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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

God's Law (Part 3)

Before leaving the discussion of the origins of the Torah, we would be remiss not to underscore the fact that these writings formed the basis of YHWH's covenant with the Israelites. As Christians, we sometimes forget this fact. Nevertheless, this principle is clearly delineated in those writings.

For instance, circumcision was to be the symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14). Notice that it was to be a "token" of the covenant between God and them. In other words, this commandment/statute/ordinance/law was not addressed to humankind generally. It was specifically addressed to Abraham's family/tribe/nation.

In similar fashion, we are told that God gave the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Israelites under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 12). Notice just how explicit the language is that addresses this law to these people: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying...Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying..." (verses 1-3). Likewise, in verse 14, we read: "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever." Indeed, the entire purpose of the blood on the doorposts was said to be so that God could make a distinction between the Egyptians and Israelites (verses 12-29). Finally, just to underscore the fact that YHWH was not giving these festivals to humanity as a whole, we read: "This is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations...This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof...A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof...All the congregation of Israel shall keep it." (Exodus 13:42-47)

When the Israelites arrived at Sinai, YHWH's language in this regard is just as explicit as it was previously. The Scriptures make very clear that YHWH was not addressing humanity as a whole. We read: "And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel...Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." (Exodus 19:3-6) Next, we are told that Moses assembled the leaders of the Israelites and presented all of this to them; and they had consented to follow all of the Lord's instructions (verses 7-8). Once again, this is clearly a covenant between God and the Israelites.

This fact is further reinforced by the language surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments in the following chapter. Notice: "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage..." (Exodus 20:1-2). After the Ten Commandments had been delivered, we read that God told Moses: "Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven." (verse 22) Once again, the language is explicit that God had given his commandments to the children of Israel, not to mankind as a whole.

Moreover, when the covenant was finally ratified, these Scriptures make very plain who the parties to the agreement were (Exodus 24). The covenant was between God and the children of Israel - not between God and mankind, and not between God and Christians. Over and over again, throughout the Torah, we read "Speak unto the children of Israel." The laws concerning clean and unclean meats were addressed to them (Leviticus 11:2). The laws regarding the festivals of the Lord were addressed to them (Leviticus 23:2). Near the end of the Torah, we read: "These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt...keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do." (Deuteronomy 29:1-9)

Hence, in any comprehensive treatment of the relevance of the Torah to Christians, this principle has to be acknowledged and admitted. Without a clear understanding of exactly who these laws were originally addressed to, it would be impossible to arrive at any kind of a coherent or reasonable conclusion about their applicability to Christians. And, since these commandments were clearly addressed to the Israelites, we will take a brief look at how the Jews regard the Torah (historically and presently) in the next installment of this series.

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