Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Woes of Matthew 23 Part 2

Matthew 23
14  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16  "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.'
17  "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
18  "And, `Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.'
19  "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
20  "Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.
21  "He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.
22  "And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.

This is part two of the installments of the woes of Matthew 23.  I began in the first post with a very simple introduction to Matthew 24.  Ultimately, our goal is to establish the context surrounding, what seems to be very controversial in the church, Matthew 24.  

In this post I will try to take on the next three woes that Jesus lays out against the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, further indicating that they are worthy of the coming judgment against them.  These are serious charges, but they are not unforeseen.  The Old Testament repeatedly spoke of the judgment that would befall Israel in the last days.  Isaiah spoke of the coming destruction upon Jerusalem.  In chapter 28 he prophesied:

11  For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,
12  To whom He said, "This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest," And, "This is the refreshing"; Yet they would not hear.
13  But the word of the LORD was to them, "Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little," That they might go and fall backward, and be broken And snared and caught.
14  Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scornful men, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,
15  Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, It will not come to us, For we have made lies our refuge, And under falsehood we have hidden ourselves."
16  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.
17  Also I will make justice the measuring line, And righteousness the plummet; The hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, And the waters will overflow the hiding place.
18  Your covenant with death will be annulled, And your agreement with Sheol will not stand; When the overflowing scourge passes through, Then you will be trampled down by it.

In chapter 29, we find, as John Gill so puts it,

The siege and destruction of Jerusalem are described in #Isa 29:1-6 the disappointment of their enemies, notwithstanding their taking and destroying it, #Isa 29:7,8 the stupidity, judicial blindness, and hardness of the Jews, which brought on their ruin, are predicted, #Isa 29:9,10 the ignorance of their learned, as well as of their unlearned men, with respect to the Scripture, and the prophecies of it, #Isa 29:11,12 their hypocrisy and formality in worship, #Isa 29:13 a blast upon all their wisdom and prudence, who thought to be wiser than the Lord, and too many for him, whose folly and atheism are exposed, #Isa 29:14-16, and a great change both in Judea and the Gentile world, by the removal of the Gospel from the one to the other, #Isa 29:17 the effects of which are, deaf sinners hear the word, dark minds are enlightened, and joy increased among the meek and poor, #Isa 29:18,19 the fall of the Jews, or else of antichrist, is foretold, #Isa 29:20,21 and the chapter is closed with a promise and prophecy of the conversion of the seed of Abraham and Jacob, #Isa 29:22-24.

Specifically note that this judgment comes because of the very things that we find our Lord Jesus Christ rebuking the Pharisees and scribes for.  Let us note verses 7-12.

7  The multitude of all the nations who fight against Ariel, Even all who fight against her and her fortress, And distress her, Shall be as a dream of a night vision.
8  It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams, And look--he eats; But he awakes, and his soul is still empty; Or as when a thirsty man dreams, And look--he drinks; But he awakes, and indeed he is faint, And his soul still craves: So the multitude of all the nations shall be, Who fight against Mount Zion."
9  Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.
10  For the LORD has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
11  The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, "Read this, please." And he says, "I cannot, for it is sealed."
12  Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, "Read this, please." And he says, "I am not literate."

These are strong words against Jerusalem.  The Lord has caused them to sleep.  He is bringing about their judgment prior to sending His armies against her.  Let us learn now that judgment is not always fire and brimstone, but sometimes it is simply being in a spiritual stupor, unable to know the right way and perceive the light of the Word of God and heed it.  Sadly we can see this in our own society (especially the very literal spiritual “drunkenness” that takes place in much of the more popularized charismatic movement) and in many churches throughout our land.
The Second Woe
Now, let us take each of these woes one by one.  The first woe (the second in our study) is that they make a pretense of holiness at the expense of those in Israel (vs. 14).  Notice that Jesus says they engage in devouring widows houses.  The term devour is used figuratively, but also is indicative of what they literally did as well.  These evil men appeared to be men of God who would come to those without husbands, who had fatherless children and seek to take advantage of them, while at the same time making pretense that they were indeed helping them.  These same men who would not honor their father and their mother because of their own greedy, hypocritical nature went into the weakest of women and sought to plunder them for their own gain.

Paul also described such men in his second letter to young Timothy.  In chapter three we see him exposing these types of men for what they really are.

lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
5  having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
6  For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,
7  always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Instead of doing what was pleasing to God and caring for the widow and the orphan (Jas. 1:27) , these men sought to profit from the poverty those whom they were to take care of (Tit. 1:11).

They also were guilty of making a show or pretence (prophasis) of prayers.  Their “form of godliness” was just that:  a form.  There was no power, because there was no true godliness.  These men engaged in prayer for their own self aggrandizement rather than to humble themselves before the Lord and submit themselves to Him for His glory.  

Remember the parable that Jesus taught concerning the Pharisee and the Publican from Luke 18?  

10  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11  "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank You that I am not like other men----extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
12  `I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
13  "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
14  "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The Pharisee sings his own praises before the Lord, where the wretched sinner simply desires mercy from God.  Which then is justified?  Jesus said it was the tax collector was justified.  

However, let us note the last words of this second woe:  “You will receive greater condemnation.”  Remember that Jesus instructed His disciples earlier to obey these men who occupied Moses’ seat, but not to practice the things they practiced that were not a part of the teaching of Moses.  It seems appropriate then that this condemnation is a great condemnation because they are in fact teachers.  They have a greater accounting to give.  The apostle James said,

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (3:1)

Those of us who are teachers must constantly be examining our lives and our doctrine in order that we live holy lives before the Lord.  We are not to do this for pretence as the Pharisees and seek to “appear” holier than others, but in sincerity of heart, realizing that the judge of all men listens and sees all things, even the things which reside in our hearts.

The Third Woe
The third woe comes in verse 15.  There we read, “For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”  These Pharisees, like their fathers were prone to make converts to their religion.  These converts they called proselytes.  

Obviously, these would not be Jews, but Gentiles.  They formed these proselytes into two categories:  proselytes of righteousness and proselytes of the gate.  Both were converts to Judaism.  However, it appears that the ones who converted wholeheartedly are in reference to group one, the proselytes of righteousness.  This group was circumcised and bound themselves to keep the whole Mosaic Law, as well as, the requirements placed upon them by Judaism.  The second group remained uncircumcised, and observed some specific laws, especially those under the precepts of Noah.

These hypocrites thought they were doing what was right and that they were pleasing to God.  They even thought they were leading others in the right way, but in the end it was the path of death.  Those who became their converts were corrupted by their doctrine and practice rather than edified by it.  These were promised liberty, but were made slaves of corruption.  The system itself offered them no hope or forgiveness of sins, but rather heaped upon them more condemnation.  Thus the Lord Jesus says that these scribes and Pharisees made them “twice as much a son of hell” as they were.

These men as John Gill documents in his commentary on this verse sought to obtain proselytes as quickly as they could.  They would take them with baptism or without it.  They would accept them with circumcision or without it.  As long as they gave some sort of receptiveness towards Judaism, then they found a way in which they could justify one being referred to as a proselyte.  Sound familiar??  Certain people within a certain convention should pay particular heed to this.  Note one of the comments Gill offers from Rabbi Joshua ben Levi:

R. Joshua says, even dipping delays it; (i.e. the want of it, hinders a man from being a proselyte;) but R. Joshua ben Levi says, it should go according to the tradition of Bar Kaphra; for the tradition of Bar Kaphra is,

``that he that is circumcised, and not dipped, lo! he is right; for there is no proselyte but what is dipped, because of the pollutions that happen to him {e}.''

And elsewhere {f} this is debated in the following manner:

``a proselyte that is circumcised, and not dipped, R. Eliezer says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find concerning our fathers, that they were circumcised, but not dipped. One that is dipped, and not circumcised, R. Joshua says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find concerning our mothers, that they were dipped, but not circumcised. The wise men say, one that is dipped, and not circumcised, or circumcised, and not dipped, is no proselyte, until he is both circumcised and dipped.''

Again, this becomes an issue of pride and arrogance and somehow promoting one’s own aims rather than the purpose of God.  Numbers are achieved for bragging rights and a power base rather than simply for the love of the other person and the glory of God.  Thus this third woe falls upon them from the lips of our Lord, because of their misplaced passion and the fact that they passed it on to others.

The Fourth Woe
In this fourth woe, which is followed by several examples of their error, the scribes are condemned for swearing by God while blaspheming God.  They are called blind guides in this verse.  This must really have annoyed them.  As on previous occasions when Jesus addressed them and ask rhetorical questions like, “Have you not read?” or “Do you not know?”, He did so and clearly showed exactly how little of the Scriptures they actually knew and practiced.  They were those who did not have the light of the gospel shining upon their hearts, nor the spiritual eyes to discern the truth, but rather were darkened in their understanding and groping about in the darkness trying to establish some form of light by which they might see.  Yet the light they produced was a great darkness.

Notice their hypocrisy.  Jesus says that they would say that whoever swore by temple is nothing, but whoever swore by the gold of the temple is obliged to perform it.  In the first place, these men should have had the integrity and character that there “yes” should have been “yes” and their “no” should have been “no”.  However, they wanted to make others believe they were lending weight to their words by bringing in oaths and swearing.  Since an oath was something that called whatever they swore by to account for what they were saying, then it made it seem serious and legitimate to the one they swore to.

One way they were known to do this was to swear by the gold of the temple.  By the gold of the temple, the reference is not to the gold utensils or golden vessels used in the temple.  Rather it speaks to any gifts brought to the temple.  The monies and offerings that were brought in by the people is what is in focus here.  These are referred to as “Korban”.  Jesus elaborates on this in a moment.  With that in mind we can already see the covetous nature of these men.  For if someone swore by the temple, what were they going to do?  But if they swore by their gifts, then they were obliged to pay them or else they would be guilty of perjury and who had their hand in the cookie jar?  Why it’s the blind guides!  They knew how to work the system and so their oaths were towards the temple, but they could, in much the same way little children (and some grown ones) do, pull their crossed fingers from behind their backs and say, “But I didn’t swear by the gold of the temple so you can’t touch me, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na!”

Jesus gave them strong rebuke for this.  They were making light of the temple of God and thus God Himself.  They did the same thing concerning the altar and the sacrifices offered on it.  Jesus rebukes them for all these things and brings them to account by declaring that when they take an oath it is before God.  Whether it is an oath by sacrifices, the altar, the gold of the temple, or the temple itself, makes no difference.  Also whether they decided to swear by heaven, they were guilty of the same thing.  Ultimately, the rebuke is not for the oath itself.  It is for a deceitfulness behind the oath and a failure to recognize that God demands that men honor their word and fulfill their oaths even when it is difficult to do.  Listen to the words of Jesus.

Matthew 5
33  "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, `You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'
34  "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
35  "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36  "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
37  "But let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your `No,' `No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

Notice anything more than your affirmation or denunciation is from the evil one.  These men were following in their father’s footsteps.  No they were not following in Abraham’s footsteps, which were steps of faith, rather they were liars and of their father the devil (cf. Jn. 8:44).

Ultimately these men fooled a lot of men into thinking they were spiritual, but in the end they stood naked before the Son of God.  We will also note that Jesus didn’t give them a pass.  He was not “gentle Jesus” with them.  No way.  He was straight forward, bold and some might say antagonistic.  At any point Jesus could have stopped, but it doesn’t seem that He even so much as took a breath, but continued right on into His condemnation all the way through the rest of the chapter.

I will continue to remind us that these things are the very reasons why the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in A. D. 70.  Christ would come to fulfill His own words against these who hated him so and would call for His death.  It should become apparent to anyone as we are going through this that Matthew 23 is clearly laying the groundwork for the questions of the disciples and the response of Jesus.


Simon said...

Nice story. When will you start reading adult books?

Tim said...


Nice of you to drop by. I dropped by your blog. It seems you do have a lot of hostility for those who believe as I do. However, it is interesting to note that I have provided some documentation for you to look over and actually comment on, yet you have not provided an "adult" response.

I also noticed that you said that the Romans invented Christianity. Seriously that is funny:) So was Nero a part of that? What about the other emperors who claimed that Christians were truly atheists because they would not worship the emperors as gods?

I mean no hostility towards you but would welcome a respectful dialogue with you. I won't tolerate name calling from those of my faith, nor of any opposition. I would be very interested in that if you would be as well. Again, thanks for dropping by. I hope you will actually read the post next time and comment on it.

Gordan said...


Get over yourself.

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