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A very frequent assertion of Christian apologetics is that Christian morality would be "the best and most perfect" of all morals. This argument is often used by apologists to prove the truthfulness of the Christian religion.

In truth, it would be enough to read the writings of thinkers from other countries to see that Christian morality, although very beautiful, is in fact not so innovative. It could even be contrasted with the morality already present in the Bible to show that there is "nothing new under the sun", but some apologists reply that Jesus and his apostles have justly returned to bring true biblical morality back to the ground where the Pharisees had put it down; for if Christian morality is raised to the highest rank, the morality of the Pharisees is despised and slandered to the lowest, with a lowliness it does not deserve.

Except that when we study the morals of the Pharisees we see that they had nothing to envy Christian morals, and that even in certain points they are even more intense. It is not a question of reducing Christian morality, which is very beautiful and has allowed a great advance in the Western world in particular, but simply to bring Pharisaic morality back to the truth in the face of the defamation it is undergoing. Why does the New Testament often slander the Pharisees, when according to all the Jewish traditions we have kept from them their morals were equal if not superior to Jesus' in every respect? Non-exhaustive list:


1. Resignation of insults.

One of Jesus' most famous phrases concerns the resignation of insults, where we are told:

"If someone strikes you on one cheek, present him the other as well. If someone takes your coat, do not prevent him from taking your tunic again. ».

Everybody knows this maxim and it was often used to prove something new in relation to the so-called vindictive vision of the Pharisees. But are they really? What does Pharisee morality tell us?

"The world exists only by the merit of those who close their mouths at the moment of disputes" (Houlin 89a).

"Those who suffer insult without giving it back, those who are denigrated and do not retaliate, who have no other motive than love, who welcome with joy the evils of life, it is for them that it is written in the prophets: The friends of God shall shine like the sun in all its strength. "(Shabbat 88a)

2. Loving your enemy

Jesus wants to be of a new morality, surpassing all previous morals with his famous maxim beginning with

"You have heard that it was said to the ancients: Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy, but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and bless them that curse you. "

First problem, when Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to the elders," he is referring to the Torah, in the same way that Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said to the elders: Thou shalt not kill. (verse 21)

You've heard it said to the elders: Thou shalt not commit adultery (verse 27)

But it is never said in the Torah (or even in the whole Bible) that one should hate one's enemy. What does the Torah say about this, where Jesus would have gone wrong?

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt take care to rebuke thy neighbour, but thou shalt not bear sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17)

When you see the donkey of him who hates you falling down under his care, and you have no desire to help that man, help him anyway to unburden his donkey. (Exodus 23:5)

Who would be the enemy par excellence of the Hebrews when they receive the Torah? Would it not be the Egyptians, who have enslaved the Hebrews for centuries? What does the Torah think of the Egyptians, does it ask them to be hated, or conversely, does it say:

"Thou shalt not hate the Egyptian, because thou hast been a stranger in his land" (Deut 23:7).

So the Torah seems to be opposed to Jesus' claim that he is asking to hate his enemy, using beautiful words. Well, the Talmud goes even further with the stories of the enemy's donkeys to be unloaded:

"A friend bending under his charge, and on the other hand, an enemy who at the same time asks to be helped in his charge, it is the enemy that must first be rescued. "(baba metsia 32b)

What, finally, of the prophets to the enemies that Jesus tells us they ask to be hated?

If you see your enemy fall, do not be glad; if he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, lest the Lord see him and condemn you, and bring all the evil upon your head (Prov. XXIV, 17,18).

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for in doing so you will remove the burning coals from his head (Prov. XXV, 22).

I call God as my witness if I have ever enjoyed the evil of my enemy; if my heart was moved with joy when misfortune befell him (Job, XXXI, 29).

Now, what do the Pharisees say about this?

"Ben Azai put as the most important verse, "God created man in his own image," so that you would not say, 'Since I was despised, let my brother also be despised, since I was cursed, let my brother also be cursed; for if you do this, know who it is that you despise and curse: God, whose image is man. (Yalcult 11d.)

"Whoever renders evil for good, evil shall not depart from his dwelling place (Proverbs 17:13). That is not all; but on him also who renders evil for evil, the same curse falls. (Yalcult, II, 140a)".

One of the most famous midrashim (I can no longer find the exact source), tells us a beautiful story: when the Hebrews came out of the Red Sea and the Egyptians died in the sea, they sang Psalm 113 where it says "Praise the Lord, for his charity is eternal", but it does not say "for he is good" why? Because "God does not rejoice in the fall of the ungodly. The Jews, moreover, continue this idea by reciting Psalm 113 on the seventh day of Easter, but they do not recite all the psalms that make up the Hallel, for their joy is not complete, there is a void, this mourning of the Egyptians that still lasts.

So we see that according to the Bible, as according to the Pharisees, we must not hate our enemy but rather love him. Should we pray for him?

The famous story of Rabbi Meir (berahot 10b) gives us the answer:

"There were robbers in Rabbi Meir's neighborhood who were causing Rabbi Meir and his family a great deal of trouble. Rabbi Meir decided to pray that they would die and that he would have no more problems. His wife Brouria came to him and said, "Don't you think you should pray for them? "Rabbi Meir nodded, prayed for them, and they repented. »

3. The price of forgiveness

A beautiful maxim found in the Gospels concerns the price of forgiveness: what happens to the one who forgives? In Matthew we read:

"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your trespasses. »

Let it be said, this is THE Pharisee doctrine par excellence:

"Whose sins does God forgive? To the one who himself forgives insults. Whoever is quick to forgive, his sins will also be forgiven (Megillah 28b)".

One of the most eloquent stories in the Talmud tells us this fact:

"At one time of the year, there was a great drought, which imposed a great famine. Rabbi Eliezer fasted and prayed, but the rain did not come. Rabbi Akiva in turn fasted and prayed, and then the rain came. One wondered, "Is Rabbi Akiva a greater master than Rabbi Eliezer? "And the Talmud answers, "No, it is simply that he forgives more willingly" (Taanit 25a).

Or again:

"One day Rabbi Akiva came to visit Rabbi Nehounia (who was very old) and asked him: "By what merits have you reached this age? "He replied, "My son, I have never refused forgiveness" (Megilla 28a).

4. The humble of spirits.

Jesus teaches us the importance of being humble when he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Of course, the expression poor in spirit is to be understood as "humble in spirit," for in Hebrew the term "nemokhe" means both humble and poor, and the expression "nemokhe rouah" is a common expression in those days meaning humble in spirit (which moreover proves the Aramaic origin of this gospel).

But this expression, so beautiful, is in truth not a Christian invention, it is already found among the Pharisees, among whom we find similar phrases:

"It is near the humble that God lays his Chehina to rest" (Sota 2a).

"Where will we find God's science? In the humble spirit, like water that rolls from high places to stop at the lowest" (Taanit 7b).

Another statement about the humble is found this time in Mark (10:31) where it is said that

"Many of the first will be last, and many of the last will be first."

A similar idea is found in Matthew (23:12) where it says,

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. »

But this idea that the proud will be lowered and the humble will be raised is not a new invention either; it is also found in the Pharisaic texts:

"My lowliness shall be my exaltation, and my exaltation shall be my lowliness." (Vayikra Rabba 81a)

"Be humble of spirit to the point of excess, for man's last hope is the worms of his grave" (Avot chapter 4).

"Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled" (Aruvin 13a).

"The world to come belongs to those who bend their knees, to the humble, the bent, who meditate incessantly without vanity" (Sanhedrin 88b).

5. Some beatitudes on the same subject

Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy". The Talmud says, "Whoever shows mercy, God will show mercy to him" (Sota 8a).

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." The mishnah says, "Those who make peace will be so rewarded that not only in the future world will they be rewarded" (Pea 1:1).

6. Self-sacrifice

Self-denial is one of the most important virtues of the Gospels, so we find verses such as:

He who loves his soul will lose it, but he who hates it will keep it in eternal life"

or

"If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if you mortify by the spirit the desires of the flesh, you will live. "And finally, "You must brave every kind of suffering to be worthy to follow me. Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. »

Is self-denial a Christian novelty? What does the Talmud tell us about it?

"What must man do to live? Let him die! What must he do to die? Let him live! »

"the law of God is found in him who sacrifices his own life" (berahot 63a).

"Where will you find the Law? In him who does not fear to expose himself to the utmost destitution for the love of it" (Sota chap III).

"Is there anything in the world more beautiful, more precious, more sacred than the homeland, the Torah, and Heaven? Well, well, well! One can deserve neither homeland, nor Law, nor heavenly bliss, without pain, without suffering, without self-denial.

7. Pride

In many instances, pride is criticized in the Gospels, although it is implicitly so when it emphasizes humility, but then, what do the Pharisees think of pride?

"The proud deserve to be uprooted like the groves of idols. His dust will not wake up on the day of resurrection; even if he had reconciled heaven and earth with God, as Abraham did, he could not escape the pains of hell. Let him be to you as an idolater, as an atheist, as an incestuous one. The shekhinah groaned over him, she said, "It is impossible for me and him to coexist in the world" (T Jer Sota 1).

I don't think we can make it any clearer.

8. Anger

Like pride, anger is criticized by Jesus (although it is only unjustified anger that is criticized, we will talk about that later).

What do the Pharisees say about anger?

"Whoever indulges in anger does not respect the Shekhinah itself" (Nedarim 20a).

"If a man is angry, if he is a prophet, his inspiration forsakes him; if he is a doctor, he forgets his doctrine" (Pessahim 66a).

Our last example is most explicit concerning what we said above: indeed, many times Jesus gets angry in the Gospels, which allows us to draw the moral conclusion that in Christian morality, "justified" anger is totally permitted. On the other hand, in Pharisaism, all anger, even justified anger, is very much criticized:

"Why was Elijah taken from the earth as soon as he was taken from it? Because he became angry and had Baal's prophets killed. Then God took him away from the world, saying to him, "The earth has no need of such men as you" (Shabbat II).

The criticism of anger is found in another word of Jesus where it says,

"You have heard that it was said to the elders: Thou shalt not kill, and he that killeth shall be punished by judgment; but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry without cause with his brother shall be punished by judgment, and he that saith unto his brother Raka shall be punished by the council, and he that calleth him mad shall be punished by the Gehenna of fire. »

The beginning of this statement is quite problematic because it puts morality and justice on the same level: indeed, never, not even in Christianity, has a person found himself in court for the simple fact of being angry, although this sentence is meant to be graphic, it is excessive because it puts homicide and anger on the same level.

Concerning the rest of this verse, which condemns the one who calls his brother Raka (there is an error in translation, it is said rasha, which means unholy) or mad, it is not a Christian novelty. Pharisaic legislation already applied sentences that condemned insult (baba kamma 91a). The Talmud even says that a person who raises his hand on another -without hitting him- is punishable by law (Sanhedrin chap 7). But it is finally a passage from the Talmud that I wanted to show you so that you can see the seriousness of the insult and to shame the Pharisees:

"Whoever descends into hell finally ascends, except for three who descend and do not ascend, and they are: he who engages in adulterous relations; he who humiliates another in public; and he who calls another a derogatory name. "(baba metsiah 58b)


I could go on for hours. What is innovative about the morals of Jesus, in what way are they superior to all morals or to Jewish morality as it is often heard, and why are the Pharisees described as odious characters in the New Testament, when all the moral traditions we still have of them are equal to or superior to the morals of Jesus?

I find this idea all the more unfortunate since more and more historical studies seem to indicate that Jesus himself was part of the Pharisaic movement of his time.

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  • The Pharisees were ‘experts’ of the Law. They had assigned themselves as Judges of the Law. But worse, they actually had interpreted the Law in a way that it could be kept - and Jesus needed to point out, at times, that they couldn’t - because it’s impossible, as exemplified in the sermon on the mount. If you can keep the Law, as the Pharisees claimed, then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to be born.
    – Dave
    Jul 18 '20 at 3:41
  • There are indeed many beautiful similarities between Christianity and Judaism. Unfortunately, there are also major differences; the Talmud, after all, is a rather large book.
    – Lucian
    Jul 18 '20 at 4:50
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    Questions which are not about specific texts of scripture are off-topic on this site. See the Tour and the Help.This is not a sincere question, it is a rant against Christianity. And a very long one, at that. Voted to close as off-topic and down-voted (-1) for sheer verbosity.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 18 '20 at 7:45
  • slandər: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation.
    – Tony Chan
    Jul 18 '20 at 12:16
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    Please don't make more work for other people by vandalizing your posts. By posting on the Stack Exchange (SE) network, you've granted a non-revocable right, under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license for SE to distribute that content. By SE policy, any vandalism will be reverted. If you want to know more about deleting a post, consider taking a look at: How does deleting work?
    – Glorfindel
    Jul 18 '20 at 12:19
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I don't think the New Testament should be read as slandering the ethics of the Pharisees. But there are three main reasons why the Pharisees do not have an overall positive portrayal in the New Testament.

Morality and ethics can't save

The Pharisees were a movement of devout lay Jews. Along with many other movements within Judaism, they 'fenced the law', setting out additional rules to ensure that you would never transgress the actual Jewish Law. It was in this context that Jesus said

Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, CSB)

Jesus holds up the Pharisees as a positive example of human morality, only to drop the devastating truth that not even the best of the Pharisees comes remotely close to meeting God's moral standards. The Gospel preached by Jesus and then later by the Apostles is a message of grace: God does what humanity cannot, Jesus Christ the Son of God atoning for our sin and propitiating the wrath of the Father. If this message is accepted, then while it doesn't necessarily reject the ethical judgements of the Pharisees, it does oppose the 'Gospel' of the Pharisees, that through right living you can be reconciled to God. The New Testament goes on to teach that the Jewish Law of the Hebrew scriptures was intended to prepare and lead us to Jesus, but that it never saved anyone. Instead, salvation has always come through faith (Romans 4). The Israelites followed the law to live out their faith, but it was always their faith not their obedience that saved them.

Pharisee hypocrites

So the Bible can speak positively of the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees themselves were another matter. While many lived up to their teachings, many others lived in hypocritical contradiction to what they claimed to live by. Matthew 23 is probably the best text showing how Jesus thought about these Pharisees.

Matt 23:1-3: Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.

Matt 23:23: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.

Matt 23:27-28: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Experts of the scriptures, ignorant of the God who wrote them

The Pharisees claimed to be devout students of God's scriptures. If that were true, then they should have recognised that Jesus was the messiah their scriptures promised and prophesied about. Instead of recognising that Jesus carried God's authority, they said he was given power from demons (Matt 12:22-32). Instead of hearing his teachings as according with their own scriptures, they asked him riddles and tried to trick him into saying something that would be contrary to the Law. And their greatest sin of all: they conspired to kill God's anointed Messiah. In John 8 Jesus says that the Pharisees' rejection of himself shows that they did not actually know Father God:

John 8:12-19: Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

So the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying about yourself. Your testimony is not valid.”

“Even if I testify about myself,” Jesus replied, “My testimony is true, because I know where I came from and where I’m going. But you don’t know where I come from or where I’m going. You judge by human standards. I judge no one. And if I do judge, my judgment is true, because it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am the one who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me testifies about me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your Father?”

You know neither me nor my Father,” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would also know my Father.

And earlier in John 5 he says the following of all the Jews who rejected him, which would include any Pharisees who did not accept him:

John 5:37-47: And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

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  • 1
    Your third point makes a valid claim. Another conclusion that is associated with this point is that because they were experts, it shows they didn’t actually believe Torah. The issue Jesus had with the Pharisees (and Sadducees) is that the people only/always followed the leaders. The ‘casting a demon’ (out of a ‘dumb’ man) you mentioned was a prophesied sign that only the Messiah would be able to perform. The crowd recognised this, and asked them, the Pharisees, is this he - but they said no.
    – Dave
    Jul 18 '20 at 3:57
  • Excellent rebuttal. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 18 '20 at 7:20
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There are some positive mentions of Pharisees.

Nicodemus defended Jesus in John 7

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48“Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

On a couple of occasions, Jesus ate at a Pharisee' place:

Luke 7:36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.

Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

Some Pharisees gave Jesus a friendly warning about Herod in Luke 13:

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Some teachers of the law were Pharisees.

Mark 2:16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees

The teacher of the law in Mark 12 was likely a Pharisee and Jesus praised his wisdom.

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. e 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ f 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ g There is no commandment greater than these.”
32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had the honor of burying Jesus' body in John 19

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. e 40Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Gamaliel defended Peter and some other apostles in Act 5

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Paul mentioned that he was a Pharisee in Philippians 3:5

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;

So, the NT is not only negative about the Pharisees.

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Jesus did not set his own agenda. As the Messiah (Anointed Son of David) his agenda was set for him in the prophets:

Jhn 5:30 NLT - I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.

Jhn 6:38 NLT - For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.

His agenda related primarily to two kinds of sheep:

  • the southern kingdom (Judah) who were in covenant with God but in the care of hireling under-shepherds that did not feed them and even hindered them from coming to the Messiah that they might find rest and pasture as described in Ezekiel 34

  • the lost sheep of the northern kingdom who had for generations been cut off from covenant with God and were "dead bones" awaiting resurrection as described in Ezekiel 37

His agenda was to judge between sheep and goat leaders of Judah per Matthew 25/Ezekiel 34 and to enlist fishers of men to "fish out" the lost sheep of the house of the northern kingdom and resurrect their dry bones as in Ezekiel 37/Pentecost and then unite them together into "one stick" per the latter part of Ezekiel 37.

The background of God's beef with these callous shepherds is described in no less scathing tones in Ezekiel 34 than in Jesus' screeds against the Pharisees in Matthew 24.

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