Matthew 23:2
The Pharisees first appear under this name in Jewish history about the year B.C. 160. There had been Separatists, or Puritans, as far back as the Captivity, but it was alter the return to Palestine that events gave an impulse to the Separatist idea so strong as to consolidate what might otherwise have remained a tendency. The Jews had learned the value of commerce, and it was found impossible, in dealing with foreign merchants, to observe the minute regulations prescribed by the more zealous. The minority, who even pretended to this, were obliged to become Separatists, not only from the Gentiles, but from their own less scrupulous coreligionists. Hence their frequent connection with the scribes. There had always been scribes in Israel, men who could draw state or legal documents. But after the influence of Ezra had stimulated, if it had not created, a desire to know the Law, synagogues were to be found in every town. And a synagogue implied a copy of the Law and a person who could read it. The scribes therefore necessarily became a profession, with just such a curriculum for pupils and candidates as distinguish professions among ourselves. It was inevitable that they should acquire great influence among the people. For in their best days they were the guardians of the Law, and strove unceasingly to make it supreme over every act of every person. Not only did the scribe discharge all the functions of a modern lawyer, but he was appealed to in all circumstances where the application of the law might seem obscure. They were both the makers of the law and its administrators, and they did not scruple, sitting apart; from active life, to enforce on men engaged in it all the wire drawn and fantastic distinctions which their minds, imbecile with attention to the letter of the Law and with unpractical pedantry, could contrive. It was this inconsiderate exercise of their authority which provoked our Lord's rebuke. But burdensome as was the teaching of the scribes, two causes operated to make them the most popular members of the community.

1. To them was committed the key of the kingdom of heaven; they had power to bind and loose - they alone could give a man assurance that he had actually attained to the righteousness required by the Law.

2. The people were at one with them in their grand aim to give the Law absolute sway over the life of every Jew. The Pharisees who did live as the scribes enjoined, were in the eyes of the people the true Israel, the pattern Jews. The scribes and Pharisees, then, though not identical, were closely related, so closely that our Lord subjects them to one common rebuke. The Zealots, who repudiated any king but Jehovah, and refused to pay tribute to Caesar, were the natural result of Pharisaic teaching. And indeed the Pharisees did themselves refuse to swear allegiance to Herod. They may be looked on, therefore, as the national party. Their influence was not solely and throughout evil, for to them and to the scribes was due the knowledge of the Law to which our Lord so often appealed. But the grave defects of their teaching, and its ruinous influences on the religious character, are so distinctly enounced in the Gospels that they need not be dwelt on. The origin of the Sadducees explains their position in the state. It is generally agreed that they take their name from Zadok, who was elevated to the high priesthood by Solomon. It was the same line which inherited the office after the Exile, and through all the changes in the Hebrew state the high priests maintained great influence, and in our Lord's time we find them still sitting as presidents in the highest court, the Sanhedrin. Still, also, there were grouped round them the Sadducees! It was to this party that men of wealth, men in office, and men of pure priestly descent, attached themselves, although many of the priests leant more to the Pharisees. They lived in luxury, and their morality was not high. At the same time, whether from envy of the popularity of the Pharisees, or from common sense, they resisted the Pharisaic additions to the Law. Thus they refused to accept the doctrine of the resurrection, not being able to find it in the Books of Moses. They are rarely mentioned in the Gospels, because they were mostly in Jerusalem, and their ideas had found no acceptance with the people. From the leaven of Pharisaism, or ultra-legalism, three mischievous results follow.

1. The minute regulations which are extended to the whole of life leave no room for conscience to exercise itself, and accordingly it pines and dies.

2. Minute observances obtain a magnified importance.

3. The bare performance of the duty enjoined is reckoned everything, while the state of heart is overlooked. We shall escape the leaven of the Pharisee if we learn to pay more attention to the heart than to the conduct; if we have so true a delight in pleasing the Lord that we do not consider what men think of us. The leaven of the Sadducees is perhaps even more certainly fatal to true religion. The Pharisee has sincerity, though it is quite superficial; he has zeal, though misdirected; but the Sadducee has neither. He is all for this world, and, save to forward him in it, religion is an encumbrance. His heart is not gladdened with any loving thoughts of God, nor his spirit refreshed by fellowship with the unseen world. If we escape these influences we shall do what few have done. For all men are under the temptation either to make too much of the observances of religion or to make them a mere form. Worldliness deadens a man's spirit to spiritual impressions, and gradually saps his faith till he ceases to believe in anything but the palpable world with which he has now to do. On the other hand, if the leaven of the Pharisee prevails to the extent of making us fear God more than we love him, and do by constraint what we ought to do because we delight in it, we are in as unwholesome a state as the Sadducee we reprobate. - D.







Whosoever shall swear by the Temple, it is nothing.
Are there any before me who are accustomed to use God's name as an expletive, and to bandy it as a byword? Who employ it in all kinds of conversation, and throw it about in every place? Perhaps in their hearts they consider this an accomplishment! think it manly and brave to swear! Let me say, then, that profaneness is a brutal vice. He who indulges in it is no gentleman. I care not what his stamp ,nay be in society. I care not what clothes be wears, or what culture he boasts. Despite all his refinement, the light and habitual taking of God's name betrays a coarse nature and a brutal will. Nay, he tacitly admits that it is ungentlemanly, for he restrains his oaths in the presence of ladies; and he who fears not to rush into the chancery of heaven and swear by the Majesty there, is decently observant in the drawing-room and the parlour.

(E. H. Chopin, D. D.)

If there are hypocrites in religion, there are also, strange as it may appear, hypocrites in impiety — men who make an ostentation of more irreligion than they possess. An ostentation of this nature, the most irrational in the records of human folly, seems to lie at the root of profane swearing.

(R. Hall.)

He that sweareth by any person, or thing, doth two things.

1. He attributeth to the thing, or person, by which he sweareth, a knowledge of the heart and the secret intention.

2. He calleth upon the person, or thing, by which he sweareth, to be his judge, or to take a revenge upon him, in case lie doth not believe in his heart what he affirmeth or denieth with his words to be true or false; otherwise an oath is no security at all. From whence appeareth that it is unreasonable for any to swear by any other than God, who alone can have a knowledge of the truth and security of the heart; and that he who sweareth by any creature committeth idolatry in his heart, and indeed blasphemeth playing Divine homage to a creature, and attributing to the creature what belongs only to the Creator.

(M. Pool.)

The one altar which sanctifieth the gift is the person and merit of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ANTITYPE OF THIS BRAZEN ALTAR (Exodus 27.).

1. The altar typifies our Lord if we consider the use of it. To sanctify that which was put upon it, and to sustain it while the fire was consuming it. Our Lord lifts up our gifts towards heaven.

2. The place of the altar. You saw it the moment you entered the door of the tabernacle. The most prominent thought of the soul is Jesus as Mediator.

3. The form of the altar. It was foursquare; stability and endurance.

4. The materials of which the altar was made. Shittim wood, overlaid with brass; the former represents the incorruptible human character of Jesus: the latter the endurance of Christ.

II. A QUESTION OR TWO.

1. Have you always taken care to keep to the one spiritual altar?

2. Are there not some among you who have been offering to God without an altar at all? You have not respect to the Mediator in your life, and prayers, and acts.

3. Whether we have not often forgotten to attach the importance to the altar which we should have done. We must plead the merit of Christ.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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