish Believers in the Messiah are the righteous remnant (Romans 11), for whose sake God preserves Isra’el and the world. Sometimes Isra’eli Messianic Jews feel they are not part of the “real” Jewish community in the Land. But the reason Messianic Jews are there is to be the righteous remnant, for whose sake God preserves the nation of Isra’el. This motivates us to trust God, try to realize the Messianic Jewish vision, and proclaim Yeshua to her people.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Copyright 1984 by Harvest House Publishers. I highly recommend this edition as it tells the story of all 66-books of the Bible in the order they were written. It’s like reading a non-fiction novel from beginning to end. Citations are placed in the margins so as not to disrupt your reading.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 23

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part C

Before we move on to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, I want to continue to go back to the first twelve verses of Chapter 5 and provide some commentary. We pick up in verse 6.

“How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! for they will be filled.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is a metaphor for moral uprightness. This may allude to Psalm 37:12–17, which speaks of a time when oppressors will be no more. This line expresses a deep desire for personal righteousness and a world characterized by God’s righteousness.

“How blessed are those who show mercy! for they will be shown mercy.

To receive mercy is not getting what you deserve, to receive pity instead of just condemnation. Rather, when you’re guilty, mercy removes the misery you ought to receive. There’s a blessing for those who extend it because you can bank on the fact that a time is coming when you’ll need mercy. This is the Golden Rule in action: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets.” ~ Matt 7:12.

“How blessed are the pure in heart! for they will see God.

The pure in heart (Psalm 73:1) were those in Isra’el whose hearts were clean or undefiled, those who recognized that God alone was their help and reward (Psalm 73:2–28). The righteous would see God on the day of judgment (e.g., Isaiah 30:20), as in the first exodus (Ex 24:10–11).

“How blessed are those who make peace! for they will be called sons of God.

To be at peace is to be in harmony. To be a peacemaker is to be a mediator and resolve conflicts between estranged parties – whether individuals or groups. You make peace by identifying the truth, addressing the sin, and constructing a bridge between those at odds with one another. Peacemaking can be difficult work. But, if we persevere in it, we will be called sons and daughters of God because we will resemble our Father. He sent the Son of God to be our mediator, bridging the gap created by our sin and granting us peace with Him.

10 “How blessed are those who are persecuted because they pursue righteousness! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 “How blessed you are when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of vicious lies about you because you follow me! 12 Rejoice, be glad because your reward in heaven is great – they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. ~ Mattityahu 5:6-12.

Verses 10-12 address persecution and likely reflect those who first read Mattityahu’s Gospel which may explain why the theme receives such extensive treatment. Later in the narrative, Yeshua encounters each form of persecution recorded here and suffers the same fate as many of the prophets in the Tanakh (see Matt 23:29–37).

It’s hard to believe that undergoing persecution is a blessing, but Yeshua wanted His talmidim to know that He was serious. Notice that the persecution that brings blessing is directly tied to Yeshua. You are blessed when people insult you and tell lies about you because of Yeshua (5:11). Since essentially the same thing happened to the prophets in the Tanakh, you’re in good company. But how can you be glad and rejoice amid the mess? You can remember that your reward is great (5:12). God knows how to deliver. And as Sha’ul told the Romans, I don’t think the sufferings we are going through now are even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us in the future ~ Romans 8:18.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 22

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part B

Before we move on to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, I want to go back to the first twelve verses of Chapter 5 and provide some commentary.

Seeing the crowds, Yeshua walked up the hill. After He sat down, His talmidim came to Him,

Talmidim (plural; singular talmid), “disciples.” The English word “disciple” fails to convey the richness of the relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim in the first century CE. Teachers, both itinerant like Yeshua and settled ones, attracted followers who wholeheartedly gave themselves over to their teachers (though not in a mindless way, as happens today in some cults). The essence of the relationship was one of trust in every area of living, and its goal was to make the talmid like his rabbi in knowledge, wisdom, and ethical behavior.

and He began to speak. This is what He taught them:

“How blessed are the poor in spirit! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

How blessed. Greek Makarios corresponds to Hebrew Asher and means “blessed,” “happy,” and “fortunate” all at once so that no one English word is adequate.

Poor in spirit ~refers to those in Yeshua’s day who recognize and bear their desperate plight and who long for God’s restoration through the Messiah. Kingdom of heaven ~ the crowd was already familiar with this terminology through Yochanan the Immerser’s proclamation; they anticipated a time of restoration.

“How blessed are those who mourn! for they will be comforted.

The ones who mourn ~ could refer to those who mourn for Isra’el and for their plight within its then present conditions (e.g., Roman occupation, what seems like a lack of God’s presence, impoverishment, etc.). Alternatively, it could refer to those who mourn over their sin or are currently enduring difficult times. They will be comforted ~ those who mourn for the unfulfilled condition of Isra’el will be comforted when the Kingdom is fulfilled. In the new Kingdom, God’s new covenant will restore what had been lost due to violations of the Torah.

“How blessed are the meek! for they will inherit the Land! ~ Mattityahu 5:1-5.

The meek~ refers to someone humble or gentle. The meek do not seek gain for themselves; instead, they hope in the Lord. Will inherit the Land or will they, as other versions have it, “inherit the earth”? Non-Messianic Believers often think that since the Gospel is for all humanity, God is no longer interested in Isra’el as a nation (even though Mattityahu 23:37–39 proves the opposite). This error – known variously as Replacement, Dominion, Kingdom Now, Covenant, et cetera theology is so widespread that Brit Hadashah passages are even mistranslated in conformance with it. The present verse is one of those passages. While Believers will return to rule with the Messiah at his Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:13–18, Rev. 20), here Yeshua is quoting Psalm 37:11, where the context makes it clear that “the meek” refers to the meek of Isra’el, who, according to God’s promises, “will inherit the Land,” the Land of Isra’el, which Mattityahu has already mentioned explicitly (2:20–21).

Although Greek gê can mean either earth or land,” in Psalm 37, the Hebrew word Eretz means “Land” (and not “earth”) not less than six times: those of Isra’el who trust in Adonai will “dwell in the Land” (v. 3); and those of Isra’el who wait upon Adonai (v. 9), are meek (v. 11, cited here), are blessed by Adonai (v. 22), are righteous (v. 29) and keep his way (v. 34) will “inherit the Land.” The term “inherit” in the Tanakh refers to the Jewish people’s inheritance from God, which includes, in addition to spiritual elements, not the whole earth but a specific small territory on the east shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Because the Gospel is universal, and because of the false theology teaching that God is no longer interested in the Jews as a nation, Non-Messianic Believers tend to suppose that the Brit Hadashah somehow cancels God’s promise of giving the Jewish people the Land of Isra’el. No small amount of opposition to the present-day State of Isra’el on the part of Non-Messianic Believers is based on this false assumption. To combat this error, it is crucial for Jews and Non-Messianic Believers alike to understand that the Brit Hadashah does not alter any of God’s promises to the Jewish people; God’s literal promises are not somehow spiritualized out of existence “in Christ.”

I pause here because I really would like to let the interpretation of verse 5 sink in.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 20

Plucking Grain on Shabbat

One Shabbat during that time, Yeshua was walking through some wheat fields. His talmidim were hungry, so they began picking heads of grain and eating them. On seeing this, the P’rushim said to him, “Look! Your talmidim are violating Shabbat!”

Violating Shabbat! Literally means in Greek, doing what is unlawful on Shabbat,” that is, doing something the P’rushim considered to be against the Torah. The argument was not over whether it was permitted to pick grain by hand from someone else’s field, for that is expressly allowed by Deuteronomy 23:25, but whether it could be done on Shabbat. At issue behind this seemingly minor matter is whether the Pharisaic tradition – which evolved into what rabbinic Judaism calls the Oral Torah, later committed to writing in the Mishna, Gemara, and other works – is God’s revelation to man and binding on all Jews.

But he said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? He entered the House of God and ate the Bread of the Presence!”—which was prohibited, both to him and to his companions; it is permitted only to the cohanim.

Though Leviticus 24:5–9 allows only cohanim to eat the Bread of the Presence set aside for display before the Ark in the House of God (Tabernacle), 1 Samuel 21:2–7 recounts how King David and the priest Achimelekh violated this mitzvah of the Written Torah – which the P’rushim would accept as more authoritative than a rule in the Oral Torah.

“Or haven’t you read in the Torah that on Shabbat the cohanim profane Shabbat and yet are blameless?

The Torah itself specifies that some mitzvot are more critical than others (see Yochanan 5:22–23, Galatians 2:12). Keeping Shabbat is essential, but the animal sacrifices required by Numbers 28:1–10 are more so that the cohanim work on Shabbat to offer them.

I tell you, there is in this place something greater than the Temple! If you knew what ‘I want compassion rather than animal sacrifice meant, you would not condemn the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of Shabbat!” ~ Matthew 12:1-8

Healing A Man’s Shriveled Hand

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue. 10 A man there had a shriveled hand. Looking for a reason to accuse him of something, they asked him, “Is healing permitted on Shabbat?” 11 But he answered, “If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you won’t take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.” 13 Then to the man, He said, “Hold out your hand.” As he held it out, it became restored, as sound as the other one. 14 But the P’rushim went out and began plotting how they might do away with Yeshua. ~ Matthew 12:9-14

One should save an animal’s life on Shabbat, but whether lifting a sheep out of a pit would, in the first century, have been considered a violation of the rule against work (carrying) on Shabbat is not clear.

Yeshua Heals Others

15 Aware of this, He left that area. Many people followed Him, and He healed them all16 but warned them not to make Him known. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Yesha’yahu the prophet: (42:1-40)

1“Here is My servant, whom I have chosen,
My beloved, with whom I am well pleased;
I will put my Spirit on Him,
and He will announce justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not fight or shout
no one will hear His voice in the streets;
20 He will not snap off a broken reed
or snuff out a smoldering wick
until He has brought justice through to victory.
21 In Him the Gentiles will put their hope.”
~ Matthew 12:15-21

Yesha’yahu 42:1–4 is the first of several “suffering servant” passages in Yesha’yahu 42–53. Some parts of these passages seem to refer primarily to Israel’s people, others to the Messiah yet in Yesha’yahu’s future. This fact emphasizes the close identification of the Messiah Yeshua with the Jewish people.

Our next post will learn that Yeshua Appoints His Emissaries, Great Crowds Gather, and we begin to examine the Sermon of the Mount.

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The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 19

Yeshua Discusses His Authority

We pick up our study where we left of in our last post. Yeshua continues to defend Himself against the false accusations of Judeans for healing on the Shabbat. Recall some eighteen years earlier when Yeshua stayed behind in Yerushalayim to listen to the Rabbis, everyone who heard him was astonished at His insight and responses ~ Luke 2:47.

30 I can’t do a thing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is right; because I don’t seek my own desire, but the desire of the one who sent me. 31 “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not valid.

Yeshua cites the Tanakh principle, central to later Jewish law (both that of the rabbis and that of the Dead Sea Scrolls), that two witnesses are necessary to prove a (capital) case ~ Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15.

After discounting His own witness (v. 31), Yeshua names five witnesses to who He is: Yochanan the Immerser (vv. 32–35), Yeshua’s works (v. 36), the Father (vv. 37–38), the Tanakh (v. 39) and Moshe (vv. 45–47).

32 But there is someone else testifying on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he is making is valid—33 you have sent to Yochanan, and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I collect human testimony; rather, I say these things so that you might be saved. 35 He was a lamp burning and shining, and for a little while, you were willing to bask in his light.

The hand-held oil lamps of the Herodian period were too small to give forth much light (they typically produced as much as a candle), and thus one would symbolize only a small reflection of his light.

36 “But I have a testimony that is greater than Yochanan’s. For the things the Father has given me to do, the very things I am doing now, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. 37 “In addition, the Father who sent Me has Himself testified on my behalf. But you have never heard His voice or seen His shape; 38 moreover, His Word does not stay in you because you don’t trust the One He sent.

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified on My behalf. Compare Jeremiah 29:23, ‘“For I am the one who knows, and I am witness,’ says Adonai.” But these Judeans cannot receive the Father’s witness because His Word does not stay in them. This is due to their hard hearts that do not believe in God. The witness of the Father should be all that is necessary. Isra’el at Sinai supposedly saw His form and heard His voice and accepted His Word through His agent Moshe; Yeshua says that His own generation rejects the fuller revelation of God sent to them. Yeshua invites those who do not have the Word staying in them to search the Scriptures, just as the Jews of Berea later did (see Acts 17:11).

39 You keep examining the Tanakh because you think that in it, you have eternal life. Those very Scriptures bear witness to Me, 40 but you won’t come to Me in order to have life!

Scripture said, “Do this, and you will live,” which Jewish teachers read as: “Do this, and you will have life in the world to come.” Thus, they believed that one had eternal life through the Scriptures; but Yeshua says that the Scriptures witness about Him. Hence, to reject Him is to disobey the Scriptures.

41 “I don’t collect praise from men, 42 but I do know you people – I know that you have no love for God in you! 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you don’t accept Me; if someone else comes in his own name, him you will accept. 44 How can you trust? You’re busy collecting praise from each other instead of seeking praise from God only.

On the strength of what Yeshua has said, He now argues: (1) You do not have God’s love in you. (2) Instead, you seek honor from men and each other. (3) You refuse to come to Me (Yeshua) to have life because you prefer honor from each other and because you want to honor those who come in their own name, not in God’s name.

45 “But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe, the very one you have counted on! 46 For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe me; because it was about me that he wrote. 47 But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” ~ Yochanan 5:30-47.

Yeshua saves for last the argument which would be the most meaningful to his hearers: Moshe wrote of Yeshua (see Lk 16:31, 24:44; Messianic Jews 11:26). Traditional Judaism denies this, but the early Messianic Jews often based their case for Yeshua’s Messiahship on Scripture passages, including those Moshe wrote, such as Genesis 49:10, Numbers 24:17, and Deuteronomy 18:15–18. Even within non-Messianic Judaism, all three refer to the Messiah. Therefore, says Yeshua, I don’t need to make a notable accusation because Moshe has done it already: if you don’t believe him, why would you believe me? (Compare Luke 16:31.)

Our next post will continue to examine the mounting opposition of the Jewish authorities when He Continues to Heal on the Shabbat.

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The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 18

Resurrection and Life

16The Judeans began harassing Yeshua because He did these things on Shabbat. 17 But He answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I too am working.” 18 This answer made the Judeans all the more intent on killing Him – not only was He breaking Shabbat but also, by saying that God was His own Father, He was claiming equality with God.

My Father has been working on Shabbat since the beginning of time, and therefore I too am working on Shabbat. Here is an attractive alternative understanding: in the larger scheme of things, there is a Shabbat yet to come (Messianic Jews 4:9–11), so that the present era of history can be thought of as weekdays. The Talmud too recognizes this by dividing history into six 1,000–year “days” (Psalm 90:4 and see 2 Kefa 3:3–9), after which comes the Messianic millennium, the seventh “day” (Sanhedrin 97b). Since it is now still a 1,000–year “weekday,” even the Torah “permits” the Father and Yeshua to work, and they will continue working until the “day” comes that is entirely Shabbat. (But in what sense they will cease working then is not evident.)

Yeshua’s Judean opposition immediately perceived that by saying God was His own Father, He was claiming equality with God. Some Jews would like to reclaim Yeshua for the Jewish people by regarding him as a great teacher, which He was, but only human, not divine. Yeshua’s claim here makes that option impossible.

Yeshua’s words produced the first reported effort to kill Him. If He had been blaspheming God, as the Judeans thought, it would have been proper to be intent on killing Him, since “Anyone who blasphemes the name of Adonai shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16. Yeshua’s healing and His claim to equality with Adonai occasioned His discourse in the rest of this chapter. [1]

19 Therefore, Yeshua said this to them: “Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too.”

The Son cannot do anything on His own. Those who find Yeshua’s claim to divinity unpalatable are quick to point out that with these words, Yeshua seems to describe Himself in a way inconsistent with being divine. They say it is essential to God’s nature that He does everything on His own and is answerable only to Himself. But they miss the point, for Yeshua here is teaching something important about the inner nature of God, about how the Son and the Father relate to each other within the eternal unity of Adonai. Yeshua teaches that He is humanly capable of disobeying God and having His own contrary will (compare Mt 26:39).

For this reason, the divine Son “learned obedience” (MJ 5:8). He became utterly submissive to the Father’s will through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, who is with him “in unlimited measure” (3:34). Yeshua is not inferior to His Father: to submit and obey perfectly demonstrates one of God’s perfections; to will what is not God’s will is inferior to God.

What He sees the Father doing. Yeshua’s sight, whether spiritual only or physical, uniquely enables Him to perceive what His Father does and wants. Whatever the Father does, the Son does too. Yeshua is teaching that He has divine power. Specifically, He has the power to raise the dead (v. 21) and the authority to render divine judgment (v. 22).

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does, and He will show Him even greater things than these so that you will be amazed. 21 Just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so too the Son makes alive anyone He wants. 22 The Father does not judge anyone but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,

The Father does not judge anyone; instead, He has given judgment over to His Son (v. 22 & 27). Yet the Tanakh tells us that God will one day judge all humanity, and if it is the Father who entrusts judgment to the Son, then the Father does, after all, have a role in judgment as to the delegator. All this follows that the Son is included in what is meant by “God.” This is one of the many ways Yochanan deals with the mystery and paradox of Yeshua’s simultaneous humanity and divinity.

23 so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever fails to honor the Son is not honoring the Father who sent him.

Whoever fails to honor the Son is not honoring the Father who sent him. Compare Mt 22:33–46, 1 Yochanan 2:23, which also teaches against the idea that one can honor, worship, and believe in God without believing in Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God.

24 Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent Me has eternal life – that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life! 25 Yes, indeed! I tell you that there is coming a time – in fact, it’s already here – when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given the Son life to have in Himself. 27 Also He has given Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. 28 Don’t be surprised at this; because the time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear His voice 29 and come out – those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment. ~ Yochanan 5:16-29

The resurrection of life … resurrection of judgment are two kinds of deaths and resurrections; this is taught in the Tanakh at Daniel 12:2 and by Sha’ul at Romans 2:5–8. One is for those God considers righteous because they have done good. In the light of Yochanan 6:28–29 and Ephesians 2:8–10, this means they have trusted in Yeshua’s execution as atonement for their sin, been immersed into His death, risen to eternal life (Romans 6:3–11, 23), and been granted a share in the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4–6). The other is for those who have done evil, who have not trusted in Yeshua; they are subject to the “second death” (Rev. 20:12–15) (Compare Acts 24:15).

Our next post will continue to examine the mounting opposition of the Jewish authorities when Yeshua Discusses His Authority.

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[1] David Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary.