A study on the Sermon on the Mount. Matt.6:19-34
Our Lord spoke about “the evil eye” in Matthew 6, and I began to wonder what He meant by the expression. I was aware that it is sometimes used today, so I looked it up in “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable“, and this is what I found:-
EVIL EYE. It was anciently believed that the eyes of some persons darted noxious rays on objects which they glared upon. The first morning glance of such eyes was certain destruction to man or beast. Virgil speaks of an evil eye making cattle lean.
But was this the thought in the Lord’s mind when He uttered the words? I sensed the only way to find out was to see whether the O.T. had reference to the expression. Was the Lord using words that had been in common parlance amongst the Israelites? It occurs in Deut.15:9, Prov.23:6, & 28:22. And it is RA AYIN. RA takes on its base meaning of a “noisy, clamorous, adventurous, ambitious, self-seeking person, one who seeks riches which come from his own efforts of achievement, and which he is proud of.” (Please refer back to PT 66,67 for details of RA.) The context shows this very clearly in Proverbs 23:6-8. Literally translated it reads:-
6. Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye, neither desire his dainty meals, for as he estimates himself in his soul, so he is, “Eat and drink,” he says to you, But his heart is not with you. The morsel which you have eaten you will vomit up, and lose your pleasant words.
But clearly the “food” mentioned in these verses is intended to be a figure of speech for “doctrine, lifestyle.” Retranslating it becomes:-
6.Don’t listen to the false-logic of him who has an evil eye (i.e. an ambitious fleshly drive), nor crave his apparently desirable life-style, For he has a high estimation of himself, a self-made man, he encourages you to follow his example, by flattery, but he doesn’t really need you at all. You will be his pawn. After giving his ways a try for a short time, you’ll wish you hadn’t, you’ll take back all that you said in his favour, all the kind words you lavished on him.
The other passage in Proverbs (28:22) speaks in the same vein:- He who is ambitious to be rich has an evil eye, he considers not that poverty will come upon him.
And in the N.T., in Matt.20:15 (The parable about the men who were hired to work in the master’s vineyard, some of whom grumbled when they received their wage-packet,) “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own things? Is your eye evil because I am good?”
The Evil Eye, the Lord says, produces “darkness for the whole body.” It is the equivalent of serving Mammon. The Lexicon tells us that Mammon was the Syrian god of wealth, the god whom Greece called Plutus (from which we get our word Plutocracy, Plutocrat, the rule of the wealthy). According to Greek mythology, Plutus was made blind by Zeus so that his gifts should be equally distributed, not only going to those who merited them. Maybe the Lord used this knowledge when speaking about the “whole body being dark” for those who crave riches.
The man with an evil eye is an ambitious man, a vigorous and self-disciplined man, who visualises a goal and sets out to achieve it by the force of his own unbroken, fleshly character. He has plenty of self-esteem, and his goals are self-centred in that he fools himself that they are “good” and worth while achieving, but the end result is entirely of his own efforts. Hence, when the goal is apparently reached, he is proud, and expects the applause of others for the good work he has done. “Lord, I have done this, that, and the other in your name.” But instead of getting a crown he gets a dismissal.
On the other hand, the man who has a clear eye, and whose body is “full of light”, has a “let-go-and-let-God” attitude. He knows that he cannot add another cubit to his stature (lift himself up by his own bootstraps, as we say today), he has but little substance to rely on, and looks to God for his food and clothing. He lets his tomorrows take care of themselves, knowing that all necessities will be provided. The one driving force in his life, a life of faith, is to “seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness” rather than his own kingdom and self-righteousness.
Our Lord gave an example of an evil eye in his parable of the man who wanted to break down his barns and build bigger ones. (Luke 12:15-20) “Fool, this night your soul shall be required of you.”
Kipling saw the distinction between these two types of men depicted in Martha and Mary. In his poem “The Sons of Martha” he described Martha’s sons as those who are always active DOING things to achieve, whereas Mary’s sons are those who sit at the Lord’s feet and listen, to know how the promise runs. (This is not to favour inactivity, but to see the hidden motives behind people’s behavioural patterns.) “The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part, But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.”
He concludes the poem by saying of the Sons of Mary, “They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!” The evil eye lays up treasure on earth by self-effort (usually for a godly end!), whereas the one who trusts in God for his daily needs, and walks by faith, lays up treasure in heaven. The man who lays up treasure on earth usually has something to SHOW for his efforts, but the man who lays up his treasure in heaven may have nothing here to show – in fact he may be censured for his lack of effort. But in the next life there will be a role-reversal. The Jews considered our Lord’s life to be pointless, with nothing to show (that THEY could admire.) They also thought the same of the Apostle Paul. But to a man with spiritual understanding, everything is the other way up.
The man with the evil eye says, “I am rich, I have need of nothing.” (Rev.3 – the Laodicean church.) But the Lord’s own estimation of him is that he is “miserable, poor, blind, wretched and naked.” Blind, yes, because his whole body is in darkness. The prosperity movement of the present day has fallen into this trap.
The man who follows the Lord, and seeks His righteousness will receive the Lord’s commendation – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
The evil eye is equivalent to lawlessness, because it will not conform to God’s own character, or to the words of the Lord, but seeks to emulate the character of Lucifer. “The lawless are like a troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, to the lawless.” Isa.57:20-21.
But the man of God takes note of the Lord’s words in Matt.11:28. “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest for your souls.”
The word “rest” contains the thought of “quietness” as well as “ceasing from labour.” Hence it is the opposite of RA, “noisy.”
And Matt.12:19-20 “My Chosen, my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my spirit upon Him – – He shall not strive, nor cry out, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax He shall not quench.”
And 2 Cor.10:1 “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – -.”
And the whole of Psalm 131 –
“Lord my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty, Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself As a child that is weaned of its mother. My soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.”
No wonder the Lord spoke so firmly about the need for His followers to become “like little children.” As we grow up we tend to think of little children as charming but irrelevant to the weightier matters of life. But the Lord had to correct this impression. He wants us to observe the ways of a small child, and learn of the simplicity, the trust, the craving for affection, and the willingness to accept parents as “god”. A surrogate God perhaps, but family life was intended to be this way. As the child grows, the affections of the heart can easily be transferred to the Unseen God, because it has been tutored towards those who are “seen.” A child’s RELATIONSHIP with his parents, and his TRUST in his parents should then be transferred in adult life to one’s RELATIONSHIP with God and a TRUST in Him. This counters the “Do-it-yourself” tendency of many “grown-ups” in the Christian community.
The Bible uses the symbolism of Babylon and Jerusalem to describe the differences between the way of the Evil Eye and that of the Clear Eye. Rev.18:7 we read that Babylon “glorifies herself” but in Hebrews 5:5 we read that “Christ glorified not Himself.” Neither do His true and faithful witnesses.
The whole of Revelation 18 is a picture of what will happen when the truth finally emerges about God’s character, the One who is meek, quiet, lowly, unostentatious, shy, retiring, embarrassed by sin, giving rest to the weary, bringing salvation to the sinner, having infinite patience and longsuffering towards the rebellious and lawless.
When the “Great City” falls, there is a devastating cry. The whole system collapses like a house of cards, and those who energetically and enthusiastically advanced her false ideals stand aghast at the ruin. See the list of riches that she possessed! All gone in one hour!
Many today, even in the churches, might smile with slight patronism or even scorn at the words of this children’s hymn, but maybe it does have the truth after all – (words by Charles Wesley.)
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child, Pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to Thee.
Fain I would to Thee be brought, Blessed Lord, forbid it not, In the Kingdom of Thy grace, give a little child a place.
Fain I would be as Thou art; give me Thy obedient heart; Thou art pitiful and kind, let me have Thy loving mind.
Let me above all fulfil God my heavenly Father’s will; Never His good Spirit grieve, only to His glory live.
Lamb of God, I look to Thee, Thou shalt my example be, Thou art gentle, meek and mild, Thou wast once a little child.
Thou didst live to God alone, Thou didst never seek Thine own; Thou Thyself didst never please, God was all Thy happiness.
Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb, In Thy gracious hands I am, Make me, Saviour, what Thou art, live Thyself within my heart.
I shall then show forth Thy praise, serve Thee all my happy days; Then the world shall always see Christ, the Holy Child, in me.