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Friday, June 3, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Deuteronomy

In a way, the book of Deuteronomy is a reiteration, summation, and renewal of God's covenant with Israel. In the post on Exodus, we explored how Christ perfectly observed he Law, and how he summarized it into two great principles (love for God and neighbor). We did NOT, however, discuss how Christ magnified the Law (which constitutes yet another important aspect of how Christ filled the Law to the full). Moreover, all of the ways that Christ magnified the Law demonstrated the truth of his assertion that LOVE was/is the foundation of the Law. As it relates to this book, we will also explore in more depth how Christ personified certain aspects of the Law. In other words, how those elements symbolically pointed to Jesus.

In the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." (4:1-2) With regard to this warning against adding to (or subtracting from) God's commands, it is interesting to note what Christ had to say to the Pharisees about their various traditions. The Jewish religious leaders had observed that Christ's disciples didn't follow some of their traditions regarding ceremonial handwashing, and Jesus reprimanded them for their hypocrisy (Mark 7:1-6). Then, he went on to say: "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Verses 7-9)

In the fifth chapter of the book, the "Ten Commandments" are reiterated (verses 5-21). The prophet Isaiah once predicted that God would someday "magnify the law and make it honorable." (Isaiah 42:21) In this connection, it is interesting to note what the Gospel of Matthew has to say about Christ's teachings about some of the "Ten Commandments." As part of his famous Sermon on the Mount, we are informed that Christ said: "Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (5:21-22) Here, Christ has clearly expanded the meaning of the commandment which prohibits murder.

And this amplification of the Law did not end there. A little later, as part of the same message, he said: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Verses 27-28) For Jesus, it was no longer simply a matter of not engaging in intercourse with someone other than your wife! According to Christ, even thinking about having sexual relations with a  woman that wasn't your wife now constituted a breach of the commandment!

Moreover, this magnification of the Law wasn't just confined to the "Ten Commandments," Jesus went on to do the same thing with other provisions of the Torah. He continued: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (Verses 33-35) He also said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Verses 38-39) In yet another instance, Jesus said that divorce was inconsistent with the commandment against adultery (verses 31-32). Christ went on to say: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you..." (Verses 43-44)

In terms of what is outlined in Deuteronomy regarding divorce and remarriage, we read there that: "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." (Deuteronomy 24:1-2) In the Gospel of Matthew, we find that Christ was also asked specifically about this teaching by the Pharisees. We read there: "The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (19:3-9) Interestingly, Christ revealed in his answer to the Pharisees that the Torah teaching on divorce was NOT consistent with God's original intent regarding marriage!

A little later in the same gospel account, we read how the Pharisees chastised Christ's disciples for eating some grain as they walked through a field on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2). Then, after reminding them that David and his men had eaten the shewbread that was reserved for the priests (verses 3-4), we read that Christ told them that "if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day." (Verses 7-8) Later still, in the synagogue, they asked him "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?" (Verse 10) Jesus responded: "What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days." (Verses 11-12) Thus, we see that Christ magnified the meaning of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, by making clear that it was lawful to heal and do good to others on that day. (See also John 7:22-23)

Moreover, in terms of the Sabbath, we should also note that Christ expanded and transformed the meaning of this rest for Christians. In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his." (4:4-10) In other words, by accepting Christ as our Savior, Christians have entered into a Sabbath rest - a rest from our own sinful works, and we are now expected to imitate the good works that Christ performed on the Sabbath (Ephesians 2:1-10).

In all of these instances, Christ magnified the Law and made it honorable. Clearly, Christ intended for his followers to understand the spiritual significance and intent of the Torah. As Paul told the saints at Rome, Christians are expected to "serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:6)

In the last post, we talked about the parallels between the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days and the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. However, in connection with that event, we should also note that Christ quoted a different passage from the book of Deuteronomy in response to each of the three temptations that Satan hurled at him! Again, in the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3]. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God [Deuteronomy 6:16]. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve [Deuteronomy 6:13]." (Matthew 4:3-10)

Likewise, when someone asked Christ which was the greatest commandment in the Law, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that he quoted a passage from Deuteronomy (Matthew 22:35-37) In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." (Verse 5) The second, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:39) was taken from the book of Leviticus. Christ said: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Verse 40)

In the post on Christ in the book of Leviticus, we also discussed how all of the festivals pointed to Jesus. The book of Deuteronomy, however, prescribes only one place of worship for the Israelites after they settled in the Promised Land (chapters 12 and 16). We read: "But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord." (12:10-11) It is made plain in the sixteenth chapter of the book that this "Law of the Central Sanctuary" also applied to the Lord's festivals. We read there: "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles." (Verse 16) This, of course, stands in stark contrast to Christ's statement that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Even so, Christ's teachings about helping the disadvantaged among his people was clearly anticipated in the book of Deuteronomy. We read there: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother." (15:7) In this connection, it is interesting to note that in the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that Christ compared himself to a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats when all of the nations of the earth are gathered before him someday (Matthew 25:31-46). In the process of sorting, Christ noted that by providing for someone in need that his followers had symbolically provided for his own needs (verse 40). Indeed, we find that the first epistle of John echoed this sentiment: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (3:17)

Now, in several of the previous posts in this series, we have already mentioned what many Christians consider to be the most explicit reference to Christ in the Torah. In the eighteenth chapter of the book, we read: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." (Verses 18-19) This promise that God would one day raise up to them a prophet like Moses from among their own people is considered by many to be the greatest Messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch, and it underscores the thesis of these posts - the presence of Jesus in the Torah!

In the thirtieth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, we find a prophecy about the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and his descendants. We read there: "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." (Verses 1-6)

In this connection, it is interesting to recall a prophecy written in the book of Jeremiah. We read there: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (31:31-33) Now, this "new covenant" prophecy is regarded by Christians as a reference to the covenant mediated by Jesus of Nazareth. In the light of the passage referenced above from the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy, something that Paul wrote to the saints at Rome takes on new significance. He wrote: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Romans 2:28-29)

Finally, we have now clearly demonstrated that Christians see Jesus in all five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). For Christians, the fact that the Torah points to Jesus of Nazareth is foundational/elemental to their faith! In short, we see this as one of the primary ways that Christ has FULFILLED or FILLED TO THE FULL the Law! Like the early Christians who had no other Bible, we also see that it is possible to preach Christ from what we now refer to as the "Old Testament." Now, it is also true that most Jews don't see him in their Scriptures and clearly believe that Christians are "reading him into" those writings (twisting and perverting their meaning to accommodate their Savior). Nevertheless, for Christians, the presence of the Holy Spirit in them clearly points to Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets! Moreover, for most Christians, it is clear that Christ's Law of Love continues to be binding on his followers - not as a requirement for salvation (that is his free gift), but as an expression of our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ (and as representative of our new life in him)!

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