Wise and Foolish Builders notes
I will liken him, etc. The picture is not of two men deliberately selecting foundations, but it contrasts one who carefully chooses and prepares his foundation with one who builds at hap-hazard. This is more strongly brought out by Luke (6:48): “Who digged and went deep, and laid a foundation upon the rock” (Rev.). Kitto (“Pictorial Bible”) says: “At this very day the mode of building in Christ’s own town of Nazareth suggests the source of this image. Dr. Robinson was entertained in the house of a Greek Arab. The house had just been built, and was not yet finished. In order to lay the foundations he had dug down to the solid rock, as is usual throughout the country here, to the depth of thirty feet, and then built up arches.” The abrupt style of ver. 25 pictures the sudden coming of the storm which sweeps away the house on the sand: “Descended the rain, and came the floods, and blew the winds.”
27. Great was the fall of it. The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. “Thus,” remarks Bengel, “it is not necessary for every sermon to end with consolation.”
28. Were astonished (ἐξεπλήσσοντο). From ἐκ, out of, and πλήσσω, to strike. Often to drive one out of his senses by a sudden shock, and therefore here of amazement. They were astounded. We have a similar expression, though not so strong: “I was struck with this or that remarkable thing.”
29. He taught (ἦν διδάσκων). He was teaching. This union of the verb and participle emphasizes the idea of duration or habit more than the simple tense.
Jesus gives a warning about false prophets (7:15–23). These are people who claim to come from God, but don’t. They are fierce and dangerous—like wolves disguised as sheep. We must look carefully at what they actually do.
You tell a good prophet like you tell a good tree—by the fruit! Jesus says there are plenty of prophets, exorcists and miracle-workers around who are nothing to do with him. So beware!
In the story of wise and foolish builders (vv. 24–27) the foundation represents Jesus’ teaching. Both sets of people (represented by the two builders) have heard the teaching; both will experience the same kinds of difficulties. What distinguishes the two is that only the first does what Jesus has taught. Building on this foundation means both hearing and obeying Jesus’ teaching. A lawless life-style rests on a foundation which is no foundation (v. 25b has no parallel in v. 27), and thus has neither basis for living nor protection against destruction.
Verses 28–29 indicate that Jesus’ authority comes from his person and from his fidelity to the Old Testament, as distinct from rabbinic traditions. Still, Jesus calls not just for amazement (v. 28) but for allegiance (vv. 24–27).
Nor is this a far-fetched illustration; it is a story of the kind of thing which could well happen. In Palestine, the builder must think ahead. There were many gullies which in summer were pleasant sandy hollows, but in winter became raging torrents of rushing water. A man might be looking for a house; he might ﬁnd a pleasantly sheltered sandy hollow; and he might think this a very suitable place. But, if he was a short-sighted man, he might well have built his house in the dried-up bed of a river, and when the winter came, his house would disintegrate. Even on an ordinary site, it was tempting to begin building on the smoothed-over sand and not to bother digging down to the shelf of rock below; but that way disaster lay ahead.
Only a house whose foundations are ﬁrm can withstand the storm; and only a life whose foundations are sure can stand the test. Jesus demanded two things.
(1) He demanded that men and women should listen. One of the great difﬁculties which face us today is the simple fact that people often do not know what Jesus said or what the Church teaches. In fact, the matter is worse. They often have a quite mistaken notion of what Jesus said and of what the Church teaches. It is never a matter for pride or self-congratulation to condemn either a person, or an institution, unheard—and that today is precisely what so many do. The ﬁrst step to the Christian life is simply to give Jesus Christ a chance to be heard.
(2) He demanded that men and women should do. Knowledge only becomes relevant when it is translated into action. It would be perfectly possible to pass an examination in Christian ethics with the highest distinction, and yet not to be a Christian. Knowledge must become action; theory must become practice; theology must become life. There is little point in consulting a doctor about our health unless we are prepared to act upon the things we are told. There is little point in going to an expert unless we are prepared to act upon the advice given to us. And yet there are thousands of people who listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and who have a very good knowledge of what Jesus taught, and who yet make little or no deliberate attempt to put it into practice. If we are to be in any sense followers of Jesus, we must hear and do.
Is there any word in which hearing and doing are summed up? There is such a word, and that word is obedience. Jesus demands our implicit obedience. To learn to obey is the most important thing in life.
Some time ago, there was a report of the case of a sailor in the Royal Navy who was very severely punished for a breach of discipline. So severe was the punishment that in certain civilian quarters it was thought to be far too severe. A newspaper asked its readers to express their opinions about the severity of the punishment.
One who answered was a man who himself had served for years in the Royal Navy. In his view, the punishment was not too severe. He held that discipline was absolutely essential, for the purpose of discipline was to condition those in service automatically and unquestioningly to obey orders, and on such obedience their lives might well depend. He cited a case from his own experience. He was in a launch which was towing a much heavier vessel in a rough sea. The vessel was attached to the launch by a wire cable. Suddenly in the midst of the wind and the spray there came a single, insistent word of command from the ofﬁcer in charge of the launch. ‘Down!’ he shouted. On the spot, the crew of the launch ﬂung themselves down. Just at that moment, the wire towing-cable snapped, and the broken parts of it whipped about like a maddened steel snake. If any man had been struck by it, he would have been instantly killed. But the whole crew automatically obeyed, and no one was injured. If anyone had stopped to argue or to ask why, he would have been a dead man. Obedience saved lives.
It is such obedience that Jesus demands. It is Jesus’ claim that obedience to him is the only sure foundation for life; and it is his promise that the life which is founded on obedience to him is safe, no matter what storms may come.
LOVE IN ACTI
would want to be treated.
Matthew 7:14–27 forms the concluding warning. There are only two possible responses to Jesus’ preaching—obedience or rejection. The narrow versus the wide roads (vv. 13–14), the good versus the bad fruit (vv. 15–23), and the wise versus the foolish builders (vv. 24–27) illustrate this warning in three parallel ways. Professions of faith without appropriate changes of life-style prove empty. But mere works by themselves do not save; a relationship with Jesus is needed. On Judgment Day many will cry, “Lord, Lord” and appeal to their deeds. Christ will reply, “I never knew you” (7:23).
Hear, Hearing. Most Old Testament words for hear(ing) come from the root šmʿ, “hear,” or ʾzn, “(give) ear,” although qšb, “pay attention,” sometimes appears. The New Testament words are akouō, “hear,” along with its several compounds and cognates, and ous, “ear” with its diminutives otion and otarion.
Scripture often refers to the physical ear (Gen. 35:4; Exod. 29:20; Deut. 15:17; Mark 7:33; Luke 22:50; 1 Cor. 12:16) or the physical faculty of hearing (Deut. 31:11; 1 Sam. 15:14; Mark 7:35), but relies more heavily on the figurative meanings of the words. In Scripture God hears; he pays attention to his people. His people should, but do not always, listen to him. Hearing is the mode by which the Son of God and his followers receive God’s word.
In the Old Testament God hears both his people’s groaning in trouble (Gen. 16:11; Exod. 2:24; 3:7; 6:5; Pss. 69:33; 102:20) and their grumbling against him (Exod. 16:7–9; Num. 14:27). Throughout Scripture God hears his people’s prayers (1 Kings 8:31–53; Ps. 34:15, quoted in 1 Peter 3:12; more than fifty times in the Psalms; Isa. 59:1; Matt. 6:7–8; Luke 1:13; 1 John 5:14). In contrast, idols have physical ears but cannot hear their worshipers (Pss. 115:6; 135:17).
Since God hears his people, his people should also hear him. The prophets frequently call Israel to “hear the word of the Lord.” Even pagans may hear about God’s wonderful actions and be impressed (Josh. 2:10–11; 2 Chron. 9:1–8). Often in Deuteronomy, Moses calls on Israel to hear, especially in the Shema (literally the “Hear”: 6:4–5; cf. 4:1; 5:1; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9).
Although Job refers to his indirect and partial understanding of God’s character as hearing of God by the hearing of the ear (42:5), more often hearing refers to a deeper understanding. God’s people are to “hear” (take heed of) the Prophet like Moses who will appear (Deut. 18:15–20; cf. Acts 3:22). In the “third heaven” Paul hears “inexpressible things” (2 Cor. 12:2–4), revealing matters that may not be passed on to others. The recovery of hearing by deaf people serves as a sign of the messianic kingdom (Isa. 29:18; 35:5–6; cf. Matt. 11:5; Mark 7:37). Hearing the voice of God’s Son will cause the dead to rise (John 5:25–29).
Some among God’s people have “ears to hear” his voice, while others do not. God accuses his people when they refuse to use their ears and listen to him (Isa. 6:9–10, quoted in Matt. 13:14–15 and parallels, also in Acts 28:26–27). Both before (Matt. 11:15; 13:9, 43 and parallels) and after (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) his resurrection, Jesus calls on those who have spiritual ears to use them.
The Old Testament image of an “inclined” ear suggests a person leaning over to listen closely. Those whose ears and hearts are inclined toward God (Isa. 55:3; cf. Prov. 5:1) want God’s ears to be inclined toward them (Pss. 31:2; 71:2; Dan. 9:18).
Because of his unique identity, the Son of God hears the Father’s word and passes it on (John 3:32; 8:40; 15:15), and the Father in turn hears the Son’s prayers (John 11:41–42; Heb. 5:7). Jesus’ immediate followers testify to what they have seen and heard both during his ministry and after his resurrection (Acts 4:20; 22:15; 1 John 1:3, 5).
As hearing is the mode by which the Son receives the Father’s word, and the Son’s immediate followers receive it from him, so hearing is the means by which each believer receives the word. “Faith,” says Paul, “comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17; cf. Acts 4:4, and often in Acts). The Holy Spirit comes through the “hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2, 5; cf. Acts 2:37–41). Those who become believers should go on to maturity, not being “dull in hearing” (Heb. 5:11) or remaining only hearers of the truth (James 1:22–25; cf. Rom. 2:13; Matt. 7:24–27 and parallel; Matt. 13:19 and parallels). Believers should especially avoid turning from hearing the truth, listening to false teachers who will scratch their “itching ears” (lit. “itching hearing”; 2 Tim. 4:3–4).
In following Jesus, believers should “consider carefully how they listen” (Luke 8:18), making sure the truth they already have will not be “taken away.” In their interpersonal relations, they should be “quick to listen” (James 1:19), always ready to hear what the other person has to say.
CARL B. BRIDGES, JR.
See also OBEDIENCE.
Obedience. To obey or not to obey the Lord God—this has been and is the crucial question for every human being. Obedience as opposed to disobedience is a life-and-death issue. God has given humankind the innate power of choice: the choice of obedience leads to God’s promised blessing of life; the choice of disobedience leads to curse, judgment, and death.
God’s clear instructions to the very first human beings in the garden of Eden was to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). He expected their obedience. They disobeyed, thereby losing initial favor with God. Nonetheless, they were restored to favor when God granted them the privileged role of being the first parents of all subsequent generations of humankind.
The obedience of Abraham is perhaps most exemplary in the Old Testament. On two occasions, he demonstrated total submission to God’s will. First, he obeyed God’s command to go to a new land (Gen. 12). This response meant leaving Ur of the Chaldees, a highly developed city, to go to the unknown, unfamiliar land that God would show to him—the land of Canaan. Abraham’s obedience results in his being elected a chosen one for a special role in God’s salvation-plan for humankind. Second, he obeyed God’s command to offer his son as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1–19).
Obedience was a main concern during the time of the encampment of the people of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai, to which God directed Moses to lead them after their deliverance from the Egyptians. There God, with Moses as mediator, provided the people with general and specific stipulations for conforming to his will. At Mount Sinai God established a special covenant relationship between himself and the people of Israel. He also gave them the Decalogue or “Ten Words” (Exod. 20:1–17), which constituted a list of basic moral and religious guidelines for those who were in this special relationship with God.
The call to be obedient underlies two or more key verses of the Pentateuch. One is Leviticus 19:2: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” Obedience should emanate from a commitment to live a holy life before God and others in the covenant community. A second key passage is Deuteronomy 6:4–5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This is a divine call, urging a total love for God that results in unhesitating obedience to his will.
Unfortunately, obedience on the part of Israel was preempted by disobedience as the predominant characteristic of the nation’s history. Only a small segment of God’s chosen people chose to follow his word. During most of the two-kingdom times, gross apostasy and disobedience were widespread. During the course of Israel’s history, Deuteronomic theology (see Deut. 28:15–68)—if obedient, blessing; if disobedient, then curse/judgment—remained operative. The massive turning away from God and the refusal to heed the prophets’ warnings left God no alternative but to exercise his judgment and to destroy both kingdoms.
The prophets called for a new covenant, which would resolve the problem of failure to remain obedient to God. Jeremiah, after denouncing the unfaithfulness of God’s people, made the pronouncement of this covenant (31:31–34). This covenant would be placed in the people’s minds and in the people’s hearts. Jeremiah provides details of how in “new covenant” times obedience will have first and only place. The law of God in hearts and minds will preclude any sinful acts against God and fellow humankind.
The reality of this new covenant was portrayed in Jesus’ supreme example of obedience to the heavenly Father, when he gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice for atonement of sin.
Jesus’ emphasis on being born again underscores the need of atonement for effecting forgiveness of sins. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born again or “from above” as the requirement for entering the kingdom of God (John 3:3–6). The way of death would be thus changed to the way of life.
Jesus prayed that his disciples would be sanctified, be made inwardly holy, and thereby be enabled to live a holy life outwardly (John 17:6–19). Provision for this inner holiness and cleansing—requisite for true obedience—was effected by his atoning sacrifice on the cross.
The Holy Spirit is provided to all who believe in Jesus. The Spirit’s abiding presence enables all God’s people to carry out God’s will and to live obediently before him.
HARVEY E. FINLEY
Bibliography. W. Brueggeman, Interpretation and Obedience