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Reflections of Sinai
Introduction: As we try to observe the culture of Yahushua’s day we cannot miss the strict pattern of Pharisaic observance that revealed to the general population great piety. However it becomes extremely important for us to wonder why the general population were so intensely drawn to Yahshua and would travel from all the regions of Yisrael to hear his teaching. One may argue that it related to his great attention to the miraculous which would attract people like a magic show might but I would suggest unlike a performer that desires to gain an audience it was of least concern to him and his miracles only came from a loving heart as he saw the desperate needs of the people who for the most part were quite poor and he had no other motive than care. As we venture into some of his teachings I hope to infuse us with thoughts that can transform our lives today just like his teachings incited the peasantry of Yisrael which were often deemed as unrighteous rabble by the religiously elite.
Reflections of Sinai
Many today would look to what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” & see no connection that could parallel it with the Sinai experience. “The Sermon on the Mount” being a central theme of Yahushua’s teaching serves as almost a renewal or sort of re-giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. As such within its context there is clear Halachic (Rule or Tradition) imagery.
Yahudaism (Judaism) teaches that when the Mashiach (Messiah) comes, one of his roles will be to clarify ambiguities within halachic matters. Interestingly, this is exactly what Yahshua does within the Sermon on the Mount. Through halachic formulas known from the Second Temple period, Yahshua sets out to clarify and set straight popular misconceptions of specific mitzvoth (Commands).
Before dealing with each specific mitzvah (Command), Yahshua usually begins with the phrase “You have heard that our fathers were told…” This is actually a halachic formula known from the Second Temple period. It was a way that a Sage would state a particular halachic understanding, and then clarify its “proper” interpretation.
This phrase is actually paralleled in a halachic text discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Known as 4QMMT – “Miksat Ma’aseh Torah” (Some rulings pertaining to the Torah), the text introduces disagreements between the Qumran community and their opponents (namely the Sadducees) with a phrase: “You say … but we think/say.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua was using a halachic formula known at the time to clarify and give proper understanding to certain interpretations of Torah commands.
The Weightier Matters of Torah
Yahshua in his teaching is in fact drawing his listeners into the areas of most significance and so there are Ethical matters to be explored within this Halactic process which is clearly shown by Yahshua in the following where he reprimands a group of Pharisees who violate ethical considerations.
MatithYahu (Matthew) 23:23 Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe the mint and the anise and the cumin but have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah; Right-Judgement, loving-kindness and Trustworthiness. These you should have done and not left the others undone.
The Pharisees had in fact extended their Tithing to other items. These additional tithes of “mint, dill, and cumin” are actually not even required by mitzvah de-oraisa (commanded directly in the Torah), but rather are supplemental tithes known from the Talmud. Yahshua’s point was not that they did these but that by focussing on these they were neglecting the weightier things of Torah.
Man’s Obsession with Piety:
In Man’s rule we see an obsession with an external imposition of regulations like Halacha (Traditions) designed to so consume an individual’s life in every detail with the hope that this would produce Righteousness. These principles were often a sour point in the Netzarim movement as well and this often led to confrontations over wrong thinking which the Judaizers through legalism were trying to impose as a component to the receiving of Salvation.
Ma’esah Ha Shilichyim (Acts of the Apostles) 15:1 And certain men which came down from Yahudah (Judah) taught the brothers and said: Except you be circumcised according to the custom of Mosheh you cannot be saved.
These men were saying that one had to become a full Ger- Tzadik meaning a full convert to all the beliefs of the Hebrews before being saved even though the converts may have no clear understand of the significance of all these rituals and traditions let alone an understanding of Torah. This was a legalistic way of imposing everything on new converts and though these aspects were significant this heated dispute needed to be resolved before the Elders & Ya’acov (James) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).
This same contention arose when Kepha (Peter) returned to Yerushalayim after entering the house of Cornelius who was a Goyim (a Gentile):
Ma’esah Ha Sh’ilichyim (Acts of the Apostles) 11:2 And when Kepha (Peter) went up to Yerushalayim those of the circumcision were contending with him, 3. Saying, you went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them.
This was the approach of the Yahudim to new converts but this incident taught the believers as did the vision of unclean creatures to Kepha (Peter) that YHWH cleanses the heart when faith comes and that these other components to faith are part of the process of Salvation. Religious observance did not produce faith but rather YHWH cleansing the heart produces faith which then leads to the obedience of the Torah.
It was for this wrong thinking that Yahshua contended so much with the Scribes & Pharisees who had the appearance of Piety but Yahshua saw their wicked hearts for Yahshua says in:
MattithYahu (Matthew) 15:7 Hypocrites! Well did YeshaYahu (Isaiah) prophesy about you, saying:
8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines thecommandments of men.’ ”
As we look through the Sermon on the Mount we find the criticism Yahshua kept raising was not about the Halachtic traditions but the Hypocrisy that they revealed as found throughout MatithYahu (Matthew) chapter 6 & 7 like:
Sounding a trumpet for charitable deeds’
Praying on street corners to be seen.
Looking disfigured when fasting.
Wearing long Tzititot (Tassels) & broad Tefillin (prayer Phylacteries) to show Piety.
The Kingdom Rule
Rather than drawing away from all the richness of Halacha and obedience to the Torah the section that we wish to draw to actually reveals the beauty of the Rule of Yahweh’s Kingdom that works exactly contrary to the workings of Man. Yahshua is therefore re-establishing Torah & not diminishing it through his approach as we see in what is often called the Beatitudes or sayings of Yahshua:
What is of importance however was that much of these sayings were ascribed to the School of Hillel and Pharisees aligned with them who were poor and strived for right-ruling and mercy, Elder Hillel being a fine example of meekness and humbleness! It is also thought that likewise the thoughts in MattithYahu (Matthew) 23 of Yahshua were directed to the Zealots or the extreme ones of the School of Shammai who were great debaters but lacked humility. They would argue extensively over a minute matters while ignoring the bigger picture.
Yahshua in challenging his followers cuts deep with these extreme words:
MattithYahu 5:20 For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of the Shamayim (Heavens)
Since the Scribes & Pharisees had Piety down to an art form the followers of Yahshua must have been in shock. How about us? How do we see ourselves on the Righteousness scale? Though many of these outwardly looked Pious Yahshua of course saw their Hypocrisy and gave some mighty scathing attacks to shock them back to reality. Maybe it is time for us to consider whether we may have inherited some of the Hypocrisy of the scribes & Pharisees as well?
Shades of Mount Sinai
Just as we imagine Yisrael coming before Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah certainly Mattityahu "Mathew" was calling his readers to be reminded of the Torah being given from Mt Sinai through Mosheh when he notes that Yahshua "went up on a mountain ... and began teaching" his disciples.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:1,2 But when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain. And when He was seated His taught ones came to Him. And having opened His mouth, He was teaching them, saying...
We can surmise this, because the teaching that follows is an elaboration of the meaning and correct interpretation of those Instructions given at Sinai.
In his teaching Yahshua is in fact giving the best interpretation of the walk of Faith in terms of obedience to the Torah. True obedience to the Torah does not begin with outward observance and Yahshua is making that quite clear. It begins in the heart and so MattitYahu (Matthew) chooses to list the blessing of a person who has received the Kingdom in his heart and how that is revealed. Therefore true obedience to Torah begins in the heart and then is revealed outwardly. To understand what the blessings of the Kingdom are we need to address them as found in MattitYahu (Matthew) 5:3-10.
MattithYahu (Matthew) 5: 3-10
- Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
The prophetic utterance which Yahshua is referring when he speaks of the "poor in Spirit" is most likely a reference to the following:
YeshiYahu (Isaiah) 66: 2 "Yet to such a one I look: on him who is poor and bruised of spirit, and who trembles at My Word" (The Scriptures)
The favour of YHWH rests upon those who are "poor in Spirit." YeshiYahu explains very succinctly that those who are "poor and broken in spirit" are those who "tremble at My Word." The poor in spirit are those who honour Elohim and fear him reverently and obey his Torah.
- Blessed are you who Mourn
Yahshua has in mind a more specific mourning. It is a severe weeping over sin, one’s own, one’s Nation and especially over Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).
The prophet Yechezqel (Ezekiel) was shown a vision in which those who weep and mourn over Yerushalayim are given a mark and become the only ones who are protected from the judgment of YHWH:
Yechezqel [Ezekiel] 9:3- 4
Then the splendour of the Elohim of Yisrael went up from the cherub where it had rested to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen who had the writing kit at his side. Yahweh said to him, "Go through the city of Yerushalayim and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who moan and groan over all the abominations practiced in it." While I listened, he said to the others, "Go through the city after him and strike people down; you must neither show pity nor spare anyone! Old men, young men, young women, little children, and women--wipe them out! But do not touch anyone who has the mark! Begin at my sanctuary!" So they began with the elders who were at the front of the temple.
Those who mourn and weep over Yerushalayim are those who truly love Yahweh and desire Messiah's coming to restore right living. Thus, those who weep (over Yerushalayim and over unrighteousness) are blessed because Yahweh has promised to restore Yerushalayim to its former glory when he comes to rule and reign over all the earth from Yerushalayim. Those who were weeping over her will be rejoicing with Messiah in his reign.
- Blessed are the Meek:
Yahshua speaks to those who are objects of injustice, but who nonetheless, serve YHWH faithfully. The meek are those who suffer insult or personal injury because of their faithfulness to YHWH and his commandments. They are "meek" because they tolerate the injustices of wicked men and suffer financially and sometimes physically because they walk in the commandments of the Scriptures. The Psalmist notes this:
But the oppressed will possess the land and enjoy great prosperity (Psalm 37:11).
- Blessed are those who Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness:
Those who "hunger" really are blessed because they seek to know YHWH and to understand his Word. And those who seek YHWH’s Word will be filled and satisfied because the Spirit will give them understanding.
- Blessed are the Compassionate:
The "mercy" he is talking about here is at the very heart of the Torah. It is this loving, caring mercy that all followers of Messiah should have in taking care of the needy. The orphans and widows are the needy ones who should be the primary object of rachamim, compassion.
- Blessed are the Pure of Heart
The one with a pure or clean heart is he who honours Yahweh by fidelity or trustworthiness to his Covenant and who obeys his commandments. David, in his time of repentance, longed for the blessedness of having a clean heart:
Create for me a clean heart! O Elohim and renew a steadfast spirit in me.
The point of this teaching is to understand that the Kingdom of YHWH is firstly established in the heart and revealed by the previous Characteristics that produce Torah obedience and if they are not manifest as seen through the false Religious Elite that Yahshua rebuked then the heart is far from him though all the garb of Piety exists outwardly.
Just as Yahshua challenged his followers to examine their hearts so we also need to nurture these characteristics of the Kingdom since Yahshua says that they will bring happiness and if we exhibit these the body of Messiah and especially the Netzarim Community will be greatly blessed without so much of the contention that often exists concerning disagreements on small matters and the pride that so often divides.
Even within the words of Yahshua is a great revelation of the Fathers heart who delights in Mercy, who comforts those who mourn, who satisfies those who hunger for Righteousness. It is the Father that brings his presence through his Spirit to bless the humble so as we draw upon these words of Yahshua we are drawing nearer to our heavenly Father and to all he desires for us.