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

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

The verses that follow, the “woe to you’s,” have often been offered as “evidence” that the New Testament is anti-Semitic in nature. However “woe” is not a foreign word in Hebraic history, and therefore, not without precedence for The Rabbi of Israel, Yeshua.

In the Hebrew, the word “woe” is often a prolonged form “alas” a permutation of the root word hah, as if “caught in the act.” These “woes” are common enough in the warnings in the prophets, for instance: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21) or “Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean?” (Jeremiah 13:27).

“Woe” is common enough in the Scriptures of Israel, and many are the warnings given to the Israelites. If Yeshua is being anti-Semitic, then He is in good company.

In fact, this Messiah who is both King and Priest, is operating here as Prophet as well. The prophets of Israel were sent of God to warn, to give a chance for redemption, and to make straight the ways of the Lord.

Like those esteemed prophets before Him, Yeshua warns. He presents the opportunity for redemption, and seeks to make straight the ways of the Lord.

Apart from the characters of Nicodemus and Joseph of Amemathea, His warnings did have some affect on the Pharisees (see Acts 15:5, 21:20), and of course the Pharisee of Pharisees, Paul of Tarsus.

Yet, on the whole, these religious leaders (a distinction which must be made as compared to the common people) were a “brood of vipers.”

While the Pharisees, as a whole, set a high ethical standard for themselves, not all lived up to it. It is mistakenly held that the New Testament reference to them as “hypocrites” or “offspring of vipers” are applicable to the entire group. However, the leaders were well aware of the presence of the insincere among their numbers, described by the Pharisees themselves in the Talmud as “sore spots” or “plagues of the Pharisaic party” (Sot. 3:4 and 22b).4

The “woes” are straightforward and understandable. For the sake of understanding Matthew from a Hebrew perspective, let us look at one from verse 25:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”

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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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