It’s funny because it feels like a LOT of my recent posts have been on the Torah, which has not been remotely intentional. It’s that He’s trying to drive a point home with me – so you all get to watch that play out 😉
Most days I just ask Him, “where do you want me to read today?” and then I go there. As I sense a blog forming I begin writing it and most of the time I don’t know exactly where it’s going until the end and often even *I* am surprised!
Today He took me to Matthew 23, which is a chapter that I think many mainstream Christians misunderstand because they don’t understand Hebrew culture – I know I didn’t! We all understand we are not to be Pharisees, but what that actually means isn’t completely understood. We tend to all agree that Pharisees were “legalistic” – where the misunderstanding happens is on what laws they were following.
Matthew 23:2-4 clarifies this point if you understand enough Hebrew culture to know what’s being said.
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Most mainstream Christians assume what’s being referred to here is the Torah (i.e. the law), but if it were this would mean John wasn’t listening very well as Yeshua (Jesus) spoke because in 1 John 5:2-3 he says:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Additionally, if the Torah was a heavy burden and if the crucifixion had released us from observing it, why then would Peter still be following it years later (Acts 10:14)?
No, Matthew isn’t saying the Torah is burdensome, he is referring to rabbinical law which extends God’s law in ways the Father did not intend (as Matthew 23 shows). I actually make reference to this in my What Pursuing Torah Looks Like post when I touch on Kosher laws. Here’s the example I gave there:
Kosher includes many additional rules that are not included in God’s instructions. For example, in Deut 14:21 it says not to “boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” and so kosher laws state “Meat and milk (or derivatives) cannot be mixed in the sense that meat and dairy products are not served at the same meal, served or cooked in the same utensils, or stored together” (Wikipedia definition of Kashrut).
You can see how one simple instruction has been extrapolated out to be a rather intense set of rules!
The key to understanding our passage in Matthew 23 is knowing what is meant by “Moses’ seat.” The Pharisees would sit on what was referred to as “Moses’ seat” each week and read from the Word, which of course at the time was what we refer to as the Old Testament or Tanakh.
In essence, what Jesus (Yeshua) is saying is follow the Torah and Prophets (do as they say…), but do NOT get bound up in rabbinical law (…not as they do). This is not to say all rabbinical law is bad, it simply is man’s law, not God’s and therefore NOT mandatory; nor is it sin if you break it.
As a matter of fact, numerous times in the gospel accounts when it seems Jesus is breaking Torah, what He is actually breaking is rabbinical law. A couple examples are Matthew 15:1-3 with the hand washing and Luke 6:1-4 with rabbinical definition of work.
I encourage you to consider where your traditions of men are causing you to break scripture. Too often we simply do what we’ve been taught without pausing to consider if it is pleasing to the Father or even anything we should be doing!
Father, show us the places where WE are guilty of observing the traditions of men at the cost of Your instructions to us. Take the blinders off our eyes that we might see as You see. Give us the strength to walk out the changes we need to make to align rightly with Your Word. May You be glorified in our lives!