The scribes and Pharisees - of Jerusalem - Our Lord was now in Galilee, Matthew 14:34.
See also Mark 7:1-9.
Then came to Jesus - Mark says that they saw the disciples of Jesus eating with unwashed hands.
Transgress the tradition of the elders - The world “elders” literally means “old men.” Here it means the “ancients,” or their “ancestors.” The “tradition of the elders” meant something handed down from one to another by memory; some precept or custom not commanded in the written law, but which scribes and Pharisees held themselves bound to observe.
They supposed that when Moses was on Mount Sinai two sets of laws were delivered to him: one, they said, was recorded, and is that contained in the Old Testament; the other was handed down from father to son, and kept uncorrupted to their day. They believed that Moses, before he died, delivered this law to Joshua; he to the Judges; they to the prophets; so that it was kept pure until it was recorded in the Talmuds. In these books these pretended laws are now contained. They are exceedingly numerous and very trifling. They are, however, regarded by the Jews as more important than either Moses or the prophets.
One point in which the Pharisees differed from the Sadducees was in holding to these traditions. It seems, however, that in the particular traditions mentioned here, all the Jews were united; for Mark adds Mark 7:3 that “the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.” Mark has also added that this custom of washing extended not merely to their hands before eating, but in coming from the market; and also to cups, and pots, and brass vessels, and tables, Mark 7:3-4. They did this professedly for the sake of cleanliness. So far it was well. But they also made it a matter of superstition. They regarded external purity as of much more importance than the purity of the heart. They had many foolish rules about it respecting the quantity of water that was to be used, the way in which it should be applied, the number of times it should be changed, the number of those that might wash at a time, etc. Our Saviour did not think it proper to regard these rules, and this was the reason why they “found fault” with him.
But he answered - They accused him of violating their traditions, as though they were obligatory.
In his answer he implied that his disciples were not bound to obey their traditions - they were invented by human beings. He said, also, that those traditions could not be binding, as they violated the commandments of God. He proceeded to specify a case in which their tradition made void one of the plain laws of God; and if that was their character, then they could not blame him for not regarding them.
For God commanded - That is, in the fifth commandment Exodus 20:12, and in Exodus 21:17. To “honor” is to obey, to reverence, to speak kindly to, to speak and think well of. To “curse” is to disobey, to treat with irreverence, to swear at, to speak ill of, to think evil of in the heart, to meditate or do any evil to a parent. All this is included in the original word.
Let him die the death - This is a Hebrew phrase, the same as saying, “let him surely die.” The Jewish law punished this crime with death. This duty of honoring and obeying a parent was what Christ said they had violated by their traditions. He proceeds to state the way in which it was done.
It is a gift - In Mark it is “corban.” The word “corban” is a Hebrew word denoting a gift.
Here it means a thing dedicated to the service of God, and therefore not to be appropriated to any other use. The Jews were in the habit of making such dedications. They devoted their property to God for sacred uses, as they pleased. In doing this they used the word קרבן qaarbaanor κορβᾶν korbanor some similar word, saying, this thing is “corban,” i. e., it is a gift to God, or is sacred to him. The law required that when a dedication of this kind was made it should be fulfilled. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God,” Psalm 76:11. See Deuteronomy 23:21. The law of God required that a son should honor his parent; i. e., among other things, that he should provide for his needs when he was old and in distress. Yet the Jewish teachers said that it was more important for a man to dedicate his property to God than to provide for the needs of his parent.
If he had once devoted his property once said it was “corban,” or a gift to God - it could not be appropriated even to the support of a parent. If a parent was needy and poor, and if he should apply to a son for assistance, and the son should reply, though in anger, “It is devoted to God; this property which you need, and by which you might be profited by me, is “corban” - I have given it to God;” the Jews said the property could not be recalled, and the son was not under obligation to aid a parent with it. He had done a more important thing in giving it to God. The son was free. He could not be required to do anything for his father after that. Thus, he might, in a moment, free himself from the obligation to obey his father or mother. In a sense somewhat similar to this, the chiefs and priests of the Sandwich Islands had the power of devoting anything to the service of the gods by saying that it was “taboo,” or “tabooed;” that is, it became consecrated to the service of religion; and, no matter who had been the owner, it could then be appropriated for no other use. In this way they had complete power over all the possessions of the people, and could appropriate them for their own use under the pretence of devoting them to religion. Thus, they deprived the people of their property under the plea that it was consecrated to the gods. The Jewish son deprived his parents of a support under the plea that the property was devoted to the service of religion. The principle was the same, and both systems were equally a violation of the rights of others.
Besides, the law said that a man should die who cursed his father, i. e., that refused to obey him, or to provide for him, or spoke in anger to him. Yet the Jews said that, though in anger, and in real spite and hatred, a son said to his father, “All that I have which could profit you I have given to God,” he should be free from blame. Thus, the whole law was made void, or of no use, by what appeared to have the appearance of piety. “No man, according to their views, was bound to obey the fifth commandment and support an aged and needy parent, if, either from superstition or spite, he chose to give his property to God, that is, to devote it to some religious use.”
Our Saviour did not mean to condemn the practice of giving to God, or to religious and charitable objects. The law and the gospel equally required this. Jesus commended even a poor widow that gave all her living, Mark 12:44, but he condemned the practice of giving to God where it interfered with our duty to parents and relations; where it was done to get rid of the duty of aiding them; and where it was done out of a malignant and rebellious spirit, with the semblance of piety, to get clear of doing to earthly parents what God required.
Ye hypocrites! - See the notes at Matthew 7:5. Hypocrisy is the concealment of some base principle under the pretence of religion. Never was there a clearer instance of it than this an attempt to get rid of the duty of providing for needy parents under an appearance of piety toward God.
Esaias - That is, Isaiah. This prophecy is found in Isaiah 29:13.
Prophesy of you - That is, he spoke of the people of his day of the Jews, as Jews - in terms that apply to the whole people. He properly characterized the nation in calling them hypocrites. The words are applicable to the nation at all times, and they apply, therefore, to you. He did not mean particularly to speak of the nation in the time of Christ, but he spoke of them as having a national character of hypocrisy. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:22-23.
Draweth nigh unto me with their mouth - That is, they are regular in the forms of worship; they are strict in ceremonial observances, and keep the law outwardly; but God requires the heart, and that they have not rendered.
In vain do they worship me - That is, their attempts to worship are “vain,” or are not real worship - they are mere “forms.”
Teaching for doctrines - The word “doctrines,” here, means the requirements of religion - things to be believed and practiced in religion.
God only has a right to declare what shall be done in his service; but they held their traditions to be superior to the written word of God, and taught them as doctrines binding the conscience. See the notes at Isaiah 29:13.
Truth will surely bear away the victory. The One who gave His life to ransom man from the delusions of Satan, is not asleep, but watching. When His sheep turn away from following the voice of a stranger, whose sheep they are not, they will rejoice in the voice they have loved to follow. 1SM 30.1
We can learn precious lessons from the study of the life of Christ. The envious Pharisees misinterpreted the acts and words of Christ, which, if properly received, would have been beneficial to their spiritual understanding. Instead of admiring His goodness, they charged Him, in the presence of His disciples, with impiety—“Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). Instead of addressing our blessed Saviour Himself, whose answer would at once have convicted them of their malice, they talked with the disciples, and made their charges where, as a leaven of evil, they would do great harm. If Christ had been an impious man, He would have lost His hold upon the hearts of His believing followers. But because of their confidence in Christ, the disciples would not give ear to the insinuations of His wicked accusers. 1SM 30.2
Desiring to bring censure upon the disciples, these wicked accusers went again and again to Christ with the question, Why do Thy disciples that which is not lawful? And when they judged our Lord to have transgressed, they spoke, not to Himself, but to His disciples, to plant the seeds of unbelief in the hearts of His followers. 1SM 30.3Read in context »
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Matthew 5:17. SD 55.1
God chose Israel as the depositary of priceless treasure of truth for all nations, and He gave them His law as the standard of the character they were to develop before the world, before angels, and before the unfallen worlds.... Through disobedience and disloyalty God's chosen nation developed a character exactly opposite to the character God designed them to develop by obeying His law. They placed their own mold and superscription upon the truth, removing from it the superscription of God.... The law of God was being buried beneath the minutiae of outward forms,—such as the frequent washing of the hands before eating, and the washing of pots and cups. Tithes were exacted on simple garden herbs. To those who made so much of these minor things, Christ said, “...these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” ... SD 55.2Read in context »
The character of the judge in the parable, who feared not God nor regarded man, was presented by Christ to show the kind of judgment that was then being executed, and that would soon be witnessed at His trial. He desires His people in all time to realize how little dependence can be placed on earthly rulers or judges in the day of adversity. Often the elect people of God have to stand before men in official positions who do not make the word of God their guide and counselor, but who follow their own unconsecrated, undisciplined impulses. COL 171.1
In the parable of the unjust judge, Christ has shown what we should do. “Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him?” Christ, our example, did nothing to vindicate or deliver Himself. He committed His case to God. So His followers are not to accuse or condemn, or to resort to force in order to deliver themselves. COL 171.2
When trials arise that seem unexplainable, we should not allow our peace to be spoiled. However unjustly we may be treated, let not passion arise. By indulging a spirit of retaliation we injure ourselves. We destroy our own confidence in God, and grieve the Holy Spirit. There is by our side a witness, a heavenly messenger, who will lift up for us a standard against the enemy. He will shut us in with the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Beyond this Satan cannot penetrate. He cannot pass this shield of holy light. COL 171.3Read in context »
In the son who said, “I go, sir,” and went not, the character of the Pharisees was revealed. Like this son, the Jewish leaders were impenitent and self-sufficient. The religious life of the Jewish nation had become a pretense. When the law was proclaimed on Mount Sinai by the voice of God, all the people pledged themselves to obey. They said, “I go, sir,” but they went not. When Christ came in person to set before them the principles of the law, they rejected Him. Christ had given the Jewish leaders of His day abundant evidence of His authority and divine power, but although they were convinced, they would not accept the evidence. Christ had shown them that they continued to disbelieve because they had not the spirit which leads to obedience. He had declared to them, “Ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.... In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:6, 9. COL 276.1
In the company before Christ there were scribes and Pharisees, priests and rulers, and after giving the parable of the two sons, Christ addressed to His hearers the question, “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” Forgetting themselves, the Pharisees answered, “The first.” This they said without realizing that they were pronouncing sentence against themselves. Then there fell from Christ's lips the denunciation, “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” COL 276.2Read in context »