Matthew 7 – Judging and Hypocrisy & Fasting in the Ancient Near East

Chapter 7 ends with the clarification that when Jesus spoke He did it with Divine Authority, not like the hypocrites or false prophets. 

We have talked about false prophets in the past, so let’s take a look at…

Matthew 7
Judging and Hypocrisy

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

The Christin is not to judge hypocritically or self-righteously, as can be seen from the context (v. 5).  The same thought is expressed in 23:13-39 (cf. Rom 2:1). 

To obey Christ’s commands in this chapter, we must first evaluate a person’s character – whether he is a “dog” (v. 6) or a false prophet (v. 15), or whether his life shows fruit (v. 16).

Scripture repeatedly exhorts believers to evaluate carefully and choose between good and bad people and things (sexual immoral, 1 Cor 5:9; those who masquerade as angles of light, 2 Cor 11:14; dogs, Phil 3:2; false prophets, 1 Jn 4:1).

The Christian is to “prove all things” (1 Thess 5:21).

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

“Mote…beam” – an example of a hyperbole in the teachings of Jesus (cf. 19:24, where Jesus speaks of a camel going through the eye of a needle).  Its purpose is to drive home a point.

4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Teaching should be given in accordance with the spiritual capacity of the learners.

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

The so-called Golden Rule is found in negative form in rabbinic Judaism and also in Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.  It occurred in various forms in Greek and Roman ethical teaching.  Jesus stated it in positive form.

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at:

“Strait gate” – the gate that leads into the kingdom of God.  It’s synonymous with “life.”

“Destruction” – separation from God, i.e., eternal damnation/Hell/Lake of Fire.

14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

“That day” – the day of judgment (cf. Mal 3:17-18).

“Prophesied” – in the New Testament this verb primarily means to give a message from God, not necessarily to predict.

“Devils” – people possessed by demonic power.

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

“Authority” – the teachers of the law quoted other rabbis to support their own teaching, but Jesus spoke with divine authority.

Fasting in the Ancient Near East

While the Day of Atonement was the only required day of fasting in the Old Testament, there were occasions throughout the year for voluntary fasting. Rather than avoiding specific foods, fasting usually involved abstinence from all food for a predetermined period of time.

This is from Book 1 of The Essene Gospel of the Peace. It states that Jesus Himself wrote it, but it has been proven to be false.

He states that Jesus taught people how to water fast and eat raw food? Yet, it was in 1928 that Edmond Bordeaux Szekely first published his translation of this book.

Therefore, be careful what you read and listen too, cling to God (Jas 4:8).

It was always accompanied by prayer and was used to express grief, penitence or humble devotion to God. Fasting was encouraged at times of national crisis as an indication that Israel or Judah was wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord (Jdg 20:26; Joel 1:14).

True fasting is without food or water and individuals in particular distress also fasted (1 Sam 1:7; 2 Sam 12:22). The duration of a given fast ranged from 1 to 3 to 40 days.  After the exile there were at least four practiced periods of fasting (Zec 8:19).

For example, a tradition began of fasting on the 9th of Ab (the 5th month, spanning our July and August). This fast was intended to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and it became customary to read Lamentations on that day.

Fasting in Pagan Religion

Fasting was also practiced in some forms of Greek pagan religion. One of the initiatory rites of the Eleusinian mystery religion involved a fast, and the cults of Isis and Cybele also entailed some fasting.

Abstinence from food, as well as sexual abstinence (water was okay though), was often thought to be a necessary preparation before undergoing a ritual. The Greeks rarely practiced lengthy fasts, but many cults had a number of taboos involving food (the Pythagoreans, e.g., were vegetarian).

They fast for themselves, not for God.
Many Ashkenazi Jews still fast on the B’hab days—an acronym meaning Monday-Thirsday-Monday. Now the 5:2 diet is taking over the UK and the US – using the same principles.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting remained common throughout the New Testament era. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Lk 18:12). Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist and Paul practiced substantial fasts as well.

Matthew 6:16-18 indicates that fasting remains a legitimate form of worship for Christians. During the first few centuries of the Christian church a theology of asceticism with heroic acts of prolonged fasting arose.

But Jesus’ words also provide a reminder that true fasting is directed toward God, not toward impressing others. Like the prophets before him (Isa 58:1-12; Jer 14:10-12;  Zee 7).  Jesus proclaimed that true fasting is an indication of the heart’s inclination toward God.