“When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.’” (Matthew 12:2)
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The Subdue and Rule Mandate is about control. It’s God-given and innate within every person. Sorry, you can’t divert, sidestep, or remove it. If we use our ability to subdue and rule according to God’s standard as revealed by His word, our dominion drive is a blessing and hugely beneficial as people work side by side to bring their personal worlds under control and manage them for God. When used cooperatively among the Lord’s born-again people, God’s reign is, in this present age, extended throughout the earth through their lives.
However, when our dominion mandate is used according to fallen human nature and self-centered, sinful standards (as opposed to God’s standards), our dominion drive becomes a curse and causes strife as individuals strive for control over their personal worlds, including those individuals who interact with their “domain.” The twisted Subdue and Rule Mandate become Conquer and Dominate, which seeks personal dominion via capture and control by any means possible such as manipulation or force, for the sake of self-interest and selfish desires, even if it hurts others in the process. In other words, everybody wants to rule the world.
But each person’s individual domain belongs to God’s larger domain of His earthly creation and His absolute rule over His entire creation, the seen and unseen realms. We were created to subdue and rule on God’s terms, not ours. And this is where the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders centered.
Just as God had selected Adam and Eve to manage His world, so God chose specific representatives down through history to take up His mantle of guiding and stewarding His domain, specifically His kingdom on earth as manifested through His people Israel. But like Adam and Eve, God’s leaders often succumbed to their fallen nature. They used the authority and power of their Subdue and Rule Mandate against others as mechanisms to establish control over other people and keep them in subjugation.
God knows that leadership is essential to provide structure and direction for a community’s overall benefit, whether in His holy realm or the currently fallen world system. Biblically speaking, God refers to His leaders as shepherds, those to whom He has delegated authority and power to gently bring the sheep (people) under control and nurture them for the Master’s (God’s) sake and the flock’s (the nation’s) benefit. God desired to give His people good shepherds and moral leaders who would be loyal to Him and do their assigned job. “I will give you shepherds who are loyal to Me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill” (Jeremiah 3:15).
But sadly, some of Israel’s shepherds were derelict in their duty. “So Micaiah said: I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘They have no master; let everyone return home in peace’” (1 Kings 22:17). At times in Israel’s history, evil leaders deliberately led God’s people astray (King Manasseh, 2 Kings 21) leaving God’s sheep vulnerable. Why was the flock left exposed and unprotected? According to God, “For the shepherds are stupid: they don’t seek the LORD. Therefore, they have not prospered, and their whole flock is scattered” (Jeremiah 10:21).
Israel’s unfaithful shepherds led without godly knowledge and skill, and that’s one reason why Israel strayed from God. The wicked leaders were blind and self-serving. “Israel’s watchmen are blind, all of them, they know nothing; all of them are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they dream, lie down, and love to sleep. These dogs have fierce appetites; they never have enough. And they are shepherds who have no discernment; all of them turn to their own way, every last one for his own gain” (Isaiah 56:9-12, specifically vv. 10-11). Ezekiel echoes this same indictment of the shepherds, for they were “feeding themselves,” “not tending the flock,” and “ruling them with violence and cruelty” (Ezekiel 34:2-4). All these descriptions are classic manifestations of Conquer and Dominate.
For the above reasons, God announced to the wicked shepherds of Jeremiah’s day that He would strip them of their positions and replace them with good shepherds after His own heart. “‘I will raise up shepherds over them who will tend them. They will no longer be afraid or discouraged, nor will any be missing.’ This is the Lord’s declaration” (Jeremiah 23:4). The apex of this new team of God-given shepherds will be His Good Shepherd, His King, the Righteous Branch (Jeremiah 23:5) and through Ezekiel, God promised to shepherd His people Himself (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
This Good Shepherd will not Conquer and Dominate God’s people but will lead them righteously by serving them the way God intended for their safety, provision, and blessing. When Jesus was finally revealed to Israel, He came as God in the flesh (Matthew 1:23) to be Israel’s King (Luke 1:32) and Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14). Besides accomplishing His Father’s plan for humanity’s salvation, Jesus was also sent to examine and judge Israel’s leaders, the wicked shepherds of Israel, who had used their dominion mandate through their leadership positions to Conquer and Dominate their fellow citizens and benefit themselves.
Jesus’ appearance announced the start of God’s kingdom in a new, more permanent way as He proclaimed “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). This new way of joining God’s kingdom was via the New Covenant. The mark of God’s kingdom was the Holy Spirit’s presence with Jesus. Jesus’ signs were the verification of God’s kingdom at work. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection sealed the New Covenant and opened the way for God’s kingdom. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit launched God’s kingdom within His people.
The new way of God’s kingdom is where His people would use whatever abilities and resources they had to advance His dominion on earth (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30). God’s dominion will grow not through a geo-political state but individually, as each person brings themselves under God’s reign, subdued and ruled first by the King Himself. But those wicked shepherds of Israel who resisted the King’s call as His stewards found themselves eventually stripped of their assignment, their position, and even their place in God’s kingdom.
It all comes down to, “will you or won’t you submit to and obey God’s will?” The conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders can be directly attributed to the clash of dominion drives – Jesus properly following the Subdue and Rule Mandate and many (but not all) of the Jewish leaders using their dominion drive to Conquer and Dominate the world over which they ruled.
The conflicts between Jesus and the leadership can be divided into two categories – the Torah and the Throne. Jesus is the gold standard for God’s word and reign. The leaders’ reactions to Jesus in these two areas revealed whether they aligned with God’s purposes or were building their kingdoms. The Torah category shows the conflict over whether God’s word or man’s traditions take precedence. The Throne category shows the conflict between God’s kingdom and man’s drive to rule independently of God. The chart below notes most of these conflicts:
Jesus And The Leaders Clash Over The Torah
So how did those wicked shepherds of Israel reveal their Conquer and Dominate drive by how they handled God’s Torah? In his book, The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus, Nehemiah Gordon lists “Five Iniquities of the Rabbis” to help his readers understand Phariseeism: 1) The Two Torahs, 2) The Authority of the Rabbis, 3) Their Irrational Interpretation, 4) The Traditions of Men, and 5) Their Man-made Laws (Gordon). Nehemiah examines these in the light of the 1st-century Pharisees and the development of rabbinic Judaism.
The discussions, arguments, and conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders (predominantly the Pharisees and scribes) over God’s word center on the authority of the Written and Oral Torahs. The Written Torah was given by God to Moses at Sinai and is recorded in the Five Books of Moses. The Oral Torah is a “record of the discussions and legal decisions that went beyond the Written Torah, the Five Books of Moses” (Berkson). The Pharisees and scribes claimed God had given the Oral Torah to Moses, who passed it to Joshua, the elders, the prophets, and finally, the men of the Great Assembly (Avot 1:1A) (Berkson).
However, arguments against this claim are based on Deuteronomy 31:9, “Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, and to all the elders of Israel” (italics author). We now face two conflicting claims. Either God’s complete Torah was written down and ultimately passed to the elders of Israel, or there was an additional Torah that was spoken to Moses and orally forwarded down the line of elders, which was written down much later. However, the statement “wrote down this law” refutes the argument for an Oral Torah.
Within this debate, two camps emerged. Some held to the Written and Oral Torahs as authoritative (the Pharisees and scribes), and other leaders who rejected the Oral Torah and embraced only the Written Torah as God’s word (the Sadducees). In Jesus’ day, the proponents of the Oral Torah regarded it as equally authoritative as the Written Torah and, in some cases more so, even to the point where a man-made command of the Oral Torah could be used to override the clear meaning or intent of a Witten Torah command (Mark 7:13), a maneuver which Jesus rebuked.
But where did Jesus stand regarding the Oral Torah? It’s clear Jesus upheld the validity and authority of the Written Torah (Matthew 5:17-18). But when the Oral Torah, which included traditions of men (minhag, sanctified customs) and man-made laws (takanot, enactments, or reforms) (Gordon) clashed with the Written Torah, Jesus opposed the Pharisees’ assumed authority and sided with His Father’s Written Torah (Mark 7:8-9). The Conquer and Dominate drive of the Pharisees and scribes emerges within the debate of the Written and Oral Torahs. In short, the Oral Torah was often used to constrict and control the Jewish community to align the people with a particular sect’s beliefs and practices.
Adam and Eve’s original sin ignited when they considered there could be an alternative to God’s clear word, an option not grounded on the command’s obvious meaning and intent. This thinking caused them to place their conclusions about God’s word above God’s word itself. Adam and Eve’s violation of God’s word openly defied His will. Jesus called out the Pharisees and scribes for doing the same thing.
To be clear, we must understand that the Oral Torah is not “all bad.” As said before, it’s a “record of the discussions and legal decisions” intended to interpret and apply the Written Torah, especially where it is vague or obscure. Some parts of scripture are hard to understand and seem to make no sense. The Red Heifer law (Numbers 19) makes no sense to the rational mind. For example, if contact with an animal carcass contaminates a person, how can the burned carcass of an animal be used to purify someone from human corpse contamination? Such laws are known as chukat, a decree of the Torah. The Chumash commentary on the Red Cow law says that all the Torah’s laws are “products of God’s intelligence.” Any problem with understanding them is the “limitation of the student, not the Teacher.” On the other hand, it’s our responsibility to delve deep for meaning as best we can, for “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to investigate a matter” (Proverbs 25:2).
Such in-depth study is commendable and massive in scope. However, as the Oral Torah developed, it took on various interpretations, applications, and a man-based authority that sometimes overrode the Written Torah’s God-based authority. To assume human authority over God’s authority is a clear manifestation of the drive to Conquer and Dominate. Doing so attempts to dominate God Himself and subject His word to man-made laws or sanctified customs. Regarding the Torah, the leaders who took authority over God’s word in favor of their traditions and laws were corrected by the One with whom the Torah originated, who knew its meaning, intent, and proper application in any situation. As you can see, the leaders’ assumption was a dangerous one.
Furthermore, for the Jewish leaders to use their God-given dominion mandate to add or subtract from His Torah was strictly forbidden by God. Once the Written Torah had been delivered to Moses, God commanded His people, “You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32). Again, this is a manifestation of Conquer and Dominate because the effort assumes a person under God’s Law knows better than the Lawgiver Himself.
Depending on how it was used, the Oral Torah sometimes created additions to the Torah. For example, the leaders’ Oral Torah command that people should always wash their hands before eating (Matthew 15:2) was derived from God’s Written Torah command to Aaron and his sons about washing before doing their priestly duties (Exodus 30:19). On the other hand, the Oral Torah sometimes subtracted from God’s Written Torah and thus nullified God’s law (Mark 7:13). God’s intent for His Written Torah was to inform and guide His people’s customs and traditions, not to be overruled by them.
Another manifestation of the drive to Conquer and Dominate was the Pharisees’ accusations of what they judged as unlawful according to their understanding of the Written Torah. On one Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples walked through grain fields (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5). Being hungry, the disciples began picking heads of grain and, according to Luke, rubbed them in their hands to release the edible portion. The observing Pharisees quickly declared their actions as “unlawful.” What the Pharisees claimed as “unlawful” (Luke 6:2), picking and rubbing grain, judged as reaping and threshing, Jesus declared “lawful” (Matthew 12:7). According to the Torah’s Author, His disciples were guiltless (Stern).
Don’t be confused. The issue was not about walking through a field and eating grain to satisfy one’s hunger. The Torah allowed that (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). The problem was whether doing so was allowed on the Sabbath because the disciples’ actions involved what the Pharisees determined was work according to the Oral Torah as derived from the 39 types of work required to build the Tabernacle (Shabbat 7:2, prohibiting reaping and threshing) (Stern).
Jesus justified His ruling based on human need citing David who, when he was “in need and hungry,” violated the Torah’s prohibition against anyone eating the showbread except the priests (1 Samuel 21:3-6; Leviticus 24:9). Furthermore, Jesus referred to the example of the Temple priests working on the Sabbath to set the principle that some of the Torah’s requirements (whether service to God or human need) take priority over customary Sabbath observance. Concluding His argument, Jesus declared that “something greater than the temple is here,” meaning the Lord of the Sabbath and Temple. If service within the Temple overrides the Sabbath, then how much more does the presence of the Lord of the Temple override the Sabbath?
Finally, by referring to Hosea 6:6, “For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,” Jesus drove home the point that God is more concerned about “a person’s loyal love than in the observance of external rituals.” While the Pharisees were focused on Sabbath observance, a sign of the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 31:12-17), God desired covenant love (covenant faithfulness) more, which is a far greater covenant sign. The Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus was allowing His disciples to break the Torah was an accusation that Jesus Himself was a Torah-breaker. Thus they opposed Him, regarding themselves as more faithful to Moses’ covenant.
But through His debates and personal example, Jesus proved Himself to be more faithful, accurate, and authoritative in His handling of the Torah, the yoke of the kingdom, than His wicked shepherd accusers. Just before the question over the proper observance of the Torah’s Sabbath laws in Matthew 12, Matthew records Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Although separated by a chapter break, this short declaration is crucial as an introduction to the Torah debate on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14). Jesus’ words set the stage for what’s to come, a revelation of how Jesus aligned His interpretation and application of the Torah to His Father’s intent.
The “weary and burdened” are fellow Jews who were laboring under observing the Torah according to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ teaching with their added Oral Torah regulations, sanctified customs, and man-made traditions. Even the Torah itself is regarded as a burden for those with no frame of reference for it. For example, when the Gentiles entered the messianic stream of Judaism just after Pentecost (Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks), Peter recognized they would have a tough time “taking on the yoke of the Torah” that even the Jews who grew up with it found burdensome. “Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).
Jesus’ approach to the Torah opposed the Pharisees’ and scribes’ approach. His way of living the Torah was easy and light because it freed people from unneeded and unjustifiable laws and practices His Father never intended. Jesus focused on the Torah’s essentials and the spirit of the Law, such as addressing how sin’s origin comes from the heart. Jesus was not only “opposing man-made laws of the (teachers of Israel),” He was returning the people to the Torah (Gordon) in a way they could live with God meekly and humbly with a willing attitude.
An easy yoke and a light burden come from good, manageable commands applied correctly under the coaching of the Torah’s Author Himself. How much more so when the Holy Spirit makes Jesus’ Torah part of us and gives us guidance and motivation to follow His commands on a moment-to-moment basis? Such an approach to Torah encouraged God’s people to come under His dominion rather than flee from it. Through the New Covenant, God’s people could finally subdue and rule their lives and the world in a way that was acceptable and pleasing to God.
However, Jesus indicted the Pharisees and scribes for abusing God’s word and the people. “They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders,” expecting people to carry the load of commands God never intended, “but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). Although the burden was too much to bear for their followers, Jesus accused the Jewish leaders of doing nothing to make God’s commands easier to follow. His indictment revealed how they utilized the Written and Oral Torah to exercise control over their fellow person.
The wicked shepherds’ behavior reveals another way they exercised dominion over God’s word through their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is “The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness” (American Heritage Dictionary). To be under God’s Torah is to be under God’s dominion. To claim to be under God’s dominion, yet mindlessly ignore it or willingly break it, is hypocrisy and a willful act of defiance against the Lawgiver King. Jesus’ life was defined by His absolute obedience to his Father’s will (John 4:34, 5:30. 6:38) and demonstrated by His strict faithfulness to the Torah. He expects His disciples to take the same stance, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21) and “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus warned His disciples to stay away from the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ teaching for it led to hypocrisy (the “leaven” of their teaching that puffs one up in pride, Luke 12:1). He delivered a blistering indictment of their hypocrisy shortly before He was crucified (Matthew 23:3).
Finally, an egregious way the leadership tried to Conquer and Dominate Jesus was how they used human need to entrap their opponent. “Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a shriveled hand. In order to accuse him, they were watching him closely to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:1, italics author). Luke states that Jesus knew their thoughts (Luke 6:8) and therefore knew their hidden agenda and Conquer and Dominate purpose.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate motivates us to use our resources to extend God’s reign and improve the portion of God’s world within which we live and interact. Exploiting human need to meet our personal goals is a heartless manifestation of Conquer and Dominate. How often have we watched politicians use human needs to further their power and enrichment while doing little for those about whom they claim to care? Enough said.
Although Jesus set up the scenario to challenge the wicked shepherds of Israel’s interpretation of the Sabbath laws and used the man with the shriveled hand as His example, Jesus’ primary goal was to help him. The leaders’ goal was to use Jesus’ healing of the man’s disability to accuse (exert dominion over) Jesus. All Jesus had to do was ignore the man’s infirmity, and He was safe from His accusers’ claim He violated their take on Sabbath law. But extending mercy to the man was the right thing to do even though it brought the Pharisees’ fury down on Jesus and stoked their desire to kill Him (Mark 3:6).
The wicked shepherds of Israel revealed their drive to Conquer and Dominate through their overstepping interaction with God’s word. They exerted their God-given authority over God’s authority concerning His word through the Oral Torah with its additions and subtraction via man-made laws, traditions, and sanctified practices. Their “authoritative” determination of what was lawful and unlawful created a yoke that gave them a degree of control over people even though they hypocritically violated their own yoke by not applying it to themselves.
Jesus was different. His “yoke of the Torah” addressed core issues within people and pointed them toward how to serve His Father better and be pleasing to Him. Jesus carved off unneeded laws and practices, righteously expanded others, and revealed his Father’s intent for the Torah to help people, not harm them, and to show the accurate way to live acceptably with God. While the leaders’ approach to the Torah bound and burdened the Jewish people, Jesus’ approach to the Torah freed them. These ongoing clashes were major reasons why the leaders’ sought the ultimate Conquer and Dominate act – killing Jesus.
Berkson, William. Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life
Gordon, Nehemiah. Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus, New Light on the Seat of Moses from Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew
Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary, A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts