“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
(Matthew 23:16-24 ESV)
Yesterday Jesus began His seven “woes” (or condemnations) of false religion and its leaders. Jesus continues His harsh words today by providing two examples of the way these religions and leaders pervert God’s law, giving the pretense they were spiritual when they are not.
In His third “woe” Jesus calls these leaders blind guides, indicating that they were unaware of their ignorance. Earlier Jesus had called them the blind leading the blind. The guides’ mistaken example would be mimicked by their clueless followers causing both to end up in hell [Matthew 15:14].
One of the many erroneous examples of these leaders was their complicated system of making an oath with all kinds of loopholes that would allow them to evade their promises. Depending on what a person swore by (e.g. the temple vs. the gold in the temple or the altar vs. the gift on the altar) they wouldn’t need to keep their vow.
All these convoluted rules were meant simply to give men an “out” if they later decided the didn’t want to keep their promise. Even worse, these rules used holy things as accomplices in the unholy practice of lying.
The fourth “woe” proclaimed by Jesus on these religious leaders condemned them for punctiliousness towards insignificant matters while ignoring essential ones.
These men were more than willing to ensure that they tithed just the right amount of mint and dill and cumin, relatively uncommon herbs. But they neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
As we’ve seen, the scribes and Pharisees were unjust, unmerciful, and unforgiving towards others. These false religious leaders concentrated on the minutia of God’s law because it was easier for them to do things like count leaves and seeds than it was to show mercy towards their fellow human beings.
This is common of people who adhere to a religion. They are very interested in covering their own guilt but have less, if any, interest in the eternal security of the people in their lives. As such they concentrate on ceremonial trivialities, thinking they are pleasing God (they are not), while ignoring their own sins.
Religion often majors on minors, requiring fastidious adherence to insignificant details but neglecting things of great importance to God. In a reference that surely enticed a laugh from His audience, Jesus likened religious people to those who carefully ensure they don’t swallow one unclean animal (a gnat) but who swallow a larger one (a camel) [Leviticus 11:4, 42].
God calls on His people to do justice and to love mercy and humility [Micah 6:8]. These are the “weightier” aspects of God’s law. That is, they are more important, as Jesus just told us a few days ago [Matthew 34:40].
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.