HaMoshiach Confirms and Expounds the Law of Moses. Matt. 5, 17-37.
Good works Yeshua has just urged. He now proceeds to give a definition of good works from the Law. He makes clear His position with regard to the Law: V.17. Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. The teaching of the Kingdom, the Gospel which He came to proclaim, is a doctrine radically different from the teaching of Moses. But it does not invalidate the demands of the moral law as taught by Moses, it does not substitute a new moral law. Yeshua rather emphasizes its proper understanding, and for that reason takes great pains to explain its spiritual content. He wants to fulfill, to bring out fully, the real import, to counteract the influence of the shallow, superficial explanation then in common use; and then to render a perfect obedience to the Law. He who might abrogate all its demands, who has power to modify any of its injunctions, places Himself under the Law, Gal. 4, 4, and, by fulfilling its every letter, cancels the law of the letter. And He fulfills the prophets.
Whatever, in the revelation of the Old Testament, is type and prophecy, finds its completion, its realization in HaMoshiach the Redeemer, Col. 2, 17. Note the emphasis of His assertion: V.18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and. earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled. With a solemn oath HaMoshiach here affirms that the Law shall be retained also in the Church of the New Testament in the unabridged exercise of its strength. The whole Old Testament is a divine revelation, and so its minutest precept has religious significance which should find recognition and proper understanding in the New.
So long as the earth shall stand, the sacredness of the Scripture of olden times shall remain so absolutely unimpaired that not even an iota, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, nor a tittle, the slight projecting point on some of its letters, shall fall to the ground. There is here a gleam of Gospel glory in the midst of the proclamation of the Law, implying a fulfillment which was to be made, and was in fact made, in and through the person of Yeshua HaMoshiach. In the mean time all men should know: V.19.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Here is a conclusion. Since the above is HaMoshiach’s view, He is bound to take His stand with reference to the transgressors of that rule. He that dissolves, abrogates, sets aside even those commandments that seem small and of little import, he that disregards as much as one of the little horns or hooks, whose presence or absence may, indeed, change the meaning of an entire passage, falls under HaMoshiach’s sentence of condemnation, he is declared to be the least in the kingdom of heaven.
The sincerity of his convictions will not be accepted as an excuse, and his fault will only be made greater by his extending the false opinion he holds by means of teaching. He shall be called the least, he shall be rejected in this kingdom, he shall be excluded from its glories. On the other hand, he that teaches in entire conformity with the Old Testament, that preaches not only the Gospel, but the Law in its great purpose of preparing the hearts, that keeps silence with regard to nothing, that does not add thereto nor take therefrom, he shall have a great name in the kingdom of heaven, he shall receive the reward of faithfulness. For this teaching is essential in educating men as to the true righteousness of life, in holding up before the Netzarim a proper rule of conduct. How strongly this feature is brought out by the contrast: V.20.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Not in the teachers of the people as they were then acknowledged, but only in Himself there would be the perfect realization of teaching and doing. The scribes were the accepted teachers of the Law, and many of them were members of the sect, or party, of the Pharisees. The chief accusation which HaMoshiach brought against these people is recorded in many passages of the Gospels; cp. Matt. 23.
The feature of their doctrine and life was this, that they set aside the great for the little, the divine for the sake of the traditional. The result was a slavish observing of externals, which gave them a great show of piety before the people, an impression which they were very careful to nourish. So far as the great majority of these sectarians was concerned, their hearts were far from true piety and righteousness of the heart, which seeks, in true love of one’s neighbor, to do the will of God in word and deed. Wherever such is the case, there is no faith, and therefore no idea of entering into the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord now proceeds to prove His condemning statement by expounding a few of the commandments of the Law according to their full spiritual significance: V.21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill: and, Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. They were accustomed to hear this in the regular synagog services, where the reading of the Law was never omitted. It was said both to them of old time, Ex. 20, 13; Deut. 5, 17; Gen. 9, 5. 6, and by them of old time, in the precepts delivered by tradition from father to son as well as by the teachers of the people, 2 Chron. 17, 7-9, but the addition, fixing the penalty, was made in the interpretation of the rabbis. But by this explanation the meaning of “kill” was restricted to actual murder, and the commandment of God became a mere external legal enactment.
The end of the transgression was penalized, but the beginning, in desires, in thoughts, in words, was not restrained. “Behold, that is the beautiful holiness of the Pharisees, which can cleanse itself, and remain pious, so long as it does not kill with the hand, though the heart be filled with anger, hatred, and envy, the tongue also with cursing and blaspheming.” 49 HaMoshiach’s exposition is not so narrow: V.22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.
The statement of the Lord is very general: Every one, none excepted; it is a universal prohibition of angry passion. He that gives way to such wrath is guilty of judgment, of condemnation. Anger against a brother, any member of the human family, is a deadly sin. It should properly come under the jurisdiction of the council or court, Deut. 16, 18; 2 Chron. 19, 5. This is speaking relatively. The person that gives way to anger is as great an offender in God’s sight as the one that slays his brother in cold blood, Gal. 5, 20; Col. 3, 8; Jas. 1, 19. 20. The same condemnation, but with greater emphasis, falls upon him that cannot control his anger, permitting it to burst forth in maledictions. Raca is an Aramaic word meaning an empty head, a stupid.
The one using angry epithets of this nature is guilty of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews that tried the worst offenses and inflicted the severest penalties. Anger that is not quickly controlled will become hatred combined with contempt, and freely indulge in railing, 1 Pet. 3, 9. A still greater insult lies in the epithet, “Thou fool,” which was used to denote a good-for-nothing, hopeless, helpless, morally worthless fool, and expressed contempt for a man’s heart and character.
This expression of utter disregard of the fellow-man’s position in the eyes of God is an offense equal to that of murder, it is a damnable sin, 1 John 3, 15; Rev. 21, 8. It is punishable by the fire of Hinnom, the valley where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned – a figure often used by Yeshua in speaking of the punishment of hell-fire. Yeshua presents the positive side of His exposition: V.23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath aught against thee,V.24. leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
The forgiving attitude is pictured from a happening which was very frequent among the Jews, with which they were thoroughly familiar. A Jew might bring his Corban, his gift, used of every kind of bloody and unbloody sacrifice which was brought to the Temple, Matt. 8, 4; 15, 5; 23, 8. But in the very act of handing it to the officiating priest at the altar there comes the remembrance. It suddenly flashes into his mind that he has been guilty of an act or a word which might have provoked a brother. The natural way of dealing with the situation might seem to be to keep on with the worship, get through as quickly as possible, and then hurry to make peace with the offended. But HaMoshiach tells us to interrupt our worship and go on the errand of seeking forgiveness first, though it may seem profane to do so. It is more important that the heart be free from anxiety for a brother’s peace of mind than that an external rite be performed: mercy before sacrifice. There will be plenty of time for sacrificing afterward. Cp. Is. 58, 4-7.
The same truth in a different parable: V.25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou. art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.V.26. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shall by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. The picture is that of a debtor on the way to court with his creditor, Deut. 21, 18; 25, 1, who is his adversary, but probably might be found willing to come to terms outside of court. The advice is that the debtor be in a very conciliatory mood, ready and eager to straighten out the difficulty without litigation.
In case a settlement would not be effected in this manner, the danger would be that the adversary, losing all patience, would deliver and even forcibly drag the debtor before the judge, secure a favorable decision, have this carried out by the officer of the court, and have the satisfaction of seeing him taken to prison. All hopes of obtaining mercy would then be shattered. For even the last quadrans, the fourth part of a Roman assarion, which was worth not quite two cents, would be demanded of him. Payment would be exacted to the last fraction of a penny. A very earnest admonition not to wait or hesitate about coming to terms with our adversary, with any one whom we owe reconciliation. The brief period of life is soon behind us, and the implacable that refused to agree will find in the Lord an equally implacable Judge.
A lesson from the Sixth Commandment: V.27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery.V.28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looked on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. The Sixth Commandment had indeed been given to “them of old time,” Ex. 20, 14; Deut. 5, 18. But it was understood by the Jewish teachers of the sin in deed only, of the deliberate unfaithfulness of those joined in wedlock, or the carnal intercourse of the unmarried. Many rabbis expressly stated that the evil thought should not be regarded on a level with the sinful act. 50
HaMoshiach’s explanation opens the deeper meaning of the commandment. He finds the beginning of adultery in the deliberate nourishing of the awakening lust of the heart. A woman may be seen, come within the range of vision of a man, and there is no wrong in the act. Ordinary human intercourse would be impossible without it. But when the look turned upon any woman, married or unmarried, is deliberate and intentional, conscious and persistent, as on a person of the opposite sex, and this is followed by an impure desire of coveting her for immoral purposes, then adultery has in fact been committed, although the sin is hidden deeply in the heart.
HaMoshiach’s advice to the tempted: V.29. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.V.30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. The right eye and the right hand are named as prominent members in the actual committing of sin, through which the evil desire of the heart finds its expression. They are represented as the organs of temptation. According to popular view, they are the members that offend, that incite to the actual commission of sin. Therefore, symbolically speaking, these members and all the members of the body must be controlled, if necessary, by an absolute and painful renunciation.
Better to be without individual organs and members of the body than have the whole body condemned. HaMoshiach speaks figuratively, and His words must be understood in the spiritual sense; for mutilation evidently may prevent the outward act, but will not kill the desire. Every member of the body shall be so controlled and governed by the sanctified will that it will not yield to sin, thus bringing the whole body into condemnation. Yeshua again uses the figure of the perpetual fires of the valley of Hinnom, where the waste and refuse of the city of Jerusalem was burned, for the punishment of hell. “This, then, is the meaning: If you feel that you look upon a woman with evil lust, then pluck that eye or vision out as being contrary to God’s commandment, not of the body, but of the heart from which the burning and desire proceeds, then have you torn it out rightly.
For when the evil lust is out of the heart, then the eye will also not sin nor offend you, and you will look upon the same woman with the same eyes of your body, but without desire, and it will be as though you had not seen her. For no longer is that eye there which was there before, which is called an eye of burning or desire, although the eye of the body remains uninjured.”
51 A further illustration; V.31. It hath been said,. Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.V.32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery. The form in which Yeshua here speaks indicates that He disapproves of their literal interpretation of the permission granted by Moses, Deut. 24, 1. The Mosaic law was given in the interest of the woman, to give her at least some show of right. But the Jewish doctors, concerned only about the outward form and about getting the bill of separation into due legal shape, permitted a license which was soon carried to scandalous and criminal excesses.
Pouncing upon the phrase: “She find no favor in his eyes,” they permitted divorces when a man found a handsomer woman, when he was displeased with his wife’s cooking, when he did not find her manners agreeable. Only the bill or letter of separation must be made out, that formality was insisted upon. But such a deliberate breaking of the marriage-tie, though it be sanctioned by the civil courts, has no validity before God.
The Lord recognizes only one reason for divorce, when there is a plain case of unfaithfulness, of adultery, of any unlawful intercourse of a married person with any other person but the lawful spouse. In this case a divorce may be secured, but is not commanded. “We neither command nor hinder such divorce, but leave it to the government to act…. But to give advice to such as want to be Netzarim, it would be far better to admonish and urge both parties to stay together, and that the innocent spouse be reconciled to the guilty one (if this one were humble and willing to amend) and forgive in HaMoshiachian love.” 52 If any other reason is alleged and the divorce brought about, adultery is committed, both by the complainant, in severing the marriage-tie, and by the accused that permits the frivolous dissolution. In the same way he that marries a woman divorced from her lawful husband, to whom she still belongs before God, is an adulterer in the eyes of the Lord.
An illustration from the Second Commandment: V.33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.V.34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all, neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;V.35. nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.V.36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.V.37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Yeshua introduces the subject as before, referring to the customary reading of the Law and the accompanying teaching. The implication of HaMoshiach is that the people were really kept under a false impression, by being permitted to draw the conclusion that they were listening to the exact words of Moses. The words as stated are indeed found in the Law, Lev. 19, 12; Num. 30, 3; Deut. 23, 22. But the interpretation left much to be desired. It placed no emphasis upon the inner truthfulness of the heart. If that is missing, what object have all oaths? All the careful distinctions as to degrees of oaths, and therefore of perjury, were a yoke on the necks of the Jews that did not affect their hearts. And it was a matter of mere sophistical quibbling that permitted all manner of affirmations in which the divine name was not mentioned directly, Deut. 6, 13, and thus evaded the obligation of the oath. There is not the slightest difference between an oath in the name of God and such asseverations as substitute the names of holy things, heaven, or such over which God alone has control: His city, Jerusalem, the earth, His footstool, a man’s head or life.
All these oaths involve a reference to God. And all of them, as He distinctly specifies them, one after the other, are superfluous where the heart is pure and truthful. The Lord distinctly condemns the incessant, frivolous calling upon the Deity in all kinds of garbled forms. He does not imply that oaths, under circumstances, are not altogether lawful and right. “In civil life the most truthful man has to take an oath because of the untruth and consequent distrust prevailing in the world, and in so doing he does not sin against HaMoshiach’s teaching. HaMoshiach Himself took an oath before the high priest.” 53 His demand is absolute truthfulness and straightforwardness in the dealing of people with one another.
There the affirmation shall have the full value and force of the Yea, and the denial the simple power of the Nay, that there may be an unhesitating dependence upon all statements, without the support of an oath. Anything that goes beyond this simple definition is of evil, even savors of the influence of the evil one, the devil, the father of lies. Yeshua expressed Himself mildly with a purpose, and did not deny the necessity of oaths in, a world full of falsehood. “I know, He means to say, that in certain circumstances something beyond yea and nay will be required of you. But it comes of evil, the evil of untruthfulness. See that the evil be not in you.”