What the Pharisees wear (Mt 23:5-23:5)

“The Pharisees

And Scribes

Do all their deeds

To be seen by other men.

They make

Their phylacteries broad.

Their fringes

Are long.”


πάντα δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν ποιοῦσιν πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· πλατύνουσιν γὰρ τὰ φυλακτήρια αὐτῶν καὶ μεγαλύνουσιν τὰ κράσπεδα,


This is unique to Matthew.  Jesus said that these Pharisees and Scribes did all their deeds to be seen by other men (πάντα δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν ποιοῦσιν πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις).  They broadened their phylacteries (πλατύνουσιν γὰρ τὰ φυλακτήρια αὐτῶν) and enlarged their long fringes or tassels (καὶ μεγαλύνουσιν τὰ κράσπεδα) on their clothes.  Thus, they had distinctive garments that they wore.  These phylacteries were leather boxes that contained scriptural passages.  They would wear them on their forearms or head as indicated in Exodus, chapter 13:9-16.  and Deuteronomy, chapter 6:4-9, that was closely tied to the “Shema.”  They were to write these biblical sayings of the law on their hands and forehead.  On the other hand, the fringes or tassels on the bottom of their clothing was based on Numbers, chapter 15:37-41.  They made the tassels on the four corners of their garments, with a blue chord on the fringe of each corner.  This was to remember all the commandments of Yahweh, a nice little reminder about their obligations.  Ever today, some Jewish groups wear these tassels called the tzitzit.  The same command about tassels can be found in Deuteronomy, chapter 22:12.  Apparently, the Pharisees may have been the only ones wearing these larger tassels and large prayer boxes.

Reading from the book of Moses (Neh 8:4-8:8)

“The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had made for this purpose. Beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand. Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam stood on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. He was above all the people. When he opened it all the people stood up. Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God! All the people answered. ‘Amen, Amen!’ They lifted up their hands. Then they bowed their heads as they worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform or tower so that they could hear and see him. This was similar to the special bronze platform of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6.   He had 6 people on his right side and 7 on his left side. Of the 6 on the right side Maaseiah will be also one of those instructing the people. All the others just appear here although there are numerous other biblical people with the same names. On the left side, Pedaiah, Malchijah, and Meshullam had helped with the wall. Hashum and Zechariah were from important returning families, while very little is known about Mishael and Hashbaddanah. He opened the book, probably the Book of Deuteronomy, but it is not clear. Everyone stood up as he opened the book, much like Roman Catholics stand for the reading of the Gospel of Jesus. There was the great ‘Amen’ at the end of Ezra’s blessing of Yahweh. They lifted up their hands to pray and then bowed their heads to the ground, much like the Muslim prayer position. There was another group who helped the people to understand the law. They seem to be important Levite family members, especially Jeshua, Bani, Azariah, and Hanan. Only Jamin appears here and nowhere else, while Akkub was a gatekeeper. They gave an interpretation of the law so that the people could understand it. Some commentators indicate that this might have been a translation into Aramaic, since the book was written in Hebrew. However, it could have been a commentary also.


The chiefs at Aijalon (1 Chr 8:13-13)

“Beriah and Shema were the heads of the ancestral houses of the inhabitants of Aijalon, who put to flight the inhabitants of Gath.”

It is not clear whether these 2 brothers were also the sons of Elpaal. There are a few other people in the biblical literature with these names. Beriah was the name of a son of Asher, a son of Ephraim, and a Levite. Shema was also the name of a Reubenite and a place.   Aijalon was a Levite city in the original area of Dan that was taken over by the Benjaminites. Of course, the inhabitants of Gath would have been the Philistines at the time of David.

The descendents of Caleb (1 Chr 2:42-2:45)

“The first born son of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel was Mareshah, who was the father of Ziph. Another son of Mareshah was Hebron. The sons of Hebron were Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shema. Shema was the father of Raham, who was the father of Jorkeam. Rekem became the father of Shammai. The son of Shammai was Maon, who became the father of Bethzur.”

Once again, we are back at Caleb, whom this biblical writer is very interested in. This is the 3rd time that we see descendents of (1) Caleb. He clearly was the brother of Jerahmeel called Chelubai, a very busy man. So far he had 3 sons by his 1st wife Azubah, Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. Then he had 1 son with his 2nd wife Ephrath called Hur. Finally he had Ashhur by Abijah, his step mother. Here we have 10 generations of his children through (2) Mareshah, his first born, whose children were Ziph and (3) Hebron. There was a town in Judah named after Mareshah. Hebron was also the name of a town, but it is one of the most ancient cities existing today, nearly 4,000 years old, with a connection to Abraham, in Genesis, chapter 13. Ziph was also a town mentioned in Joshua, chapter 15. It also was a place that David visited. Hebron’s sons were Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and (4) Shema. We do not hear about the children of his brother Ziph, Korah or Tappuah. Shema had a son named (5) Raham and his son was called (6) Jorkeam. (7) Rekem had a son named (8) Shammai who had a son named (9) Maon who had a son named (10) Bethzur. There were 4 people with the name of Korah, but the most famous is the Levite in Numbers, chapter 26, who used the wrong incense. There are a couple of towns with the name Tappuah. Besides this Rekem, that was the name of one of the 5 kings of Midian in Numbers, chapter 31. His son was Shammai, the same name as the son of Onam. Maon, his son, as well as Bethzur were also places in Judah. Finally Shema was also a name of a Benjamite and a Simeonite as well as a place in Judah. His son was Raham, and Raham’s son was Jorkeam, both of which only appear here in the biblical literature. This may have been a way to show how towns got their names.

Love of Yahweh is the essence of the law (Deut 5:32-6:13)

“You must therefore be careful to do as Yahweh your God has commanded you. You shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that you may live. Thus it may go well with you so that you may live long in the land that you are to occupy.”

The commandments must be following exactly with no variances to the right or left. If you follow the path of Yahweh, you will live long and things will go well with you.

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances that Yahweh your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land to that you are about to cross into and occupy. Thus you and your children may fear Yahweh your God, all the days of your life. Keep all his decrees and commandments that I am commanding, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently. Thus it may go well with you. You may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.”

There are 2 things to notice here. First the call to ‘hear O Israel,’ is an indication of an oral presentation. This ‘shema’ or prayer is based on the Hebrew word to hear. This will be repeated in the next paragraph. Second, we return to the great phrase, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ People must have liked honey and milk as perhaps it was rare in their community.

“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home, when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand. Fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

These verses have had a great influence on the Israelites as the great commandment that is recited often and written all over the place on the hands, forehead, and door posts. It is both a morning and an evening prayer, something you say at home and when you are away from home. The Israelites were to teach their children this simple prayer. Jesus and the early Christian followers will repeat this in the gospel stories of the New Testament as the great commandment of love of God. This was also very influential on Islam. ‘There is no Allah, but Allah, and Mohamed is his messenger,’ a prayer that is repeated often is much like ‘Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone is God.’ Both are very strong monotheistic statements. This ‘shema’ becomes the basis of the Abrahamic religions, the great commandment of monotheism and love that must always be remembered.   We must all love Yahweh God will all our heart, all our souls, and all our might, a total unconditional love of God.

“When Yahweh your God brings you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, there will be a land with fine large cities that you did not build. There will be houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, as well as vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Yahweh your God, you shall fear. Him you shall serve. By his name alone you shall swear.”

Here there is a direct connection between the patriarchs, the Exodus and this land of ‘milk and honey’ that has everything for you, towns, cisterns, houses, and vineyards. You just have to remember Yahweh, who took you out of Egyptian slavery.