Shaking hands is a sign of friendship, but Moses uses the term with the opposite meaning in Exodus 23. We read his warnings about joining hands for bad reasons. He makes some down-to-earth statements of things that God sees as wrong. Many of these are part of life today as men and women act in devious ways to cheat and deceive one another or the Government.

“Now these are the rules you shall set before them”, God said to Moses (chapter 21:1), “You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (23:1,2). When Jesus said that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), he may have had in mind things which Moses said, “If you meet your enemies ox or his donkey going astray you shall bring it back to him” (verse 4).

Mark 9 finishes in a challenging way, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves …” (9:50). What did Jesus mean? On another occasion he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). The point is this; those who follow Jesus are to be the salt that influences and gives flavour to all those with whom contact is made. But what if the salt has lost its saltiness? What if those that should provide the influence of salt have joined hands with those who ignore God, or at least, turn a blind eye to their ungodly ways of living? Jesus said that useless salt “is thrown away” (Luke 14:35).

There is a really blunt message in Mark 9:42 onwards it rather complex language. The “hell” and “unquenchable fire” (verse 44) are part of a mini parable to convey the utter destruction of those found to be worthless. Here Gehenna (“hell”) is the Greek word for the rubbish dump outside one part of the wall of Jerusalem where fires burnt continually to consume the city’s rubbish thrown over the wall. The lesson of Jesus is that his hearers must get rid of all hindrances in their walk to the kingdom – with special words of condemnation to those who cause others, the “little ones”, to fail (verse 42). Meditate on Colossians 4:5,6.