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Devotion to the Law led to following thousands of rules-big and small-rather than developing a heart for God. Imagine two concentric circles. The inner circle represents the Mosaic Law itself as it appears in the Bible. The outer circle represents a series of rules interpreting the Law. The Pharisees felt that the Law was so holy, that they needed to place a “hedge” or “fence” around it so that no one would inadvertently break the Law. This “hedge” was the “traditions of the elders,” a body of oral law later written down by the Rabbis in the Second Century and later to form the Talmud. The idea was if you keep the oral law, you can’t help but keep the actual Mosaic Law. This is very similar to what the Sharia law is today for the Muslims.
So, love for God was expressed in love for the Law of God. This kind of religious expression centers itself on one’s own performance in keeping your agreed upon lists of do’s and don’ts, rather than on the more important things of loving God, loving your neighbor, working for justice and mercy. This is why Jesus accused the Pharisees of being so concerned about tithing even the smallest of the garden herbs, while neglecting the love of God (Luke 11).
In the area of Sabbath observance, the Pharisees had an especially large accumulation of rules. Observant Jews observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening, and seek to honor God in the day by doing no work, but observing a Sabbath rest. That is a good thing. But the Pharisees and scribes began to define what was and was not work, and some of their rules were just plain silly.
They continually criticized Jesus and his followers:Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:1-5)
The Pharisees believed that man must conform himself to the law no matter what the inconvenience or need. Jesus differed with them, saying:“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. (Mark 2:27) In other words, “Break down that invisible and stressful wall of religious rules and come to me for real rest!”