Long before the Pharisees became an institution, long before they were the premiere religious power brokers of their time, there was the pharisaical spirit. The pharisaical spirit was alive and well long before the Pharisees attempted to bait Jesus hoping He would say something wrong or misspeak, and although the Pharisees are long gone, the spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well to this day.
The one defining trait of the pharisaical spirit is that when it asks a question, it expects the answer it had already established in its own heart and mind. When a modern day Pharisee asks a question, just like the Pharisees of old, it does not ask desiring to learn truth or to be taught the Word of God, but to be affirmed and agreed with.
Whenever we find something in the Word that does not suit our preconceived notions, whenever we hear a sermon that convicts us, we love to play the Pharisee and look for loopholes or ways by which we can reject the entire scripture or sermon.
It is rare, but there have been instances when the entire nation has played the Pharisee, not with any one man, but with the very God they claimed to serve and worship. Although it might seem inconsequential or irrelevant to some, this is a necessary topic of discussion, because there are many today, claiming to be children of God, who choose to adopt the mindset and spirit of the Pharisee, and dictate the terms of their worship and service to God. They do not inquire of God, desiring to know His mind, heart, and will, but rather that God would merely confirm, and rubber stamp their decisions and the conclusions to which their logic took them.
One of the most glaring examples of a pharisaical heart is played out during the twilight of the Prophet Samuel’s life. As Samuel grew old, and was nearing retirement age, the people of Israel sent the elders on their behalf to have a heart to heart with the man whom God had appointed as the leader of Israel.
After living his entire life in the service of God, and as the messenger of God for the people of Israel, it would have done Samuel’s heart good for the elders to have come to him, and conclude that it was a noble thing to live under the guidance and leadership of God. It would have done Samuel’s heart good for the elders to have approached him, and thank him for his years of service, and ask him to inquire of the Lord who the next prophet would be, and whom God had chosen as his successor to convey direction and truth to them.
Instead, the elders came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
Although these are the words that Samuel heard the elders speak, in his hear the understood what they meant. It wasn’t that he was getting old that was their main issue, their singular desire was to come out from under the direct leadership and guidance of God. After so many years of teaching the people that they had to belong to God in their entirety, after so many years of teaching them that they had to submit to the authority of God, the conclusion the people came to was that it would be better for them not to remain under the direct guidance and authority of God.
This is the provocation of scripture for every individual, regardless of the century or generation they are living in. God expects us to live under His authority and guidance, not just some of the time, but all of the time. He will not accept being a part time God, He will not accept being the God of your difficult days, He will not accept being your God only long enough to get you through the valley, His expectation, and demand is that He be your perpetual God.
If He is God, then He is God of your entire life, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day. He is not interested in being your emergency contact person in case everything goes horribly wrong, but your Lord and God in good days and bad.
When God calls us into covenant and fellowship with Him, it is not only on major holidays, certain days of the week, or during the feasts. God calls us to live in obedience of Him, in permanence.
Just as Israel however, there are countless souls today who desire to come out from under God’s guidance and lordship, and although they won’t come out and say as such, they concoct all manner of excuses and justifications in order to accomplish just that.
When we are tempted to play the Pharisee, may it not be with unfounded and baseless motivations. Consider that the best motivation for Israel wanting a king was that Samuel was old. They did not say that he was lame; they did not say that he no longer knew the law of God; they did not say that God no longer spoke to him; they did not say that he was no longer able to discern between good and evil, their only motivation, their only reason for wanting a king, was that Samuel was getting old. Samuel’s age in no way inhibited him, or rendered him incompetent for service toward God.
Their second motivation for wanting a king was the fact that Samuel’s son did not walk in his ways. Granted, this was a valid objection, but rather than encourage Samuel to replace his sons, or compel them to change, they concluded that their best course of action as a king.
The true heart of the elders of Israel, and by association the people of Israel themselves was revealed in the last few words that they spoke to the aging prophet.
‘Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
This was their motivator; this was the secret desire of their hearts that came to the surface upon confronting the prophet Samuel. It wasn’t that they thought Samuel was incompetent; it wasn’t that they believed no one else could replace him as the messenger of God, the people of Israel just wanted to be like all the other nations.
Israel had begun to investigate other nations, they saw how they were organized, and they came to the surprising conclusion that of all the nations of the world, they were unique. Every nation that surrounded them had two functioning systems in their societies. They had a social system a governing body that tended to maintaining order, and a religious system that tended to the spiritual aspects of the citizenry. These two systems traveled very different paths.
The people of God realized that there was only one law, one system among them that dictated the way they ought to live, that God personally established through those whom He chose. Israel beheld the other nations, and comparing themselves to them, became dissatisfied with the leadership of God.
So often, rather than submit to the sovereignty of God in our lives, we would like to shape Him into something other than what He is. We look at those around us, and the way they live and organize their lives, and for an instant we fall into the snare of comparing ourselves to them, concluding that while they revel in their ignorance, we must submit to God.
What’s more frustrating for some is that most often God doesn’t work the way we would like Him to work. When we think He ought to be more merciful, He is stricter, when we think He ought to act quickly, He takes His time, when we think He ought to judge, He pardons and forgives.
It’s interesting how some people won’t touch a Bible for months, and then overnight they become Bible scholars trying to justify a sin in their lives. They find that one verse that can be twisted just so, that one scripture that can be taken out of context, to give them the illusion of liberty in following the desire of their heart.
God sees the hearts of men. He looks beyond the feigned offense, the furrowed brows, and crocodile tears, the emotional defenses that if only the preacher would have condemned the sin more lovingly perhaps it would have made an impact, and recognizes that we simply chose disobedience, and in order to mask our true hearts we chose to play the Pharisee.
Although Israel tried to soften the blow, although they said, innocently enough that they just wanted a king to judge them, God knew the true intent of their hearts, and spoke as much to Samuel: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.