And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13
1 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him,
2 “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?”
4 “For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’”
5 “But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’”
6 “In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.”
7 “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
9 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”
Shibboleths have been used throughout history in many societies as passwords, simple ways of self-identification, signaling loyalty and affinity, maintaining traditional identity, or protecting from real or perceived threats. A shibboleth is any custom or tradition, usually, a choice of phrasing or even a single word, that distinguishes one group of people from another.
Often a shibboleth is a kind of linguistic password: A way of speaking (a pronunciation, or the use of a particular expression) that identifies one as a member, or a non-member, of a particular group.
Shibboleth is a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief. The importance of the original meaning of the shibboleth is lost. Shibboleths morphed into customs, principles, beliefs, traditions distinguishing a particular class, or group of people.
Many Jewish shibboleths were made known in the hit movie and play, Fiddler on the Roof.
Tevye explains, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years . . . we have traditions for everything . . . How to sleep, how to eat . . . how to work . . . how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition . . . and because of our traditions . . . Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
But is this really so? And what of analogous Christian religious traditions?
The Christian community, regardless of denomination, has its own shibboleths that set people of one group apart from others.
At best, human traditions are maintained by people in the hope that they are doing what the Father wants them to do. People at the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as today, are very sincere in their beliefs and practices. It is startling to realize that the Scriptures present an entirely different point of view regarding man-made tradition.
Matthew 15:6 You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
How can this be?
Isaiah 29:13 They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
As shocking as this may be to many children of the King, would it not be wise to search our hearts regarding our traditions and shibboleths? Perhaps our innermost spirits are out of tune with the Father and His desires for us.
REFLECT & PRAY
The Lord Jesus Christ condemns hypocrisy. Our words and actions should not be merely external but come from our hearts. What is in our hearts should not reflect human tradition and creed, but rather the clear teaching of the word of God.
Father examine my heart and reveal any wicked way within (Psalm 139:24). My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
In Judges 12, civil war had broken out among the tribes of Israel. Under the leadership of Jephthah, the army of Gilead attacked and defeated the army of Ephraim. The soldiers of Ephraim tried to retreat and escape back to their own land. They were stopped and interrogated. They were given a test. The Hebrew word shibboleth referred to the head of the stalk of wheat or rye containing the grain. The word begins with the Hebrew letter shin. It is pronounced with an “SH” sound like “shoe” by the people of Gilead. But the people of Ephraim pronounced it sibboleth without “SH” and were easily identified as enemies (Judges 12:5, 6). Thus the first shibboleth test was performed and the name stuck.
In New Testament times, to avoid the expense of caring for aged parents, religious leaders worked out a devious scheme. It was quite simple. If money was vowed to God, it was exempt from the law requiring it to be used to care for the aged. The whole spirit of the 5th commandment regarding the honor and care of parents was tossed right out the window. What an extremely unethical, if not wicked, loophole. Today we would call it a cleverly devised “tax shelter.”
A tricky “vow to God,” a Corban, that is, a gift to God (Mark 7:11), invalidated the financial responsibilities delineated in the law of God. Once the Corban was vowed, it was officially the property of the Temple to be paid upon the death of the individual. The funds could not be transferred to anyone else, but the individual who vowed them could use them for their own benefit as desired in the meantime. Rather than affirming the Torah, the Corban undermined it.
5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’
6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.
On the surface, it was cruel, reprehensible, and heartless. No wonder the Lord Jesus Christ condemned their diabolical machinations. Indeed their heart was far from God even though externally things appeared otherwise.
The pharisaic law of men conflicted with the law of God. This unfair and ungodly practice became center stage in the clash between the Lord Jesus Christ and the religious establishment. There was no way to compromise. “Inevitably, the one had to destroy the other” (Barclay).
Take the righteous anger you may feel towards these unrighteous people and their actions and redirect it inward and examine your own heart. All issues regarding your priorities, materialism, taking care of the elderly, and dodging moral and ethical responsibility are on the table.
Legal evasion does not relieve us of moral responsibility.
Isaiah 29:13 And so the Lord says, These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
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