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Who Were The Pharisees? Pt 2

by | Mon, Jul 25 2022

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Last time we began learning about the Pharisees and how it’s believed their group came about after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon and Persia were found to be so far removed from God’s Law that serious changes had to be made to the social structure of the people, and a serious return to strict religious observance of it. It’s believed that the Pharisees actually grew from the Scribes – the authorities of the Law – so that they could bring instruction and correct implementation of the Law to the people.

The name Pharisee is Greek and it means in essence, a separatist and exclusive. Called out if you will. In fact their separatist nature meant that they wanted absolutely no contact or interaction with anyone not Jewish. They didn’t look favourably on Gentiles and this could very well be from the days of Ezra and Nehemiah and the depravity and sin that their people had fallen into because they’d neglected God’s Law. They didn’t want to risk that happening again, and to ensure this, they simply went to the other extreme.

The problem with that of course, is that if the truth of God isn’t shared with the Gentiles, how will they know to reject their false gods and ways? So in protecting themselves and their people, they were condemning the Gentile world.

So around the 3rd century BC is when it’s believed they began and by the time Jesus came, their self-righteousness and hypocrisy regarding the true nature of the Law was blatantly obvious.

So what did they believe?

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the after-life, rewards for the righteous and punishment for the unrighteous. They believed in both good and fallen angels, they had a strong expectation of the coming of Mashiach, the Messiah, and they believed that the Davidic Kingdom would eventually be re-established. They were very, very literal in the beliefs as well. Scripture was allegorical only when it claimed to be.

The Pharisees believed whole-heartedly in debate, and in fact, they believed it was very important to debate a subject from the opposing point of view to their own. The point of the exercise was that they would have a greater capacity to understand the point of view of those who differed from them, and therefore, could extend compassion toward them. By the time Jesus arrived, compassion for others had evaporated.

Of course, human nature being what it is, simply means that they would then be able to argue the point until they deemed themselves the victor…just very human like all of us. But this is one of the reasons it appears to outsiders, that the Jews just seem to be fighting among themselves all the time, but debate and hashing things out is just a very cultural thing to do. Again, by the time Jesus had arrived, understanding all viewpoints wasn’t the priority, winning the argument was and this is why the religious leaders tried so hard to trap Jesus with tricky questions and situations.

Because they were very literal in how they understood and interpreted the law, they would debate anything and everything. For example, in the resurrection, would human beings be resurrected naked or in clothing. They would spend exhaustive amounts of time debating this issue. The Talmud silenced that debate however, saying that all resurrected bodies would in fact be clothed. Since they believe in the resurrection, the Talmud says that all Jews not already in Israel, will be rolled through underground tunnels until they reach the Holy Land. Because that’s said to be spiritually painful, if they can, they aim to be buried in the land. That’s why the Mt of Olives is the world’s largest Jewish cemetery – I think – it’s been a Jewish burial site for more than 3,000 years facing the Temple Mt. From this site, when the resurrection occurs, they’ve got a front row seat to the arrival of Mashiach.

It needs to be stressed here, as we mentioned last time, that the original intent of the Pharisees was to ensure God’s Law was not overlooked and discarded yet again. God had stated very clearly what was acceptable and unacceptable for His people and while in Babylon and Persia, they’d strayed so far from it, they would have brought judgment upon themselves again.

In their bid to govern and instruct well, they built big fences around the Law, adding layer upon layer of rules and regulations that they then enforced with rigidity. As is the case with most people, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and by the time Jesus came, Judaism as it was given to Moses by God, wasn’t anywhere to be found. God’s Law required tithing on income and produce and offering of sacrifices, hygiene and food laws, but the Pharisees added so much more. Yes, they tithed on their produce and kept the rules required, but they burdened the people unnecessarily and Jesus condemned them for it. They knew the minute details of the Law, but had lost their compassion and love for their own people.

Matthew 23:23, Jesus said, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, 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.”

So Jesus wasn’t saying they should neglect the requirements of the Law, but that in step with them, they needed to demonstrate compassion and care for the people they were supposed to be shepherding.