Today is the traditional date that witnessed the first controversy between the rival schools of Shammai and Hillel. These two Jewish schools of thought emerged in the first century A.D., a time that was characterized by great schism in Judaism. This was the time when the Saduccees, a very unpopular group but who nevertheless led the Sanhedrin, provoked many in the Pharisaical camp to declare philosophical war against their rivals. The results for the nation were disastrous.
All of the people, Pharisees and Sadducees, were living under the heel of a ruthless and lawless government that despised their faith, regardless of their sect. It’s in this very hostile environment that these two competing schools of thought arose. Each of them had mass followings, made contradictory decisions and developed divergent customs. It would be akin to the thousands of denominations that have sprung up in Christianity over the centuries, each of which consider themselves to be the sole arbiter of truth. In spite of the strife that existed between these two groups, there are lessons to be learned. We go to the words of Messiah to see the first:
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
That’s really simple, when you think about it. Division that is not wrought of God is going to eventually bring destruction. That was the fear in Judea, at the time, as the antagonism between these two competing schools continued. Had they chosen to fight for supremacy to rule over the other, and had the Pharisees used the weapons used by the previous generations of rabbis to fight against the Sadducees, the results would indeed have been destructive.
It seems that the school of Hillel took the initiative to head off this destruction and promoted a more moderate view of each other’s differences. They both retained their differences of opinion, it’s just that they chose to treat one another with mutual respect and to some degree, admiration. They learned to take in stride the irritation that was created by the differences of opinion and custom, as long as these opinions and customs didn’t affect or threaten the basic and foundational doctrines of the faith. The prevailing wisdom was that ensuing generations would choose the view upon which to place the final stamp of approval. Perhaps in this there’s something to learn for our generation.
We have to learn to live with our brethren who are of a different opinion when it comes to walking out our Father’s instructions, as long as those differences do not undermine the basic tenets of our faith. We need to learn how to walk with someone who has a slightly different view of eschatology, as long as we are both “in Messiah.” If we are following Him, we need to walk out His commandments and instructions with one another to the best of our ability with the light that He has given us. To compete for supremacy in any issue, whether it’s prophecy or some other secondary doctrine, will lead to a house divided. As Jesus said, a house divided cannot and will not stand. Abraham Lincoln based one of his most famous speeches on this concept and, as President, found out – as the country found out – that a divided house leads to civil war. When it comes to God’s house, that is not how it should be. Let us do our part, then, to bridge the theological gap and bring peace to God’s people.
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