The SERMON on the MOUNT
Roy B. Blizzard, PhD
Salt and light, tzedakah, destroy-fulfill, courts (bet din, Sanhedrin), reika (raca), relationship with God and man, swearing, prayer.)
What was it that Jesus taught to his people? What is the focus of his teaching? On what subject does he dwell more than on any other? Does he, in fact, come to teach us how to worship God? Does he come to start a new religious movement?
He didn't come to start a "church." He wasn't the founder of "The Christian church." Nor did he operate outside of the mainstream of the Judaism of his day. What was it he, as the one who called himself the "Son of man," taught his people?
Jesus said you are the salt of the earth. You are the ones who are the preservative of the people of this earth. But if the salt has lost its ability to preserve, then it's good for nothing but to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. Then he amplifies that: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify" God. Now, what does that mean? That I go to regular worship services and that I offer up lengthy prayers, that I know how to pray better than anyone else in the congregation, or that I know how to sing or to praise God, and I'm always there whenever the congregation comes together and I faithfully tithe?
"That they may see your good works." Notice how Jesus is emphasizing action. He is the one who initiates this principle upon which biblical faith is going to be built when he says, "Suffer it (or permit it) to be so, for thus it behooves us to fulfill all tzedakah." This tzedakah, which doesn't mean holiness, had to do with one's anointing to judge, to administer justice, to administer truth, to bring deliverance, to bring healing or salvation. In all of this, Jesus says, Permit this, because it is incumbent upon us that we go the whole way to fill or to complete tzedakah, a word which we could probably never find enough words in English to correctly translate.
And immediately, as he comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and Jesus is presented by God to the world, when God says, "This is my beloved Son, my anointed, on whom I place my Spirit to reveal truth. Obey him!" Now, he is instructing us, telling us what it means to be ruled by God, what it means to be one who manifests the rule of God in our life through action, and those people are known as the Kingdom. Those are the ones who are a part of Jesus' movement. And all of the way through, we note that the emphasis is upon what those who comprise the Kingdom are doing.
"Let your light so shine among men." How do I let my light shine? Light dispels darkness. Light can be manifested in practical ways in many different forms of action. I might dispel darkness by feeding someone who is hungry. I might dispel darkness by clothing someone who is naked. I might dispel darkness by ministering to someone's emotional needs. You see how practical all of this becomes.
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till Heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until all be fulfilled. And whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." Notice that they must do as well as teach them.
What is the law he's talking about? The Torah, the first five books of the bible. There are 613 laws in Torah -- "thou shalt" indicates a positive commandment, and "thou shalt not" indicates a negative commandment. Jesus says that he so respects the law that not one jot or one tittle shall pass until it is all fulfilled. The Hebrew doesn't say a jot or a tittle, and those don't mean anything to us in English. In Hebrew it says, "Lo ta'avor (there will not pass) yod echat o kotz echad min HaTorah ad asher ye'aseh hakol." Yod is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And the scribes had a practice of decorating some of the letters with little decorative marks. Some of these marks kind of looked like a little chicken track. They had absolutely no meaning. They weren't there for any reason except that they liked to do it. It was artistic, didn't change the meaning, didn't help anything. But Jesus' regard for the law was so high that not one of the tiniest letters or even the decorative marks on top of the letters were going to pass until it had all been established.
How do you destroy the law? By misinterpreting it. How do you fulfill? By correctly interpreting it. So he said that his purpose in coming is to give us by example a correct interpretation of the law. Whoever teaches men such that they misinterpret or misapply will be the least in the Kingdom; but whoever shall do and teach them will be great in the Kingdom.
Then he says that, "Unless your righteousness exceed that righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will in no wise enter into the Kingdom." Here again we have the word tzedakah. Remember that for Jesus, Kingdom are those who are ruled by God, who are demonstrating his rule in their lives in action. He sees that as a movement in a unique way gathered around him, with himself at the heart and center. Does "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" mean you must be more holy? We impute righteousness with holiness, and we think that righteous means holy. Well, in this context, righteousness doesn't have anything to do with holiness as we think of holiness. There are those who like to think of themselves as "holiness" people. Charismatics and Pentecostals have historically thought of themselves as being "holiness" people. Well, I hate to tell you this, but in Hebrew a thing, a person, a place cannot be holy. Only God is holy. Holiness is an attribute that belongs uniquely to God, and the only reason that a person, place, or thing could ever be deemed to be holy would be if God were there. Only as he is in us, we become what he is. When Jesus talks about tzedakah, he's talking about rightness in action or performance. He says that unless your doing the law exceeds that of what the Scribes and Pharisees are doing, you're not going to be part of his movement, a part of the Kingdom.
That poses the question, what are the Scribes and Pharisees doing? We'll see that as we continue in our study.
Matt. 5:21-22. Jesus is quoting from the law. "Thou shalt not kill" is actually not a correct interpretation. This is important because a lot of people have taken this passage and others akin to it and developed, for the Christian, a theology of pacifism, which is completely contrary to biblical faith, but because it says thou shalt not kill, a lot of people carry it to the extreme. They won't even step on a bug or swat a fly. But the Hebrew doesn't say, "thou shalt not kill." What it says is, "Lo tirtzach." Thou shalt not commit retzach. Retzach means premeditated murder. It doesn't even mean justifiable homicide. The word for justifiable homicide is harag. Retzach is never used relating to someone killed in battle or in an accident or one taking another's life in defense of his own, his person, his property. Harag is always used for these. We need to make sure, before we progress any further in our study, that we understand what was written in the Ten Commandments was, "thou shalt not commit premeditated murder." This has tremendous implications, as we've mentioned previously, because God expects the individual to protect not only his own person and property, but that of his family as well. Anyone who refuses to do so is, according to Jewish law, worse than a pagan.
Jesus goes ahead and says, I'm going to tell you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (of the bet din, or the house of judgment). Every congregation had its own congregational court. That court could judge certain matters. Remember on one occasion Jesus says to his disciples, you're going to be taken before the assembly and be beaten. Who gave them the authority to do that? On another occasion, Paul says, don't you know that you are supposed to judge these matters; don't take these matters to the pagan courts. From that, we've gotten the idea that we're not supposed to take anybody to court. We're not supposed to sue a brother. We're not supposed to enter any kind of legal litigation. Well, that would be true if our congregations were organized and administered correctly biblically, but they're not. We don't have congregational courts. We don't have men who are qualified to sit on congregational courts. And even if we had men who were qualified and knew enough about the law to pronounce judgment, no one in the congregation is mature enough to pay attention to them anyway. So all of this has no meaning for us today because we just don't do those things any more. If you have to sue, sue. If you have to go to court, go ahead. Because this passage doesn't have any practical meaning or practical application for us today. In the ideal sense, if we were properly organized, there should never have to be any reason for us to go to court, but, things being the way the are -- everybody suing everybody over anything anymore -- if you have to go into litigation, it's just one of those things.
Back then, it would be brought before the congregational court. But if it was a grave matter, there were certain courts of a very highly developed legal system, just as we have, from the lower courts to the higher courts to the supreme court, and each court could judge certain matters.
One being angry with his brother was a transgression that could be judged by the lower court, the congregational court, the bet din.
Jesus next says, "Whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Reika,' shall be liable to the council (Sanhedrin)." Reik  means empty, and calling someone "reika" is like calling him empty-headed, or incompetent, incapable of making a correct decision. He's the kind of person with whom you don't want to enter into any kind of business dealing. He can't be trusted. He is so stupid that he doesn't have sense to pound sand into a rat hole.
When we talk about somebody this way, it is basically slander or libel. Slander and libel were severe enough transgressions that they were judged by the Sanhedrin, not by the congregational court.
Then Jesus says, "But if anyone says of his brother, 'you fool,' he shall be liable for the fires of Gehinnom," a word that is used figuratively for the final abode of the wicked, usually translated into English as Hell. Gehinnom means the valley of Hinnom, which is on the west side of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. So when he speaks of Gehinnom, they think of a specific place. According to tradition, it was a dump where fire burned continually, and all of the garbage from the city was dumped there. It would conjure up thoughts of a terrible place of fire where no one would want to go.
We translate the Hebrew word naval into English as "fool," but that doesn't mean a whole lot. A lot of us are fools, a lot of us are foolish, and a lot of the stuff we do is foolish. If you don't believe it, watch Christian television. We tend to think of a fool as somebody that's silly. Maybe a dunce or a clown. But in Hebrew, "fool" carried a much more negative connotation.
Psalm 53:1: "The naval has said in his heart, there is no God. Corrupt and evil are they and doing abominable iniquity. There is none who does good. Everyone is gone back, backslidden, fallen away. They are altogether filthy and corrupt."
In other words, this person has turned from God, is totally corrupt and stands in danger of eternal punishment.
Every Man's Talmud by Cohen and published by Schocken Books is an anthology of Mishnaic and Talmud literature, the oral law. It tells a little from the oral law about various doctrines of biblical faith. On page 3, we read, "Whether atheism, in the sense of the dogmatic denial of God's existence, was accepted by anybody in biblical and rabbinic times is doubtful." In other words, back then, there wasn't any such thing as an atheist. The people all believed in some kind of a god. It's only as we've grown more intelligent and more wise that we've come to realize that all that we see around us just happened by chance. "But in both the Bible and the Talmud, the concern was with the practical atheist who conducted his life as though he would never be held to account for his deeds. In biblical literature, the statement 'There is no God is made by the naval, i.e., the morally corrupt person who, while acknowledging the existence of a Creator, refused to believe that He was at all interested in the actions of His creatures. His counterpart in the Talmud is the Apikoros, or Epicurean, who likewise 'denies the fundamental principle of religion (B.B. 16B) by his abominable conduct." So here is a person who is morally corrupt and who, because of his abominable conduct, is cut off from God.
When we say of a brother, this guy is morally corrupt, he is an abomination to God, and he's lost, we assume a place of judgment that belongs only to God, because only God knows a man's heart. We may be able to see actions, we may be able to hear words, but we can't look inside and know a man's heart. It ill behooves us to speak ill of others in that manner when we say that person's not saved, or that person is so corrupt that God doesn't care about him, or that person is of such little worth that God is not concerned with him. When we assume that kind of position, we have assumed a position that belongs only to God, usurped the place and position of God. When we do that, we stand in danger of eternal punishment.
You see the ascending order of severity. If you're angry with your brother without a cause, you'll be judged by the congregational court. If you libel or slander your brother, you'll be liable for judgment before the Sanhedrin. But if you cast away your brother because of his actions, and say he's lost or he's damned, then you stand in danger of judgment yourself because you've assumed the position that belongs only to God.
Jesus goes on and says, Therefore, if you bring any kind of offering to the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, that there's some kind of disharmony and discord between brothers, then you leave your gift on the altar and go and be reconciled unto your brother, and then come and offer your gift, because, if you're not in fellowship with your brother, you're also not in fellowship with God, and God's not going to accept your offer.
Now, that ought to tell us something about priorities, about how God views relationships. Do you remember what I said back at the beginning? We're going to try to see, in looking at the words of Jesus, exactly where he's placing the emphasis. Does he come and tell us much of anything at all about God? Does he tell us about the nature of God? About how we ought to understand God? And if we just knew this about God and who God is and where God is, and what he's like? If he was God, he ought to have known all of those things. Not only that, but he ought to have had the ability to communicate it in words that we can understand! If he had wanted us to know very much about God! Or if he had wanted us to know very much about how to pray! Or how to praise or the songs to sing! He ought to have been able way back then to get rid of all of our song books, because that's immature. Get an overhead projector and start using scripture songs, and stand up for forty-five minutes, if you really want to be spiritual. See, he should have known all of that.
But, you know, he didn't say a thing about it. Do you realize that? Nothing! What he did talk about in very practical ways is the relationship of man to his fellow man. Notice as we continue in our study that Jesus almost never said anything about vertical relationships; that is, about man's relationship with God. He was always talking about horizontal relationships -- man's relationship to his fellow man.
He said that if you come to bring any kind of an offering to the altar and you're out of fellowship with your fellow man, you might as well forget it, because it will be meaningless.
All of this ought to have some kind of practical application for us. It's pretty tough stuff, but the bottom line is, it ought to begin to speak to us about responsibility.
Matt. 5:33 says, "Again, you've heard that it has been said by them of old time, 'You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths'" (See Deut, 23:21-22). So if you say you're going to do something and you don't do it, you're going to be held accountable. But if you don't make the vow in the first place, then you'll not be held accountable. So Jesus says the smart thing to do is not swear -- at all. That is, don't take any kind of an oath or vow or commitment, "Neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne, nor by earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black; but let your communication be yea, yea, and nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil."
A lot of times in this country with our Western mentality, we'll take some kind of a vow or swear some kind of an oath -- Oh, I swear that that's the truth! -- but in the Middle East it gets real colorful. I remember one time I was in the Old City at the store of an antiquities dealer that I know and I was buying a whole bunch of coins from him, three or four hundred of them. I was bargaining with him and he wanted something like four or five dollars a coin and I had offered him fifty cents. Now we were trying to find some meeting ground in between and he kept going on about how much these coins had cost him. He said, "But these coins cost me more than that!" I said, "Hey, wait a minute. Don't be telling me that. I'm an archeologist. I know how much these coins cost. I know the quality of coins. I know the value of them. And I know that they didn't cost you that much." He said, "Oh, but I swear by the eyes of my children. If I'm not telling the truth, that God would come down and pluck the eyes from my head!" and on and on. It got real colorful for a while. I tell you what -- if God had paid any attention to him, that guy would have had a whole family of blind kids, because I wound up buying the coins from him for the price that I'd offered hm in the first place. And I know that he wasn't going to lose money.
Jesus is speaking of that kind of thing when he says don't be swearing by this or that, and don't make a commitment that you know you're not going to do. Just let your conversation be yea, yea, and nay, nay. And there is something in this that completely escapes us if we don't understand this principle of tzedakah. All of this that Jesus is saying is very rabbinic.
You might be surprised to learn that in certain branches of the military, when they take their oath in the army, they respond by saying, "Hen tzadik." "A righteous or just or true yea." It's difficult to translate into English. It's actually not an oath in the sense that we think of an oath, but it goes beyond that. My yes is a righteous yes.
In the Ruth Rabbah, chapter 3, verse 4, it says of the tzadikim that their conversation is "Hen, hen, and lo, lo." In the Talmud in Baba Metziah 49a, it says, "See to it that your yea is tzadik," that it is a righteous tzadik. In other words, don't say yes when you know that you're not going to perform it. Don't make a vow and then not keep it.
The bottom line is, be a man or a woman of your word! Perform what you say. If you say you're going to do it, do it. Don't make any kind of commitment that you know that you're incapable of doing, or that you have no intention of doing.
This gets back again to a whole ramification of human relationships, all of the way from the individual level to the way that we purchase things to contracts that we make for an automobile or a television or with a utility company. Perform what you say! Be a tzadik, that your yea may be a righteous yea.
Matt. 5:7 – "And when you pray, do not use vain repetition, for they think that they are going to be heard for their much speaking. Do not be like them, because your father knows what you need before you even ask Him.”
Remember what I had to say about Jesus' teachings relative to how we should worship? Here he's basically telling us, don't pray so much. Don't be wasting so much time praying, because much of your prayer is just whining anyway. You're either whining or begging for something. "I want this and I want that and I claim this and I claim that, and if I'll just confess, if I just stand on the word -- I'm going to get this picture and put it up on the refrigerator for this new airplane and every time I pass it, I'm going to confess and believe that that airplane's mine. I'm going out and lay hands on that Cadillac."
Much of our praying is vain praying. We have no real spiritual depth. I'm not going to go into that because I've got a little book out on the subject of prayer, praise, and worship from a Hebrew perspective called Let Judah Go Up First. Suffice to say that there were several categories of prayer -- petition, thanksgiving (interestingly, in Hebrew, the only prayers that would last for eternity are prayers of thanksgiving; all other prayers would simply pass away). In Judaism, the highest form of prayer or praise was silence. "Let all the earth keep silent before the Lord God."
The Hebrew idea relative to prayer is that one should arise early enough in the morning to spend at least one hour in silence. Not prayer. Because they say you can't hear God speaking to you when your mouth is moving. So if you want to hear God, the best thing to do is shut up. Be quiet. Sit down and listen! If you want to pray, it's best to say, "Our Father that inhabits the heavenlies, holy is Your Name." Now, we go on and say, "they Kingdom come," and we think that means let Your Kingdom come down from Heaven. Sometime Your Kingdom is going to come down from Heaven. And that's not what it means at all. It means, let Your Kingdom GO! Let Your Kingdom be spread abroad and over all the earth that Your will may be constantly in the process of being done here on earth just as You would have it done in Heaven! Just provide for us enough to sustain us day by day. Keep us from temptation. Deliver us from the evil one. That's it!
Let Your kingdom go. Let it be spread abroad. Let the rule and the reign of God in the hearts and lives of men be spread all over the world. And let Your will be being done on earth as it is in Heaven.
The question is, what is the will of God? What is it that God would have us to do?
Well, probably not much of what we've been doing.
Yavo, Inc Prayer Partner tape, June 1991
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To Beit HaDerekh (House of the Way)
Posted 1 July 2006
10 February 2020