One Last Controversy
Text: Matthew 5 : 21 - 48
There was one more controversial teaching that Jesus had to address. Courageously, He taught His disciples,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall
love your neighbour and hate your enemy.'”
It must be said at the outset that there was no such statement in the Mosaic Law. Jesus knew that some had wickedly combined two portions of Scripture together erroneously and then went about teaching them as if it was just a plain law of Moses. This attempt at “conflation” or “fusion” of laws had to be rejected.
THE LAW OF LOVING ONE’S NEIGHBOUR
It is wise to study the full text from which this phrase, “love your neighbour” was taken.
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any
grudge against the children of your people,
but you shall love your neighbour as yourself:
I am the Lord.”
This ancient Mosaic Law was aimed at helping the children of Israel to care for each other as a nation. How else would they survive as a nation if they did not have a proper regard for each other as “neighbours”? Personal feelings of animosity were to be overcome. The law of love was to prevail! This was a clear command by the Lord!
HATING THE ENEMY?
Where did this idea come from? It might well have stemmed from the Mosaic prohibition against the Canaanites. Let us consider this text.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land
which you go to possess, and has cast out many
nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites
and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites
and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater
and mightier than you…”
The “enemies” of Israel were specifically identified! The Lord named the seven nations that were in the Promised Land! He would personally deal with these enemies.
The Lord went on to give clear instructions concerning how Israel was to deal with these enemies.
“And when the Lord your God delivers them over
to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy
them. You shall make no covenant with them
nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make
marriages with them. You shall not give your
daughter to their son, nor take their daughter
for your son. For they will turn your sons away
from following Me, to serve other gods; so the
anger of the Lord will be aroused against you
and destroy you suddenly. But thus you shall
deal with them: You shall destroy their altars,
and break down their sacred pillars, and cut
down their wooden images, and burn their
carved images with fire.”
How should we understand this prohibition from the Mosaic Law? Wasn’t God teaching Israel to “hate their enemy”? How should we understand this text?
INTERPRETING HISTORICAL TEXTS
This text must be carefully understood. Let’s bear in mind the following things:-
1. This text is best understood historically
All texts must be read within its historic contexts. There was a time when such a prohibition was made. The context was that of God judging the seven nations dwelling in the land of Canaan. God was sending Israel to dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan. He had every right to do that for He is the Ultimate King.
2. The danger of idolatry and related practices
God knew the evil hearts of the Canaanites. He knew the extent of their wickedness. These wicked nations would use any and every means to gain the upper hand. They would even use their children in marriage so long as they suit their purposes! They would finally end up corrupting the children of Israel and cause them to turn away from the Lord.
3. Limitations of “historical texts”
Obviously, historical texts had their limitations! The prohibition was in place as long as Israel had not fully conquered the land! There were many other nations that had idolatrous practices as well. However, these were not mentioned in God’s purview!
4. “Convenient” but false application of the Laws of Prohibition
Conveniently, the religious teachers of the land conflated two sets of laws and taught them as one! This understanding of the law was widespread and Jesus had to deal with this false but prevalent teaching.