NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Part II (con’t)
So what is the difference between a “peacemaker” and a “peacekeeper?” In an ironic twist, in 1873 gun manufacturer Samuel Colt introduced a pistol that was named “The Peacekeeper.” It was easy to load with shell cartridges instead of the older style loaders. And anyone could learn to use it in a very short time. This was an attempt to make everyone equal, so that a tall strong man could no longer intimidate a smaller, weaker man with impunity. Victory that once depended on strength, now depended on speed and accuracy. In other words, a peacekeeper confronts violence and aggression with force. But a peacemaker, is proactive, and thereby takes the sting out of anger and frustration before it becomes violent. They do this by living peacefully and harmoniously among their fellow man. I once heard a pastor’s wife say, “I get so upset with my husband at times, because he won’t argue with me.” What she was really saying was that she had trouble controlling her temper and wanted her husband to have the same problem so she would be as admirable as he was.
Jewish Rabbis also speak highly in their commendation of peacemaking. They say: “The following are the things for which a man enjoys the fruits in this world, while the principal [reward is not diminished and] remains for him in the World to Come: honoring one’s father and mother, practicing charity and making peace between man and his neighbor, but the study of the Torah is equal to all of them.”1 We also find the same message promoted in other Jewish writings.2 In the same document we find further commentary: “Of peacemaking it is said: ‘Seek peace and pursue it,’3 to which a Rabbi said: ‘We learn ‘pursuing’ by ‘pursuing’, Here it is written: ‘Seek peace and pursue it’; and elsewhere it is written: He that pursues righteousness and lovingkindness.”4 Jewish scholars say that this implies: these will be rewarded both in this world and the world to come.”5 In addition, we have these words by a highly thought of Rabbi: “The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world, as it is says, And all your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be the peace of your children6.”7 One Jewish writer states that God is saying: “Though I gave you the Torah to study in this world, all too few labor in it. In the world-to-come, however, I Myself shall be teaching it to all Israel, and they will study it and not forget it.”8
Some Jewish scholars define “world-to-come” as a reference to the afterlife following the resurrection. Others, however, define it as the world after the Messiah comes. Yet, because Jesus of Nazareth did not fit their mold of the expected Messiah, they gave Him no heed as the One sent by God to teach them personally about His Word. Rabbis say, this emphasis on peace and peace making is founded on the motto of Moses: “Let the law cut through the mountain, Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man and man as it is written, ‘The law of truth was in his mouth, unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and did turn many away from iniquity.”9 In another Jewish work we find this beatitude: “Blessed is he who imparts peace and love. Cursed is he who disturbs those that love their neighbors.”10 So this teaching by Jesus was not new to the ears of the listening crowds, especially the Pharisees and Scribes who may have stood among them. But it does not conflict with what He said later on in Chapter 10, verse 34.
As we have seen in all of the beatitudes, there is the constant danger that by doing right one may encounter trouble and opposition. But He wants them to know, that such persecution is an honor, not a humiliation. Later on in Chapter 10, before Jesus sent out His disciples on their first evangelism effort, He warned them about opposition. It is like saying to someone, there is a pot of gold on the other side of this high wall, but you have to have the courage to try and climb over it if you want any part of it. The same that an Olympic athlete is told that they must train and then put all they have into the race if they ever hope to win to gold medal. Being part of the kingdom of God was never meant to be an easy ride, especially if you are open and honest about your faith and continually stand for what is right. Jesus wanted His followers to know that this was not incidental, they should always expect it to happen. God promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants, but look at how many battles they had to fight to obtain it and keep it.
To this very day Israel is still fighting to maintain control over the land God gave them. We should have the same attitude concerning the Kingdom of God. He promised it to us, but we must be ready to defend it at all cost. This last beatitude is the only one where recompense is mentioned. One can readily see the close relationship between the humble and persecuted. But there are greater differences upon closer observation. The humble are such because of inward influence; the persecuted are such because of outward influence. The humble will receive the kingdom of heaven without stipulation, the persecuted will receive the kingdom of heaven because of their righteousness and faithfulness under persecution. While the Book of Galatians contains the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, here we may opine that these are the Fruit of Christ’s Spirit which every born again believer should possess. Therefore, we might propose that these would then necessarily come first. Let me put them in paraphrase form: “Those who realize their need for God in their lives. Those who confess their weaknesses. Those who are willing to let others go first. Those who want to be fair and just at all times. Those who take time for others before taking time for themselves. Those who are not biased or critical. Those who prefer to live in peace. Those who will do right no matter what it costs them. Those who are willing to suffer any reproach to hold firm to their beliefs. Those are the one who make up the kingdom of heaven.”
Verses 11-12: “Great blessings belong to those who are insulted and made fun of, and who endure lies and all kinds of evil things said about them just because they follow me. But when you do that, know that great blessings belong to you. Be happy about it. Be very glad because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. People did these same bad things to the prophets who lived before you.”
Some might offer that today when a person is falsely accused, ill treated, or slandered, they should go to court to clear their name instead of feeling blessed. But in disagreeing, I would add this: the same stipulation is required today as it was when Christ spoke these words, it must be for Christ’s sake. Many so called Christians today have been slandered and maligned because of what they did to themselves, not what they did for Christ. King David faced such opposition. He tells us: “There are witnesses trying to harm me, and I’m being asked questions concerning things I know nothing about.”11 But Isaiah had an answer: “You who obey the Lord’s commands, listen to what He says: ‘Your brothers hated you. They turned against you because you followed me. Your brothers said, “When the Lord shows his glory, then we will rejoice with you.” But they will be punished.’”12 Since Jesus loved the scroll of Isaiah, could He have had this verse in mind when He spoke these words? While the persecutors would be punished, Jesus promised a reward in heaven for those who remain faithful.
God gave Abram a similar promise: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector; your reward will be very great”.13 One Jewish commentator states that when God said to Abraham, that his reward would be great, was referring both to this world and the world-to-come.14 In other words, you won’t have to wait until you get to heaven for God to bless you for your obedience. Another Rabbi commented that after God last spoke to Noah, He spoke to no other creature until He spoke to Abraham. According to this Rabbi, God said to Abraham: “With you I began a new way of speaking.”15 Also, Boaz complimented Ruth for taking care of her mother-in-law Ruth during trying times.16 And the Psalmist echos the same sentiment.17 This same thought is expressed by Solomon18 and Isaiah.19 Then it’s almost as though Jesus puts His hands on the shoulders of those listening to Him, and tells them that this has happened to others before, it even happened to some of the prophets. This can be factually authenticated in Old Testament writings.20 We find among the sayings of the rabbis similar ones to what Jesus is teaching here. For instance they say: “Let people curse you instead of you cursing them.”21 Jewish commentators also explain: “The curses always recoil on oneself or on one’s descendants.”22
Another great Rabbi offered this: “A person should always strive to be among the persecuted rather than one of the persecutors; just as there is no birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them alone eligible for the altar23.”24 And another venerable Rabbi stated: “The rule is…be among those pursued and not among the pursuers, among those who accept humiliation but not among those who humiliate others. Whoever does all the above and others like them it is stated: “You are My servant, Israel, through whom I will be glorified25.”26 And the Jews say: “Our Rabbis taught: Those who are insulted but do not insult; who hear themselves shouted at without shouting back, act through love and rejoice in suffering, of them the Scriptures say: ‘But they who love Him are as the sun when they go onward in His might27.”28 So again, Jesus is not teaching some radical theology, He is reinforcing what was already part of oral tradition. He would never had done so as the Son of God, had not His Father in Heaven approved of His endorsement of these virtues.
1 Mishnah, op. cit., First Division:Zeraim, Tractate Pe’ah, Ch. 1:1
2 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 127a
3 Psalm 34:14
4 Rabbi Abbahu, Ibid. Seder Nashim, Masekhet Kiddushin, folio 40a
5 Ibid., footnote (15)
6 Isaiah 54:13
7 Rabbi Eleazar said this in the name of Rabbi Hanina: Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berakoth, folio 64a
8 Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, op. cit., Piska 12:21, p. 325
9 Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Jose the Galilean, Commentary on Malachi 2:6
10 The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, Chapter 52:11-12
11 Psalms 35:11,
12 Isaiah 66:5
13 Genesis 15:1
14 Tzror Hamor, op. cit., Parshat Lech Lecha, loc. cit., p. 216
15 Pesikta De-Rab Kahana, op., cit., Piska 16:4, p. 390
16 See Ruth 2:12
17 Psalms 19:11 and 58:11
18 Proverbs 11:18
19 Isaiah 3:10
20 I Kings 18:4; 18:13; 19:2; 19:10-14; 21:20; 22:8; 22:26-27; II Kings 1:9; II Chronicles 16:10; 24:20-22; 36:16; Nehemiah 9:26; Jeremiah 2:30; 26:8; 26:21-23.
21 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 49a
22 Ibid., footnote (1)
23 Leviticus 12:6 – Complete Jewish Bible
24 Rabbi Abbahu in the Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Bava Kamma, folio 93a
25 Isaiah 49:3
26 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit., Sefer Madda, Tractate De’ot, Ch. 5, Halacha 13
27 Judges 5:31
28 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 88b. This is repeated in ibid., Masekhet Yoma, folio 23a and in Seder Nashim, Masekhet Gittin, folio 36b, in a slightly different paraphrase but saying the same thing.