"Teachings of Messiah" Series
Freedom in Messiah
"The Truth Shall Set You Free"
By David M Rogers
Published: April 2012
Table of Contents
There is a longing in every human heart for freedom. The history of the human family is one of abuses leading to slavery brought on by the sins of greed and selfishness. People with wealth and power are consumed in their greed to pile on even greater wealth and influence over others. And the way this gets accomplished for them is through enslavement of the masses in one form or another. Most people are yearning to be free from the shackles of human bondage and suffering.
But Messiah Yahusha had come to set people free. At the beginning of his ministry on earth, Yahusha had entered a synagogue and began reading from the prophet Isaiah:
"The Spirit of Yahuwah is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of Yahuwah's favor." (Luke 4:18-19, citing Isaiah 61:1)
Isaiah 61:1-3 lists some of the works of Messiah. One of those is to set the captives free - to set people free from their bondages and enslavements. Messiah Yahusha claimed this as his own. He had come to proclaim freedom to those who were slaves to men.
And at another time, Yahusha was confronting the Pharisees about their bondage to sin and to their oral law. He offered them freedom, as well, through his own teachings - which are the teachings of the Father:
To the Yehudim who had believed him, Yahusha said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (4th Gospel 8:31-32)
Yahusha's teachings are "the truth." And these teachings are what sets people free from all their bondages.
Being in covenant relationship with the living Elohim, both before and after the appearance of Messiah, is what sets people free. Yahuwah himself sets us free from sin and all that entangles us, when we walk in the ways that He sets forth in his Word. The ways of sin and worldliness trap people and make them prisoners. But the salvation of Elohim procures forgiveness of sin and sets free from all enslavements.
It is the purpose of this Bible study to explore these themes throughout the Scriptures. We will discover the many facets of freedom that Messiah offers his people. And we will see that all along our Creator has acquired for us a life of freedom and joy.
The most famous biblical example of human bondage and slavery is reported in the book of Exodus. The nation of Israel migrated to Egypt because of a world wide famine. Yoseph, the second youngest of the sons of Ya'acob, had been taken as a slave to Egypt some years earlier and had been elevated to power in Egypt by the Pharaoh. Thus, the family of Ya'acob had an advocate in Yoseph, who took care of his brothers by feeding them throughout the years of the famine.
But, as those who knew Yoseph died off, including the Pharaoh, a new generation of Egyptians arose who were not so keen on having the ever increasing number of Israelis in their backyard. So, the new Pharaoh enslaved Israel with cruel bondage. He forced them into the labor of building his cities and monuments.
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Mitzrites came to dread the sons of Yisrael and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Mitzrites used them ruthlessly. (Exodus 1:11-14)
The Egyptians treated the sons of Israel harshly. And they cried out to Yahuwah for relief.
Enter Mosheh. Mosheh was born and raised during these years of Israel's forced enslavement. Following a time when he was a member of the royal family in Egypt and another time when he was an exile from Egypt, Yahuwah appeared to Mosheh and called him to return to Egypt to rescue his people from their bondage. The story is well known - even after 3500 years - of how Mosheh confronted Pharaoh. Mosheh demanded that Pharaoh let all of Israel go out into the wilderness on a three day journey to meet with Yahuwah their Elohim and to offer sacrifices and worship.
Pharaoh hardened his heart against the living Elohim because he only knew the imaginary gods of the Egyptians. So Yahuwah brought a series of plagues upon Egypt which nearly wiped out the nation. Their crops and animals were decimated by the plagues and all of their firstborn were slain. Finally, Pharaoh was defeated and permitted Israel to go.
But after reflecting upon his decision to let them go, Pharaoh gathered his chariots and fighting men and chased after the Israelites who were on their way to Mt Sinai. He caught up with them at the Sea of Reeds. It was there that Yahuwah brought a judgment upon Pharaoh and his army as he drowned them all in the Sea of Reeds.
The nation of Israel continued on their journey and arrived at Mt Sinai. They were told that they should wash themselves and refrain from intimate contact as they were to appear before Yahuwah, who was to come down on Mt Sinai and speak to the nation. It was there at Mt Sinai that Yahuwah presented Israel with his covenant of love, consisting of the commandments that bring life.
On the day of Shavuot, which is also known as Pentecost, Yahuwah appeared in fire in a thick cloud over Mt Sinai. There, Yahuwah spoke to all the people the Ten Words - also known as the Ten Commandments - which are the covenant commandments between Yahuwah and his people. And the people agreed to do everything which Yahuwah commanded them - only that Mosheh would get the rest of the revelation from Elohim and deliver it to them himself.
Now, in the Christian circles where I came from, teachers and theologians were fond of teaching that the Torah delivered to Mosheh was a Law of Bondage. In their thinking, God had given the nation of Israel a Law that he knew they wouldn't be able to keep. And as such, the lesson he was teaching them was that they needed to come to Messiah for their righteousness. So, in their thinking, all who come to Messiah are set free from the bondage of the Torah of Mosheh. (Yes, incredibly, this is what most of the popular Christian speakers teach to their subjects.) All of the above is most certainly BALDERDASH!
Did Messiah die to set his people free from the Almighty's Torah? The pastors, evangelists and teachers of the popular Christian movement present a convincing case that the Torah is bondage from which we must be set free. They use Paul's writings to prove it. But they must twist and distort Paul's words so that Paul makes no sense at all. Stop and think for a moment. Does it make any sense that Elohim would give a Law to his people that he knew they couldn't keep? Does putting his own people in bondage to a Law that is impossible to keep really reflect the righteous character of our Creator?
Anyone who can think for himself must surely realize that the Torah of Mosheh is NOT bondage. The Torah sets free those people who submit to its commandments. Think of it this way: does it make any sense at all the Yahuwah would go to such lengths to show his power in Egypt to set his people free from the cruel bondage of Pharaoh, only to lead his people to an even greater bondage of Laws that he knew his people wouldn't be able to keep? That thinking borders on the absurd! Certainly the popular Christian thinking on this subject is utter nonsense.
The Scriptures over and over again present and portray the Torah given at Mt. Sinai as a Law that brings freedom - not as a Law of bondage. The Psalmist, for example, found real freedom in living in obedience to Elohim's commandments:
I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free (Ps.119:32).
And a bit later he writes,
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts (119:45).
The Psalmist clearly declares that the Torah which he loves has set him free. He is no longer in bondage, but is at liberty.
In the New Testament, James speaks of this same Law that brings freedom:
But the man who looks intently into the perfect Torah that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).
James speaks authoritatively a message which contradicts most Christian teaching on the subject of the Torah. He refers to the Torah of Mosheh as "the perfect Torah that gives freedom." Christians need to spend a moment and meditate on the ramifications of what James declares here. The Torah is perfect, not flawed as most Christian churches teach. And the Torah brings freedom to those who hear it and do it!
Next, James states without equivocation that followers of Messiah should speak and act according to the Torah of Mosheh:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom (James 2:10-12)
James infers that the Law he is speaking of is that found in the Old Testament Scriptures by naming two of those laws: "do not commit adultery" and "do not murder." In his view, the follower of Messiah is obligated to obey the "whole law" because if in just one point he stumbles, he is guilty of being a lawbreaker. For this reason, he exhorts all believers to "speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom" (2:12). The follower of Messiah must walk in obedience to the commandments or else be found to be a transgressor of the Law and guilty before the Almighty.
This freedom which the Bible speaks of is not license to sin. On the contrary, true liberty is the freedom from bondage to sin which results in the ability to obey the commandments of Elohim. Paul discusses this liberty:
Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin...or to obedience...? You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16,18).
In Paul's way of thinking, a person is either a slave of sin or a slave of Elohim. Freedom from the slavery of sin is voluntary submission to Elohim's Laws:
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to Elohim, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6:20, 22).
So because of the work of Messiah on the tree on behalf of men, people no longer need to be slaves to sin. Paul's choice was to voluntarily become a slave to Elohim's law because of his freedom from sin.
This may sound very strange to the ears of some, but Paul calls himself a slave of Elohim's law two times. In Romans 7:22, Paul says, "in my inner being I delight in Elohim's law," and in verse 25 he adds, "so then, I myself in my mind am a slave to Elohim's law." And in 1 Corinthians 9:21, Paul writes, "I am not free from Elohim's law but am under Messiah's law." Here the apostle is saying that just because a person is no longer under the law does not mean that he is free from the law. On the contrary, when a man is no longer under the Torah (i.e. a transgressor of the law) he is free to obey the Torah.
The popular view which says that law and grace are mutually exclusive is simply not true. Actually, the grace of Elohim and the keeping of Elohim's law go hand in hand. Speaking of the faith which justifies a man, the apostle said, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). Paul goes on to say that those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit submit themselves to Elohim's law. He says, "those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5). Then he asserts that the sinful mind
does not submit to Elohim's law, nor can it do so... You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of Elohim lives in you... Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it (Romans 8:7,9,12).
The obligation Paul was referring to is to live according to Elohim's law. The person controlled by the sinful nature cannot submit to Elohim's law, but those attached to Messiah are controlled by the Spirit and can submit to and obey completely the Torah of Elohim.
At the very heart of the Torah of Mosheh is freedom. Didn't Messiah say that the greatest two commandments are to love Elohim and to love your neighbor as yourself? Loving your fellow as yourself insures that you will treat them fairly and righteously. There can be no slavery in an environment where people are treating and loving one another as they want to be loved and as Messiah has loved each one of each. Isn't this at the very core of what it means to be free?
Paul also teaches that the Spirit filled and Spirit led follower of Messiah is set free. But is he inferring that he is set free from the Law? Or is he set free from something else? Let's look at what Paul is teaching:
Even to this day when Mosheh is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Master, the veil is taken away. Now Yahuwah is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of Yahuwah is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect Yahuwah's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from Yahuwah, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
The conclusion he draws from the believer being set free is that the follower of Messiah is transformed into His likeness. What does this transformation look like? Since it is the Spirit of Yahuwah who is doing this work, what exactly is the work that the Spirit is doing in those belonging to Messiah?
The Prophets of old had much to say about the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Yirmyahu (a.k.a. Jeremiah) speaks in greater detail about the pouring out of the Set-apart Spirit:
“For this is the covenant I shall make with the house of Yisra’el after those days, declares Yahuwah: I shall put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts. And I shall be their Elohim, and they shall be My people. “And no longer shall they teach, each one his neighbour, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahuwah,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declaresYahuwah. “For I shall forgive their crookedness, and remember their sin no more.” (Yirmeyahu 31:33,34, The Scriptures)
Let's be very clear about what happened at Shavuot (Pentecost) as recorded in Acts 2. The pouring out of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was in fulfillment of the prophetic utterances of Yoel, Yirmeyahu, and others. With the pouring out of the Ruach, the New (Renewed) Covenant was being initiated.
The prophets give us the definitive answer about how to identity the work of the Spirit of Elohim and distinguish it from the work of deceiving spirits. Yechezqel (a.k.a. Ezekiel) reveals to us the purpose for which the Almighty is bringing people to repentance. Yahuwah was explaining to him what is to become of the scattered House of Israel in the last days.
I will give them one heart and I will put a new Spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and I will give them a heart of flesh, so that they may obey my rules (Hebrew, "chukot") and keep my right-rulings (Hebrew, "mishpatim") and observe them. Then they will be my people, and I will be their Elohim. (Yechezqel 11:19,20).
When Elohim places his Spirit in repentant believers in the last days, the Spirit causes them (makes them, compels them) to obey the rules and keep the statutes (or judgments) of the Torah. In a nutshell, the Spirit can be discerned by the behavior and walk of those claiming to possess it. The true believer will no longer be in rebellion against the commandments of Elohim. The genuine Spirit-filled people will be obeying the Law of Mosheh!
And in case we missed it the first time, Yechezqel reiterates this message about the enactment of the New Covenant.
"'I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will cause you to walk in my rules (Hebrew, "chukot") and carefully observe my right-rulings (Hebrew, "mishpatim"). Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your Elohim. I will save you from all your uncleanness (Yechezqel 36:24-29).
The Holy Spirit always causes people to obey the Torah of Mosheh. This is the primary reason for his indwelling of followers of Messiah. He leads and directs Messiah's people to walk in the rules and rulings of the Torah.
The tried and true method of testing the spirits to see whether they are from Elohim is to look at the results - what does the Holy Spirit causes people to do. If the Spirit causes the believer to walk in obedience to the commandments of Elohim, then this is proof that the spirit is the Set-apart Spirit. The Set-apart Spirit always causes the one being set-apart to repent from disobedience and to walk in full compliance with the instructions and commandments of Scripture. But if the spirit within you causes you to forsake and ignore the commandments of Scripture, be sure that it is some other spirit that is controlling you, and not the Set-apart Spirit of Elohim.
So when Paul talks about the Spirit transforming people and setting them at liberty (in 2 Corinthians 3:17), he is referring to the work of the Holy Spirit to compel believers to obey the commandments of Elohim. This liberty that the Spirit brings is not freedom FROM the Torah, but freedom from sin leading to obedience of the Torah.
One of the reasons that pastors and theologians think the Torah of Mosheh is a curse is that Paul seems to be saying that. He makes reference to the "curse of the Law" in Galatians 3:13:
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (KJV)
So, the popular thinking on this is that the Law given at Sinai is a curse, and as such, is to be avoided like the plague! No wonder Christians so hate the Law.
Yet, this is just another example of those who read Paul taking him out of context and distorting and twisting his meaning, just as they do the other Scriptures. Those who hold this view of the Law are unstable and unlearned, just as Peter tells us in his letter:
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16, KJV)
The Torah is not the curse that the false prophets (those who parade about in sheep's clothing, who stand in the pulpits of many churches today) teach and preach. But the Torah does indeed contain a curse for those who hate it!
The Torah presents its readers a choice. You can either receive the Torah, obey it, and receive life and blessing, or you can reject the Torah, transgress it, and receive curses and death.
For I command you today to love Yahuwah your Elohim, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and Yahuwah your Elohim will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love Yahuwah your Elohim, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For Yahuwah is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'acov. (Deuteronomy 30:16-20)
Elohim gives everyone the freewill to choose which path he will walk in. Those who choose to walk in obedience to the revealed will of Elohim will receive life and blessing. Those who choose to go their own way and walk in their own path will receive death and curses.
Thus, in Galatians 3:13, Paul talks about the "curse of the law." This curse is the chosen path of all who refuse to walk in the ways of the Master. The curse can be broken for anyone who repents from their evil ways and accepts the teachings of the Messiah and his conciliatory death for them on the tree. Those who do so will begin to walk in obedience to the commandments of Elohim and will thus be choosing life and blessing. Messiah redeemed us from this curse that the Law stipulates for the disobedient. If we will walk in the paths of righteousness which the Law instructs us, we will receive all the good promised by our benevolent Creator.
Now, as part of the curse pronounced on the disobedient, the prophet Ezekiel describes in more detail Elohim's response to those who refuse his Torah:
Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my laws but had rejected my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths, and their eyes [lusted] after their fathers' idols. I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by (Ezekiel 20:23-25)
That generation which came out of Egypt were constantly rebelling against Yahuwah and grumbling about his gifts. These, the prophet explains, Yahuwah swore to scatter among the nations. On account of their rejection of his statutes and rulings - the laws and right-rulings of the Torah - he was rejecting them.
But take notice what else the prophet said. Because the people refused his decrees and rulings, including the Sabbath day, Yahuwah promised to hand them over to another set of decreed and rulings which they would be unable to live by. Similar to what Paul says in Romans 1 about God giving "them up to uncleanness" (1:24) and "God gave them up unto vile affections" (1:26), the Almighty will allow the rebellious to indulge themselves in their sinful practices - whatever they choose. Here in Ezekiel 20, Elohim is giving people up the the laws which they have chosen to obey - the man-made laws which lead to sin and slavery.
In their history, the tribe of Yehudah (Judah, the Jews) rejected the statutes and rulings of Elohim's Torah, so he gave them over to their own law code. The Oral Torah of the Pharisees and Rabbis is that set of man-made laws which Elohim has granted to the Jews. That is a Law which they cannot live by and which only leads them further and further into transgression of the true, written Torah which Elohim gave to Mosheh on Mt. Sinai.
Even to this day, the religious Jews are following some form of this Oral Torah - a Torah which Elohim gave them over to - because they reject his true Torah. This set of man-made laws which is at the heart of Judaism is found in large part in the Talmud. There are myriad laws and customs which Jews must follow, Some of which are in stark contrast to the written Torah. Thus, in keeping the Talmud, observant Jews are walking in rebellion against Yahuwah and his written Torah.
The Christian world has their own sets of man-made laws and customs which Yahuwah has given them over to, because they have hated and rejected his revealed will which is given in the Torah of Mosheh. Christians seem more interested in the length of the woman's skirt and the length of men's hair, rather than the righteous laws that Yahuwah has given.
Any people who reject Yahuwah's Torah, He has given over to their own choice of man-made laws, customs and traditions. So, we see not only many different sects in Judaism, but we see thousands of denominations in Christianity, each with their own set of rules and interpretations of the Bible. And this is not to even mention the hundreds of other world religions which have their own laws and customs, holidays and traditions. God has given all these people over to what they lusted for - a religious system of their own making - because they refuse to receive the Torah which brings life and blessing to those who submit to it.
The prophets foretold that the Messiah would set the captives free. Messiah Yahusha taught about the freedom he was bringing to his disciples. In one of the many confrontations he had with the religious leadership of his day, Yahusha explained to them who he is and who his father is. Some believed his message:
Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Yehudim who had believed him, Yahusha said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (4th Gospel 8:30-32)
This offer of freedom was to those who believed in him. Yahusha would set them free if they would hold to his teaching. What is his teaching?
There's the million dollar question. Just what is Messiah's teaching? The Christian churches believe that "Jesus" did away with his Father's Law and established a new law - a law of love - for his followers. That horrific lie has deceived millions of "believers" for far too long now. We need to eradicate the great lies of the Christian church and replace those lies by the truth. After all, Messiah said that the truth would set them free, not their doctrines, beliefs, customs and traditions. The truth is the message that Elohim has always presented and the message that Messiah confirmed in his teaching ministry.
To summarize, all the teachings of the Messiah were re-affirmations, explanations and applications of the teachings of the Torah of Mosheh. Messiah told his disciples plainly that he was teaching Torah:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law (Torah of Mosheh) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (Torah of Mosheh) until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
Messiah came to live out the Torah in his life and to explain its meaning to his disciples, not to destroy it! The entire Sermon on the Mount is Messiah discourse on how to properly understand and implement the Torah instructions into your life. And all the other teachings of Messiah throughout all four gospel accounts are his interpretations and explanations of the Torah. This was his Father's teaching. And it is his teaching as well.
So, Yahusha told the Jews that to follow his teachings would set them free. But to those who did not believe in him, Yahusha had another word:
They answered him, "We are Avraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Yahusha replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Avraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. (4th Gospel 8:33-37)
The Sadducees, Pharisees and teachers of the (oral) law did not receive his teachings nor his word. They were already full with their own doctrine and thus had "no room for (his) word."
What is this doctrine that the Jewish leaders had which caused them to have no room for Yahusha's word? Yahusha had warned his disciples about that teaching:
Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.... How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6-7, 11-12, KJV)
This is a stern enough warning about the teachings of the religious leadership. There was something about the content of the teaching of the Pharisees that Messiah wanted his disciples to beware of.
In short, the doctrines and teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees were not based on the Scriptures. Their doctrines were the commandments and teachings of men. Again, we are speaking about the Oral Law, not the written Law of Mosheh. This Oral Law is what Messiah wants us to beware of. It contains commandments which lead men to commit sin and to ignore the commandments of Elohim. For this reason, we should beware of it.
In Matthew 15 we are introduced to a confrontation between Yahusha and the Pharisees. This episode presents a clear explanation as to why we should "beware the leaven of the Pharisees." We find the disciples eating without first washing their hands:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Yahusha from Yerushalayim and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" (Matthew 15:1-2)
Note that the accusation is set forth clearly: the disciples were breaking the tradition of the elders. Christians usually misunderstand what is happening here. They think that this "tradition" is one set forth in the written Torah of Mosheh. But it is not.
The tradition of washing the hands before one eats is a commandment of the Pharisees. You will find no such commandment in the Bible. It is another of the traditions of men. So the Pharisees are pressing hard against the Master about why his disciples are not being obedient to their traditions. Yahusha responds:
Yahusha replied, "And why do you break the command of Elohim for the sake of your tradition? For Elohim said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to Elohim,' he is not to 'honor his father 'with it. Thus you nullify the word of Elohim for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:3-6)
Here's the rub. The Pharisees were more concerned with adherence to their own traditions than they were with the commandments of Elohim.
In fact - and here is where the great danger is in keeping men's traditions and commandments - the Pharisees were quite willing to transgress the commandments of Elohim if it meant obedience to their own traditions and if it benefited them to do so! Yahusha responded to their scolding of his disciples by pointing out that the Pharisees were comfortable breaking a command of Yah so that their money supply would be increased. If they could talk someone into giving to the temple treasury what should have benefited their needy parents, they were very willing to convince people to break Elohim's command to honor father and mother.
Then Yahusha identified this vain worship of the Pharisees with what the prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) said about the nation of Israel:
You hypocrites! Yeshayahu was right when he prophesied about you: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9, quoting Isaiah 29:13)
Literally, the Hebrew text of Isaiah 29:13 says,
"...but their heart is far away from me. And it turns out their fear of me (is) the commandment of men which is learned."
I think the Jewish Publication Society version says it well:
"...and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote"
I think the teaching here might be accurately expanded like this:
"...and their fear of me is expressed by a taught man-made code of law."
Quite literally, Messiah is telling us that the religion of the Pharisees is a man-made religion, the laws of which are mere human commandments. But true connection with Elohim is properly expressed by fidelity and faithfulness to His commandments. The Pharisees were not in the least interested in being faithful to the commandment of Elohim. They were much more pleased with playing their own religious game and passing it off as being pious toward Elohim.
And so it is that the religion of the Scribes and Pharisees in Messiah's days, and the religion of Judaism in our day, and the religion of Christianity is nothing more than a religion which trains people to express their "love for" or "fear of" God through the exercise of obeying the dogmas, traditions and commandments of men. It is all man-made religion. Messiah says that such worship is vain. It is useless. And it does not curry favor with the living Elohim.
Matthew's gospel chapter 23 records a thorough thrashing of the Scribes and Pharisees by the Master. He castigates them for their blatant and unrestrained hypocrisy. He confronts them regarding their
The rebuke begins, as rendered in the King James Version, this way:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (23:1-3)
Nehemiah Gordon points out that there are several Hebrew Gospel of Matthew manuscripts which read slightly differently than the common Greek manuscripts. By just one letter of the Hebrew - an additional waw - the text changes from "therefore, all that they say to you, keep and do..." (the "they" is the Hebrew verb with an additional waw, 3rd person plural), to "all that he says to you, keep and do..." (without the waw, 3rd person singular). (The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus, p.48)
What this amounts to is a completely different teaching from the Master. He was NOT telling his disciples to obey the Pharisees, he was telling them to obey Moses, upon whose seat the Pharisees sat. It makes no sense at all that the Master would tell his disciples to obey the Pharisees when every other time he spoke about the teachings of the Pharisees he was rebuking them and criticizing them. He had even warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees. So, why would Yahusha this one time be telling his disciples to do what the Pharisees teach?
It is clearly obvious that Messiah was NOT telling his disciples to obey the Pharisees. He is telling them to obey Moses, which is consistent with what the Master always taught. So, verses 2-3, as delivered from the Hebrew Matthew, reads as follows:
The Pharisees and wise men sit on the seat of Moses. Therefore, all that he (Moses) says to you, guard and do. But according to their (the Pharisees) reforms (takanot) and their precedents (ma'asim) do not do, because they talk but they do not do.
The Hebrew term takanot is very well known in modern day Rabbinism. It refers to "enactments or reforms" of the Rabbis which change biblical law. And the word ma'asim, also a specific technical term, refers to the "acts or deeds which serve as precedents." In other words, where there is no biblical law for a situation, the Rabbis look to "precedents" - behaviors of the Rabbis - which for them defines the correct course.
Thus, the Master Messiah is telling his disciples NOT to follow the reforms of the Pharisees and not to obey the precedents of the Pharisees which are set up as laws. His disciples are to follow and obey Moses and no one else. The Master then goes on to explain how the actions of the Pharisees are hypocritical.
They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' (Matthew 23:4-7)
So, with Pharisees, everything is for show. There is no real depth to their religion. It's largely pretense.
As a side note, it's eye-opening to see the Master revile the Pharisees on account of their making their tassels long on their garments. Seems that just about every "Messianic congregation" I've been at, the men and women "make long their tassels" to show off their compliance to Torah. Some of those tzitzit are audacious. They make them thick and long, nearly to the knees when they hang off their belts. Hey, Messianic believer! It's time to listen to what the Master said about this and adjust your tassels. Quit showing off! He is not pleased with that.
Anyway, back to our text. The Pharisees played religion in front of the people to earn their praise. They weren't sincere in their acts of righteousness. It was all to impress other with their great righteousness. Our Elohim sees through all that nonsense and rejects that kind of worship. It's all in vain when it's being done to bring honor to ourselves and to impress people with our knowledge and compliance.
Yahusha goes on to berate the Scribes and Pharisees about some of their customs and teachings. One of particular interest is recorded as such:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)
Does this sound like Messiah Yahusha is endorsing the teachings and lifestyle of the scribes and Pharisees? Certainly not. The Master clearly and unmistakably is against their teachings, their walk and talk, and just about everything about them.
The message throughout the Gospels, for anyone really interested in discerning the truth, is that Yahusha disagreed with the whole package of Judaism. I cannot think of a single place where the Master praised the Pharisees or told his disciples to follow after their example. His relationship with them was one of confrontation, rebuke and strain. In the end, they called for his execution! So how can Christians insist that Jesus supported in any manner the ways of the Pharisees?
Let's look at another example of the disconnect between Yahusha and the Pharisees. There are other examples in the gospel record of confrontations. But this one is especially flagrant. And Yahusha's actions show clearly his disdain and disapproval of the Pharisees and their teachings.
In the 5th chapter of the 4th Gospel (usually attributed to John), we are introduced to a man who was an invalid for 38 years. The Master asked this man if he wanted to get well:
"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." Then Yahusha said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Yehudim said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'" So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" (4th Gospel 5:7-12)
Yahusha told the man to pick up his mat and walk, which the man did, because he was immediately made whole. And it was the Sabbath day when this happened.
Now, there is no commandment, instruction or decree in all of the written Torah forbidding anyone from carrying their mat - not even on the Sabbath day. But the Pharisees had a decree, as part of their Oral Torah, which strictly forbade anyone from carrying their mat on the Sabbath day. So when the Pharisees saw this man carrying his mat, they had a fit, and began to scold the man. He, in turn, explained that the man who healed him told him to pick up his mat and walk.
So, this led to the confrontation between the Master and the Pharisees. Yahusha intentionally provoked this confrontation with the Pharisees because he was demonstrating the utter uselessness of the man-made traditions and teachings of the religious leaders of his time. He flatly disregarded the decree of the Pharisees that one cannot carry his mat on the Sabbath. By commanding the man to pick up his mat and walk, he knew this would get the attention of the Pharisees and thus enable him to make this point about their traditions.
Christian theologians have for a long time believed that Jesus was somehow breaking the biblical Torah to show that the Torah was on its way out. They think that Jesus violated the Sabbath Law to show that it was on its way out, too. But the Master never broke the Torah. He always faithfully kept all his Fathers commandments. And as "Lord of the Sabbath" Yahusha perfectly guarded the Sabbath day and faithfully set it apart, as the commandment requires.
But the commandments of men are a different thing. There was no need for the Master to submit to ridiculous man made rules and regulations regarding the Sabbath day. Yet, for the religious elite of his day, and for the religious leadership of our day, keeping the traditions and commandments of men was and is more important than keeping God's commandments. The Master is showing the error of this way of thinking by defying the commands of men while upholding the commands of the Father.
There is yet another interesting example of the Master breaking the commandments of men to show the superiority of Elohim's written Torah. Later on in the 4th Gospel, the Master did something on the Sabbath day that was forbidden by Rabbinic tradition - Yahusha made mud and rubbed it into the eyes of the man born blind, which is a violation of Rabbinic and Pharisaic Law on the Sabbath.
In the 9th chapter we read that Yahusha and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The Master
spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (9:6-7)
Now, the reaction of the Pharisees is fascinating. While just about anyone else would have been thrilled and amazed that a man born blind was healed and could now see, not so the Pharisees. They were angry and indignant.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Yahusha had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from Elohim, for he does not keep the Sabbath." (9:13-16)
This charge of the Pharisees that Yahusha "does not keep the Sabbath" is not based on the written Torah. Nowhere in the Torah of Mosheh is healing or making mud a transgression of Sabbath Law.
But the Pharisees had a law.... This should not surprise anyone (but I'll bet you it surprises some of you). The Pharisees did have an instruction, and the Rabbis still have this instruction today, that forbids the making of mud on the Sabbath day. In fact there are hundreds of particulars that are forbidden on the Sabbath for Jews who follow the traditional teachings of the Rabbis.
It was this infraction of Pharisaic law that got the Pharisees up in arms about the Master's activity on the Sabbath. He had made mud in his hand and rubbed it into the eyes of the blind man - on the Sabbath day! And this infuriated the Pharisees.
Next we might want to entertain the question of why Yahusha intentionally defied this particular law of the Sabbath which the Pharisees had enacted. What would have been the harm had the Master complied with the man made Sabbath laws which the Pharisees had implemented? This is easy to see. The harm would be that he would have been setting an example to his disciples that the Pharisees laws needed to be kept - as though they were as important as Elohim's own laws.
But by intentionally disregarding the Pharisaic law about the Sabbath, and by strategically defying this man made law, Yahusha was sending a message that only Elohim's Law is essential to our well being, while man made law has no authority over us, whatsoever. This example he set is consistent with everything else he did and taught regarding man made authority and law. Only Elohim's Torah has abiding authority over those who love and fear the Creator of heaven and earth.
When we come to Paul's discussion of the freedom we have in Messiah, we find a message that is consistent with all that we have learned throughout the rest of Scripture, including what Messiah taught and modeled, regarding the freedom Elohim provides to those who trust in him. Paul talks about this freedom:
It is for freedom that Messiah has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Now, let's get understanding about what this freedom entails. Certainly, this freedom is a release from the bondage of sin. Sin no longer has control over those who are in Messiah. But what else are we set free from?
Christians have been preaching for a very long time that this freedom Paul speaks of is freedom from Mosaic Law. The reason for this is because of what follows this statement by Paul in verse 1. He goes on to have a discussion of circumcision and "the law" which he says is contrary to faith. Is this really what Paul is referring to here?
I am convinced that this passage has been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted by Christian ministers, pastors and theologians. I would contend that Paul is NOT talking about freedom from Mosaic Law, but rather, he is discussing the freedom we have from man made religious systems and laws. He uses circumcision as his example of the bondage from made up religious dogmas Messiah has released us from. He writes:
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Messiah; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Messiah Yahusha neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:2-6)
In order to understand exactly what Paul is talking about, we need to have an understanding of the circumcision controversy in those times. We can ascertain this by looking at other places in the New Testament Scriptures where circumcision is explored.
Earlier in this very letter Paul wrote to the Galatians, he talks about the source of the controversy of circumcision:
Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Messiah Yahusha, to make us slaves. But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; Elohim shows no favoritism between people)--those influential leaders added nothing to my message. (Galatians 2:4-6)
There are some clues in this text about the source of the teaching about this circumcision which Paul rejects. He says that "false brothers with false pretenses" are responsible. And later he calls them "influential leaders." Who are these "false brothers" who were "influential leaders"? Of course, we know who these were. Paul speaks of them several times. They are the "Judaizers"- the Jewish religious leaders who always found themselves in conflict and disagreement with Messiah.
The key to uncovering the mysteries which revolve around this circumcision may be found in the discussion in the book of Acts about the circumcision controversy. Luke explains it thus:
Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Mosheh, you cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1)
This same circumcision controversy kept popping up for the Messianic believers. Paul deals with this topic several times in his letters. So, what is this all about?
According to Acts 15:1 this circumcision was to be done "according the the custom of Mosheh." But when we read the biblical accounts of circumcision, we never read of any such "custom of Mosheh"! Circumcision was a covenant sign which Elohim gave to Abraham, not Mosheh. Indeed Mosheh received instructions regarding circumcision which Elohim spoke to him. But there was no "custom of Mosheh" ever mentioned regarding circumcision.
However, the Pharisees acknowledged such a "custom of Mosheh." In fact, the concept of circumcision as a "custom of Mosheh" is well known in Rabbinic literature. The Pharisees produced this "custom of Mosheh" and it has been an integral part of Rabbinic Judaism since the times of the Pharisees. The Hebrew word usually translated custom is ghnm (pronounced min-hag). These minhagim (plural for minhag) were traditions which became law in Israel.
If a Rabbi makes a habit of doing something, it becomes a minhag, which in turn becomes binding of all Israel. The Rabbis have a saying which says, "minhag Yisrael torah hi" which translated means "a custom of Israel, this is law." A minhag becomes law in Israel by the sheer fact that the community accepts it as a regular way of life. Another example of this is the yarmulke (kippah). There is nothing in the written Torah about the kippah, but you will not find a religious conservative Jew without one.
The big problem with these customs that become law is that the written Torah strictly forbids adding to or taking from the Torah that Elohim gave to Mosheh for all Israel.
Now, Yisrael, pay attention to the rules and right-rulings I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that Yahuwah, the Elohim of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of Yahuwah your Elohim that I am delivering to you. (Devarim 4:1-2)
You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Devarim 12:32)
The Proverbs repeat the same:
Every word of Elohim is purified; he is like a shield for those take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he reprove you, and prove you a liar. (Mishlei 30:5-6)
The normal way these minhagim became attributed to Mosheh is like this: Pharisees took customs that had become law, and in order to give these customs greater weight of authority, they attributed these customs to a famous rabbi. Since Mosheh was the greatest of the "Rabbis" it would be even better to attribute the custom to Mosheh, thus giving it the greatest amount of authority.
So, their particular ritual of circumcision was pawned off as a "custom of Mosheh." And, the rabbinical "procedure" for circumcising a Gentile was credited to Mosheh: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Mosheh, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1)
The Pharisaic (and later Rabbinical) rite of circumcision was to be performed exactly according to their specific procedure, without fail, which included certain prayers and blessings and the sucking of the wound! In most worlds, this sucking of the wound would be considered aberrant and deviate behavior, but the Rabbis required it in their circumcision. No wonder Paul so adamantly opposed their circumcision!
Paul will have none of that Pharisaic circumcision. Pharisaical circumcision is opposed to Messiah, because in doing this, one is submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Yahuwah. When submitting to men (Pharisees, Rabbis, Church leaders) one must abide by all the teachings or find oneself outside of the favor.
Paul goes on:
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." I am confident in Yahuwah that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:7-12)
This play on ideas places the Pharisees, who are so interested in "cutting" their Gentile converts with their own brand of circumcision, in a place where they are "cutting" themselves off by adding to and taking away from the authority of the written Scriptures. When they put their own customs and commandments above the commandments of the Almighty, they are essentially cutting themselves off from the commonwealth of Israel.
But for those who are in Messiah, we are free from the manipulations and coercions of men.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)
The freedom we have in Messiah is not freedom from the Torah of Mosheh. This freedom does not allow us to "indulge the sinful nature," which is to say, it is not freedom which allows us to break or ignore the commandments of the Almighty. This freedom is liberty to ignore the traditions and religious dogmas of men so that we may freely serve our Elohim by faithfully keeping his laws, right rulings and commandments.
When the Master told his disciples, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," he was not just articulating a catchy saying. Nor was he expressing the beginning of the end of the Almighty's Law. That would have been most sublimely absurd. Elohim could no more change his everlasting Law, which details the righteous path and walk of faith for those who love him, than he could change his very character and attributes. Elohim never changes. Yahusha is the same yesterday, today and forever!
The freedom that Messiah offers his disciples is release from the bondage of sin, and release from everything that causes bondage to sin. In the context of 1st century Israel, the great bondage of the day was the captivity of Pharisaic manipulation and pressure to pay homage to their own man made law at the expense of keeping Elohim's Law. In the context of today's world, that liberty is freedom from man made religious dogmas such as are still found in modern day Pharisaism (which is Rabbinic Judaism), Christianity in all its forms, and any other man made religious system with all their own commandments, traditions, customs and dogmas.
The Master had multiple confrontations with the Pharisees. And it was always because he refused to honor their traditions, laws and customs. Doing so would have sent the message that following the Pharisees was the right way of living and would earn you the favor of Elohim. But Yahusha rebuked and scolded the Pharisees over and over again because keeping their commandments often caused one to transgress the commandments of Elohim.
Indeed Messiah does set us from and releases us from the utter nonsense of modern day religions. The traditions and customs of our day as found being practiced by "good Christians" or "good Jews" is made over Babylonian cult worship. Messiah releases us from that bondage of all that baloney so that we can walk uprightly in his righteous commandments.
Since Messiah has offered the truth that can set free, what will you do with your freedom? The choices are simple. You can reject this freedom and continue all the ridiculous traditions that were passed down to you. Or you can accept the freedom Messiah offers and come out of all the religious trappings which we are all pressured to honor, and walk in the freedom of honoring the Father in the keeping of his commandments. What will you do?