Today we will be exploring the topic of holiness, and how Yeshua uses some idiomatic language of having a good eye or an evil eye to determine our set-apart, or holy behavior. Are we being single-minded toward the things of God? If so, this allows us to become set apart and to truly shine for him.
Yeshua stated it this way:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23
So let’s jump right into this strange passage and see what we can glean from looking at some of its various shades of meaning.
First of all, the Greek word here used of the “good” eye implies singleness; unfolded, clear, and unambiguous purpose. We have clear vision when we have a single purpose. There is nothing that can distract us from our primary objective. A person who is consistent and true stands out from a crowd because they have a definitive purpose and role. As this applies to believers, standing out with a singleness towards the things of God creates a separate-ness, a holiness, that can positively influence others. This is the main goal of what I want to discuss today, but we can also learn some more about how this applies by reviewing the way that this idea is expressed by Yeshua.
Interestingly, Yeshua here contrasts the person who is single-minded with someone whose eye is considered bad, wicked, or evil. Now, in common usage today, having an evil eye or giving someone the evil eye is usually associated with wishing someone harm, or in superstitious circles, actually causing harm to someone else similar to pronouncing some type of curse over them.
This type of superstition is still widespread among Jews today, as is related in an article on the evil eye over at MyJewishLearning.com https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/evil-eye-in-judaism/
“The “evil eye,” ayin ha’ra in Hebrew, is the idea that a person or supernatural being can bewitch or harm an individual merely by looking at them. The belief is not only a Jewish folk superstition but also is addressed in some rabbinic texts.
“In several pieces of Jewish lore, rabbis suggest that the Evil Eye played a role in various incidents in the Torah. For example, they say that Sarah cast an evil eye on Hagar while Hagar was pregnant, causing her to miscarry before going on to become pregnant with Ishmael. Elsewhere, rabbis argue that Leah’s fertility was adversely impacted when she “became subject to the power of the evil eye” for thanking God for allowing her to bear more than a fourth of Jacob’s sons. (Rabbeinu Bahya, Bereshit 30:38:5)
“In the Talmud, the rabbis say that Joseph’s descendants are immune to the power of the Evil Eye — and that: ‘One who enters a city and fears the evil eye should hold the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand and recite the following: I, so-and-so son of so-and-so, come from the descendants of Joseph, over whom the evil eye has no dominion.’ (Berakhot 55b)
“And in Bava Batra 2b:9, the rabbis say it is ‘is prohibited for a person to stand in another’s field and look at his crop while the grain is standing, because he casts an evil eye upon it and thereby causes him damage, and the same is true for a garden.’
“Over the centuries, Jews have employed numerous superstitious practices believed to to ward off the Evil Eye, such as spitting three times after a vulnerable person’s name is uttered, or saying, when discussing some future plan, ‘let it be without the evil eye.’
“Jews have also sought to ward off the evil eye with amulets, particularly hamsas.”
So, while these types of superstitions may have grown up over the millennia within various cultures, we would do much better to study the term as it is used within the Bible itself to get a better understanding of how it is being used in the teachings of Yeshua.
For example, this same type of phrase of the wicked or evil eye is used in Matthew 20 in the story of the landowner who hired workers throughout the day. You may recall that in the parable, the landowner kept going into the marketplace to hire workers throughout the day, and that when it came time to pay them, they all received the same amount of pay, which angered those who had been hired first. But the landowner said to them:
Matthew 20:15 – “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am good? ‘
Here we can see that this phrase of the “evil” eye is used in an idiomatic way. An idiom is a phrase that says one thing but has a different meaning than the actual words used in the statement, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.” This phrase doesn’t mean that cats and dogs are literally falling out of the sky, but conveys a word picture meaning that it is raining very hard. It’s said that this term came about from Victorian times when street drainage was so poor that pets and feral animals left on the streets would drown during rain storms. After the rainfall, the dead cats and dogs strewn across the streets made it appear as though it had been raining cats and dogs.
So in the case of the evil eye that the landowner in the parable expresses, some versions of the Bible will actually portray the meaning of the idiom behind the saying rather than stating the literal wording of the text to clarify the idea for modern English readers. They may end up conveying it something along the lines of, “are you jealous because I am generous?” That jealousy and covetousness are the meaning behind the evil eye is also implied by other passages with similar wording.
Deuteronomy 15:9-1 – “Be careful that there isn’t this wicked thought in your heart, ‘The seventh year, the year of canceling debts, is near,’ and your eye is evil toward your poor brother and give him nothing. He will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty. “Give to him, and don’t have a stingy heart when you give, and because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do.
Here, the evil eye represents a hoarding of resources in financial dealings, not being generous with those in need. This type of greed reveals a covetous heart.
Proverbs 28:2 – One with an evil eye is in a hurry for wealth; he doesn’t know that poverty will come to him.
Again, if the heart is covetous and greedy, a person typically desires instant riches and wealth.
In the Sermon on the Mount, this idea of avoiding having an evil eye comes in the immediate context of Yeshua’s admonition that we cannot serve two masters: God and worldly wealth. In this respect, greed and covetous focus on worldly gain will divide up our interests, taking us further away from singleness of purpose within God’s kingdom.
When we don’t have clear purpose, we tend to have divided interests among many other things that may not be in our best interest and lead us into wickedness. These secondary objectives cloud our vision and create a darkness that envelops our judgment.
Now, in Luke’s gospel, this saying of the evil eye is cast in a slightly different context. This tends to bring out the shining aspect of the positive side of having a “good” eye.
These divergent contexts illustrate the idea that Yeshua’s teachings were likely repeated in different settings and amidst different circumstances to bring out complementary meanings. This should not be viewed as a negative indication of incorrect reporting by the chroniclers, but rather a communication of the durability and flexibility of the key teachings of Yeshua. These key concepts were robust enough to apply in many different situations for the need at hand, each one highlighting another facet within the depths of its wisdom.
Luke 11:33-36 – No one lights a lamp and puts it in the cellar or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see its light. “Your eye is the lamp of the body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is also full of light. But when it is bad, your body is also full of darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you is not darkness. If, therefore, your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be entirely illuminated, as when a lamp shines its light on you.
In the context of this passage, Luke has combined the parable of the lamp on the lampstand with the admonition to having a good eye. Having a good or healthy eye in this sense implies that the good and generous things that one does will have a radiant effect to those around them. It’s as if their body becomes a lamp, a beacon of good, standing out among the surrounding darkness. This is the holiness, the set-apartness that arises from the generosity and goodness of the obedient life.
John Gill in his Exposition of the Bible writes:
“If thy whole body therefore be full of light,…. That is, if the whole soul, as the Ethiopic version reads, be full of Gospel light, through the illuminating influences of the blessed Spirit accompanying the word: having no part dark; every power and faculty of the soul being affected with it, and influenced by it, though, as yet, the light and knowledge of evangelical things is not perfect in any: the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light; the whole soul shall be as full of light and joy, which the Gospel always brings with it, as a room is full of light, when a candle is lighted, and shines brightly, and burns clearly in it.”
Based on the imagery that the evil eye of covetousness and greed darkens, and the good eye of generosity and singleness of purpose within the will of God enlightens, we can see how this was integrated within the apostles teachings, as well.
John especially took to expounding on this imagery of light and darkness.
John 3:19-21 – “This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. “For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. “But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”
1 John 2:7-11 – Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
1 John 1:5-7 – This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Paul also understood that light and darkness were the opposites within which believers moved and operated. Even as he stood as a prisoner before Agrippa he relates that it was the work of the believers to share this light with others, :
Acts 26:22-23 – “To this very day, I have had help from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing other than what the prophets and Moses said would take place – “that the Messiah must suffer, and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the nations.”
To the congregations among whom he ministered, Paul also illustrated the gospel message and believers’ behavior as being built on the foundation of light and darkness.
2 Corinthians 4:6 – For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 6:14 – Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?
Ephesians 5:8-14 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth – testing what is pleasing to the Lord. Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. Everything exposed by the light is made visible, for what makes everything visible is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you.
1 Thessalonians 5:5 – For you are all children of light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness.
That God’s people would ultimately be walking in the light of God with singleness of purpose was prophesied millennia ago.
Zephaniah 3:9, 12 – For I will then restore pure speech to the peoples so that all of them may call on the name of Yahweh and serve him with a single purpose. … I will leave a meek and humble people among you, and they will take refuge in the name of Yahweh.
Psalm 5:11 – But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May you shelter them, and may those who love your name boast about you.
Believing in Messiah is the method of taking refuge in the name of Yahweh.
John 6:29 – Jesus replied, “This is the work of God [Yahweh] – that you believe in the one he has sent.”
John 14:21 – “The one who has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father. I also will love him and will reveal myself to him.”
Matthew 12:50 – “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Perhaps we just need to be reminded how God himself is light.
1 Timothy 6:15-16 – God … is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power.
If God is light, then as his children, we should also be lights in this world.
Luke 11:36 – If, therefore, your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be entirely illuminated, as when a lamp shines its light on you.
When we constantly look upon the things of God and his kingdom, our lives of unified purpose for his kingdom and his will, that is, our godly intentionality, can become a shining example to others. Our good eyes of singleness and unambiguous purpose will be evident. And in shining to others, they will also be able to see in the darkness and thereby take refuge in him.
John 12:46 – “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness.
John 8:12 – …”I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”
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