The Sin of Corban
Worshiping in Vain
Mark 7:7 “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.”
Worshiping in vain is a serious accusation. Of course, the Pharisees had no idea that they were worshiping in vain. They believed in their own minds that they were God's chosen people, and that they were saved by His blessings. They taught what they believed to be sound doctrine, and were justified by their rituals and ceremonies. But Jesus disagreed. They had been doing something drastically wrong.
They knew they were to love their neighbor as themselves because Moses said so.1 They were very charitable as a people, but evidently not charitable enough. They thought their religion was pure2 and did not take kindly to the criticism, accusations, and threats3 from this man who had been proclaimed the highest son of David by the people of Jerusalem,4 the rightful king.
Jesus was warning them that their worship was in vain. If He were here today, would He tell us the same thing? The word worship, in Mark 7:7, is translated from sebomai.5 It is not the common verb for worship, but means “To revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion”. From sebomai we get the adjective semnos which was often used of the gods and divine things, meaning “august, sacred.”
The usual word translated worship is proskuneo. So why use Sebomai here? The verse quotes Isaiah 29:13,6 which was a revelation about people saying they draw near to God, but were actually far from Him. This was a common theme and complaint made by Jesus.7 Jesus had just told them in verse 68 that they were hypocrites because they honored Him with their lips only.
Reading on in Isaiah, the prophecy tells the people that wise men will be hard to come by.9 He goes on to talk about turning the world upside down where people deny the God of Creation,10 but it also talks about those who were blind getting new sight11 and understanding, and the meek increasing.12 Jesus repeated all these ideas of taking sight from those who say they see13 and restoring sight and understanding.
So, what were the Pharisees blind to? What did they fail to understand? How did they turn the world upside down?14 And what would Jesus do to turn it back again?
What traditions of men are they speaking about? Which commandments of God are laid aside?