Calamities in Yerushalayim

& LOY Commentary 16 Comments

Did ancient Judaism teach that personal misfortune was proof of sin?

Luke 13:1-5

(Huck 162; Aland 207; Crook 244)[1]

Updated: 4 July 2022

וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִיא וַיַּגִּידוּ לוֹ עַל הַגְּלִלִאִים שֶׁדָּמָם פִּילָטוֹס עֵרֵב בְּדַם זִבְחֵיהֶם וַיַּעַן וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אַתֶּם סְבוּרִים שֶׁהַגְּלִלִאִים הָאֵלּוּ רְשָׁעִים הָיוּ מִכָּל הַגְּלִלִאִים לֹא כִי אֶלָּא אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם אִם לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה כֻּלְּכֶם כֵּן תֹאבֵדוּן וְאוֹתָם שְׁמוֹנָה הֶעָשָׂר שֶׁעֲלֵיהֶם נָפַל הַמִּגְדָּל בְּשִׁילוֹחַ וַהֲרָגָם אַתֶּם סְבוּרִים שֶׁהֵם חַיָּיבִים הָיוּ מִכָּל ישְׁבֵי יְרוּשָׁלַיִם לֹא כִי אֶלָּא אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם אִם לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה כֻּלְּכֶם כֵּן תֹאבֵדוּן

When Yeshua was told about the Galilean pilgrims whose blood Pilatos had mixed with that of their sacrificial animals he replied, “Do you consider these Galileans to be worse sinners than all the rest? Of course not! But I tell you this: Unless all of you repent, this is how you will be destroyed [Deut. 8:20].

“Or those eighteen persons who were crushed to death by the tower that collapsed in Shiloah—do you consider them to be worse debtors than all the rest of Yerushalayim’s residents? Of course not! But I tell you this: Unless all of you repent, this is how you will be destroyed [Deut. 8:20].”[2]

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Conclusion

When confronted with the story of an outrage perpetrated by the Roman government against the Jewish people, Jesus did not need to convince his audience that the victims were not especially sinful. Their sympathy for their slain Galilean brethren would have been aroused, and their ire against the oppressive Roman regime would have been kindled. Neither did Jesus respond to the heightened emotions occasioned by this report with the platitude that in view of life’s uncertainties now is always the best time to repent. More surprisingly, Jesus did not point the finger of blame at the Romans, which would only have served to enflame the anger of Jesus’ audience even more. Instead, Jesus called upon his fellow countrymen and women to abandon dreams of revenge against their oppressors. If the Romans would do such things to innocent worshippers, Jesus argued, what do you think they will do to you if you take up arms against them?

Jesus’ next move was to shift the terms of the debate by reminding his audience of the eighteen people who were crushed by the tower that collapsed in Siloam. Those innocent people had been killed in an accident. But if Israel rejected the way of the Kingdom of Heaven in order to embrace the ideology of militant nationalism, they would be guilty of a most serious sin. If accidents can befall even the innocent, then what will become of Israel if it willfully disobeys God?

While Jesus’ response to the report of Pilate’s atrocity was hardly flattering to Roman imperialism, he wisely directed his audience away from ultimately self-destructive action against people and circumstances they could not change and toward constructive change his listeners could effect within themselves and their communities. He also reoriented their vision from that of a world dominated by the Roman Empire and the evil spiritual powers that gave the empires their power to a universe ruled by Israel’s just and merciful God.

Jesus’ response to Pilate’s massacre of the Galilean pilgrims was determined by his belief that no violent uprising, but only repentance and acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven, would lead to the redemption of Israel, humankind and the whole of God’s creation from Satan’s tyrannical regime of death.


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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). Joshua continued his studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he obtained a Master of Divinity degree in 2005. After seminary…
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