Daily Devotions


Day 287

A Crisp Analysis

Text: Matthew 23 : 1 - 39

Jesus did much more than just excoriate the scribes and Pharisees. He gave a crisp evaluation of the argument used by the scribes and Pharisees.

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple
that sanctifies the gold?
And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing;
but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged
to perform it.’
Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar
that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar,
swears by it and by all things on it.
He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him
who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears
by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.'”
MATTHEW 23:17-22

“Fools and Blind!”

As far as Jesus was concerned, the arguments put forward by the scribes and Pharisees were the work of “fools and blind people”.

“Which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?

Attracted by the colour of gold, the scribes and Pharisees ascribed more value to the gold than the temple itself! Yet, how could that be so? Without the temple, the gold would have no value in itself.

“Which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

Drawn by greed, the gift itself was accorded more value than the altar. How could this be? If the altar did not exist then the value of the gift offered diminishes in value significantly!

Swearing by the altar or by heaven

The scribes and Pharisees developed an elaborate system to explain how “oath taking” worked. The significance of an oath was determined by the object sworn by! Jesus thoroughly disagreed with this system of thinking.

When a person swears, be it by the altar, the temple or heaven itself, God is personally involved! To swear is to invoke the very Name of God. To swear with impunity would be to be guilty of breaking the third Commandment! One must not take God’s Name in vain!

Jesus dismissed this system of interpreting the Scriptures as the work of the foolish and the blind. He was absolutely right in His statement!


The doctrine of oath-taking wasn’t the only law that the scribes and Pharisees twisted. They did the same thing to the law of tithing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,
And have neglected the weightier matters of the law:
justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done,
without leaving the others undone.
Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”
Matthew 23:23-24

Upholding the law of Tithing

We must not misread the text. Jesus did not dismiss the good doctrine of tithing. The scribes and Pharisees taught that everything must be tithed, including the herbs planted in the backyard (reference to mint, anise and cummin).

The problem was that the scribes emphasized these details at the expense of “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith”.

The weightier matters of the law

We are reminded of the words that the prophet Isaiah once preached to Israel over a similar problem. The sinful nation continued to offer worship to God but had neglected to attend to the problem of gross sin in life.

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good:
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”
Isaiah 1:16-17

These were the weightier matters of the law that the nation had neglected. Worship was not wrong in itself, but weightier matters cannot be easily set aside!

“These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone”

If only there had been emphasis on justice, mercy and faith, the doctrine of tithing would have enhanced their understanding and expression of religion. However, this was not the case at all. The scribes had not pursued faith, nor exercised mercy, nor had they been terribly just in the way they treated people! Their focus was obviously erroneous!

Straining the gnat and swallowing the camel

The gnat would be classified as “unclean”. The scribes took particular care to keep the minutiae. In contrast, they swallowed up camels (which was also an unclean animal and thus cannot be eaten). What a description of the scribes and Pharisees in the way they sought to practise their religion! They were just being ridiculous, as far as Jesus was concerned! How blind they really were!