What is Yeshua really teaching us through the Sermon on the Mount? Yes, He explains that it’s good to be connected to the Maker of all life, but is His sermon an explanation of how to do that, or is it a picture of what happens when we really connect with our God?
As with so many things about our relationship with our Creator, the answer is “Yes”.
By now it should be clear that the basic details about how to live a godly life are not in Yeshua’s teaching. The details are in the Torah. In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua takes the principles of Torah, which His audience knew very well, and clarifies them. It’s not that He is teaching something entirely new, but that He is looking in a new way at what His Father originally delivered through Moses. That is why He uses the format, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you”. Consider these next points:
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:33-48 NKJV)
In each of these statements Yeshua starts with the provisions of Torah. There are some clear instructions about oaths in Leviticus 19:12, Deuteronomy 23:21-23, and Numbers 30. The commandment about compensation for injury (“eye for an eye”) is in Exodus 21:22-27. Torah’s instructions for loving one’s brothers and dealing with enemies are in Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 23:3-8, and Deuteronomy 25:17-19.
One way to tie together these three statements is by considering Torah from a legal context. That does not mean “legalistic”. God’s commandments are not legalistic; legalism is the product of the traditions of men, which add to or take away from God’s Law. The way to look at Torah is as God’s provision for organizing society and each individual’s personal lives so that we learn to act in love. That means acting according to the principles of justice, mercy, and faith, which are the three things Yeshua said are the “weightier matters of the Law”. Think of Torah as providing due process of law – setting out the ideal for human interaction, but providing a way to regulate our interaction when we fall short of the ideal. For example, the principle behind “an eye for an eye” is that the one who has caused injury should pay an appropriate compensation to the injured party. It does not mean that one who knocks out the eye of another should lose his own eye, but rather that he must pay the amount set by the judges to compensate the injured party. The Torah is not a barbaric set of laws that calls for shedding of blood, but an orderly way of regulating society based upon justice and mercy.
As for loving our enemies, we all know that there are certain people we don’t like, or perhaps even hate. In an ideal world we would get along with everyone, but in the meantime Torah provides ways to handle disagreements, and even how to handle warfare. That’s where oaths and vows come in. Where there is a trust issue, someone will be required to swear to the truth. And when someone has a strong desire to do something, they may take a vow or an oath as notice that they intend to do it regardless how difficult this thing may be. However, biblical examples show us the problems with improper use of oaths, as with Jephthah, a judge of Israel, and with a certain group of men who wanted to murder the Apostle Paul. Then there is that other kind of oath: cursing and profane speech. As the Apostle James tells us, such a thing is not good for one who professes to be a disciple of Yeshua.
When we look at these things, a pattern begins to take shape. That pattern is our transformation into the image of God Himself, just as He intended in the beginning. Many Jews of Yeshua’s day kept Torah only as a list of rules to keep them out of trouble, or help them be respected in their society, not out of a desire to be obedient to God on His terms. In that sense, they had no heart to understand and enter into the relationship God intended all along. Yeshua opened the way to enter that relationship, and then He showed us the higher standard that that relationship requires. It is in Yeshua that we gain the heart to understand, and the desire to reflect our Creator’s glory. As the Holy Spirit works on our heart, and as we study the standards God established for loving Him and loving others, we reflect His glory more and more. That happens when we look after the welfare of people who could be considered our enemies, and when we show mercy instead of vengeance, and when we refrain from swearing. In fact, that is how we keep the Third Commandment:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7 NKJV)
It’s simple really: if we have the Name of the Lord God on us, then we should walk in His ways and think His thoughts. Anything less is taking His Name in vain. And how do we know His ways and His thoughts? By studying His Commandments.
Now you know something of how Yeshua fulfilled the Law (Torah) by explaining it more completely. And yet we have only covered the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. Why not take a look at the rest of it in Matthew 6 and 7 and see if you can find the Torah in those chapters also?
This brings us to the end of this series of Fox Bytes. Beginning October 18, 2014, Fox Bytes will become a commentary on the weekly Torah portion.