The Heart Speaks

The Scribes and Pharisees had come from Jerusalem to speak with Yeshua. While in discussion the Master's disciples returned from the marketplace and began eating without washing their hands.

Members of the Pharisees were strict adherents to both the Written and the Oral Torah. According to the Pharisees, one must wash his hands after coming from the marketplace and before eating, so as to avoid becoming unclean (defiled).

At the time, there were other groups within the Jewish community who did not hold the Oral Torah as authoritative as the Pharisees. If they had been there, they would not have found fault or raised an objection. The Pharisees, however, did and immediately brought it to the attention of Yeshua.

"Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" (Mark 7:5)

Interestingly, the question reveals that the Master's view of the Torah was 'close' to that of the Pharisees' view. If Yeshua was perceived as belonging to another group then the Pharisees would not have attempted to correct Him.

However, there were greater things of concern. Yeshua's reply was stinging and revealing.

"He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'

"For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men -- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.

"All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition." (Mark 7:6-9)

Remarkably, those at fault were not the Master's disciples but the visiting more-learned Pharisees from Jerusalem. In fact it was the visiting Pharisees who were actually unclean. The Master pointed to their insincere walk. Their lives were steered by the commandments of men rather than the commandments of God, thus fearing man above God.

The Master had said on another occasion that "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20) How can one exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? What was the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees?

There is a deeper point to consider. Outward appearances can deceive. A person may look the part, even sound upright, "but their heart is far from Me." What does this mean? How does the heart determine the more genuine follower of God? What is it about the heart that sets apart the true follower?

The heart has a special relationship with the commandments of God. On another occasion the Master was asked how He would sum up the whole Torah in one commandment. He replied, "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second is like it 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)

The heart is the starting point and dispatching centre from which the Word of God permeates to the whole of one's being and life. The heart was made specifically to be the receptacle and the stronghold for the Word of God.

Learning the Torah at an early age has proved to be a strong foundation for the education and preservation of the Jewish community, through the centuries. The commandments of God have been the building blocks in the development of Godly character in every Jewish generation.

"When I was my father's son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me, 'Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands and live.'" (Proverbs 4:4)

The Word of God is intended to be retained in the heart, and be guarded (kept) by the heart, because out from the heart flow the issues of life. Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood bringing vital nutrients to major organs and the entire body, so too, the Word of God is pumped by the heart bringing spiritual life to the whole person.

"My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.

"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:20-23)

The heart is the controlling centre. By retaining the commandments of God in the heart, the outward appearance and speech are sure to follow after God, as indeed all aspects of daily behaviour in keeping to the path of righteousness. The heart that is true to God's commandments will demonstrate self-constraint, resisting alternative paths and even traditions that have become standards and culturally acceptable.

"Put away from you a deceitful mouth and perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil." (Proverbs 4:24-27)

The heart has a major role in the acceptance of, and in living out, the New Covenant which God promised His people Israel.

"Behold, the days are coming says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the LORD: I will put My Torah in their minds, and write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:31, 33)

The prophet Ezekiel also speaks of the importance of a new heart.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

The heart and the Torah have a special, intimate relationship, therefore rejecting the commandment of God will cause the heart to be defiled and be made unclean in the sight of God. The heart was made to retain the Word of God, therefore, replacing the Torah with the commandments of men will cause the heart to turn away from following after God.

The Master found fault with the Pharisees from Jerusalem. He revealed that they had rejected the commandment of God and replaced it with the commandment of men. Their hearts were unclean.

"For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men -- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.

"All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition." (Mark 7:8-9)

Note, the issue was not the tradition of men. Tradition is fine where it does not interfere with or lessen the commandment of God. The issue was that the commandment of God had been rejected and replaced. Therefore, to reject the Torah, and replace it with anything other than the Word of God will cause man to be defiled (unclean).

Explaining this further to His disciples, Yeshua said to them, "Are you without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside can not defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?'

"And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.'" (Mark 7:18-23)

The heart has been nobly designed. It yearns for truth, and it was made to pursue and prosper in the paths of righteousness. May there be many today whose hearts retain God's Word, and be renewed by the Living Word of God, even Messiah Yeshua, who has redeemed us to our Heavenly Father through the New Covenant.