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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 5 - Verse 22
Verse 22. But I say unto you. Jesus being God as well as man, (Joh 1:1) and, therefore, being the original Giver of the law, had a right to expound it, or change it as he pleased. Comp. Mt 12:6,8. He therefore spoke here and elsewhere as having authority, and not as the scribes. It may be added here, that no mere man ever spake as Jesus did, when explaining or enforcing the law. He did it as having a right to do it; and he that has a right to ordain and change laws in the government of God must be himself Divine.
Is angry without a cause. Anger, or that feeling which we have when we are injured, and which prompts us to defend ourselves when in danger, is a natural feeling, given to us,
(1.) as a natural expression of our disapprobation of a course of evil conduct; and,
(2.) that we may defend ourselves when suddenly attacked. When excited against sin, it is lawful. God is angry with the wicked. Jesus looked on the hypocritical Pharisees with anger, Mr 3:5. So it is said, Be ye angry, and sin not, Ep 4:26. This anger, or indignation against sin, is not what our Saviour speaks of here. That is anger without a cause; that is, unjustly, rashly, hastily, where no offence had been given or intended. In that case it is evil; and it is a violation of the sixth commandment, because he that hateth his brother is a murderer, 1 Jo 3:15. He has a feeling which would lead him to commit murder if it were fully acted out.
His brother. By a brother here seems to be meant a neighbour, or perhaps any one with whom we may be associated. As all men are descended from one Father, and are all the creatures of the same God, so they are all brethren; and so every man should be regarded and treated as a brother.
Raca. This is a Syriac word, expressive of great contempt. It comes from a verb signifying to be empty, vain; and hence, as a word of contempt, denotes senseless, stupid, shallow-brains. Jesus teaches here, that to use such words is a violation of the sixth commandment. It is a violation of the spirit of that commandment, and, if indulged, may lead to a more open and dreadful infraction of that law. Children should learn that to use such words is highly offensive to God, for we must give an account of every idle word which we speak in the day of judgment.
In danger of the council. The word translated council is, in the original, sanhedrim, and there can be no doubt that he refers to the Jewish tribunal of that name. This was instituted in the time of the Maccabees, probably about 200 years before Christ. It was composed of seventy-two judges; the high priest was the president of this tribunal. The seventy-two members were made up of the chief priests and elders of the people, and the scribes. The chief priests were such as had discharged the office of the high priest, and those who were the heads of the twenty-four classes of priests, who were called in an honorary way high or chief priests. See Mt 2:4. The elders were the princes of the tribes, or heads of the family associations. It is not to be supposed that all the elders had a right to a seat here, but such only as were elected to the office. The scribes were learned men of the nation, elected to this tribunal, being neither of the rank of priests nor elders. This tribunal had cognizance of the great affairs of the nation. Till the time when Judea was subjected to the Romans, it had the power of life and death. It still retained the power of passing sentence, though the Roman magistrate held the right of execution. It usually sat in Jerusalem, in a room near the temple. It was before this tribunal that our Saviour was tried. It was then assembled in the palace of the high priest, Mt 26:3-57; Joh 18:24.
Thou fool. This term expressed more than want of wisdom. It was expressive of the highest guilt. It had been commonly used to denote those who were idolaters, (De 22:21) and also one who is guilty of great crimes, Jos 7:15; Ps 14:1.
Hellfire. The original of this is, "the GEHENNA of ore." The worn GEHENNA, commonly translated hell, is made up of two Hebrew words, and signifies the valley of Hinnom. This was formerly a pleasant valley, near to Jerusalem, on the south, [or south- east.] A small brook or torrent usually ran through this valley, and partly encompassed the city. This valley the idolatrous Israelites devoted formerly to the horrid worship of Moloch, 2 Ki 16:3; 2 Ch 28:3. In that worship the ancient Jewish writers inform us that the idol of Moloch was of brass, adorned with a royal crown, having the head of a calf, and his arms extended, as if to embrace any one. When they offered children to him, they heated the statue within by a great fire; and when it was burning hot, they put the miserable child into his arms, where it was soon consumed by the heat; and, in order that the cries of the child might not be heard, they made a great noise with drums and other instruments about the idol. These drums were called Toph; and hence a common name of the place was TOPHET, Jer 7:31,32.
The following cut may furnish a useful illustration of this idol.
After the return of the Jews from captivity, this place was held in such abhorrence, that, by the example of Josiah, (2 Ki 23:10) it was made the place where to throw all the dead carcases and filth of the city; and was not unfrequently the place of executions. It became, therefore, extremely offensive; the sight was terrific; the air was polluted and pestilential; and to preserve it in any manner pure, it was necessary to keep fires continually burning there. The extreme loathsomeness of the place; the filth and putrefaction; the corruption of the atmosphere, and the lurid fires blazing by day and by night, made it one of the most appalling and terrific objects with which a Jew was acquainted. It was called the GEHENNA of fire; and was the image which our Saviour often employed to denote the future punishment of the wicked.
In this verse it denotes a degree of suffering higher than the punishment inflicted by the court of seventy, or the sanhedrim; and the whole verse may therefore mean, "He that hates his brother, without a cause, is guilty of a violation of the sixth commandment, and shall be punished with a severity similar to that inflicted by the court of judgment. He that shall suffer his passions to transport him to still greater extravagances, and shall make him an object of derision and contempt, shall be exposed to still severer punishment, corresponding to that which the sanhedrim, or council, inflicts. But he who shall load his brother with odious appellations and abusive language, shall incur the severest degree of punishment, represented by being burnt alive in the horrid and awful valley of Hinnom."
The amount, then, of this difficult and important verse is this: The Jews considered but one crime a violation of the sixth commandment, viz., actual murder, or wilful, unlawful, taking life. Jesus says that the commandment is much broader. It relates not only to the external act, but to the feelings and words. He specifies three forms of such violation:
(1.) Unjust anger.
(2.) Anger accompanied with an expression of contempt.
(3.) Anger, with an expression not only of contempt, but wickedness. Among the Jews there were three degrees of condemnation: that by the "judgment," the "council," and the "fire of Hinnom." Jesus says, likewise, there shall be grades of condemnation for the different ways of violating the sixth commandment. Not only murder shall be punished by God; but anger, and contempt, shall be regarded by him as a violation of the law, and punished according to the offence. As these offences were not actually cognizable before the Jewish tribunals, he must mean that they will be punished hereafter. And all these expressions relate to degrees of punishment, proportionate to crime, in the future world—the world of justice and of woe.
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