NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
We find this expressed by David in his Song of Praise: “With the merciful You show Yourself to be merciful.”1 And again in another Psalm: “Adonai is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in grace.”2 Today, we might use the word “compassionate” to best describe the virtue being expressed here. Job prays to God that he might be found having been compassionate in every situation.3 The Psalmist lays it out quite well, “Those who help the poor succeed will get many blessings. When trouble comes, the Lord will save them. The Lord will protect them and save their lives. He will bless them in this land. He will not let their enemies harm them. When they are sick in bed, the Lord will give them strength and make them well!”4 We find the same blessing in other Psalms.5 King Solomon shares this same maxim in Proverbs.6 The prophet Isaiah passes on this same thought,7 and then shares a word from the Lord.8 This is what Daniel advised King Nebuchadnezzar to do,9 and Micah preaches on this same theme.10
The great Jewish teacher Maimonides comments on the concept of showing compassion for others: “A person will never become impoverished from giving charity. No harm nor damage will ever be caused because of charity [Commentary: on the contrary, it leads to blessing as scripture states: ‘He who gives to the poor will not lack’],11 and: ‘And the deed of charity is peace.’12 Everyone who is merciful evokes mercy from others, as scripture states: ‘And He shall grant you mercy and shower mercy upon you and multiply you.’13 Whenever a person is cruel and does not show mercy, his lineage is suspect as a comment on the Mishnah states: ‘Whenever one does not show mercy to the created beings, it can be recognized that he is not from the seed of Abraham our patriarch.’],14 for cruelty is found only among the gentiles, as scripture states: ‘They are cruel and will not show mercy.’15 The entire Jewish people and all those who attach themselves to them are as brothers, as it states: ‘You are children unto God your Lord.’16 And if a brother will not show mercy to a brother, who will show mercy to them? To whom do the poor of Israel lift up their eyes? To the gentiles who hate them and pursue them? Behold their eyes are pointed to their brethren alone.”17
And Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar taught: “Perform [righteousness and mercy] while you can find [an object for your mercy], and have the opportunity.18 Commentators explain: “Literally, ‘it is found in you and within your power to use.”19 We find that in the Genesis Rabbah they explain that ‘mercy’ and ‘righteousness are taken from the same Hebrew word, “zedakah.”20 But there is a notice posted here. You may have mercy on someone in need, but only when you put it into action does it become righteousness, which is another way of saying: “doing what’s right in the right situation.” So we can see that Jesus is using already known concepts among the Jews listening to Him, in order to build on such understanding and lead them to higher ground.
So we can see that having compassion on others, even those whom many may feel do not deserve it because they lack self-motivation, is pleasing in God’s sight. But such compassion must be designed to help and not hurt. For instance, helping a homeless person by giving them money so they can buy more alcohol or drugs is not helpful. However, buying them a meal and sharing the love of God is helpful, and assisting them in finding a job is even more encouraging. But just as God had compassion by sending His Son to the cross, whether His love is accepted or not does not make that compassion void. In such cases, their destiny is in their own hands, not in the hands of the giver.
The concept here is to avoid hypocrisy in dealing with others. It would not be out of the question if those listening to our Lord’s teaching immediately thought of David’s question on who qualified to enter God’s house, “Who may go up to the mountain of Adonai? Who can stand in his holy place? Those with clean hands and pure hearts, who don’t make vanities the purpose of their lives or swear oaths just to deceive.”21 Jesus goes into a long discourse on this subject in Chapter 23. It means to stay away from ulterior motives, especially when trying to impress others with sincerity. We find this attitude in David’s prayer for Solomon: “My God, I know that You test people, and that You are happy when people do what is right. I gladly give You all these things with a pure, honest heart. I see Your people gathered here, and I see that they are happy about giving these things to You.”22 David expresses this same thing in other Psalms.23 Solomon learned a lot from his father and sought such people as friends.24 It may be that Jesus was also thinking of what His Father had promised: “I will also put a new spirit in you to change your way of thinking. I will take out the heart of stone from your body and give you a tender, human heart. I will put my Spirit inside you and change you so that you will obey my laws. You will carefully obey my commands.”25
But scholars have differed over what Jesus said at the end. After Jacob prepared to reconcile with his brother Esau, during the night he wrestled with an angel, after it was over we read: “Ya‘akov called the place P’ni-El [face of God], ‘Because I have seen God face to face, yet my life is spared’”.26 Another Jewish translator renders it: “I have seen God face to face and I came out alive.”27 As another Jewish scholar expounds on Jacob’s brush with God face to face: “to reflect the great miracle that had happened to him there, that he had survived an encounter with Divinity, especially with the attribute of Justice. He took this as a hint that God would save him bodily during the encounter with Esau.”28
Some Rabbi’s also took this wrestling with the angel and then receiving the blessing asked for, was Jacob’s way of making up for the blessing he stole from Esau, and as God’s way of saying the blessing was his after all.29 And to others, this was another way of Jacob saying: “I wasn’t sure that reconciling with Esau was the right thing to do. But now that I’ve wrestled over this in my mind with God, I’m convinced that it is right. I believe that because I’m still here. God did not harm me because He saw that I was sincere.” Job, on the other hand, had a different perspective. By remaining true to his principles of faith, and in the midst of his trials because of staying true, Job proclaimed: “I know that there is someone to defend me and that He lives! And in the end, He will stand here on earth and defend me. After I leave my body and my skin has been destroyed, I know I will still see God. I will see Him with my own eyes. I myself, not someone else, will see God. And I cannot tell you how excited that makes me feel!”30
This teaching was Jesus’ way of saying, it may be hard and troublesome living a sincere life, but don’t give up, the end will be worth the effort. After all, look at all the opposition and criticism that Jesus endured while He healed the sick and preached God’s new plan of salvation to those who were struggling under the burden of hundreds of laws that were supposed to save them, but was in fact suppressing them. But our Lord did not despair. He knew that His words and His example would be accepted by those who earnestly sought a new relationship with God. So He pressed on, never wavering. That’s why today there are billions of believers around the world doing the same.
The KJV uses the phrase “peacemakers.” This is the only place in the N.T., where that is used. We find an example of this when David was thrown out by Saul and had to find some warriors who were with him in prior battles willing to join him. He didn’t mind when some came from the tribe of Benjamin, and others from the tribe of Gad. But when a group showed up from Judea, David left his camp in Ziklag and went out to meet them. After they introduced themselves David said to them, “If you have come in peace to help me, I welcome you. Join me. But if you have come to spy on me when I have done nothing wrong, may the God of our ancestors see what you did and punish you.”31
This gives us insight into how this idea of being a peacemaker works. War should only be a matter of last resort. When we enter a fray, everyone will quickly know if we are there to bring peace, or try to prove we are right and they are wrong. After all, when Isaiah was speaking about the coming Messiah he says: “His name will be ‘Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.’”32 When the Psalmist expresses such joy about going with those who invited him to accompany them to the house of the LORD, he finishes with a prayer: “For the good of my family and neighbors, I pray that there will be peace here. For the good of the Temple of the Lord our God, I pray that good things will happen to this city.”33
But Jesus wanted His disciples and the crowd to know, that being a peacemaker had its benefits. That these were the kind of people God was looking for so He could make them His children. It is safe to say that Jesus was not saying this in the context of relationships between nations, ideologies, political factions, or in war. He was concentrating on how those who would follow Him would treat each other.
Also, being a peacemaker does not automatically imply being an umpire or referee, but a mediator. For instance, an umpire is someone who watches what’s going on closely to make sure that no rules are broken and enforces whatever punishment is required. A referee is a person who examines an act to see if it abides by the law, then when finding any violation works to bring about a settlement. But a mediator is one who helps people find an answer and come to an agreement out of their own will, not that of the ruling official. This is the role that Jesus served here on earth and continues to perform at the right hand of the Father.
1 II Samuel 22:26
2 Psalm 145:8, (Complete Jewish Bible)
3 Job 31:16-22
4 Psalm 41:1-3
5 Ibid. 112:4 & 112:9
6 Proverbs 11:17; 14:21; & 19:17
7 Isaiah 57:1
8 Ibid. 58:6-12.
9 Daniel 4:27
10 Micah 6:8
11 Proverbs 28:27
12 Isaiah 32:17
13 Deuteronomy 13:18
14 Rabbi Naathan bar Abba’s commentary on Deuteronomy 13:18 the Mishnah in Tractate Beitza (Yom Tov), Ch. 4
15 Jeremiah 3:42
16 Deuteronomy 14:1
17 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit., Sefer Zeraim, Matnot Aniyim, Ch. 9, Halacha2
18 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., (Masekhet Shabbath, folio 151b).
19 Ibid., footnote (16)
20 Midrash Rabbah, op. cit., Genesis, Lech Lecha, Ch. XLIV, p. 368
21 Psalm 24:3-4, (Complete Jewish Bible)
22 I Chronicles 29:17
23 Psalms 15:2; 18:26; 24:4; 51:6; 51:10; & 73:1
24 Proverbs 22:11
25 See Ezekiel 36:26-27,
26 Genesis 32:30 (v. 31) – Complete Jewish Bible
27 Genesis, Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter, op. cit., p. 83, loc. cit.
28 Tzror Hamor, op. cit, loc. cit., pp. 574-575
29 Nachmanides, loc. cit., p. 405; (See also, Rashi’s Commentary, loc. cit., verse 27)
30 Job 19:25-27,
31 Chronicles 12:17
32 Isaiah 9:6
33 Psalm 122