What is the Source of Jesus’s Authority over Demons?  Matthew 12:22-37

Matthew 12:22-37 describes a confrontation over Jesus’s authority over demons. After healing a demon-oppressed man by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Pharisees declare Jesus casts out demons by the authority of Beelzebul. Some who witness this miracle wonder if Jesus is the son of David, the messiah. But the Pharisees reject this miracle as a messianic sign, he is not casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit at all! Jesus considers this rejection to be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.

This story is similar to Matthew 9:32-34. There two blind men called out to Jesus “have mercy on us, Son of David.” When Jesus heals them, the crowd is amazed and declare “nothing like this has been seen in Israel.” The Pharisees, however, declare Jesus drives out demons by the power of prince of demons. In that context, Jesus does not cast out a demon nor does he address the Pharisees. Here he heals a blind and mute man by casting out a demon, and the crowd wonders if he is the son of David. After the Pharisees make their statement, Jesus engages in a scribal debate with them, questioning their reasoning about the source of his power over demons.

The Crowd Reacts to Jesus Casting Out a Demon

As with the healing of the man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-14), the miracle itself is not the point of this story. Matthew focuses on the contrasting reactions of the people and the Pharisees.

The people wonder, “Can this be the son of David?” (12:23). This is the only place in Matthew where “all the crowds” are moved by a miracle, which may explain why the Pharisees react as they do. The miracles are now moving a large number of the people to consider the possibility of Jesus as the messiah. Jesus as a local miracle worker is one thing, but it is quite another if he begins to draw larger crowds. The mission of the Twelve has done just that, leading up to the feeding of the 5000.

The title “The Son of David” is a messianic title based on 2 Samuel 7:12-16. The Lord promises David that his son will rule after him and that David’s throne “will be established forever.”

The question adds to the crowd’s amazement. The verb (ἐξίστημι)is used for a reaction to something that does not make sense, so both amazement and confusion, “the main idea is involvement in a state or condition of consternation” (BDAG). Maybe the contemporary pop-English phrase “mind blown” conveys the right sense of the verb. “The crowds saw what Jesus did and it blew their minds.”

The Pharisees claim Jesus casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul

After the Pharisees hear the crowd wondering aloud if Jesus is the Messiah, they respond that he is just a man. “This man” is intentional, Jesus is just a human and not the Son of David, the messiah. Unlike the crowds, the Pharisees are not amazed by Jesus. In Matthew 9:32-34 the Pharisees made a similar declaration in response to dealing a deaf mute who.

The Pharisees claim Jesus is simply a man. He casts out demons because he is in league with the demons. This power comes from the prince of demons (9:34; 10:25).

Is the name Beelzebul or Beelzebub? Beelzebul is a transliteration of the Greek Βεελζεβούλ, “Baal, the Prince.” The name Beelzebub (בַּעַל זְבוּב) means “lord of flies” (2 Kings 1:2-6).  The name (בַּעַל זְבוּל) can mean something like “lord of filth” (BDAG). In the Testament of Solomon, Beelzebul is called the prince of demons:

Testament of Solomon 6:1-3 Then I summoned Beelzeboul to appear before me again. When he was seated, I thought it appropriate to ask him, “Why are you alone Prince of the Demons?” 2 He replied, “Because I am the only one left of the heavenly angels (who fell). I was the highest-ranking angel in heaven, the one called Beelzeboul. 3There also accompanied me another ungodly (angel) whom God cut off and now, imprisoned here, he holds in his power the race of those bound by me in Tartarus. He is being nurtured in the Red Sea; when he is ready, he will come in triumph.”

Is Beelzebul the same as Satan? In 12:26, Jesus uses the name Satan rather than Beelzebul. As John Nolland says “Beelzebul had. Become in time simply an alternative name for Satan” (Matthew, 435).

Jesus knows their thoughts and responds directly to the Pharisees. He first by points out their conclusion does not make sense. Second Jesus declare the Pharisees are in serious spiritual danger by rejecting the clear witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the eschatological Son of Man (Matthew 12:25-29).

Jesus the Servant of God – Matthew 12:15-21

In Matthew 12:1-14 there are two Sabbath controversy stories followed by a quotation of Isaiah. Matthew declares this Scripture is fulfilled when Jesus “withdrew from that place” and warned those who are healed to not tell others about him (12:15-17). Matthew also quotes a passage from Isaiah as after three healing stories (8:1-13).

Isaiah's Servant of the Lord

It appears Jesus does not want to engage with the Pharisees and risk a further public confrontation. He is not avoiding controversy (since he will still engage the Pharisees later in this chapter), but he wants to “keep it at bay” (Wilkins, Matthew, 443). This may also be the motivation for commanding those healed to not tell others. In both cases, Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of an important messianic text from Isaiah 42.

Matthew declares that Jesus is Isaiah’s Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4). These are the words of Matthew, the author of the gospel rather than Jesus. Matthew’s use of his text as an editorial comment on the withdrawing and/or ordering silence. This is the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Matthew.

It is not an exact quotation, and it varies from the Septuagint. Leon Morris therefore suggests Mathew is making his own translation from the Hebrew (Matthew, 310; cf. Davies and Allison, 2:321). The main point of the quotation at this moment in the gospel is to clarify what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. He does not conform to the Pharisees expectation, nor will he be a military Messiah who puts down Israel’s enemies.

So who is the Servant of the Lord?

The servant is God’s chosen servant.

“My servant” (ὁ παῖς μου) is an important title in Isaiah 40-55. Matthew used a noun which refers to a person younger than puberty; a child or a youth. In a few cases in the New Testament, it refers to a child (Matt 2:16, the children in Bethlehem, 17:8 a demon-possessed child). In the New Testament the word more often refers to a slave, although some examples are ambiguous (Matthew 8:6, 8; the centurion’s slave or child?) But the phrase “my servant” never refers to a child in the Septuagint, even though there is clear father/son language in the Matthew context.

The verb translated “chosen” (aorist active indicative from αἱρετίζω) is a rare word, only here in the NT.  In the LXX Haggai 2:23, Haggai calls Zerubbabel for “my servant” and “my chosen.” In secular Greek the word can have the sense of adoption (BrillDAG), so in Haggai Zerubbabel the chose servant could mean God has adopted him as his own son, in the same sense as the king is a son of God in Psalm 2.

The servant is God’s beloved, in whom he is well pleased.

This phrase appears in Matthew in two other important contexts, the baptism (3:17) and the transfiguration (17:5). The words evoke the baptism scene, as Jesus comes up out of the water the voice from heaven announces, “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) and at the Transfiguration the phrase is repeated, with the addition of “listen to him” (Matt 17:5). The “beloved son” may allude to Abraham and his beloved son (Gen 22).

The servant has God’s Spirit in him.

One of the key themes in Isaiah is God’s servant chosen by God, and the sign of the choice of an anointing with the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 61, the Spirit of the Lord anoints the servant to proclaim good news; this is the passage Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue and declared fulfilled in his ministry (Luke 4:14-21). Matthew’s verb “I will put or place” us unusual since it is not the verb used Isaiah 42 I either the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint. Once again, Psalm 2 may be in the background: God has enthroned the king in Zion and called him his son (2:6-7)

The servant will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

The ESV translates the noun ἔθνος as Gentiles, the NIV has nations. Although these are more or less the same thing, translating the word Gentiles may be taken as a hint of the future inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. Rather than looking forward to the salvation of the gentiles, Matthew may intend this as the future judgment of the nations when the messiah comes and establishes his kingdom.

Justice (χρίσις) can be positive (proclaiming justice to those who are suffering injustice). But in Matthew this word is associated with eschatological judgment (Matt 10:15; 11:22-24; cf., Rev 14:7). “means judgment that goes against a person, condemnation, and the sentence that follows” (BDAG). Perhaps this also alludes to Psalm 2:8, “ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In Psalm 2:10-12 the kings of the earth are warned to “kiss the son” and recognize his sovereignty.

The Meekness of the Servant (12:19-20)

He will be silent rather than quarreling (v. 19). Although he does engage the Pharisees in conversation, at this point he has withdrawn from conversation and is not in conflict with them. The verb ἐρίζω only appears here in the New Testament and refers to quarreling, competing with someone, “to affirm in an argumentative manner, maintain harshly or obstinately” (BrillDAG). The verb κραυγάζω is also rare in the New Testament, used here and in a few contexts where the Jews are extremely upset over Jesus (Acts 22:23, they are shouting and throwing off their cloaks, etc.; cf., John 18:40, 19:6, 12, the Jews crying out to crucify Jesus. In Luke 4:41 the verb is used for the speech of a demon as Jesus casts it out. In secular Greek it is used for the bark of a dog (Plato, Republic 607b) or the croaking caw of a crow (Arrianus, EpictD 3.1.37).

He will do no harm at all (v. 20a). These are the opposite characteristics one would expect from a conquering Messiah, he will not argue nor will he harm his enemies at this time. There are two metaphors for the meekness of the servant. He will not break a bruised reed or snuff out smoldering wick.” For many interpreters, this refers to Jesus reaching out to the underclass of Galilee. John Nolland, for example, takes the original context of Isaiah 42 as a reference to the exiles as “displaced and devalued people,” the servant will value these people and gather them to the land (Nolland, Matthew, 494).

But the servant will render justice in the future: “until he brings justice to victory” (v. 20b). “In victory” probably means something like “successfully,” so that despite his meek approach to his opponents, he will be ultimately successful. This description of the messiah fits well with the context. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light, in contrast to the Pharisees’ traditions about the Sabbath (12:1-14, cf. 23:1-4).

Jesus will not be goaded into a confrontation with the Pharisees over Sabbath or any other issue. He intends to go to Jerusalem to die at the proper time and nothing will derail him from that mission. The messiah will render judgment on the nations, but not until the appointed time.

Book Review: John Goldingay, The Theology of Jeremiah

Goldingay, John. The Theology of Jeremiah. Downers Grove Ill..: IVP Academic, 2021. 151 pp. Pb; $22.00.   Link to IVP Academic

This short primer to the theology of Jeremiah joins Goldingay’s The Theology of Isaiah (IVP Academic, 2014). Goldingay wrote the forthcoming NICOT volume on Jeremiah (Eerdmans, late 2021), informing his reflections on this important prophetic voice. Like the previous book in Isaiah, The Theology of Jeremiah is more like a series of challenging reflections on the book of Jeremiah.

Goldingay Theology of JeremiahPart one contains four chapters covering the contents of Jeremiah. As with any prophetic book, historical context is critically important for understanding the content and theology of the book. The first chapter (“The Man, The Scroll”) briefly introduces what we can know of the “historical Jeremiah” and the world to which God called him to announce his word. The exile was a catastrophe, a great calamity which destroyed Jerusalem. As for the date and composition of the book, Goldingay takes the “more old-fashioned view that the scroll was produced during the decades after the fall of Jerusalem, during or just after Jeremiah’s lifetime” (p. 9).

In the second chapter, “Reading Jeremiah Backwards,” Goldingay begins with the end of the book, the tragic conclusion to the book: Babylon devastated Jerusalem, and Jeremiah himself takes refuge in Egypt. He then backtracks through the narrative to explain what has happened. “It’s amazing how God keeps giving the people of God a new start and how we are capable of throwing it away. I picture God sitting with his cabinet in the heavens and they are all rolling their eyes at our stupidity and then starting another discussion about how they can fix things to give us another chance” (p. 19).

Goldingay then surveys the contents of Jeremiah in two chapters entitled “Themes in Jeremiah.” The book of Jeremiah asks Israel to get its thinking and commitments straight. Goldingay therefore divides the book into sections calling on Israel to “think about”: the Exodus (2-6), the temple (7-10), the covenant (11-13), prayer (14-17), God’s sovereignty (18-20), the government (21-25), the “reassuring prophets” (26-29), restoration and returning (30-33) “what is written” (34-26), tragedy and trauma (37-45), Egypt (46-49), and empire (50-51).

Part two covers five theological themes which arise from a reading of Jeremiah. Each of these five chapters are illustrated with scripture drawn from Goldingay’s own translation, The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). After creating a biblical theological reading of Jeremiah’s view of the topic, Goldingay connects Jeremiah to Christian theology. Here is sometimes uses categories of systematic theology (as in the chapter on God), the New Testament (as in the chapter on the People of God), or connects the theological theme to a contemporary work like Anglican Common Book of Prayer.

Goldingay is adamant that modern readers hear Jeremiah’s voice. He sometimes wonders what Jeremiah would think of later readings of his words. For example, in his chapter on the People of God, Goldingay says, “Jeremiah speaks with more than one voice about Israel’s security or vulnerability. He speaks of God annihilating Israel, of his decimating Israel but preserving a small community, and of his restoring Israel and vastly increasing its numbers. Jeremiah does not seek to reconcile these different positions in the way Paul does in Romans 9-11. Maybe he was glad when he could eventually read Romans—or will be when he gets the chance” (p. 100).

Since God called Jeremiah to confront the people of Judah about their wrongdoing, Goldingay devotes a chapter to the topic. He avoids using the word sin until the last section connecting Jeremiah to Christian theology. Jeremiah in fact uses a wide range of terms for sin: wrongdoing, taint, corruption, profanation, shamefulness, stubbornness, and even stupidity! Once again Goldingay concludes the chapter with the question of “what would Jeremiah think” about the Christian generalized confession of sin, For Jeremiah, says Goldingay, there are times when a person needs to seriously face their wrongdoings.

More than most of the prophets, Jeremiah has a great deal to say about “being a prophet” (chapter eight). God commissioned Jeremiah to speak his word to Judah. But because of his message, he was unpopular and vulnerable to attack. Jeremiah prays for (and against) those who attack him, even asking God to do what he has intended to do and judge Judah.

For many Christians, prophetic books are about the future. Goldingay devotes his final chapter to the future, but he is also clear the vast majority of the book of Jeremiah concerns the prophet’s own day and the next several generations. “The consideration about messianic prophecy leads into a reflection on the alternative inclination of Christian theology to see prophecy such as Jeremiah as forth-telling more than foretelling (p. 140).” Even in the seventy-year exile concerns his immediate audience: their grandchildren will experience the restoration.

Can Judah avoid the threat of exile? After all, God promised total devastation. If Israel does not repent, will God limit the time of the devastation? If the people turn and repent, will God restore them from their exile among the nations? For Jeremiah, the answer seems to be yes. Goldingay offers a list of the things expected when Israel is restored (p. 100). However, when he connects Jeremiah to Christian theology, these things are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. (There is no pre-millennialism here).

Conclusion: The book is a collection of Goldingay’s insights after the intense study required to write a major academic commentary. But Goldingay writes for a popular audience, so his style is clear, non-academic, and occasionally witty. The book is not cluttered with jargon or technical details. He challenges his readers to think more deeply about Jeremiah, perhaps in ways which confront their own assumptions about the book.

Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Logos Free Book of the Month for May 2021 – N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright, Storied WorldLogos Bible Software is offering a free Logos Mobile Education course for the month of May, N. T. Wright’s The Storied World of the Bible. This courses retails for $179.99, and contains about six hours of video featuring Wright. From the blurb:

Often, people wonder how the various stories, poems, prophetic texts, Gospels, and letters all fit together. And, indeed, they do fit together in ways needing to be understood by readers of the Bible. This course will unpack some of the questions surrounding the meaning of the Bible to bring a coherent sense of what is being communicated by the biblical writers. The Bible then, truly, becomes a Grand Story of God’s faithfulness.

If you want more (and we all do), you can add Wright’s 15 Essential Biblical Texts for $9.99 (five hours of video), and all three parts of Paul and His Letter to the Romans ($24.99, $34.99, and $19.99 each, or $79.97 for all three about 18 hours of video). All courses include video and transcriptions of the video, plus various extras associated with taking a class (assignments and tests). At hte very least get the free course to get a feel for what a Logos Mobile Course is like.

More Free (and discounted) books

Logos usually does “Another Free Book” promotion each month focused on Catholic resources for their Verbum collection. For the month of May, you can add Christian Philosophy in the Early Church by Anthony Meredith for free. From the blurb:

The first followers of Jesus were not drawn from the intellectual and social elite of their day, but rather from artisans, tax collectors, and the more disreputable members of society. Yet out of such seemingly insignificant beginnings, a seed was planted by his teaching, his cross, and his resurrection which was destined to spread its shade over the entire known world. What had begun as an essentially Jewish movement founded on the preaching of the Messiah became, with amazing speed, a religion that was accepted by pagans, Goths, Franks, and more. This book traces the growth of the church and the development of Christian philosophy through the first centuries.

You can also add the following related resources at deep discounts:

  • Francis Aveling, The God of Philosophy (B. Herder; Sands & Co., 1906), $1.99
  • Patrick Madrid, Scripture and Tradition in the Church (Freedom Publishing Company, 2014), $5.99
  • Stephen J. Pope, ed., The Ethics of Aquinas (Georgetown University Press, 2002), $7.99
  • Roland Meynet, A New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels (Convivium Press; Gregorian University Press, 2010), $9.99

Still don’t own Logos Bible Software?

Logos Bible Software 15% off Sale

For a limited time (until June 15, 2021), you can save 15% on base packages and pick up five additional books for free when you use the partner code PARTNEROFFER9 when you check out. At the very least,  take a look at the Fundamental ($49.99) or Basic (free) packages. Then you can start adding these free and discounted resources to your library each month. Spend as little money as you want, but take advantage on these great deals on evangelical resources for your Logos library before the end of May 2021. 



Biblical Studies Carnival 182 for April 2021

Ruben de Rus posted Biblical Studies Carnival 182 at his blog, Ayuda Ministerial/Resources for Ministry. His carnival has a nice mix of blogs and podcasts. Follow Ruben on Twitter, @rubenderus.

Check out the Biblical Studies Carnival Master List at the top of this page to visit past carnivals.Here is a list of the upcoming BiblioBlog Carnival hosts  2021, at least through June. There is still plenty of time for you to get your name on the list for hosting a biblical studies carnival in 2021.

if you want to be a part of the BiblioBlog world (or Carnival cult, whatever), contact me via email, plong42@gmail.com or DM on twitter (plong42) to discuss hosting a carnival in 2021. I would love to see some veteran bloggers volunteer for a month in 2021. If you are a new BiblioBlogger, this is a good way to get your blog some recognition. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about hosting a Biblical Studies Carnival in the second half for 2021.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath – Matthew 12:1-8

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus declared “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Elsewhere in the New Testament “yoke” refers to the Jewish law and Jesus considers the Pharisees hypocrites because they tie up heavy burdens for others to carry but they are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt 23:2-4). The two stories in Matthew 12:1-4 are examples of the light burden of Jesus in contrast to the heavy burdens of the Pharisees.

Jesus and his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath

Jesus’s disciples pluck some grain on the Sabbath and offend the Pharisees (Matthew 12:1-2)

For a hungry person to plucking grain is not the problem, but  plucking grain violates the Sabbath. Plucking grain is one of the thirty-nine activities which count as work on the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 allows the poor to pluck grain by hand to satisfy their hunger. Matthew says the disciples are hungry, the verb πεινάω has the sense of having hunger pains, having a strong desire to eat something (not just peckish, as John Nolland puts it).

The Pharisees see this action as intentional breaking Sabbath regulations, and they point this out Jesus expecting him to admonish his disciples for breaking the Sabbath. Remember, the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens” (23:3-4) by defining what constitutes work on the Sabbath. Although much of this comes from the Mishnah (written about A.D. 250), it is safe to assume in the early first century the Pharisees were already developing Sabbath regulations.

It is important to think of the Pharisees as genuinely wanting to obey God’s Law and their traditions intended to fill in the gaps so that one did not accidentally break the Sabbath Law. They are simply asking “what if?” questions about what may (or may not) constitute work on the Sabbath.

Jesus makes a scriptural argument (Matthew 12:3-5)

He begins with a story from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, David takes bread from the house of God. The bread of the presence (the showbread) was set before the Lord each Sabbath, then the old bread was eaten by the priests (Leviticus 24; Numbers 4:5–8). David stops at the Tabernacles when he is fleeing from King Saul. He needs provisions, so he he asks the priest Ahimelek for bread, but the only bread available is the showbread. This bread was considered holy. Because it was placed in the presence of the Lord for a week, it should only be eaten by a consecrated priest. He also takes Goliath’s sword since he is in need of a weapon.

In later Jewish discussion of this passage, the day David took the bread was the Sabbath. In the original story and in Jesus’s use of that story here in Matthew 12, it is assumed David was within his rights to take both the bread and Goliath’s sword. The writer does not suggest David violated the Law or that taking the bread of the presence was sinful in any way.

David this food not because he and his men are hungry, but because he is David. In the original story, David has authority to order the priest to do something that is not usually done, give the bread to someone who is not a priest. He was likely hungry and in danger as well,

The second part of Jesus’s answer concerns priests who work on the Sabbath. Numbers 28:9-10 indicates a burnt offering was made on the Sabbath, therefore at least some priests are required to work on the day of rest. Nolland wonders about the relevance of this point, but concludes it creates a space for “apparently unlawful behavior” to be justified on other grounds (Matthew, 484).

Jesus is making a “lesser to greater” argument. “Someone greater than the Temple is here now” (Matthew 12:6). If David was permitted to take the showbread on the Sabbath, and the priests are permitted to work on the Sabbath, then Jesus is “within his rights” to also allow his disciples to glean a little food because they are hungry even though it is a technical violation of the Sabbath rules.

If the Pharisees understood Hosea 6:6, they would not have condemned the disciples (Matthew 12:7).

Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” when the Pharisees condemned him for eating with tax collectors and other sinners (Matt 9:9-12). In the original context the emphasis was on treatment of the poor and needy, mercy to those in need of mercy is more important that proper sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus applied that to the tax collectors and other sinners who were responding to his message. Now Jesus extends mercy to the poor, little ones (his disciples) who are hungry and want a little food on the Sabbath. They are not harvesting a field to sell the wheat and make money; they are trying to get a little food to stave off their hunger. For Jesus, this is not a violation of the spirit of the Sabbath laws.

Jesus also says his disciples are guiltless. Although the word ἀναίτιος is rare in the New Testament, it is used in Acts 16:37 when Paul tells the magistrates in Philippi, he has not down anything to deserve punishment. In secular Greek it is used for someone who is not responsible or is exempt from blame (BrillDAG). The verb translated “condemn’ (καταδικάζω) is a legal term as well, to condemn someone is to find them guilty of a violation of law. in LXX Psalm 36:33 (ET 37:33) the Lord will not let the righteous “be condemned when brought to trial.”

Who gets to interpret the Sabbath laws and decide what is permissible on the Sabbath? The Pharisees claim that role, but Jesus concludes his answer to them by declaring that he is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Therefore: “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

Jesus argued David had authority to take the bread set aside for the priests.The Son of Man is greater than David and the priests work on the Sabbath By calling himself the “Lord of the Sabbath” Jesus is claims he is qualified, as the Son of Man, to decide what is permissible on the Sabbath (not the Pharisees). Jesus made a similar point in the Sermon on the Mount. As the Messiah he has the authority to interpret the Law for his disciples.

Matthew does not tell us the reaction of the Pharisees to this stunning declaration. But in the next paragraph the Pharisees ask Jesus about a particular application of Sabbath law in order to accuse him before the Jewish authorities.

“My Yoke is Light” – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’s call for those who labor and are heavy laden to come to him is one of the most beloved verses in the Gospels (11:28-30). What did Jesus mean by his yoke? How is Jesus’s yoke light? What does it mean to be “heavy laden”?

Yoked Oxen

Jesus’s extends his invitation to laborers oppressed with heavy burdens. The “ones who labor” refers to people who are tired out from some activity. For example, in John 4:6, Jesus sits at the well because he is tired from the journey. Since Jesus is drawing a contrast with Pharisees, the yoke refers to Jesus’s demands on his followers.

Jesus describes himself as gentle and lowly, in contrast to the hypocritical arrogance of the Pharisees (Matt 23:29-31). In Matthew 23:4 the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens” (φορτίον, the noun related to Jesus’s verb in 11:28), These burdens are hard to bear, and the Pharisees “lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

When those who come to Jesus take up his yoke, they will find rest.

Nolland (Matthew, 478) suggests this is an allusion to Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” The response to this call to follow the good way of the Lord in Jeremiah is “we will not walk in it.” Similar to the call of Jesus here in Matthew 11. The Pharisees will not take up Jesus’s yoke nor will they follow Jesus as “the way.”

There is another intriguing parallel in Sirach 51:20: “Draw near to me, you who are uneducated, and lodge in the house of instruction” and in verse 26, “Put your neck under [wisdom’s] yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by” (NRSV). Rather than inviting the weary who need rest, Sirach calls the uneducated to put on the yoke of wisdom. Presumably he means attending classes at Sirach’s house of instruction. Similar to Sirach, Jesus is calling people to enter into a discipleship relationship with him and to take up his yoke.

Jesus promised those who follow the way rest and and he invites them to “take up my yoke.” What is the Jesus’s easy yoke and light burden? Although a yoke links two animals together, this is not the point of the metaphor. In second Temple literature a yoke is always a metaphor for a burden, obedience or subordination.

It is unusual to think of an animal taking up a yoke itself and placing on its neck, but in the world of the metaphor a person voluntarily takes up Jesus’s yoke and submits themselves to him. In contrast, the Pharisees refuse that yoke, preferring their own interpretation of the Law. This will lead to the decisive break with the Pharisees in the next chapter.

What is the yoke Jesus’s disciples are to take on?

Acts 15:10 used a yoke as a metaphor for the Law. There Peter calls the Law a burden. But Jesus is drawing a contrast between the heavy yoke of the Pharisees and his own. Later in Matthew 23:4 Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they tie up heavy cumbersome loads and put them on people’s shoulders. This refers to the various traditions the Pharisees developed as a fence around the Law.

There is some irony here, since Jesus says his burden is light and easy to bear. Yet in Matthew 10 he told his disciples they will face oppression, persecution, beatings and death on account of their testimony.

In many ways Jesus’s yoke is light, but it is not easy.

Revealed to the Little Children – Matthew 11:25-27

Some of Jesus’s teachings are hidden from those who have rejected him as the messiah. The Pharisees, for example, think they are wise and have understanding, but they do not (v. 25a). In the immediate context, the villages of Galilee thought themselves wise when they rejected the representatives of the messiah, so now the plan of redemption is hidden from them.

Jesus teaching a Child

This anticipates the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. For the first time Jesus begins to teach the crowds using parables so that the insiders (the disciples, the little children) will understand, but the outsiders will not. What are the “hidden things” now revealed to the little children? In Matthew 13:11, Jesus says the “secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven” have been given to the disciples. Jesus taught his own disciples things which he did not teach the crowds.

The reason for this is that God chose to reveal his plan to “little children” (v. 25b). As in the previous unit, the little children are Jesus’s disciples. The noun translated “little children” in the ESV (νήπιος) refers to an infant, up to the age of a person who was not yet of legal age, so a minor (BDAG). But the LXX uses the word to translate the Hebrew word “simple,” and in secular Greek it is used figuratively for “infantile, childish, silly, ignorant, without foresight” (BrillDAG). To “speak like a child” is to say foolish things.

The emphasis is not on innocent children or babies, but the opposite of the wise and intelligent. In the context of Matthew, the ones who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah (Pharisees and teachers of the Law) are the intelligent and well educated. Jesus’s disciples have received God’s revelation through Jesus, yet they are (in comparison) like foolish children.

The difference between the wise (who do not understand) and the little children (who do understand) is that God has revealed the hidden things to the little children. This is the gracious will of God, which the Father handed over to Jesus (vv. 26-27). Father reveals to the Son, the Son reveals to the little children, the disciples.

Many have rejected Jesus as the messiah, but some have responded in faith. Those faithful are the “little ones” the children to whom the father has revealed the hidden things. But this does not mean the gospel is only for the insiders or that the wise who have rejected Jesus cannot yet come to Jesus. He therefore invites everyone to come to him and find rest.

I have occasionally heard this passage used as an excuse for not pursuing a biblical education or for pastors to avoid ministerial training. Some people have a perverse pride over being uneducated. But that is not the point here. Jesus is not making a statement about his uneducated disciples. In fact, the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 indicates they are well prepared to receive the word of God. Jesus has revealed himself publicly as the messiah, so that both his disciples and the Pharisees saw and heard the same things. The difference between the disciples and the Pharisees in Matthew is the Pharisees were not prepared to accept Jesus as the Messiah and reject him and eventually turn antagonistic towards him (in chapter 12).

Book Review: Caleb T. Friedeman, ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature

Friedeman. Caleb T., ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2021. xvi+549 pp.; Hb.  $59.95  Link to Hendrickson Academic

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature (ASIRL, pronounced AY-sirl) is the first comprehensive Scripture index to classical rabbinic literature in English. The goals of this volume are quite different than the venerable (and oft-reprinted) work by John Lightfoot or Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash (German, 1926). Those volumes indexed the passages in the Mishnah and Talmud to New Testament passages. ASIRL indexes quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Bible in a wide range of classical rabbinic literature, providing a convenient list to study the developing interpretation of Scripture in classical rabbinic literature.

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic LiteratureBy classic rabbinic literature, the editors mean works produced in the second through seventh centuries CE (3). The volume is also limited to works available in English, untranslated Hebrew or German texts are not indexed. The literature indexed includes the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and the minor Talmudic Tractates, and seventeen midrashic works. The introduction surveys these twenty-two categories, indicating the translation used for the volume and a brief introduction to the contents and abbreviation schemes. This is a valuable introduction to many of the lesser-known works included in the index. The introduction also includes a brief bibliography for each work included.

According to the introduction to the book, ASIRL contains “approximately 90,000 rabbinic entries and represents over 2,500 hours of work by a seven-person team over the course of two and a half years.” ASRIL has five goals. First, the volume brings all Scripture references in classical rabbinic literature together in a single volume so that users can look at one or two pages and know every place in this literature where a given biblical passage is referenced. Second, the book creates Scripture indexes for rabbinic works that do not yet have them. Third, the book provides for each reference a hard citation that is transferable to other editions, and also to provide the corresponding page number in a standard English translation. Fourth, the editors decide whether each reference is a direct citation, allusion, or editorial reference. Fifth, the volume corrects any errors in the existing indexes for this literature.

As test case I selected Exodus 12:9. Referring to the Passover Lamb, the text says “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.” The index points the way to how this verse was interpreted by classic rabbinic literature. The ASIRL for Exodus 12:9 has thirty entries arranged in chronological order beginning with the Mishnah. Each entry includes pages numbers in the work cited in the edition listed in the introduction. For the Mishnah, they give page numbers both D for Danbey (D) and Neusner (N). This made it quite easy to locate references in my copy of Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah.. The index also pointed me to Lauterbach’s Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael: “R. Akiba says: From this I know only that it is forbidden to boil it in water. How about boiling it in other liquids? The scriptural expression: “nor sodden at all,” includes all other liquids in the prohibition.” In b. Hul. 115A the rabbis connected Exodus 12:9 to the prohibition of eating meat boiled in milk as well as prohibitions against eating meat with blood. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoha adds “if one eats it insufficiently cooked, he gets the 40 lashes!”

This raises on potential problem for using the full potential of ASIRL. Users need access to a formidable research library in order to make use of the index. I happen to have both the Neusner’s Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud in Logos as well as a few of the other works listed, but few users will have immediate access to anything other than the Mishnah and Talmud. The majority of entries are from those two sources, but some may be frustrated trying to find a copy of Sifre Zuta Numbers, for example. Although it would be a great deal of work, I would really like to see this book converted to a Logos tagged resource so users could click a link and go immediately to the cited section.

Since this is an index of Scripture in the rabbinic literature, it is not surprising the bulk of the 549 pages of the book cover the Hebrew Bible (and about 250 pages are on the five books of the Torah). The Apocrypha appears on slightly more than one page, the New Testament in barely four pages. The editors are clear: they do not want to imply any listed classic rabbinic text actually directly interacts with the New Testament. All the New Testament examples are editorial references rather than citations or allusions. Once again, this is not a new version of Strack and Billerbeck. In fact, these two sections could have been omitted without effecting the goals of ASRIL.

NB: Thanks to Hendrickson Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Woe to You, Chorazin! Matthew 11:20-24

In Matthew 11:16-19 Jesus says “this generation” did not listen to John and claiming Jesus “has a demon.” This generation has rejected Jesus’s ministry, calling him a glutton, drunkard and a friend of sinners. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus responds to the villages of Galilee that rejected the preaching of his representatives calling them to gather to Jesus as the messiah. Unlike the children’s game in 11:16-17, rejection of Jesus and his messianic mission is dangerous and will lead to eternal destruction.

chorazin synagogue

After observing that the crowds were like “sheep without a shepherd (9:36), Jesus appointed the Twelve (10:1-4) and instructed them for their short-term mission to the villages of Galilee (10:5-15). The twelve are the workers sent to the harvest (9:37). Oddly, Matthew never reports the disciples returned to Jesus and report what they have done during their mission. The disciples must have returned and reported some did respond to his message and messianic signs, but some of the towns and villages did not.

Jesus denounces the villages which did not repent after witnessing his might works. To “denounce” (ὀνειδίζω) refers to “to find justifiable fault with someone” (BDAG 2), although the only example of this use is in Matthew 11:20. Usually the word describes insulting or mocking someone as a way of shaming them (BDAG 1). The NRSV translates this as “to reproach” rather than denounce (ESV, NIV).

To underscore this prophetic condemnation, Jesus uses the word woe. Although the word is not common outside of the Bible, it refers to someone whose situation is miserable (Nolland, Matthew, 467). In Isaiah 6, for example, Isiah pronounces woe on himself after seeing the glory of God.

Bethsaida is a fishing village on the north side of the lake, the home of Jesus’s earliest disciples, the brothers Peter and Andrew and Philip (John 1:44; James F. Strange, “Beth-Saida (Place),” ABD 1: 692). It is about eight miles north of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Herod Philip expanded the town and renamed it Julia (after the Augustus’s daughter), and Philip was buried in the town (about 33 A.D.; Ant 18.4.6 §108). Since Bethsaida means “house of fishing,” it is possible the disciples came from a fishing village on the shore of Galilee (el-Araj) about a mile and a half from the actual city (et-Tell). Jesus feeds the 5000 near Bethsaida and heals a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida when Jesus walked on the water (Mark 6:45-51).

Chorazin is a town two miles north of Capernaum. The Talmud considered it a medium-sized town (t. Mak. 3:8); the Mishnah comments on the town’s wheat production (b. Menah. 85a; Robert W. Smith, “Chorazin (Place),” ABD 1: 911). The Gospels do not describe Jesus doing any ministry there, although its proximity to Capernaum means it is likely he did. The site at Khirbet Kerazeh is now a national park. Limited excavations have so far not reached the first century village, the impressive partially reconstructed synagogue dates to the fourth century A.D.

Capernaum was essentially Jesus’s base camp for his Galilean ministry. Many of the miracle stories in Matthew 8-9 take place in Capernaum. Although Jesus spends a great deal of his time in and around Capernaum, there is no “break” with the town as at Nazareth (Matt 13:53-58 / Mark 6:1-6a). Why didn’t Jesus mention Nazareth as a town that rejected him as the messiah? In Matthew, it has not happened yet.

Jesus compares these three Jewish towns to classic examples of wicked cities. Tyre and Sidon was the home of Jezebel, the wife of Ahab and opponent of Elijah. In 1 Kings she introduced Baal worship to Israel and supported 450 priests and 400 prophetesses of Baal. Sodom is the ultimate evil city. It one of the five cities of the plain God destroys in Genesis 18-19. Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy these cities if even ten righteous people could be found, yet there was not even that small number living in Sodom (Lot maybe, his wife and two daughters likely not “righteous.”)

Yet even these classic examples of sinful rebellion against God would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Even Sodom would still exist today if they had witnessed the messianic signs. “On the day of Judgment” refers to the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament. This is the final judgment at the end of this age, when God breaks into history and judges the unrighteous and vindicates the righteous just prior to the kingdom of God.

If it will be better for Sodom than Capernaum on the day of judgment because they rejected the Messiah, what will it be like on that day for Christian America? Although Jesus has not literally preached to us, the United States has the most Christian privileges in world history. The gospel is preached openly every day, we unlimited have access to Bibles and Christian literature unlike any other time in history.

Will it be better for Sodom on the great day of God’s judgment than for the United States of America?