February 6 I Monday
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” —Romans 10:1-2
What is a Pharisee? It began as a movement about 400 years before the end of the Old Testament era. This was when Israel had been taken into exile in Babylon as a judgment of God. Then, Babylon was overrun by Persia, who were kind to their occupied territories, so they allowed many of the Israelites to go back to their land of origin. Many went back to Israel under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. On their return, there was a group of people who resolved they would never allow this situation, where God would judge them for their disobedience, to come about again. These people called themselves “Pharisees,” which is an Aramaic word that means “separated ones.” They were intended to be separated unto God, away from sin, from evil and from the world.
The Pharisees recommitted themselves to the Law of Moses and took the Ten Commandments seriously by qualifying and expanding it to 613 commandments. There were 365 negative ones that said, “You shall not” and 248 positive ones that said, “You shall.” Even with 613 commandments, they were not content with them. They built fences around those rules so that no one could get close to them. For instance, Exodus 20:10 tells us, “The seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work....” What is work and how would we define work? The Pharisees decided that one could not pick up anything that weighed more than two dried figs. What about how far one could move? The Pharisees came up with what they called, “A Sabbath’s Day’s Journey,” which was about 2,000 cubits (about 1 km) in their measurement.
Now, it is easy for us to say that the Pharisees were a bunch of phonies and hypocrites, but that is not true. There was hypocrisy amongst them, because they could not live up to the very laws that they wanted, but many were genuine in their intent. They were zealous for God, but it was not based on knowledge; it was based on an inadequate understanding. They created rules so that they never strayed from God, without realizing that these rules became barriers that pushed them away from God.
The Pharisees tried to regulate right behaviour so as to never fall under God’s judgment again, but all their efforts only led them astray. How amazing that God sent His Son to the world to demonstrate that no amount of human works could gain salvation, but that salvation only came from the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord God, I come before You in confession for times that I am like a Pharisee, being legalistic on what a Christian should or should not do. May I rest upon the truth that salvation is a gift by Your grace and not by my merit. Thank You, Lord.
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