Man’s Traditions or God’s Commands?

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in a word–tradition….Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as–as a fiddler on the roof!

(Tevye. Fiddler on the Roof based on Sholem Aleichem’s Stories. Book by Joseph Stein. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.)

Tradition, tradition–Tradition. Tradition, tradition–Tradition.

If you’ve seen the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, or listened to the recording, or read the play, perhaps the catching little phrase from the first scene is running through your mind right now.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, which ranks up there among one of my favorite musicals, it is the tale of Tevye, a hard-working dairyman whom God has blessed with five daughters. Tevye loves his family and his God. Traditions are extremely important to him. But times are changing in Tsarist Russia in 1905, which make Tevye question some traditions he once held as irrevocable. Mainly, the need for a matchmaker to choose husbands for his daughters.

Before you scratch your head and wonder why I’m discussing Fiddler on the Roof, I’m getting there.

The other morning as I read the seventh chapter of Mark, Fiddler on the Roof came to mind.


Jesus rebuked the religious leaders as frauds and hypocrites because they held to man-made traditions. They abandoned God’s commandments so they could keep their rituals. Then Jesus added, “How skillful you’ve become in rejecting God’s law in order to maintain your man-made set of rules.”


We all have them. They are a part of who we are. Like, say, eating German Chocolate Cake for breakfast on your birthday. Many of us continue traditions we grew up with. Perhaps we adapt them to fit the times, but we still have them. And that’s okay. Where I believe we have problems is when we cling to man-made traditions, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and in doing so, we deviate from God’s commandments.

In one of my college classes, the professor told a story. One day a mother and daughter prepared a roast. After the mother cut the roast into two pieces and placed each piece in a separate pan, the daughter asked why. The mother replied that was the way her mother did it. They then asked the grandmother why. The grandmother said she cut the roast in two because she didn’t have a pan large enough to put the whole roast in.


Spoiler alert ahead.

By the end of Fiddler on the Roof, three of Tevye’s daughters marry. For the first daughter, he concocts a bizarre dream scene to explain breaking the tradition of a perfect match made by the matchmaker. The second daughter’s decision to marry causes a little more unease for Tevye. He notes breaking tradition is like pulling out a thread…where will it lead? When the last daughter decides to marry someone outside the Jewish faith, this tradition Tevye cannot agree with.

As I considered this passage in Mark alongside this musical, I wondered how much do I, do you, cling to man-made traditions, giving little regard to God’s commands? Do we value looking good in the eyes of men above pleasing our Father? Do we abandon living as Jesus lived and instructed us to live, to fit in with the world around us and keep men’s rituals?


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Jesus replied, “You are frauds and hypocrites! How accurately did Isaiah prophesy about you phonies when he said: ‘These people honor me with their words while their hearts run far away from me! Their worship is nothing more than a charade!  For they continue to insist that their man-made traditions are equal to the instructions of God.’

“You abandon God’s commandments just to keep men’s rituals, such as ceremonially washing utensils, cups, and other things.”

Then he added, “How skillful you’ve become in rejecting God’s law in order to maintain your man-made set of rules.” Mark 7:6-9 (TPT)

You can find my August Inspire a Fire post here. Please stop by and read it.

I wish you well.


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