Tuesday, February 22, 2005


When you hear the word "Pharisee," what comes to mind? Hypocrite. Enemy of Christ. Blind. Legalistic. The church has unswervingly, unequivocally cast the Pharisees as the bad guys--nothing but contempt for their surface-level religion-without-relationship. Now I'm not saying I want to be a Pharisee...but I am saying that in the past few months, I've developed a strange sympathy for the religious leaders of Jesus' time.

Until Jesus, the Word made flesh, made His dwelling among us, Israel had gone four hundred years without one word from Yahweh. Pause and let that sink in: 4800 months. 146,000 days without hearing from God. Did they still manage to get out of bed each morning and have quiet time? Did they have any vestiges of hope that He'd speak to them, knowing that the last time His voice had been heard was by their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great...you get the picture, grandfather?

I did a Beth Moore study not long ago, and in the first lesson, she examined what would have happened to Israel during this "famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). The first was that the Israelites would have experienced "unparalleled insecurity." Their whole identity as a nation was wrapped up in their hearing the words of Yahweh--it was what distinguished them from all other nations on earth. They could hear the words of the Lord.

In this study, Beth suggested that perhaps Pharisaic legalism resulted from this famine. Perhaps this sect of Israelites turned to the security of legalism--after all, it gives a person some sense of control and stability to systematically follow a complex set of rules--because they couldn't hear God. Perhaps life as a Pharisee was the only way they could hold onto the remaining threads of faith that had frayed to almost nothing after more than three million hours of silence from God. 146,000 days--twenty generations without so much as one word from Him. Do you feel the weight of that? The oppressiveness, the despair of such silence?

The Pharisees were misguided and ignorant; they missed the Word made flesh when He finally appeared before them...but can you blame them, honestly? If you hadn't ever heard God speak for yourself, and relied only on the distant memories of your ancestors from 400 years back, passed down by word of mouth until they were almost rumors, fairy tales--do you think it'd be easy to recognize Him when He came? Do you think there's a chance you'd cling desperately to silly rules because they provided some shell of security, some concrete reality you could grasp? Do you think deep down they were scared? Do you think that in moments of stark clarity, they realized the emptiness of their rituals, but just pushed down the fears and the tears so they could get through another day of deafening silence?

Call me crazy, but I think I have some compassion for those blind Pharisees.

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