The Hypocrisy of the Human Heart

In last week’s article, we began to touch on human nature. Yet, with a topic as nuanced as the human condition, it becomes necessary to spend more time in examination than a surface diagnosis of humanity could provide. Last week we discussed how man does not naturally turn toward God; this week we look to go a little deeper and see an aspect of that lean away from God.

When we think of human depravity and the radical corruption of man’s heart, most of our minds automatically go to despotic rulers and dictators that have propagated, promoted, and produced evil on massive scales throughout world history. Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein are just a few of the people who we believe are the true embodiment of pure evil. It is important to note that we do wholeheartedly affirm that these men, as well as a whole host of others that have plagued the earth with their wickedness, were not just misguided or troubled, but truly evil. Evil does exist! No amount of modern behavioral studies or psycho-therapeutic reasoning can ever fully and adequately deal with the problem of evil in the world. Hitler’s atrocities can never be boiled down to such a simplistic, nonsensical reasoning as, “he had a troubled childhood.” No, we go wrong when we seek to back up every problem with an explanation rooted in existentialism and postmodern psychological processes. Real evil exists, and sometimes we are able to see it for what it really is.

But what about the more subtle forms of wickedness? What about the more subtle sins that are not unique to just a few people throughout history? There are a litany of commonplace sins that are swept under the rug in the greater American culture today. Volumes and volumes could be written on them, yet today we seek to explore a biblical example of a sin that is all too prevalent in the contemporary world, one that is even typical of many Christians in the church today: hypocrisy. 

Scripture is replete with examples of hypocrisy. Perhaps the most common example of this sin is the blatant and glaring hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whose hatred of Jesus Christ led to his crucifixion on the cross. The hypocritical resentment of the Pharisees toward Christ and his followers was so flagrant that the Lord Jesus rebuked them as being “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27, ESV). The Lord here thoroughly, fully, and totally rejects hypocrisy as sin, and even goes so far to compare it to something that leads to spiritual death (i.e. “full of dead people’s bones,” v. 27). 

Yet there are other, less well-known examples of hypocrisy found throughout Holy Scripture. One that is particularly striking is found in Genesis 38, in what is known as the Judah Interlude. This portion of Genesis is referred to as such because of its placement in the Joseph narrative of Genesis 37-50; the Judah Interlude is “sandwiched” in between the historical narrative recounting the saga of Joseph. 

Genesis 38 recalls the sequence of events that occurred after Joseph was sold to Midianite slave traders by his own brothers. Judah, after having helped sell Joseph to the Midianites, married a Canaanite woman (which Israelites had already been commanded not to do, see Gen. 28:6). Judah then had 3 sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah, who grew up to have wives (Gen 38: 5-6). Er, the firstborn, was married to a woman named Tamar; however, Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight and the Lord put him to death, leaving Tamar without a husband (v. 6). Ancient Near East custom dictated that if a woman’s husband died, then the nearest blood relative was to marry the woman and have children by her so that the deceased husband’s line would not die out. This concept is referred to as levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10 details this according to later Mosaic Law). 

When Er died, his brother Onan was supposed to have children with Tamar so that she would not be childless. Onan, however, rebelled against his familial duty (which was wicked to the Lord, v. 10) and God put him to death as well. Er’s youngest brother Shelah was too young at this time to marry Tamar and so Judah (Er, Onan, and Shelah’s father) told her that when the time came, he would have Shelah fulfill the duties of levirate marriage with her. 

However, Judah evidently forgot about this pledge. In the course of time, Judah’s wife died and after his time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to shear sheep (v. 12). Most men had livestock in some capacity at the time, so this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Yet, people who are in desperate times often take desperate measures; such is the case here. Tamar, having been abandoned by Judah, her father-in-law, and without hope of having children, took drastic measures to see that her line was preserved. She dressed as a cult prostitute with her face in a veil and went along the road where Judah would see her. Not knowing that she was his daughter in law, Judah turned to her at the roadside and committed immorality with her (v. 16-19). What is interesting to note is that it was Judah who took the initiative in these relations; verse 16 states “He turned to her at the roadside…” There is no indication provided in the text that she spoke first to him. Judah took the initiative in the wicked behavior exhibited.

Three months went by, and Tamar came to be “pregnant by immorality” (v. 24). Here we come to one of the more glaring examples of hypocrisy found in the entire Bible, let alone the Old Testament. Upon being told that his daughter-in-law was pregnant by sexual immorality, Judah immediately proclaimed: “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (v. 24). There was no mercy, no hesitation, no questions asked, no recognition that he also was deserving of execution for the same crime. Judah was then identified as the man who impregnated Tamar, and it is assumed from verse 26 he repented (“And he did not know her again”). 

Most anyone who would examine this narrative in even a cursory manner would be struck by the hypocrisy of Judah. It doesn’t take a theologian with a PhD in Theology to recognize the blatancy of Judah’s sin. We are outraged when he demands Tamar be burned. It’s unfair, it’s unjust, it’s hypocritical…and we know it. The key here to understanding this passage on an applicational level is the recognition that more often than not, we behave as Judah did. We are Judah a great deal of the time. So quick to point out the sins of others, we are often remiss to truthfully examine the sinfulness of our own actions and the corruption of our own hearts. 

This isn’t anything new, however. Marred by the Fall of Genesis 3, man has been a fallen creature ever since, unable to “right the ship” as it were, of his own morality. We are unable to fix ourselves of our sinfulness. Sin is the diagnosis, death is the consequence, and there are no cures…save one. The blood of Christ washes us whiter than snow. For those who believe, that precious blood is applied to us, and we are forgiven! Yet, we are still fallen beings. Throughout the Bible, there is what is referred to as an “Already, but Not Yet” dichotomy. We see this a great deal with the interpretation of Biblical prophetic/apocalyptic literature , but we also see it a great deal in ourselves: we are saved from our sin, yet our sin clings to us all the same (Rom. 7).

One of the sins that is found most commonly in Christians is that of hypocrisy. While we are called to confront brothers and sisters involved in sinful patterns of behavior (and we ARE called to do this; see Gal. 6:1, Matt. 18:15-17, Titus 3:10-11, James 5:19, 1 Tim. 5:20), we must not let our loving correction of our brethren spiral into a narrow sort of Pharisaic condemnation. In other words, we err when we hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to. Our Lord speaks on this issue directly when he states in Matthew 7:5 to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (ESV). We must recognize that we most resemble those who murdered Christ when we judge others with a stricter scale than we judge ourselves. When we act as self-righteous hypocrites, we begin to very closely look like those “whitewashed tombs” Christ directly condemned. 

This obviously presents a problem for each of us on an individual level, yet it also presents a collective problem for the church universal (true church). It is imperative to understand this: no one is above hypocrisy. We all fall into this sin at some point or another. So, the question then becomes how we keep ourselves from it? 

Perhaps the best answer to that question is to ask the Lord for humility. To pray, not just passively, but deeply and earnestly for God to allow us to see our sin as He sees it: as rotten, filthy, and vile, as rebellion and treason against the Most High God. Each of our sins are an act of war against the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. This understanding of sin, however, does not come naturally. Indeed, we know that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14, KJV). So, we beg, we plead the living God to give us a proper view of our sin. We come to Him in humble repentance, begging for mercy. And we realize that just like those we so eagerly seek to correct and condemn, we too will stand before God and give an account. One out of one dies; our appointment with the Most High God is already set. We would do well to keep this in mind…

Thanks be to God,


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