While researching for an article, I came across a verse that suddenly jumped out at me. This verse states that we can live righteously, yet get no heavenly reward. How could this be? That is quite a scary thought which necessitates further investigation. Before we continue, here is the verse:
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
This righteousness mentioned here, is righteousness practiced in order to be seen by others. It is not done with the intention to please YHVH, but to impress people. Don’t we do the same sometimes? Y’shua had more to say about this. He gave it a name also; He called those who practiced this, hypocrites. Let’s see if this term Y’shua used fits our modern understanding as well. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hypocrisy as follows:
“To feign to be what one is not,” or in other words, to be someone you are not; doing things for the sole purpose to be seen by others. What is the motivation behind our acts? Is it perhaps to gain approval from others? If it was done from our heart, out of love for YHVH, we would not need the approval of others, because we would be doing it only to be seen by YHVH. What is interesting from this quote, is that hypocrisy is also “to believe what one does not.” In other words, to believe the Bible is the Word of YHVH, but not obey the commandments written therein, is another form of hypocrisy. However, we will get to that later.
Y’shua addressed at least three levels of hypocrisy in the book of Matthew. He also discussed eight woes linked to hypocrisy. We will look at that later.
The first is acts of righteousness done in order to be seen; the second is outward appearance and status, and the third is teaching one thing, but living another. We shall now look at each of these. While doing this, please carefully consider your own life.
Acts of righteousness
2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
When we help the poor and needy, we are to do so in secret, not tell the world about it. Then we will get our reward from YHVH and not from people. Some people only give to organizations in order to get a tax benefit. They have been seen and rewarded by men for this when they get their tax benefit.The next act of righteousness is praying.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Some people like to pray in public in order to impress others. We are not saying it is wrong to pray in public, as everybody praying in public are not doing it to be seen by others. Those who do pray to be seen, know who they are and what their intensions are. Y’shua taught us not to pray in order to be seen, but to go into our inner room, to close the door and pray to our Father.The next act of righreousness is fasting. We have written an article on fasting. If you are interested you can read “Fasting… why and how to”
16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Some will make sure everybody knows they are fasting. The focus is, once again, on themselves, because they made sure they were seen by others. All of these acts described here were done to be noticed by others; it became a show with the focus on the doer. Have you asked yourself the question? Why do I do what I do? Is it to please YHVH, or to impress or fit into a certain group?
Outward appearance and status
Another area of hypocrisy is found in outward appearance and status. Y’shua had much to say about this too.
5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
For some, the outward appearance is of extreme importance. It is not enough to keep the commandments; they also have to look the Hebrew. Is that really necessary? It is important to dress modestly, as we have discussed in a previous article. However, do we really need to start wearing the clothing style of the ancient Israelites in order to please YHVH, or are we doing that to be seen by others? By doing that, we also are creating a barrier between us and other believers and unbelievers alike; a barrier that may keep them from hearing us when we share YHVH’s truth with them.What about the great commission?We have a calling to reach people with YHVH’s truth, but if we start dressing all weird, will we be reaching people or scarring them off?Notice that Y’shua not only points out what is wrong in each situation, but also teaches the proper way of doing this. Please go back and read each of this four passages again, and you will understand what Y’shua is trying to teach here. It is about being a servant and about being humble. Here is the key: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Pride has a role to play in each of this and pride is a form of idolatry because when you become prideful, you make yourself an idol; you become the center of everything. Maybe that is why YHVH hates pride so much. In Psalm 24, it is written about this falsehood.
3 Who may ascend into the hill of YHVH? And who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive a blessing from YHVH And righteousness from the Elohim of his salvation.
Who may ascent into the hill of YHVH and who may stand in His Holy place? One of the criteria mentioned is that this person does not lift up his soul to falsehood. This falsehood mentioned here could be referring to idolatry of any kind. It could, in my humble opinion, also refer to hypocrisy, which is a form of falsehood.The third hypocrisy Y’shua taught against is about teaching righteousness, but not living it.
Teaching righteousness, but not living it
The third form of hypocrisy is when you teach others to keep the commandments of YHVH while you don’t keep it yourself.
2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
These men, Y’shua referred to, were learned in the Word of YHVH, they knew YHVH’s commandments. However, instead of living the commandments, they added to it, laying heavey burdens on others. They, however, found ways to do only that which would benefit them. Y’shua pronounced eight woes, denouncing this hypocrisy and false religion.These eight woes overlap with certain aspects of the three levels discussed above, however, it gives us a broader view of the extend of the hypocrisy. It also gives us a more detailed account of what YHVH sees as hypocrisy.
The Eight Woes of hypocrisy
We find this eight woes in Matthew 23 starting from verse 13. These Pharisees, Y’shua referred to here, were practicing religion devoid of relationship with YHVH. They were doing what they did to be seen by others. They were doing it for themselves, not for YHVH. Some take this passage out of context to prove that we are not to follow the commandments; however, that is not the point of this. Y’shua was saying this to teach that empty religion is nothing but hypocrisy.We shall now look at each of these woes in context. We shall also look at it from our modern perspective to see what we can learn from it.Also, how does this fit in with what we said earlier about the three levels of hypocrisy? Lets see…
1. Failure to accept Y’shua as the Messiah
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
Do you recognize this? Did you know that anti-missionaries are doing the same? Did you know that all IDF (Israeli Defence Force) soldiers are warned not to associate with believers in Y’shua? Do you know how actively anti-missionaries are at work among the Torah observant believers in Y’shua? This is not new!How is this hypocrisy? These Pharisees knew YHVH’s Word and if they were really living for YHVH, He would have revealed the Messiah to them. However, they were focusing so much on themselves, that they didn’t recognize Him. Their self-focus prevented them from seeing that Y’shua was the prophesied Messiah.
14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
23:14. The NIV and some Greek manuscripts omit this verse. It may have been added because of Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. If it is authentic here, the number of woes is eight. This “woe” demonstrated the inconsistency of the religious leaders for they made long “prayers” to impress people with their spirituality, but also oppressed widows, whom they should have helped. 3
These Pharisees were inconsistent, in some aspects they were obedient to YHVH’s Word, while ignoring other more important parts of it. They were doing acts of righteousness in order to be seen, while neglecting what was really important, because it did not benefit them.
3. Zelous to deceive
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
23:15. This woe addressed the zealous activity of the religious leaders for they actively traveled not only over land but also over the sea to make even a single convert (prosēlyton, “proselyte”) to Judaism. The problem with this was that by their actions they were condemning many individuals to eternal damnation. By imposing external restrictions of Rabbinic traditions on their converts, they were preventing these people from seeing the truth. In fact, such a convert became twice as much a son of hell as the Pharisees, that is, he became more pharisaic than the Pharisees themselves! “A son of hell” (lit., “of Gehenna”; cf. v. 33), was one deserving eternal punishment. 3
This woe connects with the first one in that these men pursue people to great lengths, not really for YHVH’S Kingdom, but to satisfy their self-interest.
4. Sneeky character
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
23:16–22. In the forth woe Y’shua pointed out the tricky character of the leaders. …When taking oaths, they made fine lines of distinction that could possibly invalidate their oaths. If one swore by the temple, or by the altar of the temple, it meant nothing to them. While thus appearing to be making a binding oath, they inwardly had no intention of keeping it. But if one swore by the gold of the temple or the gift on the altar, he would be bound by the oath. But Y’shua said they were wrong in suggesting that gold was greater than the temple and a gift greater than the altar. Y’shua pointed out that any oath based on the temple or things in it was binding for behind the temple was the One who dwelt in it. This was parallel to making an oath by God’s throne, for that oath was also binding because of the One who sat on the throne. Such distinctions by the religious leaders were condemned by Y’shua, for they were clearly deceptive and dishonest. Y’shua denounced those leaders as blind guides (v. 16), blind fools (v. 17), and blind men (v. 19; cf. vv. 24, 26).3
In this woe, we see how these Pharisees twist the Word to benefit themselves. They appear to be very virtuous in making the oath just to disregard it later on a technical understanding. Once again, we see how their self-interest is fed.
5. Straining gnats while swallowing camels
The next woe is about going to great lengths to follow the letter of the law in some areas while neglecting what is really important.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
23:23–24. The fifth woe related to the pharisaic practice of meticulously tithing all their possessions. They went so far as to carry the practice down to the smallest spices from plants: mint, dill, and cummin. While meticulously following the Law in this area (Lev. 27:30), they failed to manifest the justice, mercy, and faithfulness demanded by the Law. They were majoring on minors, straining out a gnat, while minoring on majors, swallowing a camel. Being so busy with small details, they never dealt with the important matters. Y’shua was not saying tithing was unimportant; He was saying they were completely neglecting the one area at the expense of the other. They should have been doing both. Since they were not, they were blind guides. 3
Don’t we see this in the believing community as well. Straining gnats while swallowing camels. We see believers fighting over doctrinal differences and calendar issues, while neglecting what really is important, love for each other. Another example is believers who meticulously keep the commandments, but have degraded the atoning work of Y’shua.
6. Focussing on external cleanliness
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
23:25–26. The sixth woe emphasized the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees. They were concerned with external cleanliness, such as the outside of the cup and dish from which they would eat. But in their hearts were greed and self-indulgence. Their cleansing was primarily for the sake of being seen by men. But they were not above robbery and excesses in their own lives. If cleansing would take place internally, their outside would also be affected. 3
In this woe, Y’shua once again condemns these Pharisees for being concerned with keeping his commandments for the sake of being seen. They do what is required by YHVH, but for themselves. On the inside they were no better than unbelievers.
7. Outward appearance
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
23:27–28. In the seventh woe Y’shua continued the thought of the previous statement about external purification. The sixth woe stressed their actions; the seventh, their appearances. He called the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees … whitewashed tombs. A custom then was to keep tombs painted white on the outside so they would appear beautiful. But inside the tombs was the decaying flesh of dead people. Similarly, while the Pharisees appeared beautiful on the outside because of their religious conformity, they were corrupt and decaying inside. They were full of hypocrisy and wickedness (anomias, “lawlessness”). 3
We have already touched on this when we wrote about the three levels of hypocrisy. This woe is about the outside appearance of these Pharisees. It relates well with the previous woe being about their actions, conducted in order to be seen. This is true for the time we live in as well. People acting and dressing in a certain way for the sake of impressing others.
8. Condemning others while doing the same
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
23:29–32. The final woe also emphasized the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. They spent time building tombs and decorating the graves of the righteous. They were quick to say that if they had lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have been involved in shedding the blood of these righteous men. Y’shua knew they were already in the process of planning His death. By that act they would demonstrate they were just like the former generations who murdered the prophets. By rejecting the Prophet, they would be following in the footsteps of their forefathers and “filling up” their ancestors’ sin. 3
It is once again about pretense, saying one thing while doing another. We find this very same thing when we profess to be believers of YHVH, but not doing what He requires of us. What does YHVH require of us? He requires obedience…
Anomia is hypocrisy
what is anomia?
Anomia is lawlessness, the utter disregard for YHVH’s law. To be lawless is to be disobedient to YHVH’s instructions; His commandments. YHVH gave us commandments in order for us to know how to live. He said it is life to us, yet we say it has been done away with.When we were children, we were obedient to our father out of love for him. He didn’t love us more because of that, but it pleased him when we were obedient, and he punished us when we were disobedient. Our Heavenly Father also requires obedience and to say we don’t have to be obedient to Him is hypocrisy. Y’shua, furthermore, taught that love equals obedience, why have we changed it? It was changed because of self-interest. People want to do whatever they wish, they desire to be “free” from the law. However, this so-called “freedom” is actually bondage, because disobedience is sin and sin is bondage.
Every one of these woes, give us a teaching on how not to live. These acts and appearances of righteousness are totally meaningless; it is falsehood. It is not about YHVH; it is not done for YHVH, but to further a personal agenda, whatever it might be. For some, it would be the building of a following, for others it is just a case of self-promotion or to be different. People may have different motivations. The point is, if our worship of YHVH is something we do for ourselves, we will not get a heavenly reward for it. It is empty and meaningless.This does not mean we are not to live righteously, on the contrary. Being a believer and living unrighteous is also a form of hypocrisy. Y’shua taught on many occasions that to love YHVH is to keep His commandments. We have quoted Matt 5:17-19 many times before, but will do so repeatedly to stress the fact that Y’shua did not come to do away with YHVH’s commandments.
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Take note of the last verse, verse twenty. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Did Y’shua condemn their righteous obedience to YHVH’s commandments? No, He condemned their motivation for doing it. For these specific Pharisees, it was about self-promotion. From this passage in Matthew, we see that not the smallest part of the law of YHVH has been taken away when Y’shua died for our sins. He did fulfill the Scriptures; He filled it up with meaning; He showed us how to do it.We are to live like Y’shua did, in obedience to YHVH’s commandments, and we are to ensure that we do it motivated by our love for YHVH, not by our love for self. We all need to consider this, as we are human and by nature, self-centered. We need to become YHVH-centered. YHVH being our motivation for everything we do, then His light will shine through us, and we will get the heavenly reward.May YHVH show each of us the areas in which we need to change and may He give us the strength to do so. Be blessed!
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
- Barbieri, L. A., Jr. (1985). Matthew. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 74). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Tags: eight woes, fasting, following, fulfilled, giving to the poor, heavenly reward, hypocrisy, keep commandments, keeping others from the kingdom, outward appearance, Pharisees, praying in public, righteousness, self-promation, seven woes, to be seen by others, Y'shua the Messiah, Yhvh
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