Welcome to part three of the 2nd course of Red Bricks.
Read Matthew 5:21-26
Continuing on from Yeshua establishing His credibility and authority to teach from scripture, or God’s written word, He then turns His attention to the Oral Torah. Throughout the dialogues which Yeshua uses, He often starts a phrase with either ‘you have heard it said‘ – which refers to what is known as the Oral Torah , or ‘it is written‘, when referring to the written word of God.
The word Torah literally means instruction, so when we use the phrase Oral Torah, we are, in fact, referring to the instructions that weren’t written down. God gave the Law to Moses and He wrote it down and read it to the people. However, over the years that had passed since Moses, various teachers of Torah had voiced their own interpretations of what the law actually meant in practice. Throughout Yeshua’s ministry He referred to this unofficial law when He challenged the teachers of the law, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, or when He was teaching ordinary people what Torah really meant.
The teachers of Torah had made following the Law almost impossible by adding their own twists to it. To the everyday people of Judea, their Oral Torah was unattainable, and therefore a burden. Yeshua came to free them from that burden and show them what was really meant by the Law. He came to teach people how to live by the Spirit of the Law, rather than the religious letter of the law.
There was nothing wrong with the Law when God gave it to Moses. It was written down for the benefit of the people, but it was allowed to become a burden. The teachers of the Law suggested to the people that righteousness could only be achieved by following the Law. Yeshua came to show everyone what God had really meant.
In verse 21 you will note the start of a pattern that you find often in Yeshua’s teaching. That is the statement followed by His response to the statement. In this first verse Yeshua quotes directly from Torah (the Ten Commandments, as it goes), saying ‘Do not murder‘. But then He adds in what the Oral Torah says, ‘anyone who murders will be subject to judgement‘. It is true that the written law placed the consequent of judgement for anyone who murdered someone, but whilst the Oral Torah condemned all, the written Torah, allowed for Cities of Refuge where someone who had accidentally killed someone could run to for refuge until the case against that person could be judged. The Oral Torah didn’t have that provision for possible mercy. If you killed someone, you would be stoned to death without a trial, there and then, on the evidence of just two witnesses.
It is clear that God doesn’t tolerate murder, but His Spirit in the writing of the Law, allowed for the possibility of it being an accident or unintentional. Oral Torah followed the exact letter of the law that basically said murder must be punished, regardless of the circumstances.
And, in order to empathize that Torah wasn’t about the letter of the law, Yeshua continues to say that even being angry with your brother will bring the same judgement on you, as if you had committed murder. Yeshua was saying that murder, like other sins, begins in the heart. It is the heart that God judges, and not what we appear to do outwardly. Yeshua then adds extra emphasis to the idea of murder and hatred beginning in our hearts by saying that you could call someone you know ‘Raca‘ and you will end up in front of the teachers of the Law for punishment, but God will challenge you if in your heart you call anyone a fool. Here Yeshua was also making a mockery of the Oral Torah because whilst saying ‘Raca’ was an offence, to say, ‘fool’ wasn’t.
Yeshua makes it clear that if you harbour in your heart this kind of judgement over another person, you could find yourself in danger of the very fires of hell. He continues by way of example. Under Torah, both Oral and Written, calling someone such as Raca meant that you should offer an offering as a way of showing God that you understood not to do this. Yeshua is saying in verses 23 and 24, that there is absolutely no point in going to the Temple and offering a sacrifice if you still haven’t resolved the issue with the other person in your heart. In the context of what He was talking about back then in the first century AD, He was telling people that religious and ritualistic acts of sacrifices are totally pointless, if your heart isn’t right. Today, He might well say that there is no point in offering a sacrifice or any kind of worship, if you have any animosity in your heart for anyone.
Yeshua is clearly still speaking on this subject today, because it has just as much gravity now, as it did back then. We simply can’t afford to expect to come before God with prayers and worship if we harbour any ill-feeling towards anyone at all. This is tough, but essential to learn as soon as you can. If there is anyone at all to whom you have anything against, then now is the time to sort it. You may not be able to deal with it face to face and you might not be physically able to be reconciled to that person or persons, but Yeshua is telling you , right now, in your heart you must forgive them.
Yeshua concludes the section on dealing with anger towards others by starting to show how you deal with your enemies. Until now, He had used the word brother to show that He is talking about someone you should really be caring towards. In verse 25 to 26, He starts to deal with how we, as followers of Christ, should handle situations with those who are against us. He says if there is any way possible to resolve a matter with an adversary before it goes to court to do so quickly. These are tough verses. But, if you choose to follow Yeshua, then life is going to be tough. Whether you don’t like it or agree with it, Yeshua is telling all who would follow Him that we must treat both those we love and our enemies exactly the same. We must always seek to resolve whatever issues we have, regardless of fault or liability.
Often, it can take time to forgive those who have hurt you. You might have to ask God several times a day to forgive you for hating them or being mad at them. He always will. But, after a while the pain will be less and less as you give the situation to Him. He will resolve it in your heart first. Whilst reconciliation doesn’t always happen, Yeshua instructs us that if we want to walk with Him, then we must forgive in our hearts first. The Spirit of the Law is all about mercy. He has shown us great mercy. All He asks in return is for us to show mercy to others. It will never be an outward act that will forgive others. It will always take place in the heart first.