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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 18: Matthew 22:41-23:39, by Kevin M. Williams

As Yeshua gave this admonition, Pharisees may have still been in the area and overheard everything He said to the multitudes. The text is not explicit. What is explicit is that Yeshua is speaking to the multitudes and His disciples “about” the Pharisees’ authority.

The “chair of Moses” was a well-known concept in Israel. In their tradition, the right to judge and make policy rested with the one who sat in Moses’ seat, a position—according to their oral tradition—than had been passed down since Moses’ day. A third-century example of such a seat or chair is on exhibit in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Those who “chaired” such positions, common in synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, had the authority to officially interpret the Torah and set doctrine.

Biblically, we need look no further than the book of Ezra for an example.

Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women, and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God, and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law (Ezra 10:1-3).

There is no indication that God commanded them to “put away all the wives” who were not Israelites, but they sat—as it were—in the chair of Moses with the authority to interpret the Torah and set doctrines. So stern was their judgment that if any did not obey, “whoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited  . . .” (v.8).

Nowhere does the text indicate that God directed Ezra and his associates to do this, but it is clear also in the text that the people of Israel recognized their authority. In the synagogues, it is understood that Ezra sat in the seat of Moses.

In our modern age, this idea might be akin to the highest officials in a denomination. These officials (some with very impressive sounding titles) set policy for what is and what is not acceptable, what is expected and what is prohibited within their movement.

For example, in April of 2005, Virginia’s largest and oldest association of Baptists severed a 145-year affiliation with Averett University in Danville over a gay-pride parade on the university’s campus. They sat—as it were—in the “seat of Moses” and rendered judgment.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2005

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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