Have you ever felt that was not a godly response, yet you have no idea what a godly response could’ve been? I find it stimulating to learn about Jesus in his context. He always himself lived the holy conduct he taught. This is another 3-part series analyzing the Jewish context Jesus faced in Matthew 15:1-20; 17:24-27, and Luke 11:37-54. By comparing and contrasting how and why Jesus either offended the Jews, or avoided offending them, we can learn the balance God has for us.
THE PROGRESSION OF SINFUL HEARTS
Did you notice in last week’s blog the progression from the reason God commanded the wearing of fringes on their robes? We sinners have such a natural tendency to twist God’s commands into something God didn’t command. The same thing happened with other Jewish traditions, such as the washing of hands.
It is somewhat…difficult to account for the origin of the ordinance…it seems to have been first enjoined…to ensure that sacred offerings should not be eaten in defilement. When once it became an ordinance of the elders, this was…regarded as sufficient ground for obedience…. Presently, Scriptural support was sought for it. Some based it on the original ordinance of purification in Leviticus 15:11…while others saw in…(Leviticus 11:44) “Sanctify yourselves” the command to wash before meat; in the command, “Be ye holy,” that of washing after meat….
THE AUSTERITY OF PRIDEFUL AGENDAS
…this practice is expressly admitted to have been, not a Law of Moses, but “a tradition of the elders.” Still, and perhaps on this very account, it was so strictly enjoined…omission would lead to temporal destruction…or, at least, to poverty…. Bread eaten with unwashen hands was as if it had been filth…. Indeed, a Rabbi who had held this command in contempt was actually buried in excommunication…. Thus…the charge of the Scribes against the disciples…is most moderately worded by the Evangelists.
THE HISTORICITY OF THIS UNIVERSAL, JEWISH ISSUE
…at the time of which we write the…ordinance was quite new…. Jewish tradition traced…the command of washing the hands before eating–at least of sacrificial offerings–to Solomon…. But the earliest trace of this custom occurs in a portion of the Sibylline Books, which dates from about 160 BC, where we find an allusion to the practice of continually washing the hands, in connection with prayer and thanksgiving. It was…Hillel and Shammai, the 2 great rival teachers and heros of Jewish traditionalism, immediately before Christ, to fix the Rabbinic ordinance about the washing of hands…. This was one of the few points on which they were agreed, and hence emphatically “a tradition of the Elders,” since these 2 teachers bear, in Rabbinic writings, each the designation of “the Elder.”
THE PASSION OF THIS FORMULATIVE BACKDROP
Then followed a period of developing traditionalism, and hatred of all that was Gentile. The tradition of the Elders was not yet so established as to command absolute and universal obedience, while the disputes of Hillel and Shammai, who seemed almost on principle to have taken divergent views on every question, must have disturbed the minds of many. We have an account of a stormy meeting between the 2 Schools…even with bloodshed. The story is so confusedly, and so differently told in the Jerusalem…and in the Babylon Talmud…that it is difficult to form a clear view of what really occurred. Thus much, however, appears–that the Shammaites had a majority of votes, and that “18 decrees” …were passed in which the 2 Schools agreed…
CHRIST’S REASON FOR TAKING A STAND
If you haven’t yet read my blog on angels or demons, the next bit will be somewhat of a shock to you. In fact, unless you know more about the author of today’s source, you’ll likely feel this author must be biased against Jews. But he was a Jew himself, before he became a Christian.
The answer to this inquiry will require a disclosure of that aspect of Rabbinism which, from its painfulness, has hitherto been avoided…. Rabbinism, in the madness of its self-exaltation, represented God as busying Himself by day with the study of the Scriptures, and by night with that of the Mishnah; and how, in the heavenly Sanhedrin, over which the Almighty presided, the Rabbis sat in the order of their greatness, and the Halakhah was discussed, and decisions taken in accordance with it…this…is not nearly all. Anthropomorphism of the coarsest kind is carried beyond the verge of profanity, when God is represented as spending the last 3 hours of every day in playing with Leviathan…. There are others, equally painful, as regards the anger of the Almighty…more terrible to read of God wearing the Tallith…Phylacteries…. Only one other point must be mentioned as connected with purifications. To these also the Almighty is supposed to submit.
A GODLY RESPONSE
Jesus targeted various needs and questions the disciples had before his outright clashing with the Pharisees. If we can, we must first build a foundation–friendships and rapport–with the teachable that we hope to influence. And we must strive to do this, as much as possible, before we take on clashing with the unteachable. Yet we dare not shrink from clashing if cornered. See Romans 10:17, 12:18 and 2 Timothy 1:8.