This appears to be the third and final chapter explaining and critiquing the Pharisees and Jesus wrath on them.
It’s interesting because after spending the past two chapters criticizing the Pharisees and their many problems, in the first part of this chapter Jesus strikes a different kind of tone. He had been telling the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and He had been comparing them to disobedient sons, wicked men who lease a vineyard, subjects of a king who refuse to obey the king, and more. Now however, Jesus instructs His disciples differently. “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” So even though the Pharisees have been evil in so many different ways, the disciples are still to have obedience towards them (to some extent). They have been placed in a place of leadership. The disciples are still to observe them and obey them, but they are to disregard their actions and life application. That’s kind of a surprising thing to hear from Jesus after so much lambasting. However, it does parallel Old Testament commands to obey the leaders of the people, but that we should obey God / YHWH over them.
Jesus then continues on to speak eight woe’s to the scribes and Pharisees (hypocrites): Woe to you…
- … you prevent others from entering the kingdom of heaven, and you refuse to enter yourself.
- …”you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers“
- … you travel all over to make one disciple and make them twice the son of Satan as you are.
- … you make a big deal about the treasures of the temple and the sacrifices (that give them wealth), and you disregard the purpose and reason for it.
- … you focus on the minuscule details of the law, but you ignore the major points like justice, mercy, & faithfulness.
- … you clean and make pretty the outside of the cup, but you ignore what is important inside.
- … (directly related) you appear / act righteously, but you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
- … you build the tombs of the prophets and honor them saying, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.“, but you are going to do exactly as you say you would not do!
There is such a contrast here! Christ says to follow the law and the leaders of the law, yet in the very next breath He is condemning the very same people! I don’t know how well most American’s in today’s world can understand and relate to this principle. Too often we feel that if the leader is unjust we should not have listen to them or to do what they say. That somehow the leader’s obedience / disobedience to the law or even our own expectations some how precludes our loyalty or obedience. That does not fit with what Christ is saying here.
What do you think?
John J. Camiolo Jr.
In this chapter we really begin to see a different side of Jesus. So far in Matthew, we have seen Jesus heritage and his ministry. We have seen where He came from, His lineage and his birth, including how the prophecies were coming true. We have also looked at His temptation and His ministry. His message for his disciples and how He responds to the peoples needs. His working of miracles and His compassion are key principles so far, but now we begin to really see a different side of Jesus in this chapter.
It starts out with Jesus and His disciples walking through some fields one Sabbath. The disciples began to pick and eat the grain as they walked. The Pharisees ever watching and lofty eye searching for something, began criticizing the disciples for this. Jesus began to shine the light on the situation reminding the Pharisees that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In response, Jesus comes into their synagogue and heals a man.
The Pharisees are furious, and seek to destroy Him. They call Him the devil, and criticize all that He does. Yet the people keep coming and Jesus continues to heal and minister. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and their actions. He defines a tree by its fruit and a man by his actions. Thus He condemns the Pharisees and flips the Israelite society on its head. He shows that it is not about having lofty words and the proper lineage, it’s about obedience to the one to who obedience is due. It’s about pursuing God and the truth, not about following a bunch of rules for the sake of the rules… that’s not to say that the rules are to be rejected. Jesus, the Christ, did not reject the rules. In fact He lived in them and embodied them… but rather pursuing the Father, the creator of the world and the rules.
Jesus goes even further by redefining the very nature of family. He states that those who do his will are His brothers and mother, not those who He is born to / with.
We see in this chapter Jesus going from ministering to the people, to rejecting and correcting the sin and corruption of the leadership. We see an outright attack against the Pharisees: “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. ” We see a changing of the guard.
In the New Testament there is a listing(s) of spiritual gifts. Gifts given to the people of the body of Christ in order to strengthen the body and to help the people do the work of ministry. There are people who debate about how many “gifts” are actually represented in the list(s) and what it all means. It can be an interesting conversation sometimes trying to process through the information, but the conversation of the gifts of Spirit will oftentimes come back to the Old Testament. To Exodus 31. Why? “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.” Suddenly, there is a whole new discussion. Are there “gifts” of the Spirit that we don’t even know about? YHWH gave this man and others gifts to be able to do the work of building the tabernacle and all that was to be in it. They were given gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the people and the work of service, yet craftsmanship is not listed in the New Testament gifts. It certainly gives you pause to think.
I would so love to see the work that was done by these people. I can only imagine the beauty and craftsmanship of their work. To see the alter and the tabernacle. To smell the incense and the sacrifice. To hear the sounds of the work and the worship. What beauty. But, it is not a privilege that i will have on this side of eternity.
The other key aspect of this chapter is its focus on the Sabbath. Six days are for work, and one for rest. God takes that command very seriously, even when we don’t. We know that we should be taking a day of rest, but how often do we truly take a Sabbath? Aren’t we working around the house, or in the yard, or preparing for work, or some other “important” task. I know that many times i’m teaching a class on Sunday mornings. Monday through Friday i’m teaching college level psychology in the high-school. Wednesday through Saturday i’m working with boys and young men who have low IQ’s and behavioral problems. Add to that the time spent working around the house, and that i am working on this project almost every day, and it all adds up to working 7 days a week almost every day of the year. I know i’m not the only one who does this kind of thing. So if God’s word is so important, and He takes the Sabbath so seriously, why don’t we?
Looking at the chapter and trying to sum up the themes and basic concepts in one word brings me to the idea of ownership. Verses 1-16 are an intermingling of two ideas that most of us would consider separate. There are these very different and distinct concepts. The first is that YHWH spared the firstborn of Israel, and as such they belong to the Lord. Form here on out the firstborn, the one to open the womb, belongs to God. They must be given to God, or they must be redeemed. The second concept is that every year the people of Israel are to have seven days of unleavened bread and a feast at the end. This is in celebration of the Lord passing-over the Israelite’s, destroying the Egyptians, and rescuing the people from slavery. In honor of that event, Passover must be celebrated every year. The people of Israel are to take ownership of the acknowledgment and remembrance of this event. This should be something that they not only acknowledge and understand, but that they also celebrate. The Israelite people must take ownership of the remembrance of this event.
What’s interesting to me, is that these two very distinct and separate concepts are so intermingled in these first 16 verses that as much as it seems like they should be different, it becomes clear that they are interconnected and dependent upon one another. I can’t say that i fully understand it. To me they seem like two very different concepts, but God seems to say otherwise. How and why?
The final concept of ownership in this chapter goes from vs. 17 through the end of the chapter. In this section God takes responsibility / ownership for the people of Israel. He doesn’t just tell Moses to lead them to the Mountain of God; He leads them. He goes before them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He does not leave this to someone else. He takes ownership and does it himself.
We serve a God of words and actions. He doesn’t just tell us to do something. He makes it happen. As a result He is also a God that expects action and ownership from us. We are to take ownership of the tasks that He gives us to do.
I split this chapter at the end of verse 27 due to the length of chapter overall. Thus the first verse in today’s work was 28; “Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the LORD (YHWH) had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” (NASB) Opening this section with this verse really struck me. If there is one thing that i have learned about the Hebrew people through most of the old testament, it’s that they didn’t like doing what they were told. They tended to be very stubborn people who took a whole lot of convincing to get them to follow simple instructions sometimes. Even when they did follow directions, many times it also involved grumbling and complaining. This was especially true of this particular generation. Once they go out into the wilderness, Moses has all kinds of problems with them. So much so that, apart from two people, none of them is allowed to actually enter the promised land.
Yet here we see a simple statement of profound importance. “Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the LORD (YHWH) had commanded…” This and similar statements are made three times in this second half of Exodus 12 (vs. 28, 35, & 50). Why is simple obedience such a difficult thing to do? I know that the Hebrew people are not the only ones that have that difficulty. Pharaoh had the same problem… and so do I. I know that it would be better to do things God’s way. I know that it would make my life better and easier. I know that i can trust Him even when i don’t understand. Yet time and time again the choice i make is the wrong one. Then, i have the gall to get upset when things don’t go the way i expect them to. I just don’t get it sometimes.
This section is where the exodus of the Hebrew people really begins. The final miracle occurs; the firstborn of everyone from Pharaoh’s household to the prisoners in the dungeon lost their lives. Pharaoh and the people of Egypt “urged” the Israelites to leave. So exactly 430 years to the day after Israel and his family came to Egypt, the LORD (YHWH) brings them out again.
I am so glad that I do not have to do God’s work for Him. I am so glad that all He requires of me is obedience. I don’t think that i could handle the stress of the work that God does… that certainly is a silly statement isn’t it. The point is, God was the one who did the work of hardening and softening Pharaoh’s heart. God is the one who did the miracles in Pharaoh’s presence. God is the one who fulfilled His promises to the people of Israel. It wasn’t Moses, it had to be God, Himself.
There have been times in my life where God has told me what He was going to do in my life, and then i have attempted to make it happen on my own. One guess as to the result… yup! I failed miserably! Months later, God did it. You would think that after that i would learn my lesson. Nope, i continue trying to do YHWH’s work for Him.
One thing i did want to make sure that i touch on is vs. 2-3 “God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.” The word LORD is the Hebrew word יהוה which is JHWH / YHWH / JHVH / YHVH. This includes only consonants. Traditionally, with vowels this word has been pronounced as Jehovah. However, as time has gone by, there has been mounting evidence that there is a mix of words here. It is believed that while the consonants are natural to the word, the vowels are not. The vowels come from Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) meaning “my lord” making יהוה (YHVH) into יְהֹוָה (Yehovah). The concept here is that in the 10 commandments YHWH says not to use His name in vain. As such the priests who would read the law to the people would protect them from using His name in vain by not even saying the revered name of God out loud to them. So whenever they came to the word YHWH, the priests would say Adonai instead. As a result, over the millennia the true vowels to the name YHWH were lost.
Some would say that that is not the case, that those vowels are actually the correct vowels for the name, but even with a very limited understanding of the history and tendencies of the Israelite people and the legalism of the Pharisees of Jesus time, i’m much more inclined to go with the vast majority of scholars and say YHWH.
Either way, i find it interesting that YHWH first tells His true name not to Abraham, Isaac, & Israel, but rather to Moses and His people in Egypt.
Well, things changed as a result of God’s referendum to Pharaoh alright. God said, “Let my go!” Pharaoh said, “What? You want me to do what with your people? …you want me to make their work harder? OK, I can arrange that.”
Wow, this overarching concept and idea feels very familiar for some reason. The LORD gives a command to do something. In obedience it is carried out. Life gets harder, not easier as a result of the obedience. You would think that when the God of the universe instructs you to take a stand and obediently place yourself at risk before everyone, He would come through when you expect him to. But, that’s not necessarily how He works. Taking that step of faith sometimes means getting your toes run over by a steamroller.
The question is, knowing that that is the case, are we willing to be obedient? Are we willing to step out in faith? Are we being obedient to get something out of it, or is our obedience because He is LORD of our life? Can He trust us to obey even when it means more trouble for ourselves?
That’s a difficult problem for most of us Americans. Many times our outlook is; “What’s in it for me?” If we aren’t getting something out of it, we aren’t willing to put anything into it. God doesn’t work that way though. He’s not a direct “If…then…” God. “If you do this for Me, then I will do that for you.” If that’s what you are looking for in a god, then you are looking in the wrong place. Yes, God will bless you amazingly and abundantly when you obey Him. Yes, you will find peace in your life. Yes, you can trust Him, but you cannot count on Him to do what you want Him to do, or even anywhere close to when you want Him to do it. He works on His terms not ours. However, we are still responsible for obeying Him. The benefits will be amazing, but so will the troubles.
So what’s the LORD calling YOU to be obedient to today?