Matthew 23:23, Weightier matters of the Torah. What are the weightier matters of the Torah? Torah is not an end-all. It is a vehicle that leads us to something. What is that? What really matters to YHVH when all is said and done???? It is the greater Torah or the higher Torah. The Gospel of Matthew (23:23) records that Yeshua rebuked the religious leaders of his day for their not following the higher Torah. What did Yeshua really mean by “the weightier matters of the Torah”?
The Deeper Meaning of the Word “Torah”
Almost every place where you see the word “law” in the Tankah, it is the Hebrew word “Torah.” This word is used 219 times in the Tanakh or Hebrew Scriptures, and in almost every case it is translated in the KJV and in most other English Bibles as “the law.” Is this all the word law (or Torah) means? Is “law” even Torah’s main meaning?
As a test of your understanding (or, perhaps, your preconditioned biases), when you think of the term “the laws” what comes into our mind: good thoughts or bad thoughts? Do you think of a list of dos and don’ts—what you can do and cannot do? Do you think of red and blue lights flashing and a siren? Do you think of a man in a blue uniform with a badge and a gun, or judge in a black robe with a gavel, or a prison? These can be scary thoughts!
Let’s see what the word Torah really means according to the Scriptures.
Let’s start understanding the full scope of this word by first reading Proverbs 13:14. There we read that the Torah is the foundation of life.
Next start reading in Proverbs 1:7 where we read that the fear of YHVH is the beginning of wisdom. In verse 8, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, is talking to his son about the Torah. In a sense, he’s talking to all of us. The word law in this verse is Hebrew word Torah. Continue reading what Solomon teaches us about the benefits of YHVH’s instructions and wisdom found in the Torah. Start reading in verse 9 to the end of chapter. Then start reading in chapter three and continue to the end of chapter four. Whenever you see the words “law,” “instruction,” “wisdom,” “instructions” “commandments,” “truth,” “mercy,” “knowledge” or “words” think of Torah, for that is what these words are referring to.
Next let’s read Psalm 119. Perhaps no other passage in Scripture extols the virtues of the Torah more than this psalm of David.
Based on Psalm 119 and Proverbs chapters one through three, what are the blessings and benefits of the Torah?
- It takes away feelings of shame, guilt, reproach and contempt. (Ps 119:6, 22)
- It gives us an upright (straightness of) heart. (Ps 119:7)
- It cleanses our ways/keeps a young man clean. (Ps 119:9)
- It keeps us from sinning against YHVH. (Ps 119:11)
- It brings delight and joy. (Ps 119:24, 70, 77, 162, 174)
- It gives us the ability to answer those who reproach (taunt, defy, rail against) us. (Ps 119:42)
- It gives us freedom (a large or broad area to walk in). (Ps 119:45, 96)
- It allows us to speak wisely before leaders. (Ps 119:46)
- It brings us comfort. (Ps 119:52)
- It gives us something to sing about. (Ps 119:54)
- It brings hope. (Ps 119:74, 81)
- It makes us wiser than our enemies. (Ps 119:98)
- It gives us more understanding than our teachers and the ancients. (Ps 119:99, 100)
- It keeps our feet from evil. (Ps 119:101)
- It gives light to our path. (Ps 119:105; Prov 6:23)
- It helps to order our steps and keeps sin from having dominion over us. (Ps 119:133)
- It shows us what truth is. (Ps 119:142, 151)
- It gives us something to love. (Ps 119:159, 163)
- It causes us to hate evil. (Ps 119:163)
- It gives us great peace. (Ps 119:163)
- It defines righteousness for us/gives us understanding as to what righteousness is. (Ps 119:172; Prov 2:9)
- It brings an understanding of the fear of Elohim, which is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov 1:7; 2:5)
- It gives us discretion (purpose, to know the difference between good and evil). (Prov 2:9)
- It delivers us from the way of the evil man. (Prov 2:12)
- It will keep us from the strange woman. (Prov 2:16)
- It shall bring long life, and peace. (Prov 3:2,16)
- It shall give you favor and good understanding in the sight of Elohim and man. (Prov 3:4)
- YHVH will direct your paths. (Prov 3:6)
- It shall bring you good health physically. (Prov 3:8)
- It will bring you physical wealth (because you tithe to YHVH). (Prov 3:9–10, 16)
- It brings the loving correction and chastisement of YHVH. (Prov 3:11–12)
- It brings happiness. (Prov 3:13, 18)
- It brings honor (glory, abundance, riches). (Prov 3:16)
- It is a tree of life. (Prov 3:18)
- It brings life to your soul and grace (favor) like an ornament around the neck. (Prov 3:22)
- It will cause you to walk safely so that your foot will not stumble. (Prov 3:23)
- It will make you so that you are not afraid—so that you can sleep safely at night and have sweet sleep. (Prov 3:24)
- All of these blessing of Torah help point us to the higher benefits of Torah, or the greater Torah. All of the things listed above point us to Yeshua, as well, for he is the Living Torah-Word of Elohim, and through a relationship with him these blessing and benefits can be ours.
The Hebrew word Torah literally means “direction, teaching, or instruction.” It comes from another Hebrew word meaning “to flow as water, to lay or throw as in shooting an arrow, to point out as if aiming the finger to make a point, to teach.” In your mind, picture a teacher who is standing in front of a classroom pointing at a chalkboard teaching the class something on that chalkboard, or picture an archer aiming his arrow at a target hoping to hit the bull’s eye. This is the idea behind the word Torah.
Do you see what is really going on here? Think about this awesome thought for a minute. YHVH Elohim, the Creator of the universe and who is our Heavenly Father cares so much for you and me that like a teacher he is teaching us his ways. He personally spoke out his Torah — his instructions in righteousness, and then had Moses write them down for us to point us in the right direction. In his Torah, we learn about salvation by grace through faith from the example of Abraham who had faith in YHVH. From the Torah, we learn that man can escape the penalty of sin which is death by killing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts of one’s house. This points to Yeshua, the Lamb of Elohim, who spilled his blood on the cross to pay for our sins. From the Torah, we learn that once we are saved by grace through faith in YHVH and have been saved from our sins we can live a righteous and sin-free life by following YHVH’s commandments. From the Torah we learn that this is how we love YHVH our Elohim and our neighbor.
Like an archer shooting an arrow at a target, Torah shows us how to hit the bull’s eye of YHVH’s righteousness and love. Like a river that flows, Torah, which is the very Word of Elohim, is a river of life that brings blessings to us if we obey it. And like a teacher, YHVH is trying to teach us how to walk in his ways that will bring blessings, love, joy and peace.
What Was the Purpose of the Torah?
The Torah is an amazing thing. Because it comes from the mind of Elohim, it is very deep and broad. YHVH Elohim designed it to accomplish a lot of things. Here are some examples of what the Torah of YHVH can do in a person’s life.
The Torah tells us what sin is. When we study the Torah, we discover the sin that is in our lives because we see more clearly how we have not been obeying YHVH. The result is that we have feelings of guilt and shame because we have failed to follow the Torah.
The Torah also shows us how to get the sin out of our lives. This we can accomplish by following Torah’s instructions in righteousness — by obeying the Torah.
The Torah also points us to Yeshua by showing us that when we sin a price or penalty needs to be paid for that sin. The sacrifice of innocent animals like sheep, cattle and goats when a person sinned shows us that we needed a greater sacrifice than just an innocent animal who would pay for all of our sins once and for all. The Torah shows us that through the shedding of the blood of an innocent animal atonement for or covering over our sins occurs (Leviticus 17:11).
When we fail to live up to the high standards of YHVH’s Torah, it shows us how much we have sinned, how much we need Yeshua’s salvation and spiritual help to be righteous (Rom 3:23; Gal 3:25).
Torah is like a protective boundary line or fence that protects us from straying off of the path of righteousness. Imagine driving down a steep mountain road that had no guardrails, lines or signs—especially at night, or in the fog. It would be very easy to accidentally drive off of the road. Torah is like a guardrail or a marker signs that keep us on the road or righteousness and keeps us from sinning.
Obeying the Torah helps us to draw closer to YHVH, for it shows us how to love him. (Read John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6). It also helps us to have a better relationship with our fellow man, since it shows us how to love him.
Obeying the Torah helps us to stay spiritually pure (1 John 3:3-6).
Obeying the Torah protects us from the influence of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Obeying the Torah-Word of YHVH helps to perfect YHVH-Yeshua’s love in us (1 John 3:6).
The Jewish Leaders Had Forsaken the Higher Torah
Yeshua blasted the religious leaders of his day not only for not following Torah, but also for omitting the weightier matters of Torah, which are mercy, justice and faith.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matt 23:23)
The Pharisees had a letter-of-the-law righteousness. But Yeshua said that there was a higher level of righteousness that he expected of his disciples that was to exceed that of the religious Jews of that day (Matt 5:20). Yeshua wasn’t talking about the fine points of a letter-of-the-law Torah-obedience here, for it is doubtful that anyone could have surpassed the punctilious Pharisees in that arena. He must have therefore been talking about something else — something higher and beyond merely keeping the letter of the law along with all the Jews’ added legal traditions.
Not only had the Jews failed to keep the greater Torah, but at the same time, sadly, they had inadvertently nullified some of the Torah through their religious traditions (Mark 7:13).
The Torah should be viewed as more than just a set of dos and don’ts; we should see it as pointing the way to our Father’s heart. His heart is the higher Torah. To get to YHVH’s heart we must lay aside any religious traditions that nullify the Torah-Word of YHVH, and then follow the Torah at its purest and highest level. But merely following the letter of the Torah legalistically is not sufficient. There is something beyond that.
The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Makes Alive
Demoting the Torah to merely a set of do’s and don’ts not only eviscerates, but it misses the heart of our Heavenly Father, the spirit of the Torah — the higher Torah. The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit of the law brings life. The letter by itself brings bondage and legalism. It can even become burdensome and grievous as the pro-Torah apostolic writers inform us.
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2 Cor 3:6)
For this is the love of Elohim, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous/heavy or burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
Love, Not Law-Keeping, Is What Attracts
Yeshua gives us a clue about some aspects of the higher Torah when he told his disciples that men would know they were his not because they kept the Torah scrupulously to the letter, but because they walked in love for one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)
Paul also taught that love was the greater thing in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is above all knowledge (including Torah), and all prophecy (inspired teaching of Torah).
The Higher Torah Is About Relationship
The higher Torah is not about bondage; it is about bonding. It is about relationship. Yeshua summed up the Torah as follows:
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; YHVH our Elohim is one YHVH: And thou shalt love the YHVH thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one Elohim; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Yeshua saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of Elohim. And no man after that durst ask him any question. (Mark 12:28–34)
The higher Torah is about love, mercy, and faith, which are the weightier matters of the law! It is about building relationships and about bonding with your fellow man and Elohim! We can’t be bonding in love if we are constantly walking in offence, maintaining a critical spirit toward others, judging others, are religious exclusivists, or are arrogant toward those who do not believe or act as we do whether they be Christians, or even non-Christians. Rather, we must love everyone, and by actively demonstrating that love, we show those around us the way to a higher walk or relationship with our loving Father. This is not to imply that we are to condone sin (a violation of the Torah, 1 John 3:4) or compromise our standards of righteousness as defined by the Torah. We must simply love people into a relationship of obedience with our Father in heaven.
Yeshua said in John 13:34 that he was giving his disciples a qualitatively new commandment; they were to love one another as he had loved them, and that by their love for one another all men would know that they were his disciples. John repeats this concept of a “new” commandment in 1 John 2:8. This “new” commandment bears a striking resemblance to the old commandment, which John says we have heard from the beginning. It is the vey ahavta or the “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” portion of the shema (Deut 6:4 and Lev 19:8 cp. Mark 12:28–31), which is the summation of that part of the Torah that relates to man loving his neighbor. The cornerstone of this part of the Torah is the last five of the Ten Commandments. The difference between what Yeshua said and the vey ahavta is that Yeshua is now at the center of this “new” commandment. He showed us how to love our neighbor by walking out the vey ahavta, and now he expects us to follow his example in this. This is another example of the higher Torah.
Carnality Versus Spiritual Maturity
There are many human activity — even religious activities — that fight against the weightier matters of the higher Torah which is characterized by love and relationship. For example, Paul took the church at Corinth to task for acting like carnal, spiritual babies (1 Cor 3:1–3). To help them to grow up and to become spiritual adults, Paul encouraged the believers at Corinth to walk in unity, as opposed to strife and division (1 Cor 1:10). Strife, division and sectarianism is the hallmark of spiritual babyhood and carnality.
There is much sectarianism in the church and even among those who are returning to the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith. This is evidence of spiritual immaturity. Here is a list of indicators of spiritual carnality and babyhood according to Paul:
- Divisions (1 Cor 1:10; 3:3)
- Contentions (1 Cor 1:11)
- Strife (1 Cor 3:3)
- Envying (1 Cor 3:3
- Sectarianism (1 Cor 1:12; 3:4)
- Our focus turns off a of Yeshua and is placed on ourselves or other humans (1 Cor 1:10–17).
- Accusing others
- A critical attitude
- Walking in offence
- A focus on self, what’s in it for me
- A spirit of rejection
- Blaming others for your problems
- Demanding the others constantly be ministering to you and tippy toe around your emotional hang-ups. This is playing the victim and attempting to get the focus on you, when it should be on serving others and following Yeshua.
- Breaking fellowship with an individual or congregation because of hurt and personal offense (and then stating that YHVH told you to do this). This is the work of Satan the adversary and accuser of the brethren, not the Spirit of YHVH!
- Using prophetic gifts to attack others, identify their spiritual weaknesses, or bring them correction and then saying “Elohim told me to tell you this ….” It is the job of the pastor and one walking in the office of prophet to bring correction, not those walking in the gift of prophecy.
- These carnal characteristics in an individual or church will grieve the Spirit of Elohim, prevent a congregation from growing, keep YHVH’s power and anointing from being present in our lives and will keep us from hitting the higher mark of the greater Torah — the heart of the Father.
Examples From Ancient Israel
Ancient Israel struggled with the same issues we face today. We see examples of this in…
- Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam attack Moses with their critical tongues. YHVH was angry with them, for it was in reality an attack against him and his authority.
- Numbers 13, The ten spies brought back an evil report about the Promised Land and attack Joshua and Caleb (and Moses) who brought back a good report and urged Israel to go forward in faith.
- Numbers 14, The Israelites murmured and rebelled against Moses and YHVH punished them and condemned them to 40 year’s wandering in the wilderness.
- Numbers 16, Korah’s and his crew rebelled against Moses, who was YHVH’s chosen leader.
In all of these instances, we see strife, division, envying, jealously, faithlessness, evil speaking. Each thought they were doing YHVH’s will, and each was deceived by their own pride and carnality. YHVH was angry with and punished each of the instigating parties.
Carnality Is the Opposite of Love/Torah
John’s first epistle showcases the higher Torah when he tightly weaves the concept of love for YHVH and our fellow man with light, truth and Torah showing that these concepts are totally indivisible. This epistle in a most beautiful manner points us to the higher Torah (the spirit of the law), while at the same time urging us to be obedient to the lesser Torah (the letter of the law). The two go hand-in-hand; one can’t exist without the other. The lesser is the path or springboard to the higher.
Additional Scriptures That Speak About the Greater Torah
Here is a list of scriptures that gives us more understanding into what is the greater Torah:
But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of Elohim: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:42)
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matt 9:13)
But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matt 12:7)
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt 22:37)
To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to YHVH than sacrifice. (Prov 21:3)
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of Elohim more than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6)
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth YHVH require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy Elohim? (Mic 6:8)
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (Rom 13:8)
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:10)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Gal 5:14)
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Col 3:14)
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned… (1 Tim 1:5)
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well (Jas 2:8)
What Was the Apostle’s Passion?
It seems that in the preaching of the gospel that Paul was less concerned about telling people about the fine details of Torah than about the message of the cross and coming into a relationship with Yeshua (Phil 1:18). If people have a deep love for Yeshua, it follows automatically that they will want to follow and obey his commandments (John 14:15). Torah-obedience is the fruit or evidence that one is saved — that Yeshua is the Lord and Master of one’s life (Eph 2:8–10), and that his Spirit is at work (Gal 5:22–25).
John seemed less concerned about the fine details of Torah as well. When he told believers to try the spirits, the basis of the testing was around the Person of Yeshua, not Torah obedience (1 John 4:1–3). In his epistle, he clearly advocates Torah obedience, but only in the context of loving YHVH our fellow man.
The Greater Torah Pre-dated the Written Torah?
What are some things that existed before the Written Torah was given to man? This is not to say that the Torah did not exist in the heart and mind of Elohim. It did, for it is his very character and nature. But what was written down at Mount Sinai was a legal code and was, in effect, the lesser Torah, which pointed the way to the greater Torah. It was the greater Torah that Yeshua came teach about and demonstrate. He was the end result or goal of the Torah, which is the higher Torah (Rom 10:4). The fulfilling (opening up or expanding) of the lesser Torah opens the way to the greater Torah (Matt 5:17; Isa 42:21). This same Torah is spiritual in nature (Rom 7:14), and spirit precedes that which is physical. The lesser Torah was written on stones. That which is spiritual is written on men’s hearts. Yeshua clearly stated that as long as men have physical bodies and live on a physical earth they will need to keep the lesser Torah or letter of the Torah, as well as the greater Torah — the heart and spirit of the Torah, or the spiritual Torah (Matt 5:18, the entire Sermon on the Mount of Matt 5–7 spells this out).
In Ephesians 1:4–7 we read,
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Yeshua the Messiah to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.
Based on the above passage, we see what existed before the statement of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” It gives us a glimpse into the nature of the higher Torah, which is spiritual in nature. It existed in eternity in the mind, will and heart of the Father prior to the physical creation. Here are some aspects of the higher Torah or will of Elohim that pre-existed the Torah code that was written down at Mount Sinai:
- Elohim choosing us.
- Elohim choosing to expand his family and include us (see Gen 1:26).
- The devising of a plan to redeem fallen man.
- To redeem man through Yeshua the Messiah and through extension his grace.
- This whole plan is rooted in the Father’s love for us and for Yeshua.
- Outgoing love, personality, family relationship pre-exited Genesis 1:1.
- Other passages that give us a glimpse into what pre-existed the Written Torah are listed below.
- Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (1 Pet 1:20)
- Yeshua’s sacrificial death was foreordained before the world.
In hope of eternal life, which Elohim, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word/logos through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of Elohim our Saviour. (Tit 1:2)
Man’s destiny to have eternal life in Elohim’s family through Yeshua pre-existed the world. His Written Word was manifested on earth through preaching to reveal this plan.
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Messiah Yeshua before the world began. (2 Tim 1:9)
What we see existing prior to creation is something that is personal, active and alive. We see the Father loving the Son, and that there was a plan to expand their spiritual family through the creation of man involving redemption and eventually adoption into his spiritual, eternal family as sons of Elohim. There was thought, planning, volition, communication and love, which are definitions of personality. Love as the greater Torah pre-existed the creation account. John in his first epistle links love and Torah and shows them as one, but love is pre-eminent. Paul makes this same point in 1 Corinthians 13, as does Yeshua in Matthew 23:23 and John 13:5.
The notion that the beginning of existence is rooted in the impersonal is not a biblical concept, but is Eastern (pagan) in origin. The idea of an impersonal deity (or deities) is the basis of all Eastern religious thought, and atheism as well. Evolution is the religion of atheism, which champions the notion that personhood evolved from mindless matter—a logical fallacy. “Impersonal beginning explains neither the form of the universe nor the personality of man. Hence it gives no basis for understanding human relationships” (Schaeffer, Genesis In Space and Time, p. 21). Jeremiah 10:16 says that the heathen have been given idols, but that Jacob’s children have been given a living and personal Elohim who was there before all creation.
Schaeffer notes that modern man is deeply plagued by trying to understand the source and nature of love and communications. Poets, artists, singers, and actors pour themselves into trying to understand and define these qualities, not realizing that only in the love of YHVH as revealed in Scripture can these be fully understood and explained. Love and communication pre-existed the creation account and have always been (Ibid, pp. 21–22).
Yeshua, the Word of John chapter one, was first Personality before being expressed in this earthly realm as the Torah Word of Elohim, and then manifested as Yeshua, the Living Torah. He is the quintessential expression of both the lesser and higher Torah all in one person in all that he thought, said and did. As his disciples, we’re to follow his example.