The gift or the altar (Mt 23:19-23:19)
“You blind men!
Which is greater?
Or the altar
The gift sacred?”
τυφλοί, τί γὰρ μεῖζον, τὸ δῶρον ἢ τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ ἁγιάζον τὸ δῶρον;
Jesus, via Matthew, poses almost the same question as verse 17. He called these Pharisees and the Scribes blind (τυφλοί), but not fools. He wanted to know which was greater (τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν)? Was the gift by itself (τὸ δῶρον) holier than the altar that made the gift sacred (ἢ τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ ἁγιάζον τὸ δῶρον). The gift became sacred or holy by being on the altar, much more than a plain gift not on the altar. The altar was clearly greater than the gift that was made sacred by being on the altar.
Blind fools (Mt 23:17-23:17)
“You blind fools!
Which is greater?
Or the Temple
That has made
The gold sacred?”
μωροὶ καὶ τυφλοί, τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν, ὁ χρυσὸς ἢ ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἁγιάσας τὸν χρυσόν;
Matthew alone has Jesus pose this question directly to the Pharisees and Scribes. He called them both blind and fools (μωροὶ καὶ τυφλοί). He wanted to know which was greater (τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν)? Was gold by itself holier than the Temple that made the gold sacred (ὁ χρυσὸς ἢ ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἁγιάσας τὸν χρυσόν). This was based on Exodus, chapter 30:22-33, where the holy oil of the Temple sanctuary made things holy. Gold could become sacred or holy by being in the Temple, much more than plain gold outside the Temple. The Temple was clearly greater than the gold that was made sacred in the Temple.
The cooking pots are holy (Zech 14:20-14:21)
“On that day,
There shall be inscribed
On the bells
Of the horses.
‘Holy to Yahweh.’
The cooking pots
In the house of Yahweh
Shall be as holy
As the bowls
In front of the altar.
Every cooking pot
As well as in Judah
Shall be sacred
To Yahweh of hosts.
All who sacrifice
They may use them
To boil the flesh
Of the sacrifice.
There shall no longer
In the house
Of Yahweh of hosts,
On that day.”
On this glorious day, the bells of the horses will have the inscription that Yahweh is holy. The cooking pots in the house of Yahweh would be as holy as the bowls on the altar in front of the holy of holies. In fact, all the cooking pots in Judah and Jerusalem would be sacred to Yahweh. The sacrifices could then be boiled in any kind of pot because they were all holy. They would no longer need to depend on the traders at the Temple selling them special holy pots.
The end of idolatry (Isa 17:7-17:8)
“On that day
People will regard their Maker.
Their eyes will look
To the Holy One of Israel.
They will not have regard
For the altars,
The work of their own hands.
They will not look
To what their own fingers have made,
Either the sacred poles
Or the altars of incense.”
The end of idolatry and the turning to the Holy One of Israel will take place on this day of destruction. On that day, they will turn away from the altars that they made with their own hands. They will not look at the idols that they made with their own fingers. They will turn away from the sacred or holy poles or sticks, like totem poles, and the altars with incense on them. Idolatry will become a thing of the past.
The sacredness of naphtha (2 Macc 1:30-1:36)
“Then the priests sang the hymns.
After the materials of the sacrifice had been consumed,
Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left
Should be poured upon large stones.
When this was done,
A flame blazed up.
But when the light from the altar shone back,
It went out.
When this matter became known,
It was reported to the king of the Persians.
The place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire,
The liquid had appeared
With which Nehemiah and his associates
Had burned the materials of the sacrifice.
The king investigated the matter.
He enclosed the place.
He made it sacred.
With those persons whom the king favored
He exchanged many excellent gifts.
Nehemiah and his associates called this nephthar.
This means purification.
However, by most people it is called naphtha.”
After the priests had sung their hymns and the sacrifice had been consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the left over liquid be poured on large stones. A blaze started when the sun was shining brightly. However, when the sun was not out, there was no flame. This was reported to the king of Persia. Nehemiah was a trusted cupbearer for King Artaxerxes who investigated this material. He then called the place where it was found to be sacred. In fact, he gave this as gifts. Thus naphtha, nephthar, or oil gained its importance.