(Mat 23:1 NASB) Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,
Mat 23:1: This next passage is one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament.
(Mat 23:2 NASB) saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;
(Mat 23:3 NASB) therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them.
Mat 23:3: Christianity has struggled with the answer to this passage. Is Yeshua saying the opposite of what He has been saying all along? Is He now saying to obey what the Pharisees say and follow their traditions even though their actions are wrong?
One good answer is to look in the Shem Tov. That translation states these two verses this way: “Upon the seat of Moses the Pharisees and sages sit. Now all which (they) say to you keep and do; but (according to) their ordinances and deeds do not do because they say and do not.”
That is a very good answer to this dilemma. And the Shem Tov may very well be correct in this translation. But keep in mind that we cannot date the Shem Tov earlier than the 14th century with any certainty.
The best answer may require that we look into exactly what is being said. Yeshua says the scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Christianity claims that this means they give out Torah and laws and teach them to others. That is not exactly what is meant by this phrase.
“Sitting in the chair of Moses” implies that they are the judges. Moses father-in-law told Moses not to judge between all the disputes of the people himself, but to appoint others to handle the small matters. Then they were to bring the greater decisions of guilt and innocence to Moses (Ex. 18:14-26). This was implemented later (Deut. 1:13-17). This duty of the seat of Moses was taken over by the Levites (Deut. 17:8-11).
Therefore, the “chair of Moses” is the seat of judgment in the case of disputes or difficult judgments, not one where laws were newly devised and taught. Therefore, Yeshua is saying that they are declaring who is guilty and who is innocent and the people MUST listen to them. This is according to Torah (Deut. 17:12-13). He says to listen, and follow their judgments of innocence and guilt, but do not do the things they do.
In making this declaration, Yeshua is setting up Himself for His own death.
(Mat 23:4 NASB) “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
Mat 23:4: Yeshua says the scribes and the Pharisees tie up heavy loads on men’s shoulders for them to carry. The heavy load they pressed upon others is their traditions and additions to Torah.
Yeshua already mentioned that those who are carrying the heavy loads of the Pharisees should come to Him and He will give you rest (Matt. 11:28-30). When He says “you shall find rest for your souls, this is a quote from Jeremiah 6:16 which is a reference to following Torah (the ancient paths).
The load we should be carrying is the light burden of His Father’s Torah. The load of Torah is not heavy or burdensome (1 John 5:2-3). If we are His, then Torah is more valuable than gold. How can something so precious and valuable be a burden? (Psalm 19:7-11, 119:45-48).
(Mat 23:5 NASB) “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments.
Mat 23:5: The Pharisees only cared for the outward signs of Torah that they considered flashy and ostentatious. They wore very long tassels that everyone could see. They made up things called “phylacteries” that they pretentiously wore. A phylactery was a box that contains some Torah writing that they wore around their forehead or around their left arm near their heart.
These things were the extent of Torah obedience by the Scribes and Pharisees as far as Yeshua was concerned.
(Mat 23:6 NASB) “And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
Mat 23:6: The deeds of the Pharisees are not to be followed. Yeshua has been teaching them that “the first shall be last and the last first.” This is in reference to the deeds and works of Pharisees. They always desire and insist on being first. Yeshua said that the tax-gatherers and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom before them.
(Mat 23:7 NASB) and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.
Mat 23:7: The Pharisees and Scribes loved the places of honor that their self-made position granted them. They always had the best seats at banquets, gatherings, and naturally, in the synagogue.
(Mat 23:8 NASB) “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
Mat 23:8: Rabbi means “teacher.” Do not call any man your teacher because only the Spirit of Elohim is our teacher. We do not understand nor care about His Word unless His Spirit is in our hearts and minds.
(Mat 23:9 NASB) “And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
Mat 23:9: Yeshua used the term “Abba” for father which is a very familiar and endearing term that is similar to our word “Dad” or “Papa.” He says that our only true father is the One who created us.
(Mat 23:10 NASB) “And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
(Mat 23:11 NASB) “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
(Mat 23:12 NASB) “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Mat 23:12: Messiah is our leader. We do not lead each other.
The greatest among us shall be your servant. Our job is not to be exalted. We are to be humble. This principle is well-grounded in the Tanakh (Psalm 138:6, Prov. 15:33, 16:18-19, 29:23, Isaiah 57:15).
(Mat 23:13 NASB) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
Mat 23:13: The Pharisees and Scribes shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from men. They will not enter and many others will not enter because of their teaching against the Torah and true ways of Yahweh.
(Mat 23:14 NASB) <“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.>
Mat 23:14: This verse was not likely in the original manuscripts, so not much in the way of doctrine or fact should be drawn from in this passage alone. However, words very similar to these are included in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. Therefore, while this verse probably should not be included in this part of Matthew, they are valid words and principles in Scripture.
For what will they receive the greater condemnation? They are hypocrites. They devour widow’s houses. This is probably a reference to collecting mortgages and taking over their houses when the payments cannot be met. This extends to all in the assembly. For a widow to suffer poverty, hunger, or homelessness cannot be allowed. Elohim says widows among us are taken advantage of, He will kill us with the sword (Ex. 22:22-24). Job knew Torah very well and he knew the importance of caring for the widow and orphan (Job 31:16-23).
(Mat 23:15 NASB) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Mat 23:15: The converts to Pharisaic Judaism were more evil and more set against Torah than the ones who had taught them. They taught that their traditions should be followed rather than following the will of the Father (Torah). The teaching of man is treacherously evil.
(Mat 23:16 NASB) “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’
(Mat 23:17 NASB) “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?
(Mat 23:18 NASB) “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’
(Mat 23:19 NASB) “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?
Mat 23:19: The Pharisees encouraged the people to swear by the gold of the Temple and by the offerings of the altar, while ignoring those things (the Temple and the altar) which sanctify (set apart) those things. They gave more importance to the gold and offerings than to the things of Elohim.
Notice the reverence and importance that Yeshua places on the Temple and on the altar.
(Mat 23:20 NASB) “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.
(Mat 23:21 NASB) “And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.
(Mat 23:22 NASB) “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
Mat 23:22: The Pharisees had their followers swear by various things in order to prove their sincerity. But vows should not be made by things that do not belong to us. If a vow is made, it is to be made to Elohim. We cannot swear by heaven, earth, or anything in it because they are not ours (Matt. 5:34-37).
(Mat 23:23 NASB) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
Mat 23:23: Yeshua informs us that the weightier matters of Torah are justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The Pharisees ignored these facts.
These facts are totally ignored and trampled on by Christianity also. They look at Torah as a burdensome load, a wrongful path to hell, and the way to lose your salvation. Little do they realize that Torah is the precise opposite of all those things.
Yeshua says that they are to focus on the weightier matters of Torah without neglecting the other smaller matters….
(Mat 23:24 NASB) “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Mat 23:24: The Pharisees were careful in straining their wine that not one unclean gnat was in it. And Yeshua sarcastically points out that they are swallowing unclean camels at the same time.
He doesn’t call them teachers or Rabbis. He calls them “blind guides.”
(Mat 23:25 NASB) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
(Mat 23:26 NASB) “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
Mat 23:26: The Pharisees were concerned only with the outward appearances of following Torah. They were not interested in having a clean heart free of sin before Elohim (Isa. 55:7, Jer. 4:14, Ezek. 18:31-32).
(Mat 23:27 NASB) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
(Mat 23:28 NASB) “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Mat 23:28: I have heard many pastors and preachers try to tell me that the Pharisees were too focused on Torah and that was their biggest failure. That is simply an ignorant and idiotic statement. The Pharisees and Scribes did not care about Torah. They were only concerned about outward appearances, but they were filled with lawlessness. Yeshua stated they were full of lawlessness.
One cannot be too concerned with righteousness.
(Mat 23:29 NASB) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
(Matt 23:30 NASB) and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
(Mat 23:31 NASB) “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
Mat 23:31: The Pharisees claimed that they had lived in the days of their fathers; they would not have helped them kill the prophets. In doing so, they were admitting that their fathers killed the prophets.
(Mat 23:32 NASB) “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers.
Mat 23:32: The Pharisees were unwittingly filling up the measure of the guilt of their fathers.
(Mat 23:33 NASB) “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?
Mat 23:33: Yeshua has some very unkind words for them. He says they cannot escape the judgment of hell.
(Mat 23:34 NASB) “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,
(Mat 23:35 NASB) that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
(Mat 23:36 NASB) “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
Mat 23:36: There is much debate as to whom Yeshua is speaking of when He mentions “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah.” Some say that He is referring to Zechariah, son of Jehoida (2 Chron. 24:20-22). This seems to fit the description of the event, but this guy had a different father.
Another possibility is that this is a description of Zechariah the prophet (Zech. 1:1). His father had the correct name, but we are told nothing of Zechariah’s death.
Another possibility is that Yeshua is speaking of someone else that possibly was killed recently. Both Zechariah and Berechiah are very common names.
Regardless, the guilt of the righteous blood of many is being placed upon the Pharisees.
(Mat 23:37 NASB) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
(Mat 23:38 NASB) “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!
(Mat 23:39 NASB) “For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'”
Mat 23:39: Yeshua displays grief over the fate of Jerusalem. He wanted to gather them under His wings, as spoken of in Scripture (Deut. 32:11-12, Ruth 2:12, Psalm 36:7). But in verse 38, He is saying that the Temple would be left desolate. That is exactly what happened in 70 AD.
They were unwilling to let Him gather them and set up His kingdom. With that being the case, He says that they will not see Him again until they say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh.” (Psalm 118:26). He is saying that when He comes, they will see Him as Messiah and Elohim (Isa. 40:9-11).