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Yeshua Rebukes the Rabbis

When the Prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) fled from Ahab and Jezebel, he went to dwell at Mount Sinai (which is Horeb). While he was there, “a voice came to him” from Yahweh.

Melachim Aleph (1 Kings) 19:11-13
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh.” And behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before Yahweh, but Yahweh was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but Yahweh was not in the earthquake;
12 and after the earthquake a fire, but Yahweh was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Eliyahu heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eliyahu?”

While Yahweh can speak in an audible voice, usually He speaks in a still small voice. People experience this still small voice in different ways, but the point is that He wants us to listen for it continuously, and obey it, for this is how He guides the steps of the wise.

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 30:21
21 “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.”

Yahweh is clear that not only are we to obey His written commandments, He also wants us to obey His voice.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:4
4 You shall walk after Yahweh your Elohim and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.

Yahweh tells us that if we will both obey His voice and keep His covenant (Torah), then we will be a special treasure to Him above all peoples. Isn’t that what we want?

Shemote (Exodus) 19:5
5 “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant [Torah], then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.”

Yahweh is a loving Father, and He uses His voice to keep us from trouble. In the Garden of Eden, Yahweh told Adam and Havvah (Eve) not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, the serpent told Havvah she could disobey Yahweh’s voice, and still live. The serpent also implied that she would no longer need to hear or obey Yahweh’s voice, because she herself would become like Elohim, knowing how to decide for herself what was good, and what was evil.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 3:4-5
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 For Elohim knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Elohim, knowing good and evil.”

Satan tempted Havvah, suggesting that she would know what was best for her. However, she couldn’t discern what was best; she just thought she could. Havvah became deceived—and, as we saw earlier, Havvah symbolizes Israel.

Havvah stopped listening for His voice—and since she stopped listening, she stopped obeying. Just as an earthly child would fall from his father’s favor if he refused to listen to his father’s voice, Havvah also fell from favor.

It is not enough for us just to know who Yahweh is; and it is not enough for us just to obey His written Torah. Yahweh wants a love relationship with us, such that we listen for His still small spiritual voice, and obey it. This will restore the broken communication that was lost in the Garden of Eden.

In earlier chapters we saw how the northern ten tribes of Ephraim had been sent into the Assyrian Dispersion for disobedience. Ephraim had been gone for over a hundred years when Jeremiah told the Jews that unless they got serious about hearing and obeying His voice, they also would go into exile.

Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 7:23-24
23 “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your Elohim, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’
24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Judah would be in captivity in Babylon seventy years, after which time Yahweh would bring them home.

Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 29:10
10 For thus says Yahweh: “After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.”

Over the next seventy years, however, the foundations of the Jewish faith would be subtly altered.

Just as the Assyrians relocated the people they had conquered, and encouraged them to assimilate, the Babylonians also scattered the peoples they had conquered, and encouraged them to assimilate. The Babylonians scattered those they conquered within their own borders, treated them well, and encouraged them to become Babylonian citizens. This strategy was very effective. When the people saw that they had a materially rich life in Babylon, not only did they not want to resist, but many of them lost their desire to go back to their former countries.

All of this led to a crisis of leadership within the Jewish nation. The Levitical order could not survive without a temple, because without a temple, the people had no place to bring their tithes and offerings—and without funding, the Levitical order soon collapsed. This left the Jewish people without spiritual leadership—and without spiritual leadership the people soon began to lose their sense of national identity, and they began assimilating into Babylon.

The Levitical priesthood had to form a new priesthood immediately so a priesthood of rabbis (literally, great ones) rose to the occasion, telling the people to tithe directly to them. This solved the need for funding, and it also solves the immediate need for spiritual leadership, but now there was a new problem, in that Yahweh’s Torah does not recognize “rabbis.” If the rabbis taught the people to obey Yahweh’s Torah, then the people would reject the rabbis as impostors—and then they would go right back to assimilating into the Babylonian culture.

How could this dilemma be resolved? How could the rabbis teach the people to keep Torah, without being rejected as a result? The solution was that the rabbis had to redefine what the term Torah meant.

We understand that Yahweh gave His Torah to Moshe (Moses) at Mount Sinai. Since Yahweh’s Torah is eternal, and unchanging, we obey it to the letter. However, the rabbis do not claim Yahweh’s Torah is eternal. Rather, they claim Yahweh gave Moshe the authority to establish Torah law for his generation, and that this authority passes from generation to generation. According to this definition, Torah law can be whatever the great men (rabbis) in each generation say it should be. They also say that Moshe passed this authority on to Joshua, who passed it on to the judges, etc., until finally it came to rest on the rabbis. However, this is contrary to Yahweh’s words.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:32
32 “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”

But if Yahweh says not to change His Torah, then why did the rabbis get the idea? Where did it come from? We can understand the rabbis much better if we realize that before the exile to Babylon, most of the rabbis were priests and Levites, and they were called on to make determinations in both legal and medical issues. For example, they had to determine the medical status of lepers.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 13:9-14
9 “When the leprous sore is on a person, then he shall be brought to the priest.
10 And the priest shall examine him; and indeed if the swelling on the skin is white, and it has turned the hair white, and there is a spot of raw flesh in the swelling,
11 it is an old leprosy on the skin of his body. The priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not isolate him, for he is unclean.
12 “And if leprosy breaks out all over the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of the one who has the sore, from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks,
13 then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean.
14 But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.”

The priests would approach this as a legal issue—and the fact that the priests had a legal orientation helps to explain why the rabbis see themselves as divinely inspired court justices. It also explains why they believe their opinions carry the weight of Torah law. The big problem is that they make the same mistake Havvah made. They have allowed the serpent to deceive them into believing that they are qualified to discern good and evil on their own (by their intellect), rather than hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 3:4-5
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 For Elohim knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Elohim, knowing good and evil.”

Like Havvah, the rabbis stopped listening to Yahweh’s voice. They altered the definition of Torah from that of Yahweh’s authority, to that of their own authority. The rabbis view the Torah as an important historical legal precedent that they can use to justify their own assumed authority. Perhaps that is why they don’t want to go back to the Torah of Moshe—they would have to submit to Yahweh’s Spirit (which is something that flesh does not like to do).

Instead of viewing Yahweh’s Torah as a perfect marital covenant which is not to be altered, the rabbis teach that Jewish halachic law is an evolving field in which the more modern enactments of the scribes are far more important than the ancient rulings of Yahweh’s Torah. In fact, they teach that while we can break the Torah (because there are “positive and negative precepts”), if we transgress the enactments of the scribes, we incur the penalty of death.

My son, be more careful in [the observance of] the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah, for in the laws of the Torah there are positive and negative precepts; but, as to the laws of the Scribes, whoever transgresses any of the enactments of the Scribes incurs the penalty of death. [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eiruvin, 21b]

Because of their legal orientation, the rabbis assume that Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet had a “court,” and they say that even if Eliyahu (and his alleged court) were to disagree with their more recent majority rulings, no one should listen to him.

A Court is unable to annul the decisions of another Court, unless it is superior to it in wisdom and numerical strength! Furthermore, Rabbah b. Bar Hanah has said in the name of R. Johanan: In all matters a Court can annul the decisions of another Court except the eighteen things [prohibited by the Schools of Hillel and Shammai], for even were Elijah and his Court to come [and declare them permitted] we must not listen to him!
[Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah 36a]

Prophets were always sent to get the people to turn back to Yahweh, keep His commandments, and obey His voice. The prophets heard Elohim’s voice and spoke according to it. However, the rabbis tell the people, “Don’t pay attention to the man who speaks according to Yahweh’s voice. Pay attention to our voice instead.”

The rabbis make up substitutes for everything Yahweh says to do. An everyday example of this is the rabbinic hand-washing ritual. In this rabbinic tradition, men must pour water over their hands before each meal, and say a ritual prayer. The rabbis likely adapted this from Exodus 30:17-21, which tells the priests to wash their hands and feet at the brazen laver as a statute forever in all of their generations.

Shemote (Exodus) 30:17-21
17 Then Yahweh spoke to Moshe, saying:
18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it,
19 for Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it.
20 When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to Yahweh, they shall wash with water, lest they die.
21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them — to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”

We need to understand that obedience to the rabbinical commandments is referred to as obeying the “works of Torah.” These are the same “works of Torah” the Apostle Shaul (Paul) refers to.

Galatim (Galatians) 2:15-16
15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Torah but by faith in Yeshua Messiah, even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua, that we might be justified by faith in Messiah and not by the works of the Torah; for by the works of the Torah no flesh shall be justified.

What the rabbis are really suggesting is that the way to salvation is by submitting to their authority. This kind of authority is what Scripture refers to as a “yoke.” Yeshua tells us to accept only His yoke, for His yoke is easy, and light.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 11:30
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

The great struggle between Yeshua and the rabbis is the struggle of whose authority should be accepted. Time and again, the rabbis suggested that Yeshua should accept rabbinic authority—and time and again, Yeshua said that the main thing was not to obey the man-made teachings of the rabbis, but the commands that His Father gave.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 15:1-9
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Yeshua, saying,
2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of Elohim because of your tradition?
4 For Elohim commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to Elohim” —
6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of Elohim of no effect by your tradition.
7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.
9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Had the rabbis taught Yahweh’s Torah (rather than man-made Torah law) Yeshua would probably have spoken in favor of them. However, because they taught a rabbinic replacement for Yahweh’s Torah, Yeshua was not in favor.

But what did Yeshua mean when He said that the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moshe’s seat, and we should do what they say to do, even though we should not do according to their works?

Mattityahu (Matthew) 23:1-13
1 Then Yeshua spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,
2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moshe’s seat.
3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,
7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’
8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Messiah, and you are all brethren.
9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Messiah.
11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

In the first century, “Moshe’s seat” was a literal physical chair where the scribes and the Pharisees sat and read the Torah scrolls aloud. It was like a modern-day pulpit. Yeshua said to do everything they said when they sat in Moshe’s seat (and read the Torah aloud), because those words came from His Father. However, He also said not to do according to their works, because the “works of the Law” are nothing more than the majority opinions of the rabbis.

In verse 13, Yeshua said the scribes and the Pharisees shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. Not only did they refuse to go in, but they stopped others from entering in as well. That is, not only did they refuse to obey Yahweh’s voice, they even taught others not to listen for Yahweh’s voice (but instead they gave them the rabbinic “works of Torah” as a substitute for true obedience and sanctification).

Scripture is all about spirits, and the spirit on the rabbinic scribes and Pharisees gave Yahweh’s people a substitute for hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice. Isn’t that also what Satan did?

B’reisheet (Genesis) 3:4-5
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die,
5 for Elohim knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Elohim, knowing good and evil.”

Earlier we saw how Jeremiah prophesied that Yahweh would bring the Jews back to the land after seventy years. However, after seventy years, 90 percent of the Jews did not want to go back home. Life was easier out in Babylon than it was in the land. The Jews had been given Babylonian citizenship, and many of them had taken Babylonian wives. If they stayed in Babylon, life would be easy—but if they went back home to the land, life would suddenly become very hard. Only those with a spirit to reject the Babylonian captivity and return to their inheritance in Israel would find this kind of a trade-off worthwhile.

In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, 10 percent of the Jews decided to go back home to the land. The other 90 percent stayed out in the Babylonian captivity, and eventually became lost to history, being scattered into all the nations. From a physical standpoint both Jews and Ephraimites were now lost, but from a spiritual standpoint, they were both held captive by the enemy. It was as if Satan had taken their hearts captive by the pleasures of sin. This is why Yeshua said He came to proclaim liberty to the (spiritual) captives.

Luqa (Luke) 4:18
18 “The Spirit of Yahweh is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the Good News to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

Yet Yeshua did not come only for those who were lost out in the nations; He also came to set at liberty those who were spiritually oppressed by the rabbis. He came to set them at liberty from rabbinic custom. All of this is in keeping with Yeshua’s role as the Messiah, whom Daniel said would come 7 weeks and 62 weeks (i.e., 69 weeks) after the command went forth for the Jews to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Daniel 9:25
25 “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.”

The Hebrew word for weeks is shevua, which means seven. If each seven represents seven earth years, then “Messiah the Prince” would come 483 years after the command went forth to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. History tells us that King Artaxerxes gave this command in 457 BCE. Four hundred and eighty three years after that brings us to 26 CE, which is the same year Yeshua began His ministry. This is just one proof of many that Yeshua is the prophesied “Messiah the Prince” of Daniel 9 (because no one else fits this historical description).

Strong’s Hebrew Concordance tells us that the word prince in Daniel 9:25 is the Hebrew word nagiyd (נגיד), which refers to a commander who leads from the front. This word is of key importance in understanding who Yeshua is, and how we are to relate to Him.

OT:5057 nagiyd (naw-gheed’); or nagid (naw-gheed’); from OT:5046; a commander (as occupying the front), civil, military or religious; generally (abstractly, plural), honorable themes.

Many commentators have suggested that the reason the Pharisees rejected Yeshua is that He was not the military leader they had expected Messiah the Prince would be. Judea was under Roman control, and the Pharisees expected Messiah the Prince to unify the people, lead a military revolt, and throw the Romans out of the land. Instead, Yeshua launched a spiritual campaign which split the nation into two camps: the minority who had eyes to see (and ears to hear), and the majority that did not.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 10:34-39
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’;
36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’
37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
38 And he who does not take his cross [stake] and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

As we saw in earlier chapters, the classic role of a messiah is that of someone who brings the lost and scattered of Israel back to the covenant, and leads them to victory over their enemies. However, it made no sense for Yeshua to throw the Romans out of the land, just so the anti-Torah rabbinical order could keep on misleading the people. Yeshua saw the rabbinical system to be as much of a threat to His people as the Roman army was (if not more so). At least the people could easily identify the Romans as an enemy, while they could not easily discern that the rabbis were propagating a deception. Perhaps that is why, rather than leading a military revolt against the Romans, Yeshua declared a spiritual war against the rabbis, to set Yahweh’s people free from rabbinical oppression.

By the first century, the Levitical and priestly lineages had been lost, so they could not go back to the Levitical order. But if Yeshua was setting His people free from rabbinic oppression and deception, and it was not possible to go back to the old Levitical order, then how were the people to have the kind of spiritual leadership that it takes to have unity and cohesion as a nation?

In the next chapter we will see how Yeshua established a new priesthood based on the order of Melchizedek, which was to take over from the rabbis, and further His kingdom worldwide.

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