23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
24 "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
In this third installment of the woes of Matthew 23 we will see how Christ continued to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. We will pick up with the fifth woe.
The fifth and sixth woes are clearly tied together. One judgment is supportive of the other. Let us see the words of Christ. First He points out what they ARE doing. They are those that tithe. Now, I am not going to get into a discussion of tithing, so let’s not go there with comments. That should wait for another post( However, the people of the nation of Israel were clearly commanded to tithe of all that they possessed and this tithe was to be used for different things at different times. Since we are not going to make this a commentary concerning tithing, I am going to refrain at this stage from referencing the fact that the tithe was used for anything from caring for the priests, to the governing of the nation, to care for the poor, to national festivals. The tithe was thus very similar to how our taxes are today.
Jesus points to the details with which they were faithful to tithe. He says they tithe of the minutest things. He mentions mint (hduosmon), anise (anhyon), and cummin (kuminon). Mint is simply a small garden herb and because of its sweet scent was used by the Jews and spread upon the floors of their synagogues. Anise is defined as dill and was probably some sort of plant that would normally be used for medicinal purposes. Cummin was a sort of anise or seed. These various seeds or plants were to be tithed according to the tradition of the Rabbis.
They were very insignificant things. So insignificant were they that Matthew Henry in commenting upon these small items said,
“They observed smaller duties, but omitted greater; they were very exact in paying tithes, till it came to mint, anise, and cummin, their exactness in tithing of which would not cost them much, but would be cried up, and they should buy reputation cheap.”
These men sought to build up their reputation through a certain duty of tithing. They even passed this on to their proselytes, because they were more concerned with achieving some level of perceived “holiness” at little cost to themselves, than with a true love for God and towards their fellow man.
Remember the Pharisee from Luke’s account in chapter 18 and verse 12?
‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
We despise this type of false piety and so does the Lord. This Pharisee thought himself to be the friend of God because of what he did.
But note that Jesus did not condemn them for tithing. This was what they were obligated to do. There were “weightier” things of the law and “lighter” things of the law. These things were important, but they were not the weightier matters of the law. Jesus’ words earlier in Luke 11:42 were very similar condemning words:
"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
In other word, He did not tell them to stop tithing, but that they should have also been observing the more weighty matters of the law. Remember, God owns all things, even those possessions which He entrusts us with. All that we are and all that we possess are given to us because of the grace of God. When we give, we are simply demonstrating that we trust God to sustain us and because we truly love Him and our neighbor. If our giving is merely duty, then it is no better than the giving of the Pharisees.
Yet the Pharisees were those who would not do those things which might actually cost them something and truly minister to those around them. They are condemned for neglecting justice, mercy, and faith. They had not kept the entire law and thus they strutted about as though they were those who should be teaching the law. However, when it all comes down, they are, as Jesus said, blind guides and they lead those who are blind and they both end up in the ditch.
Our example from Luke, which we cited earlier, comes to mind in the lack of true mercy shown to individuals. That Pharisee would not so much as go and care for the broken publican, but rather stood in condemnation of him. However, we will note that as he stood praying, his prayers were to himself (11a).
These were spoken of as those men who had to be rebuked for failing to honor their mother and father, because of the fact that they were hard hearted covetous men who thought only of themselves, rather than even caring for those who were closest to them. They bound men up with their traditions and then would not lift one finger to help them with such burdens, though they were not following these traditions any better than those they bound them upon.
Justice was a neglected issue for them as well. Instead of leading righteously and governing justly, these men would seek to see what kind of gain they could receive from their positions of power. Remember that these men were those who “devour widows’ houses”, and they oppressed the poor and the fatherless, which they had been warned repeatedly not to do (cf. Zechariah 7:10; Ezekiel 22:29; Deuteronomy 24:14).
On top of all of this lies the issue of faith. They were not justified in the sight of God; therefore they would not fit into the category of those who lived by faith. They were not determined to believe God, or to trust Him. They were out for themselves and for no other. They sought to spare their lives at the expense of others and Jesus exposed them for their hypocrisy.
He finishes with a graphic illustration of what they were doing. This is tied intricately to their self professed laws. John Gill is very helpful on this. He says,
“The Jews had a law, which forbid them the eating of any creeping thing, #Le 11:41 and of this they were strictly observant, and would not be guilty of the breach of it for ever so much.
“One that eats a flea, or a gnat; they say is "an apostate"
one that has changed his religion, and is no more to be reckoned as one of them. Hence they very carefully strained their liquors, lest they should transgress the above command, and incur the character of an apostate; and at least, the penalty of being beaten with forty stripes, save one.”
So we see that if one was partake of a tasty gnat, then he was considered to be apostate and could be beaten severely, up to 39 lashes. Incredible!! Now I must ask, who would want to be a part of such a religion??!! There are numerous citations from quotes that Gill gives, in my opinion, makes this utterly unthinkable that a Pharisee would ever let his buddy Pharisee watch him eat and drink at a family picnic.
Yet Jesus takes this illustration to demonstrate what they were involving themselves in and we obtain a very vivid portrait of their hypocrisy. They were busy straining gnats and flies for their drinks, but swallowing whole camels, by not seeing clearly the most blatant things that the law pointed out to them: justice, mercy, and faith (and the love of God, from Luke).
Thus the fifth woe has come upon them in the end for majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors.The sixth approaches as we find that Christ is relentless in His condemnation of these hypocrites.
The Sixth Woe
The sixth woe is clearly tied to the previous one. Remember that Jesus has just made implication of their deeds tied to the straining of gnats and now He uses the analogy of a cup and dish.
This is clearly a shot at their practice of washings. We recall how they had previously chastised Jesus for the failure of His disciples for not washing their hands before they ate (Mark 7:5). Luke 11:39 also records this indictment against them.
The Pharisees had a very detailed prescription of washing items. There were to be certain places for washing, it was to take a certain amount of time and to be done in a proper way. They gave all this attention to detail to the cleaning of their eating and drinking vessels and yet what they put into them were through the means of dishonest and cruel gain or plunder. They have been cited for their taking advantage of widows, of the poor and of orphans. We know that even in their giving they were seeking favors from some of the priests and always looking after their own interests without the faintest concern for those of their fellow man.
Again, as we have seen in the previous woes this comes down to one thing, their appearance before men. They could care less about their true standing before God, they are simply “dressed to impress”. These men appear to all who see them as though they are godly, righteous and pious. They seem to be those who are chosen of God and have it all together. Yet, they are those who are in most need of the mercy of God. Unlike Pharaoh, they are not quite as openly blasphemous, yet they cloak their blasphemy and sinfulness in the rotting rags of their own righteousness.
Just like Jesus describe in Mark 7, these men had “made the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down”. They had forsaken the care of the widow, the orphan and the poor and in the place of the command of God, they had indulged themselves with the delicacies of the spoils gained from their wicked plunder. Therefore, the reasoning behind Jesus speaking of what was inside being extortion and self-indulgence was clearly tied to what they were doing in order to fill themselves. They were unable to see their dirty and corrupt ways because of the deceptiveness of their thin veneer of professed godliness.
Jesus clearly is telling the Pharisees to repent. The word “cleanse” is an active imperative. It is a command for them to stop getting their food and wine and sustenance by means of dishonesty and plunder, but start doing that which is honest to obtain their own needs and from the previous woes we can see that implied is actually taking care of those, by honest means, whom they had plundered. This would be cleaning the inside, so that there might be a consistent life of true holiness.
You heard that last part right. Jesus clearly spoke to them concerning repentance, and yet Jesus also taught election and man’s total depravity (Jn. 6:37-71). This is for those who think Calvinists are inconsistent. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Would many of these Pharisees repent? Probably not. The majority would probably go on in their hatred of the Son of God and be among those who sought His death. There would probably be those among them who would be those who persecuted the apostles and those in the first church, but it wasn’t because they were not confronted and told to repent. It wasn’t because they did not have the greatest preacher delivering the greatest messages to them in the power of the Spirit. It was because they were hard hearted, self-righteous, self-seeking, covetous, plundering, wicked God haters.
They were those who clearly violated the third commandment. They claimed to be the friend of God and represent Him, yet they were those who were in open violation of His Law. Thus they, like their fathers before them, had sinned against God and had been sent prophets calling them to repentance. Now the greatest Prophet was among them: God Himself manifest in the flesh and they had the same attitude towards Him that their fathers had towards the prophets before them.
Jesus will address this shortly as He enters into Matthew 24. We will look at this in the next post.