Sermon on the Mount - The eye is the lamp of the body

Matthew 6:22 - the eye

This is a photo of the hill outside of Cepernaum which is called the Mount of Beatitudes where Yeshua (Jesus) taught the crowds some amazing lessons about the truth of the Bible. Down at the bottom of this hill you see a small church built on the spot believed to be where Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. That church is part of Capernaum on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee.Along the top of this ridge, where you see the trees, remain remnants of the stones from the road to Damascus which was then called the Via Maris or "Way to the Sea". It was a major trade route. Understand then that as Jesus spoke he was being watched by travelers passing by who were actively engaged in commerce of some sort. The message he gave was then taken to all parts of the commercial world by those who traveled by.  Here is part of that message found starting in Matthew chapter 6:

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

23 “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 

So what does the word eye mean in this verse?  For a man named Dr. Bernanard Jensen who authored a system of health examination called Iridology this verse showed that the eye had the special ability to reveal to the person who understood the signs the hidden darkness within the body that was leading to poor health. An interpretation like that is not totally crazy when the reader tries to understand the passage using the Greek mind that looks at things with reasoning and knowledge. Using a scientific understanding for the word eye opens up any interpretation or application that has to do with vision or with seeing.  For the Hebrew, however, this verse is seen in light of the cultural focus on nature and agriculture of Judiasm. More on that later. 


What might this mean to Christians?

For one of the great Bible commentators of all time, Dr. J. Vernon McGee,  it meant:

"Remember that the Lord Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, "If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (Matthew 6:22). That is an amazing thing. If you have committed yourself to God and you are going down a certain path, doing a certain thing, it is amazing how everything else drops into place. Then your whole body is full of light. Your whole life is full of light at that time."

The comments by McGee match with Matthew Henry who wrote:

"Now if the eye be ‘single,’ if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose right in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be ‘full of light,’ of grace and comfort. But if the eye be ‘evil,’ corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biased by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be ‘full of darkness,’ the whole conversation corrupt."


McGee would come close to the Hebrew undersanding of this verse with the exception that the context of the writing deals specifically with generosity and greed while McGee looks at this for all of our life in general. That is OK because that is true. Henry shows us where traditional Christian thinking looks at the root of evil being in our thoughts and beliefs. It is this belief that sets up education as the key to change in society. What one believes comes from what they are taught so the emphasis in many sermons in church is on belief and on ideology. That emphasis causes the reader to "see" things in the writing that may be different than what was meant by the author. 


Hebrew Interpretation

Now lets take a look at this with some added information from the Hebrew culture of the day. That would be the people who were listening to Jesus. One of the rules of exergesis is to not make a significant change in application from the context of the original culture or author in making an application for our modern society. 

This section of the sermon by Jesus is talking about charity and about the need to not be stingy. In fact in Judaism giving to the poor is an act called Tzedakah or charity that is a key foundational element of expressing faith or trust in G-d. Hebrew belief centers on life and not on creeds. In fact in the time of Jesus there was no statement of faith like we have in the church today and that is why the leaders where always challenging him to find out what he was teaching his disciples. Belief was based on the teaching of a Rabbi and most teaching was done by connecting to a quote from one of those sages or teachers. Hebrew religion is more emotional and is seen as a pilgrimage, a walk or a journey along which we suffer hardships that build character. Jewish culture places a high value on community and to service to that community. Because all things are made by G-d and He is in all things the relationships we have with each other build relationships with the Divine in Jewish teaching. 

To the Hebrew what a person does is more important than what he knows while in the Greek system of thought it is the exact opposite. The Hebrew teacher would say that often our behavior is not sin because we failed to believe G-d but that it was because we acted without thinking at all. Actions stem from the "heart" or deep within and are usually not even conscious.

For the Hebrew then, service is vital to being close to G-d and Tzedakah is seen in recognition that community and life in harmony with the will of G-d is the heart of the truth. 


Looking at the Hebrew language to dig deeper

We can gain a great deal of understanding just by looking at the words in Hebrew. As we examine the word eye we find that in the Hebrew alphabet the sixteenth letter is Ayin (pronounced Ah-yeen) which in Gematria represents the number 70 and in Ancient pictographs was an eye. Notice how the letter almost looks like two eyes looking out at you. Examination of other Hebrew words that begin with Ayin we find Ayin Hara which is the evil eye and represents the left eye or the left part of this letter as seen here. Ayin Hara represents stinginess.

Ayin Tovah is the Good Eye which is the right eye and means generosity or good will. Ayin is sometimes described as having two eyes that connect to a common “optic nerve” that leads to the brain. The two eyes represent choice or the actions of the will (i.e., the heart). We can choose whether to use the good eye or the evil eye to perceive things; we can choose to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

When the eye is evil (ayin hara), it becomes a slave to the purposes of sin and the yetzer hara (the evil impulse). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 104a), the good eye of Ayin looks toward Samekh which is the letter just before it in the alphabet and stands for the acronym semokh (“support”) anaiyim (“the poor”). That is, the ayin tovah (“good eye”) will manifest itself in benevolence and charity toward others. On the other hand, the ayin hara (“evil eye”) will look to the letter Pey which is the next letter in the alphabet and means (mouth), considering how it might consume for itself in greed and envy. Ayin (like the letter Aleph) is a silent letter. It is said that Ayin “sees” but does not speak, and therefore represents the attitude of humility (or anavah). Anavah begins with an Ayin, as does the word for service (avodah) and yoke (ol). On the other hand, Ayin can represent idolatry (avodah zara) as well as slavery (avedut), both of which are born out of the heart of envy. 

To examine the Hebrew understanding even deeper we can look to Scriptures or Torah. Upon entering the Land of Israel, the second city to be conquered by Joshua was Ai, spelled ayin-yud, an abbreviated form of ayin (ayin-yud-nun, the nun falls) meaning "the Eye". In Joshua 7 we find this story tells of the defeat of Israel when the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully and made a bad choice. We see in this story that sin is viewed as a community issue and not just a personal issues. For the Jew today their focus is still much more on community and unity than we find in the church which has more of an emphasis on individuals. Hebrew teachers understand that this story is about coveting with the eyes  as found in the sin of Achan who was after seeing a beautiful mantle from Shinar he coveted it and took it. So when Jesus is teaching and uses the story of the eye his listeners, who were mostly Hebrew, understood that he was talking about greed and lack of charity or giving. 

We will also find this reference to the eye in Jeremiah 5:21 where it says "Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear ."  Jews understand this to mean that as a people when they take their eyes off of HaShem (The Lord) and sink down into the ways of the world around them they where they will be absorbed by that society and no longer live by the light that HaShem had given them in the desert.   

Look also to Isaiah 6:10 for a similar phrase that says "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim," In all of these verses the Hebrew sages or teachers center their understanding on the heart of man and that how you see things is what kind of person you are. In each case the focus is on action and on doing and in the case of the teaching in Matthew Jesus wants His disciples to clearly understand that greed comes from making choices with your life that are outside of the will of G-d. In context this has to do strictly with trusting G-d for our needs and in recognizing that ambition and worldly needs get in the way of trusting completely in Him. 

This sermon on the mount is telling us that our security and our happiness will not come from the ways of the world around us. It won't come from our jobs and it won't come from our government solving all of the worlds problems. Our security won't come from a big savings account at the expense of giving to the needs of those around you through service to G-d.  The subject of the Matthew 6 story is generosity which is the opposite of greed. When our whole focus in life is on getting more and more and not on serving more and more the result will be harmful to the society we live in and it will result in our own walk with G-d moving away from HaShem into the darkness found in the world around us.



So, is the Hebrew teaching far from what our two Christian commentaries tell us? Each seems to have a different focus but the bottom line in both is to set your eyes on G-d who is the author and perfecter of our faith. The HavdalahDrasha.Org web site hopes that Christian will see that Jewish teaching has great meaning to it and to understand that both Jesus and Paul were Jewish in their heritage and in their ways of teaching. By looking into the culture of the Jews we believe that Christians will find a new and exciting application to the Scriptures in their lives. Looking at the cultural context of a scripture is simply good study practice. As Christians look at the Hebrew context nothing will change the basic theology of the message by gaining greater clearity. The plus will come in a greater application with the result being more action on our part. Hebrew is an active language with most nouns made up of verbs. Love (Ahava) comes from a two letter root word that means to give with an Aleph added to it to give it the life that comes from God revealing that love is not an emotion but an action. 

For our Jewish visitors our hope is that you will see that Christian teachers want their disciples to live a closer life to G-d just as your sages want for you. Because Christians have little knowledge of Hebrew culture the Spirit of G-d or the Ruach Ha-Kodesh must give inspiration to their teachers to create a meaning that will fit their Greek philosophy. 

© 2009 - Keith Wills