As it impresses itself on our minds, what now follows took place at a somewhat different time - perhaps on the way to the Synagogue. It is a remarkable circumstance, that among the ruins of the Synagogue of Capernaum the lintel has been discovered, and that it bears the device of a pot of manna, ornamented with a flowing pattern of vine leaves and clusters of grapes. Here then were the outward emblems, which would connect themselves with the Lord's teaching on that day. The miraculous feeding of the multitude in the 'desert place' the evening before, and the Messianic thoughts which clustered around it, would naturally suggest to their minds remembrance of the manna. That manna, which was Angels' food, distilled (as they imagined) from the upper light, 'the dew from above' - miraculous food, of all manner of taste, and suited to every age, according to the wish or condition of him who see ate it, but bitterness to Gentile palates - they expected the Messiah to bring again from heaven. For, all that the first deliverer Moses had done, the second - Messiah - would also do. And here, over their Synagogue, was the pot of manna - symbol of what God had done, earnest of what the Messiah would do: that pot of manna, which was now among the things hidden, but which Elijah, when he came, would restore again!
Here, then, was a real sign. In their view the events of yesterday must lead up to some such sign, if they had any real meaning. They had been told to believe on Him, as the One authenticated by God with the seal of Truth, and Who would give them meat to eternal life. By what sign would Christ corroborate His assertion, that they might see and believe? What work would He do to vindicate His claim? Their fathers had eaten manna in the wilderness. To understand the reasoning of the Jews, implied but not fully expressed, as also the answer of Jesus, it is necessary to bear in mind that it was the oft and most anciently expressed opinion that, although God had given them this bread out of heaven, yet it was given through the merits of Moses, and ceased with his death. This the Jews had probably in view, when they asked: 'What work will You do?; and this was the meaning of Christ's emphatic assertion, that it was not Moses who gave Israel that bread. And then by what, with all reverence, may still be designated a peculiarly Jewish turn of reasoning - such as only those familiar with Jewish literature can fully appreciate - the Savior makes quite different, yet to them familiar, application of the manna. Moses had not given it - his merits had not procured it - but His Father gave them the true bread out of heaven.
"For the bread of God is He Who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Again, this very Rabbinic tradition, which described in such glowing language the wonders of that manna, also further explained its other and real meaning to be, that if Wisdom said, ' Eat of my bread and drink of my wine, ' it indicated that the manna and the miraculous water-supply were the sequence of Israel's receiving the Law and the Commandments - for the real bread from heaven was the Law.
It was an appeal which the Jews understood, and to which they could not but respond. Yet the mood was brief. As Jesus, in answer to the appeal that He would evermore give them this bread, once more directed them to Himself - from works of men to the Works of God and to faith - the passing gleam of spiritual hope had already died out, for they had seen Him and 'yet did not believe.'
With these words of mingled sadness and judgment, Jesus turned away from His questioners. The solemn sayings which now followed could not have been spoken to, and they would not have been understood by, the multitude. And accordingly we find that, when the conversation of the Jews is once more introduced, it takes up the thread where it had been broken off, when Jesus spake of Himself as the Bread Which had come down from heaven. Had they heard what, in our view, Jesus spake only to His disciples, their objections would have been to more than merely the incongruity of Christ's claim to have come down from heaven.
Regarding these words of Christ, then, as addressed to the disciples, there is really nothing in them beyond their standpoint, though they open views of the far horizon. They had the experience of the raising of the young man at Nain, and there, at Capernaum, of Jairus' daughter. Besides, believing that Jesus was the Messiah, it might perhaps not be quite strange nor new to them as Jews - although not commonly received - that He would at the end of the world raise the pious dead. Indeed, one of the names given to the Messiah - that of Yinnon, according to Psalm 72:17 - has by some been derived from this very expectancy. Again, He had said, that it was not any Law, but His Person, that was the bread which came down from heaven, and gave life, not to Jews only, but unto the world - and they had seen Him and believed not.
"'I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread, which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is even My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
"Because of this, the Jews were arguing with one another, saying, "How is He able to give us His flesh to eat?" Therefore, Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day; For My flesh is truly food, and My blood is truly drink.
"'The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood is dwelling in Me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent Me, and I live by the Father; so also the one who eats Me shall live by Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate manna, and died. The one who eats this bread shall live forever.' These things He said in the synagogue as He was teaching in Capernaum." (John 6:48-59, HBFV)
The Personality of Christ was the Bread of Life. The Manna had not been bread of life, for those who ate it had died, their carcasses had fallen in the wilderness. Not so in regard to this, the true Bread from heaven. To share in that Food was to have everlasting life, a life which the sin and death of unbelief and judgment would not cut short, as it had that of them who had eaten the Manna and died in the wilderness. It was another and a better Bread which came from heaven in Christ, and another, better, and deathless life which was connected with it:
"and the bread that I will give is even My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
These words, so deeply significant to us, as pointing out the true meaning of all His teaching, must, indeed, have sounded most mysterious. Yet the fact that they strove about their meaning shows, that they must have had some glimmer of apprehension that they bore on His self-surrender, or, as they might view it, His martyrdom. This last point is set forth in the concluding Discourse, which we know to have been delivered in the Synagogue, whether before, during, or after, His regular Sabbath address. It was not a mere martyrdom for the life of the world, in which all who benefitted by it would share - but personal fellowship with Him. Eating the Flesh and drinking the Blood of the Son of Man, such was the necessary condition of securing eternal life. It is impossible to mistake the primary reference of these words to our personal application of His Death and Passion to the deepest need and hunger of our souls; most difficult, also, to resist the feeling that, secondarily, they referred to that Holy Feast which shows forth that Death and Passion, and is to all time its remembrance, symbol, seal, and fellowship.
Many begin to stop following Jesus
"Therefore, after hearing these words, many of His disciples said, "This is a hard saying. Who is able to hear it?" But Jesus, knowing that His disciples were complaining about this, said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you shall see the Son of man ascending up where He was before? It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones that did not believe, and who would betray Him.
"And He said, "For this reason, I have said to you, no one can come to Me unless it has been given to him from My Father." From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.
"Therefore, Jesus said to the twelve, "Are you also desiring to go away?" Then Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; And we have believed and have known that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" Now He spoke of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son; for he was about to betray Him, being one of the twelve." (John 6:60-71, HBFV)
But to them that heard 'the Bread that I will give is My Flesh,' even to many of His disciples, this was an hard saying. Who could bear it? For it was a thorough disenchantment of all their Judaic illusions, an entire upturning of all their Messianic thoughts, and that, not merely to those whose views were grossly carnal, but even to many who had hitherto been drawn closer to Him. The 'meat' and 'drink' from heaven which had the Divine seal of 'truth' were, according to Christ's teaching, not 'the Law,' nor yet Israel's privileges, but fellowship with the Person of Jesus in that state of humbleness ('the Son of Joseph,' ), or martyrdom, which His words seemed to indicate,
"For My flesh is truly food, and My blood is truly drink."
and what even this fellowship secured, consisted only in abiding in Him and He in them; or, as they would understand it, in inner communion with Him, and in sharing His condition and views. Truly, this was a totally different Messiah and Messianic Kingdom from what they either conceived or wished.
Though they spake it not, this was the rock of offense over which they stumbled and fell. And Jesus read their thoughts. How unfit were they to receive all that was yet to happen in connection with the Christ - how unprepared for it! If they stumbled at this, what when they came to contemplate the far more mysterious and un-Jewish facts of the Messiah's Crucifixion and Ascension! Truly, not outward following, but only inward and spiritual life-quickening could be of profit - even in the case of those who heard the very Words of Christ, which were spirit and life. Thus it again appeared, and most fully, that, morally speaking, it was absolutely impossible to come to Him, even if His Words were heard, except under the gracious influence from above.
And so this was the great crisis in the History of the Christ. We have traced the gradual growth and development of the popular movement, till the murder of the Baptist stirred popular feeling to its inmost depth. With his death it seemed as if the Messianic hope, awakened by his preaching and testimony to Christ, were fading from view. It was a terrible disappointment, not easily borne. Now must it be decided, whether Jesus was really the Messiah. His Works, notwithstanding what the Pharisees said, seemed to prove it. Then let it appear; let it come, stroke upon stroke - each louder and more effective than the other - till the land rang with the shout of victory and the world itself re-echoed it. And so it seemed.
Here, then, we are at the parting of the two ways; and, just because it was the hour of decision, did Christ so clearly set forth the highest truths concerning Himself, in opposition to the views which the multitude entertained about the Messiah. The result was yet another and a sorer defection "From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him." The searching trial reached even unto the hearts of the Twelve. Would they also go away? It was an anticipation of Gethsemane - its first experience. But one thing kept them true. It was the experience of the past. This was the basis of their present faith and allegiance. They could not go back to their old past; they must cleave to Him. So Peter spake it in name of them all:
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; And we have believed and have known that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
It is thus, also, that many of us, whose thoughts may have been sorely tossed, and whose foundations terribly assailed, may have found our first resting-place in the assured, unassailable spiritual experience of the past. Whither can we go for Words of Eternal Life, if not to Christ? If He fails us, then all hope of the Eternal is gone. But He has the Words of Eternal life - and we believed when they first came to us; nay, we know that He is the Holy One of God. And this conveys all that faith needs for further learning. The rest will He show, when He is transfigured in our sight.
But of these Twelve Christ knew one to be 'a devil' - like that Angel, fallen from highest height to lowest depth. The apostasy of Judas had already commenced in his heart. And, the greater the popular expectancy and disappointment had been, the greater the reaction and the enmity that followed. The hour of decision was past, and the hand on the dial pointed to the hour of His Death.
The Vain Religious Traditions of Men
"Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem came together to Him. And when they saw some of His disciples eating with defiled hands (that is, unwashed hands), they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews, holding fast to the tradition of the elders, do not eat unless they wash their hands thoroughly. Even when coming from the market, they do not eat unless they first wash themselves. And there are many other things that they have received to observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and brass utensils and tables. For this reason, the Pharisees and the scribes questioned Him, saying, "Why don't Your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"
"And He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.' For leaving the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men, such as the washing of pots and cups; and you practice many other things like this."
"Then He said to them, "Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'The one who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man shall say to his father or mother, "Whatever benefit you might receive from me is corban" (that is, set aside as a gift to God), he is not obligated to help his parents.' And you excuse him from doing anything for his father or his mother, Nullifying the authority of the Word of God by your tradition which you have passed down; and you practice many traditions such as this."
"And after calling all the multitude to Him, He said to them, 'Hear Me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing that enters into a man from outside which is able to defile him; but the things that come out from within him, those are the things which defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.'" (Mark 7:1-16, HBFV)
Although the complaints of the Jerusalem Scribes may have been occasioned by seeing some of the disciples eating without first having washed their hands, we cannot banish the impression that it reflected on the recent miraculously provided meal, when thousands had sat down to food without the previous observance of the Rabbinic ordinance. Neither in that case, nor in the present, had the Master interposed. He was, therefore, guilty of participation in their offense. So this was all which these Pharisees and Scribes could see in the miracle of Christ's feeding the Multitude - that it had not been done according to Law! Most strange as it may seem, yet in the past history of the Church, and, perhaps, sometimes also in the present, this has been the only thing which some men have seen in the miraculous working of the Christ! Perhaps we should not wonder that the miracle itself made no deeper impression, since even the disciples ' understood not' (by reasoning) 'about the loaves' - however they may have accounted for it in a manner which might seem to them reasonable. But, in another aspect, the objection of the Scribes was not a mere cavil. In truth, it represented one of the great charges which the Pharisees brought against Jesus, and which determined them to seek His destruction.
They accounted for the miracles of Christ as wrought by the power of Satan, whose special representative - almost incarnation - they declared Jesus to be. This would not only turn the evidential force of these signs into an argument against Christ, but vindicate the resistance of the Pharisees to His claims. The second charge against Jesus was, that He was 'not of God;' that He was 'a sinner.' If this could be established, it would, of course, prove that He was not the Messiah, but a deceiver who misled the people, and whom it was the duty of the Sanhedrin to unmask and arrest. The way in which they attempted to establish this, perhaps persuaded themselves that it was so, was by proving that He sanctioned in others, and Himself committed, breaches of the traditional law; which, according to their fundamental principles, involved heavier guilt than sins against the revealed Law of Moses.
It was in support of the second of these charges, that the Scribes now blamed the Master for allowing His disciples to eat without having previously washed his hands. Once more we have to mark, how minutely conversant the Gospel narratives are with Jewish Law and practice. This will best appear from a brief account of this 'tradition of the elders,' the more needful that important differences prevail even among learned Jewish authorities, due probably to the circumstance that the brief Mishnic Tractate devoted to the subject has no Gemara attached to it, and also largely treats of other matters. At the outset we have this confirmation of the Gospel language, that this practice is expressly admitted to have been, not a Law of Moses, but 'a tradition of the elders.' Still, and perhaps on this very account, it was so strictly enjoined, that to neglect it was like being guilty of gross carnal defilement. Its omission would lead to temporal destruction, or, at least, to poverty.
Bread eaten with unwashen hands was as if it had been filth. Indeed, a Rabbi who had held this command in contempt was actually buried in excommunication. Thus, from their point of view, the charge of the Scribes against the disciples, so far from being exaggerated, is most moderately worded by the Evangelists. In fact, although at one time it had only been one of the marks of a Pharisee, yet at a later period to wash before eating was regarded as affording the ready means of recognising a Jew.
It is somewhat more difficult to account for the origin of the ordinance. So far as indicated, it seems to have been first enjoined in order to ensure that sacred offerings should not be eaten in defilement. When once it became an ordinance of the elders, this was, of course, regarded as sufficient ground for obedience. Presently, Scriptural support was sought for it. Some based it on the original ordinance of purification in Leviticus 15:11; while others saw in the words ' Sanctify yourselves, ' the command to wash before meat; in the command, ' Be ye holy, ' that of washing after meat; while the final clause, 'for I am the Lord your God,' was regarded as enjoining ' the grace at meat. ' For, soon it was not merely a washing before, but also after meals. The former alone was, however, regarded as 'a commandment', the other only as 'a duty', which some, indeed, explained on sanitary grounds, as there might be left about the hands what might prove injurious to the eyes.
Accordingly, soldiers might, in the urgency of campaigning, neglect the washing before, but they ought to be careful about that after meat. By-and-by, the more rigorous actually washed between the courses, although this was declared to be purely voluntary. This washing before meals is regarded by some as referred to in Talmudic writings by the expression 'the first waters', while what is called 'the second', or 'the other,' 'later,' or 'afterwaters', is supposed to represent the washing after meals.
The water was poured on both hands, which must be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, etc. The hands were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers. Similarly, each hand was rubbed with the other (the first), provided the hand that rubbed had been affused: otherwise, the rubbing might be done against the head, or even against a wall. But there was one point on which special stress was laid. In the 'first affusion,' which was all that originally was required when the hands were Levitically 'defiled,' the water had to run down to the wrist. If the water remained short of the wrist, the hands were not clean. Accordingly, the words of Mark can only mean that the Pharisees eat not 'except they wash their hands to the wrist.'
Allusion has already been made to what are called 'the first' and 'the second,' or 'other' 'waters.' But, in their original meaning, these terms referred to something else than washing before and after meals. The hands were deemed capable of contracting Levitical defilement, which, in certain cases, might even render the whole body 'unclean.' If the hands were 'defiled,' two affusions were required: the first, or 'first waters' to remove the defilement, and the 'second,' or 'after waters' to wash away the waters that had contracted the defilement of the hands. Accordingly, on the affusion of the first waters the hands were elevated, and the water made to run down at the wrist, while at the second waters the hands were depressed, so that the water might run off by the finger points and tips. By-and-by, it became the practice to have two affusions, whenever Terumah (prepared first-fruits) was to be eaten, and at last even when ordinary food (Chullin) was partaken of. The modern Jews have three affusions, and accompany the rite with a special benediction.
This idea of the 'defilement of the hands' received a very curious application. According to one of the eighteen decrees, which, as we shall presently show, date before the time of Christ, the Roll of the Pentateuch in the Temple defiled all kinds of meat that touched it. The alleged reason for this decree was, that the priests were wont to keep the Terumah (preserved first-fruits) close to the Roll of the Law, on which account the latter was injured by mice. The Rabbinic ordinance was intended to avert this danger. To increase this precaution, it was next laid down as a principle, that all that renders the Terumah unfit, also defiles the hands.
Hence, the Holy Scriptures defiled not only the food but the hands that touched them, and this not merely in the Temple, but anywhere, while it was also explained that the Holy Scriptures included the whole of the inspired writings - the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa. This gave rise to interesting discussions, whether the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, or Esther were to be regarded as 'defiling the hands,' that is, as part of the Canon. The ultimate decision was in favor of these books: 'all the holy writings defile the hands; the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands.' Nay, so far were sequences carried, that even a small portion of the Scriptures was declared to defile the hands if it contained eighty-five letters, because the smallest 'section' (Parashah) in the Law consisted of exactly that number. Even the Phylacteries, because they contained portions of the sacred text, the very leather straps by which they were bound to the head and arm - nay, the blank margins around the text of the Scriptures, or at the beginning and end of sections, were declared to defile the hands.
From this exposition it will be understood what importance the Scribes attached to the rite which the disciples had neglected. Yet at a later period Pharisaism, with characteristic ingenuity, found a way of evading even this obligation. It was ruled, that if anyone had performed the rite of handwashing in the morning, 'with intention' that it should apply to the meals of the whole day, this was (with certain precautions) valid. But at the time of which we write the original ordinance was quite new.
This touches one of the most important, but also most intricate questions in the history of Jewish dogmas. Jewish tradition traced, indeed, the command of washing the hands before eating - at least of sacrificial offerings - to Solomon, in acknowledgment of which 'the voice from heaven' had been heard to utter Proverbs 23:15, and 27:11. But the earliest trace of this custom occurs in a portion of the Sibylline Books, which dates from about 160 B.C., where we find an allusion to the practice of continually washing the hands, in connection with prayer and thanksgiving. It was reserved for Hillel and Shammai, the two great rival teachers and heroes of Jewish traditionalism, immediately before Christ, to fix the Rabbinic ordinance about the washing of hands, as previously described. This was one of the few points on which they were agreed, and hence emphatically 'a tradition of the Elders,' since these two teachers bear, in Rabbinic writings, each the designation of 'the Elder.' Then followed a period of developing traditionalism, and hatred of all that was Gentile.
The tradition of the Elders was not yet so established as to command absolute and universal obedience, while the disputes of Hillel and Shammai, who seemed almost on principle to have taken divergent views on every question, must have disturbed the minds of many. We have an account of a stormy meeting between the two Schools, attended even with bloodshed. The story is so confusedly, and so differently told in the Jerusalem and in the Babylon Talmud, that it is difficult to form a clear view of what really occurred.
Thus much, however, appears - that the Shammaites had a majority of votes, and that 'eighteen decrees' were passed in which the two Schools agreed, while on other eighteen questions (perhaps a round number) the Shammaites carried their views by a majority, and yet other eighteen remained undecided. Each of the Schools spoke of that day according to its party-results. The Shammaites (such as Rabbi Eliezer) extolled it as that on which the measure of the Law had been filled up to the full, while the Hillelites (like Rabbi Joshua) deplored, that on that day water had been poured into a vessel full of oil, by which some of the more precious fluid had been split. In general, the tendency of these eighteen decrees was of the most violently anti-Gentile, intolerant, and exclusive character. Yet such value was attached to them, that, while any other decree of the sages might be altered by a more grave, learned, and authoritative assembly, these eighteen decrees might not under any circumstances, be modified. But, besides these eighteen decrees, the two Schools on that day agreed in solemnly re-enacting 'the decrees about the Book (the copy of the Law), and the hands'.
The Babylon Talmud notes that the latter decree, though first made by Hillel and Shammai, 'the Elders,' was not universally carried out until re-enacted by their colleges. It is important to notice, that this 'Decree' dates from the time just before, and was finally carried into force in the very days of Christ. This fully accounts for the zeal which the Scribes displayed - and explains 'the extreme minuteness of details' with which Mark 'calls attention' to this Pharisaic practice. For, it was an express Rabbinic principle that, if an ordinance had been only recently re-enacted, it might not be called in question or 'invalidated.' Thus it will be seen, that the language employed by the Evangelist affords most valuable indirect confirmation of the trustworthiness of his Gospel, as not only showing intimate familiarity with the minutiae of Jewish 'tradition,' but giving prominence to what was then a present controversy - and all this the more, that it needs intimate knowledge of that Law even fully to understand the language of the Evangelist.
After this full exposition, it can only be necessary to refer in briefest manner to those other observances which orthodox Judaism had 'received to hold.' They connect themselves with those eighteen decrees, intended to separate the Jew from all contact with Gentiles. Any contact with a heathen, even the touch of his dress, might involve such defilement, that on coming from the market the orthodox Jew would have to immerse. Only those who know the complicated arrangements about the defilements of vessels that were in any part, however small, hollow, as these are described in the Mishnah (Tractate Kelim), can form an adequate idea of the painful minuteness with which every little detail is treated. Earthen vessels that had contracted impurity were to be broken; those of wood, horn, glass, or brass immersed; while, if vessels were bought of Gentiles, they were (as the case might be) to be immersed, put into boiling water, purged with fire, or at least polished.
Let us now try to realize the attitude of Christ in regard to these ordinances about purification, and seek to understand the reason of His bearing. That, in replying to the charge of the Scribes against His disciples, He neither vindicated their conduct, nor apologised for their breach of the Rabbinic ordinances, implied at least an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. This is the more noticeable, since, as we know, the ordinances of the Scribes were declared more precious, and of more binding importance than those of Holy Scripture itself. But, even so, the question might arise, why Christ should have provoked such hostility by placing Himself in marked antagonism to what, after all, was indifferent in itself. The answer to this inquiry will require a disclosure of that aspect of Rabbinism which, from its painfulness, has hitherto been avoided. Yet it is necessary not only in itself, but as showing the infinite distance between Christ and the teaching of the Synagogue.
It has already been told, how Rabbinism, in the madness of its self-exaltation, represented God as busying Himself by day with the study of the Scriptures, and by night with that of the Mishnah; and how, in the heavenly Sanhedrin, over which the Almighty presided, the Rabbis sat in the order of their greatness, and the Halakhah was discussed, and decisions taken in accordance with it. Terrible as this sounds, it is not nearly all. Anthropomorphism of the coarsest kind is carried beyond the verge of profanity, when God is represented as spending the last three hours of every day in playing with Leviathan, and it is discussed, how, since the destruction of Jerusalem, God no longer laughs, but weeps, and that, in a secret place of His own, according to Jeremiah 13:17. Nay, Jeremiah 25:30 is profanely misinterpreted as implying that, in His grief over the destruction of the Temple, the Almighty roars like a lion in each of the three watches of the night. The two tears which He drops into the sea are the cause of earthquakes; although other, though not less coarsely realistic, explanations are offered of this phenomenon.
Sentiments like these, which occur in different Rabbinic writings, cannot be explained away by any ingenuity of allegorical interpretation. There are others, equally painful, as regards the anger of the Almighty, which, as kindling specially in the morning, when the sun-worshippers offer their prayers, renders it even dangerous for an individual Israelite to say certain prayers on the morning of New Year's Day, on which the throne is set for judgment. Such realistic anthropomorphism, combined with the extravagant ideas of the eternal and heavenly reality of Rabbinism and Rabbinic ordinances, help us to understand, how the Almighty was actually represented as saying prayers. This is proved from Isaiah 56:7. Sublime through the language of these prayers is, we cannot but notice that the all covering mercy, for which He is represented as pleading, is extended only to Israel.
It is even more terrible to read of God wearing the Tallith, or that He puts on the Phylacteries, which is deduced from Isaiah 62:8. That this also is connected with the vain-glorious boasting of Israel, appears from the passage supposed to be enclosed in these Phylacteries. We know that in the ordinary Phylacteries these are: Exodus 13:1-10; 10-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-10; 11:13-22. In the Divine Phylacteries they were: 1Chronicles 17:21; Deuteronomy 4:7-8; 33:29; 4:34; 26. 19: Only one other point must be mentioned as connected with Purifications. To these also the Almighty is supposed to submit. Thus He was purified by Aaron, when He had contracted defilement by descending into Egypt. This is deduced from Leviticus 16:16. Similarly, He immersed in a bath of fire, after the defilement of the burial of Moses.
These painful details, most reluctantly given, are certainly not intended to raise or strengthen ignorant prejudices against Israel, to whom 'blindness in part' has truly happened; far less to encourage the wicked spirit of contempt and persecution which is characteristic, not of believing, but of negative theology. But they will explain, how Jesus could not have assumed merely an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. For, even if such sentiments were represented as a later development, they are the outcome of a direction, of which that of Jesus was the very opposite, and to which it was antagonistic. But, if Jesus was not sent of God - not the Messiah - whence this wonderful contrast of highest spirituality in what He taught of God as our Father, and of His Kingdom as that over the hearts of all men? The attitude of antagonism to traditionalism was never more pronounced than in what He said in reply to the charge of neglect of the ordinance about ' the washing of hands. ' Here it must be remembered, that it was an admitted Rabbinic principle that, while the ordinances of Scripture required no confirmation, those of the Scribes needed such, and that no Halakhah (traditional law) might contradict Scripture.
When Christ, therefore, next proceeded to show, that in a very important point - nay, in 'many such like things' - the Halakhah was utterly incompatible with Scripture, that, indeed, they made 'void the Word of God' by their traditions which they had received, He dealt the heaviest blow to traditionalism. Rabbinism stood self-condemned; on its own showing, it was to be rejected as incompatible with the Word of God.
It is not so easy to understand, why the Lord should, out of 'many such things,' have selected in illustration the Rabbinic ordinance concerning vows, as in certain circumstances, contravening the fifth commandment. Of course, the 'Ten Words' were the Holy of Holies of the Law; nor was there any obligation more rigidly observed - indeed, carried in practice almost to the verge of absurdity - than that of honor to parents. In both respects, then, this was a specially vulnerable point, and it might well be argued that, if in this Law Rabbinic ordinances came into conflict with the demands of God's Word, the essential contrariety between them must, indeed, be great. Still, we feel as if this were not all. Was there any special instance in view, in which the Rabbinic law about votive offerings had led to such abuse? Or was it only, that at this festive season the Galilean pilgrims would carry with them to Jerusalem their votive offerings? Or, could the Rabbinic ordinances about 'the sanctification of the hands' (Yadayim) have recalled to the Lord another Rabbinic application of the word 'hand' in connection with votive offerings? It is at least sufficiently curious to find mention here, and it will afford the opportunity of briefly explaining, what to a candid reader may seem almost inexplicable in the Jewish legal practice to which Christ refers.
At the outset it must be admitted, that Rabbinism did not encourage the practice of promiscuous vowing. As we view it, it belongs, at best, to a lower and legal standpoint. In this respect Rabbi Akiba put it concisely, in one of his truest sayings: 'Vows are a hedge to abstinence.' On the other hand, if regarded as a kind of return for benefits received, or as a promise attaching to our prayers, a vow - unless it form part of our absolute and entire self-surrender - partakes either of work-righteousness, or appears almost a kind of religious gambling. And so the Jewish proverb has it: 'In the hour of need a vow; in time of ease excess.' Towards such work-righteousness and religious gambling the Eastern, and especially the Rabbinic Jew, would be particularly inclined. But even the Rabbis saw that its encouragement would lead to the profanation of what was holy; to rash, idle, and wrong vows; and to the worst and most demoralising kind of perjury, as inconvenient consequences made themselves felt. Of many sayings, condemnatory of the practice, one will suffice to mark the general feeling: 'He who makes a vow, even if he keeps it, deserves the name of wicked.' Nevertheless, the practice must have attained terrible proportions, whether as regards the number of vows, the lightness with which they were made, or the kind of things which became their object.
The larger part of the Mishnic Tractate on 'Vows' (Nedarim, in eleven chapters) describes what expressions were to be regarded as equivalent to vows, and what would either legally invalidate and annul a vow, or leave it binding. And here we learn, that those who were of full age, and not in a position of dependence (such as wives) would make almost any kind of vows, such as that they would not lie down to sleep, not speak to their wives or children, not have intercourse with their brethren, and even things more wrong or foolish - all of which were solemnly treated as binding on the conscience. Similarly, it was not necessary to use the express words of vowing.
Not only the word corban, 'given to God', but any similar expression, such as Qonakh, or Qonam (the latter also a Phoenician expression, and probably an equivalent for Qeyam, 'let it be established') would suffice; the mention of anything laid upon the altar (though not of the altar itself). such as the wood, or the fire, would constitute a vow, nay, the repetition of the form which generally followed on the votive Qonam or Qorban had binding force, even though not preceded by these terms. Thus, if a man said: 'That I eat or taste of such a thing,' it constituted a vow, which bound him not to eat or taste it, because the common formula was: 'Qorban (or Qonam) that I eat or drink, or do such a thing,' and the omission of the votive word did not invalidate a vow, if it were otherwise regularly expressed.
It is in explaining this strange provision, intended both to uphold the solemnity of vows, and to discourage the rash use of words, that the Talmud makes use of the word 'hand' in a connection which we have supposed might, by association of ideas, have suggested to Christ the contrast between what the Bible and what the Rabbis regarded as 'sanctified hands,' and hence between the commands of God and the traditions of the Elders. For the Talmud explains that, when a man simply says: 'That (or if) I eat or taste such a thing,' it is imputed as a vow, and he may not eat or taste of it, 'because the hand is on the Qorban' - the mere touch of Qorban had sanctified it, and put it beyond his reach, just as if it had been laid on the altar itself. Here, then, was a contrast. According to the Rabbis, the touch of 'a common' hand defiled God's good gift of meat, while the touch of 'a sanctified' hand in rash or wicked words might render it impossible to give anything to a parent, and so involve the grossest breach of the Fifth Commandment! Such, according to Rabbinic Law, was the 'common' and such the 'sanctifying' touch of the hands - and did such traditionalism not truly 'make void the Word of God'?
A few further particulars may serve to set this in clearer light. It must not be thought that the pronunciation of the votive word Corban, although meaning 'a gift,' or 'given to God,' necessarily dedicated a thing to the Temple. The meaning might simply be, and generally was, that it was to be regarded like Corban - that is, that in regard to the person or persons named, the thing termed was to be considered as if it were Corban, laid on the altar, and put entirely out of their reach. For, although included under the one name, there were really two kinds of vows: those of consecration to God, and those of personal obligation - and the latter were the most frequent. The legal distinction between a vow, an oath, and 'the ban,' are clearly marked both in reason and in Jewish Law. The oath was an absolute, the vow a conditional undertaking - their difference being marked even by this, that the language of a vow ran thus: 'That' or 'if' 'I or another do such a thing,' 'if I eat;' while that of the oath was a simple affirmation or negation, 'I shall not eat.'
On the other hand, the 'ban' might refer to one of three things: those dedicated for the use of the priesthood, those dedicated to God, or else to a sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin. In any case it was not lawful to 'ban' the whole of one's property, nor even one class of one's property (such as all one's sheep), nor yet what could not, in the fullest sense, be called one's property, such as a child, a Hebrew slave, or a purchased field, which had to be restored in the Year of Jubilee; while an inherited field, if banned, would go in perpetuity for the use of the priesthood. Similarly, the Law limited vows. Those intended to incite to an act (as on the part of one who sold a thing), or by way of exaggeration, or in cases of mistake, and, lastly, vows which circumstances rendered impossible, were declared null. To these four classes the Mishnah added those made to escape murder, robbery, and the exactions of the publican. If a vow was regarded as rash or wrong, attempts were made to open a door for repentance. Absolutions from a vow might be obtained before a 'sage,' or, in his absence, before three laymen, when all obligations became null and void. At the same time the Mishnah admits, that this power of absolving from vows was a tradition hanging, as it were, in the air, since it received little (or, as Maimonides puts it, no) support from Scripture.
There can be no doubt, that the words of Christ referred to such vows of personal obligation. By these a person might bind himself in regard to men or things, or else put that which was another's out of his own reach, or that which was his own out of the reach of another, and this as completely as if the thing or things had been Corban, a gift given to God. Thus, by simply saying Corban that by which I might be profited by thee,' a person bound himself never to touch, taste, or have anything that belonged to the person so addressed. Similarly, by saying 'Corban, that by which thou mightest be profited by me,' he would prevent the person so addressed from ever deriving any benefit from that which belonged to him. And so stringent was the ordinance that (almost in the words of Christ) it is expressly stated that such a vow was binding, even if what was vowed involved a breach of the Law.
It cannot be denied that such vows, in regard to parents, would be binding, and that they were actually made. Indeed, the question is discussed in the Mishnah in so many words, whether 'honor of father and mother' constituted a ground for invalidating a vow, and decided in the negative against a solitary dissenting voice. And if doubt should still exist, a case is related in the Mishnah, in which a father was thus shut out by the vow of his son from anything by
which he might be profited by him. Thus the charge brought by Christ is in fullest accordance with the facts of the case. More than this, the manner in which it is put by Mark shows the most intimate knowledge of Jewish customs and law.
But Christ did not merely show the hypocrisy of the system of traditionalism in conjoining in the name of religion the greatest outward punctiliousness with the grossest breach of real duty. In thus setting forth for the first time the real character of traditionalism, and setting Himself in open opposition to its fundamental principles, the Christ enunciated also for the first time the fundamental principle of His own interpretation of the Law. That Law was not a system of externalism, in which outward things affected the inner man. It was moral and addressed itself to man as a moral being - to his heart and conscience. As the spring of all moral action was within, so the mode of affecting it would be inward. Not from without inwards, but from within outwards: such was the principle of the new Kingdom, as setting forth the Law in its fulness and fulfilling it.
Jesus heals daughter of Canaanite woman
"Then Jesus left there and withdrew into the area of Tyre and Sidon; And, behold, a Canaanite woman who came from those borders cried to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously possessed by a demon." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and requested of Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out behind us."
"But He answered and said, "I have not been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not proper to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
"And she said, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! As you have desired, so be it to you." And her daughter was healed from that hour." (Matthew 15:21-28, HBFV)
At that time this district extended, north of Galilee, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. But the event about to be related occurred, as all circumstances show, not within the territory of Tyre and Sidon, but on its borders, and within the limits of the Land of Israel. That house in which Jesus sought shelter and privacy would, of course, be a Jewish home.As the Savior apparently received the woman in the house, it seems that she must have followed some of the disciples, entreating their help or intercession in a manner that attracted the attention which, according to the will of Jesus, they would fain have avoided, before, in her despair, she ventured into the Presence of Christ within the house.
She who now sought His help was, as Matthew calls her, from the Jewish standpoint, 'a Canaanitish woman,' by which term a Jew would designate a native of Phoenicia, or, as Mark calls her, a Syro-Phoenician, and 'a Greek' - that is, a heathen.
There is nothing analogous in the case of this poor heathen coming to petition, and being tried by being told that she could not be heard, because she belonged to the dogs, not the children, and the trial of Abraham, who was a hero of faith, and had long walked with God. In any case, on any of the views just combated, the Words of Jesus would bear a needless and inconceivable harshness, which grates on all our feelings concerning Him. The Lord does not afflict willingly, nor try needlessly, nor disguise His loving thoughts and purposes, in order to bring about some effect in us. He needs not such means; and, with reverence be it said, we cannot believe that He ever uses them.
But, viewed as the teaching of Christ to this heathen concerning Israel's Messiah, all becomes clear, even in the very brief reports of the Evangelists, of which that by Matthew reads like that of one present, that of Mark rather like that of one who relates what he has heard from another. She had spoken, but Jesus had answered her not a word. When the disciples - in some measure, probably, still sharing the views of this heathen, that he was the Jewish Messiah - without, indeed, interceding for her, asked that she might be sent away, because she was troublesome to them, He replied, that His Mission was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This was absolutely true, as regarded His Work while upon earth; and true, in every sense, as we keep in view the world-wide bearing of the Davidic reign and promises, and the real relation between Israel and the world.
Thus baffled, as it might seem, she cried no longer ' Son of David,' but, 'Lord, help me. ' It was then that the special teaching came in the manner she could understand. If it were as ' the Son of David ' that He was entreated - if the heathen woman as such applied to the Jewish Messiah as such, what, in the Jewish view, were the heathens but 'dogs,' and what would be fellowship with them, but to cast to the dogs - house-dogs, it may be - what should have been the children's bread? And, certainly, no expression more common in the mouth of the Jews, than that which designated the heathens as dogs. Most harsh as it was, as the outcome of national pride and Jewish self-assertion, yet in a sense it was true, that those within were the children, and those without 'dogs.' Only, who were they within and who they without? What made 'a child,' whose was the bread - and what characterized 'the dog,' that was 'without'?
Therer were lessons she learned with that instinct-like rapidity which Christ's personal Presence - and it alone - seemed ever and again to call forth. First, that heathenism stands related to Judaism as the house-dogs to the children, and it were not meet to rob the children of their bread in order to give it to dogs. But Thine own words show, that such would not now be the case. If they are house-dogs, then they are the Master's, and under His table, and when He breaks the bread to the children, in the breaking of it the crumbs must fall all around. As Matthew puts it: 'but even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table.' Heathenism may be like the dogs, when compared with the children's place and privileges; but He is their Master still, and they under His table; and when He breaks the bread there is enough and to spare for them - even under the table they eat of the children's crumbs.
But in so saying she was no longer 'under the table,' but had sat down at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and was partaker of the children's bread. He was no longer to her the Jewish Messiah, but truly 'the Son of David.' She now understood what she prayed, and she was a daughter of Abraham. And what had taught her all this was faith in His Person and Work, as not only just enough for the Jews, but enough and to spare for all - children at the table and dogs under it; that in and with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, all nations were blessed in Israel's King and Messiah. And so it was, that the Lord said it: "'O woman, great is your faith! As you have desired, so be it to you.' And her daughter was healed from that hour."
To us there is in this history even more than the solemn interest of Christ's compassion and mighty Messianic working, or the lessons of His teaching. We view it in connection with the scenes of the previous few days, and see how thoroughly it accords with them in spirit, thus recognising the deep internal unity of Christ's Words and Works, where least, perhaps, we might have looked for such harmony. And again we view it in its deeper bearing upon, and lessons to, all times. To how many, not only of all nations and conditions, but in all states of heart and mind, nay, in the very lowest depths of conscious guilt and alienation from God, must this have brought unspeakable comfort, the comfort of truth, and the comfort of His Teaching. Be it so, an outcast, 'dog;' not at the table, but under the table. Still we are at His Feet; it is our Master's Table; He is our Master; and, as He breaks the children's bread, it is of necessity that 'the children's crumbs' fall to us, enough, quite enough, and to spare. Never can we be outside His reach, nor of that of His gracious care, and of sufficient provision to eternal life.