Matthew 23:5 MEANING

Matthew 23:5
(5) To be seen of men.--As with a clear insight into the root-evil of Pharisaism, and of all kindred forms of the religious life, our Lord fixes, as before in Matthew 6:1-18, on the love of man's applause as that which vitiated the highest ethical teaching and the most rigorous outward holiness. The fact, which we learn from John 12:42-43, that many "among the chief rulers" were in their hearts convinced of His claims, and yet were afraid to confess Him, gives a special emphasis to the rebuke. They may have been among those who listened to it with the consciousness that He spake of them.

Phylacteries.--The Greek word (phylacterion) from which the English is derived signifies "safe-guard or preservative," and was probably applied under the idea that the phylacteries were charms or amulets against the evil eye or the power of evil spirits. This was the common meaning of the word in later Greek, and it is hardly likely to have risen among the Hellenistic Jews to the higher sense which has sometimes been ascribed to it, of being a means to keep men in mind of the obligations of the Law. Singularly enough, it is not used by the LXX. translators for the "frontlets" of Exodus 13:16, Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18 and the only place in the Old Testament where it is found is for the "cushions" of Ezekiel 13:18. The Hebrew word in common use from our Lord's time onward has been tephillin, or Prayers. The things so named were worn by well-nigh all Jews as soon as they became Children of the Law, i.e., at thirteen. They consisted of a small box containing the four passages in which frontlets are mentioned (Exodus 13:2-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-22), written on four slips of vellum for the phylactery of the head, and on one for that of the arm. This is fastened by a loop to thin leather straps, which are twisted in the one case round the arm, with the box on the heart, in the other, round the head, with the box on the brow. They were worn commonly during the act of prayer (hence the Hebrew name), and by those who made a show of perpetual devotion and study of the Law, during the whole day. The Pharisees, in their ostentatious show of piety, made either the box or the straps wider than the common size, and wore them as they walked to and fro in the streets, or prayed standing (Matthew 6:5), that men might see and admire them.

The borders of their garments.--The word is the same as the "hem" of the garment (Matthew 9:20) worn by our Lord. The practice rested on Numbers 15:37-41, which enjoined a "ribband" or "thread" of blue (the colour symbolical of heaven) to be put into the fringe or tassels of the outer cloak or plaid. The other threads were white, and the number of threads 613, as coinciding with the number of precepts in the Law, as counted by the scribes. The fringes in question were worn, as we see, by our Lord (see Notes on Matthew 9:20; Matthew 14:36), and probably by the disciples. It was reserved for the Pharisees to make them so conspicuous as to attract men's notice.

Verse 5. - For to be seen of men. The second bad principle in their religion was ostentation and vanity. Acts done professedly in the honour of God were animated by self-seeking and ambition. They never penetrated beyond externalism. See this spirit reproved in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:1, 2, etc.). "They loved the glory of men more than the glory of God" (John 12:43). Christ then gives proofs of this spirit of ostentation in religion and in private life. Phylacteries; φυλακτήρια: literally, preservatives; equivalent to "amulets;" the translation of the Hebrew word tephillin, "prayer fillets." These were either strips of parchment or small cubes covered with leather, on or in which were written four sections of the Law, viz. Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21. They were worn fastened either to the forehead, or inside the left arm, so as to be near the heart. Their use arose from a literal and superstitious interpretation of Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18. Their dimensions were defined by rabbinical rules, but the extra pious formalists of the day set these at naught, and increased the breadth of the strips or of the bands by which they were fastened, in order to draw attention to their religiousness and their strict attention to the least observances of the Law. These phylacteries are still in use among the Jews. Thus in a 'Class Book for Jewish Youth' we read, "Every boy, three months before he attains the age of thirteen, commences to make use of the tephillin, which must be worn at least during the time of the morning prayers. The ordinance of the tephillin is one of the signs of the covenant existing between the Almighty and ourselves, that we may continually bear in mind the miracles God wrought for our forefathers." Enlarge the borders of their garments; τὰ κράσπεδα τῶν ἱματίων αὐτῶν, the fringes of their outer garments. The best manuscripts have merely their fringes. So the Vulgate, magnificant fimbrias. These fringes or tassels (zizith, zizijoth) were fastened to the corners of the garments, in accordance with Numbers 15:38-41, and were composed of white and blue threads. They were intended to remind the wearers of the commandments of the Lord, and were regarded as peculiarly sacred (see Matthew 9:20). Christ condemns the ostentatious enlargement of these fringes as a badge of extraordinary piety and obedience. We quote again from the Jewish 'Class. Book:' "Every male of the Jewish nation must wear a garment [not usually an undergarment] made with four corners, having fringes fixed at each corner. These fringes are called tsetsis, or, memorial fringes. In the synagogue, during the morning prayers, a scarf with fringes attached to it is worn, which is called tollece, 'scarf or veil.' These memorial fringes typically point out the six hundred and thirteen precepts contained in the volume of the sacred Law. They are also intended to remind us of the goodness of the Almighty in having delivered our forefathers from the slavery in Egypt."

23:1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.But all their works they do for to be seen of men,.... All their prayers, alms deeds, and fastings, were all done in a public manner, that men might behold them, and they might have applause and glory from them: they sought neither the glory of God, nor the good of their fellow creatures, nor any spiritual advantage and pleasure to themselves, in their performances; they neither attended to moral duties, nor ceremonious rites, nor the traditions of their fathers, any further than they could be seen by men in them, and keep up their credit and esteem among them. Hence,

they make broad their phylacteries: these were four sections of the law, wrote on parchments, folded up in the skin of a clean beast, and tied to the head and hand. The four sections were these following, viz. the "first", was Exodus 13:2 the "second", was Exodus 13:11 the "third", was Deuteronomy 6:4 the "fourth", was Deuteronomy 11:13. Those that were for the head, were written and rolled up separately, and put in four distinct places, in one skin, which was fastened with strings to the crown of the head, towards the face, about the place where the hair ends, and where an infant's brain is tender; and they took care to place them in the middle, that so they might be between the eyes. Those that were for the hand, were written in four columns, on one parchment, which being rolled up, was fastened to the inside of the left arm, where it is fleshy, between the shoulder and the elbow, that so it might be over against the heart (u). These, they imagined, were commanded them by God, in Exodus 13:16 whereas the sense of these passages only is, that the goodness of God in delivering them out of Egypt, and the words of the law, should be continually before them, in their minds and memories, as if they had tokens on their hands, and frontlets between their eyes; but they understood them literally, and observed them in the above manner. These the Jews call "Tephillin", because they use them in time of prayer, and look upon them as useful, to put them in mind of that duty: they are here called "phylacteries", because they thought they kept them in the fear of God, preserved in them the memory of the law, and them from sin; yea, from evil spirits, and diseases of the body. They imagined there was a great deal of holiness in, and valued themselves much upon the use of them (w); and the Pharisees, because they would be thought to be more holy and religious, and more observant of the law than others, wore these things broader than the rest of the people;

and enlarge the borders of their garments. These were the fringes which they put upon the borders of their garments, and on them a ribbon of blue, to put them in mind of the commandments, to obey them, Numbers 15:38. The observance of this law is of so much consequence with the Jews, that they make all the commandments to depend on it (x); and say, that it is equal to them all, and that he that is guilty of the breach of it, is worthy of death (y): they ascribe the like virtue to these fringes, as to their phylacteries, and think themselves much the better for the wearing them; and the Pharisees, because they would appear with a greater air of sanctity and devotion than others, made their's larger. We (z) read of one Ben Tzitzith Hacceseth, a man of this complexion, who was so called, because his Tzitzith, or fringes, were drawn upon, a pillow; and there are some that say, that the pillow was bore between the great men of Rome: it was drawn after him, not upon the ground, but upon a cloth or tapestry, and the train supported by noblemen, as is pretended. This was one of those, that enlarged the Tzitzith, or fringes, beyond the ordinary size; hence Mark calls it, "long clothing."

(u) Targ. Jon. Jarchi, & Baal Hatturim in Exodus 13.16. & Deut. vi. 8. Maimon. Hilch. Tephillin, c. 1. sect. 1. & c. 2. sect. 2. & c. 3. sect. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. & c. 4. sect. 1, 2.((w) Maimon. ib. c. 4. sect. 25, 26. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. affirm. 3. 23. Targ. in Cant. viii. 3.((x) Maimon. Hilch. Tzitzith, c. 3. sect. 12. (y) T. Bab. Nedarim, fol. 25, 1. Shebuot, fol. 29. 1. & Menachot, fol. 43. 2.((z) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 56. 1.

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