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What Is The Law?

 

Acts 2 describes Pentecost or Shavuot in Hebrew, which means Weeks, as the day in which the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of our Messiah to enable us to obey and yearn to obey the law, not to replace the law. But Pentecost goes back a long time before this unprecedented day.

(Exo 19:1 NKJV) In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.

In the third month, Sivan, the month in which Pentecost or Shavuot falls, the biblical month which began on May 10th this year, the children of Israel came to Mount Sinai. Most people think Mount Sinai is in the south of what is called the Sinai peninsula. There is actually much more proof that the mountain is in the northwest corner of what is now Arabia. Paul may have gone to the same mountain.

(Gal 1:16-17 NKJV) to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, {17} nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

At any rate, in the third month after leaving Egypt, the Israelites came there. The day of Pentecost is specified by Lev. 23:15 & 16. We have explained that verse before so I won’t go into it now. It is generally agreed that Moses delivered God’s Law on Pentecost. This year Pentecost is tomorrow, on May 19th.

The rest of Exodus 19 describes Moses receiving the law, announcing it to the people, and the acceptance of the law by the people. The next chapter, Exodus 20, contains the ten commandments, what most people interpret as the law. Judaism describes them as “the ten things.” But do the ten commandments contain all of the law? If so, why do the first five books, the Torah or Pentateuch, describe so many other laws? Must we be obeying them too?

This warmup to Pentecost is what I want to talk about today: What is the law we must obey?

 

Judaism has identified 613 commandments in the Torah or first five books of the Bible. They are called mitzvoth or good deeds. 365 of them, the number of days in the solar year, are prohibitive in nature. That is, they describe actions we are not to take. The other 248, the number of organs and limbs in a human body according to the Rabbis, are performative in nature. That is, they describe actions we are to take. These two numbers are interpreted to mean that man should be practicing these commands every day of the year. A good example of each type of commandment can be found in Lev 19:35 and 36. Lev 19 has many of the 613 commands in its verses if you want to study through it.

(Lev 19:35-36 NKJV) 'You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. {36} 'You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

An ephah is estimated to be about the size of an English bushel. A hin is a liquid measure, which is a seventh part of a bath. According to Josephus, a bath contains twelve Roman sextarii. I hope you can conceptualize that better than I can. The important point is that they were to have an honest system of weights and measures.

Verse 35 is a prohibitive commandment. It tells us what we are not to do. Verse 36 is a performative commandment. It tells us what we are to do.

Does our salvation depend upon keeping these 613 or even the 10 commandments? No, keeping the commandments gives us blessings from God. Let’s look at Rev 22:14 for evidence of that.

(Rev 22:14 NKJV) Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

The words “do His commandments” are contested by certain ancient texts which claim that the words should be “wash their robes” but Matt 19:17 clarifies this verse. Let’s look at it.

(Mat 19:17-19 NKJV) So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." {18} He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' {19} 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" [Most are from Ex 20:12-17; the last is also from Lev 19:18]

So doing His commandments, His ten commandments (plus as we see from verse 18, other commandments), can qualify us for eternal life. But just because we qualify for something doesn’t guaranty us that we will get it. That choice is up to the grantor and in the case of commandment keeping, He will judge us by whether we have kept them all. And of course, none of us have.

No, salvation comes from faith. Let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-10.

(Eph 2:8-10 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast. {10} For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (a performative command), which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

So it is up to God as to whether we will be saved or not. Grace is unmerited pardon, given by God. We are to have faith that Christ has died in payment of our sins, that God will recognize that faith, and that He will grant us grace or unmerited pardon. But how will God determine to whom He will grant grace? Verse 10 tells us: Christ established what good works are so that we could walk in them. So, to please God, we must walk or do good works. But the judgment as to whether we will be awarded eternal life is still up to God, not us.

So we are admonished to do good works. Let’s look at James 2:

(James 2:14-20 NKJV) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? {15} If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, {16} and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? {17} Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. {18} But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. {19} You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! {20} But do you want to know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Well, an awful lot of folks do want to know that they need not have works; because they believe that works, as far as God’s law is concerned, is legalism. Legalism is really the belief that just keeping the law will buy you salvation. Of course we all know that no one can keep the law perfectly, so legalism is impossible. So, seemingly, the giving of a bag of groceries is more important to these critics of the law than obeying God’s law. Not that caring for the unfortunate (an act of love) is not an important work too. They apparently do not read far enough to see that James describes this attitude of not having to do works as foolish or vain. No, we must perform good works as well as having faith in Christ’s sacrificial payment for our sins to achieve salvation.

Let’s look at two other verses regarding the keeping of the commandments.

(Rev 12:17 NKJV) And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ [Yeshuh ha Mashiach in Hebrew.]

(Rev 14:12 NASB) Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

These two verses sum it all up. We are to keep the commandments, obey the words, the instructions, of Jesus Christ, AND have faith that Jesus died for our sins.

So do we have to keep all 613 commandments? We can not keep all 613 commandments. There are many reasons why we can not. The commandments are grouped. Some apply only to priests in the temple. Some apply only to the High Priest. Some apply only to Levites. We have neither Levites nor priests nor a temple today. Some apply only to men. Some apply only to women. Some apply only to the land of Israel. Let’s look at some examples.

(Psa 51:14-17 NKJV) Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. {15} O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. {16} For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. {17} The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not despise.

(Lev 16:1-3 NKJV) Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; {2} and the LORD said to Moses: "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. {3} "Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.

Verses 1 & 2 are prohibitive commands which apply only to the priests. Verse 3 is a performative commandment but applies only to the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But how is anyone going to obey the laws regarding the Holy Place when there is no Holy Place today?

(Exo 25:8 NKJV) "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. [A performative command to the children of Israel]

How would we obey this law? On the other hand, some laws can be observed in both the spirit of the law and the letter of the law.

(Exo 23:12 NKJV) "Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

Verse 12 is performative. It applies to everyone everywhere, even to working animals.

(Deu 16:16 NKJV) "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.

This verse addresses not only the men’s attendance at the principal feasts, but their obligation to give an offering at those feasts. It does not address women, but neither does it prohibit women from attending and giving an offering.

(Lev 15:19 NKJV) 'If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.

This commandment is performative. Since the woman is the only one who knows if she is unclean, she is the one who must refrain from touching anyone. In the case of the woman with an issue of blood touching Christ’s garment (tzitzit - fringes worn on the four corners of a man’s tallit) in Mat 9:20 & Num 15, this commandment was superceded by the hierarchical order of commandments which places healing above touching a garment.

(Luke 14:5 NKJV) Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"

Saving a life, even an animal life, takes precedence over any commandment.

(Lev 25:4 NKJV) 'but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.

This is a prohibitive commandment and applies only to farming.

Some feel that Old Testament tithing laws only apply to farmers and to products grown in the land of Israel. Some also feel that tithing can only be given to the Levites. While most Old Testament scriptures which address tithing seem to concur, let’s look at one which doesn’t.

(Gen 14:14 NKJV) Now when Abram heard that his nephew (who was living in Sodom) was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

(Verse 16-20 CJB) He recovered all the goods and brought back his nephew Lot with his goods, as well as the women and the other people. {17} After his return from slaughtering Che-dorla-omer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the Shaveh Valley, also known as the King's Valley. {18} Then Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High, {19} so he blessed him with these words: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; {20} And blessed be God Most High, Who handed your enemies over to you." And he gave him a tithe of everything.

What he tithed was a tenth of all he recovered, seemingly of Lot’s goods. It would only seem logical though, that since he slaughtered the kings, he brought back some war booty too. Perhaps his men kept the war booty, but at any rate, what he tithed was logically not all agricultural. And he did not tithe to Levites. Levites didn’t exist yet. They were to be his descendants; descendants of his great-grandson Levi.

The argument is often made that any representative of God, whether Levite or Malki-Tzedek or a modern day religious leader, are representatives of God when it comes to collecting tithes. Obviously one would have to be sure that the religious leader is truly a representative of God. But one common concern is that there seems to be no Old or New Testament scripture that specifically states that tithing must be made to a church organization, even in those scriptures written by Paul in whose writings we would most likely find a description of groups similar to today’s gentile church organizations. The argument is also made that tithes were to be used for food for the Levites and Priests, so only food products were tithed. Let’s address these arguments by looking at some New Testament scriptures which address the tithing law.

(Mat 23:23 NKJV) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, [fragrant plants and seeds] and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

(Luke 11:42 NKJV) "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue [fragrant plants] and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

(Luke 18:12 NKJV) [The Pharisee says:] 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'

These three scriptures are all talking about the Pharisees tithing of trivial things. This is not a group to be automatically emulated. We are told to do what they say but not what they do. But Christ goes on to instruct them as to what they should be doing and He certainly seems to be telling them that they should be tithing. Remember that Christ did not come to change the law.

Notice in Luke 18:12 that they were giving tithes of all they possessed. That would certainly seem to imply they were not just tithing on food stuffs. Pharisees were religious leaders, not farmers.

(Mat 5:17-18 NKJV) "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. {18} "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

(Heb 7:5-6 NKJV) And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; {6} but he whose genealogy is not derived from them [i.e. He was not a son of Levi] received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

(Verses 8-9 NKJV) Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. {9} Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak,. . . (How? Because he was in essence still in Abraham’s loins.)

Now I need to ask you, who is Paul addressing in verse 6? Isn’t he addressing Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek as written in most Bibles)? And how could Malki-Tzedek bless Abraham, if Malki-Tzedek isn’t more than a priest of the Most High God? Many believe, and I think have justification for believing, that Malki-Tzedek became Jesus Christ. If that be so, don’t we have justification for tithing to Jesus Christ? The question then becomes, as I stated earlier, who represents Jesus Christ today? In my opinion, it is those who preach the Bible accurately, who are good stewards and shepherds of the human and monetary resources they care for, and who are dedicated to living a Christ-like life.

In my opinion, tithing is a law and they who obey it will receive blessings from God for their obedience to that law.

Now let’s say a few words about offerings. Offerings are commanded. They are to be used principally in assisting widows, fatherless children, the elderly, and those who can not work for a living. I do not believe they should be used just to provide a higher living standard. In most cases they should be intended to provide minimal food, shelter and clothing only. Does that mean that we should be tight-fisted when we give offerings? Absolutely not. Let’s look at a scripture which addresses our freedom to give. It is from the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

(Mat 20:15 NKJV) 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'

First of all, what is meant by the term “an evil eye?” Anciently, an evil eye referred to stingy people. The modern day translation of the last sentence of this verse is, “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” What generosity? The man knew that those who had worked only one hour had a need to support their family too and he gave them the same as the others who had worked longer. He overpaid those who worked a short time. He did not underpay those who had worked longer. The land-owner paid what he thought was a fair wage to everyone. It was his right to pay what he felt was a generous wage. It was the complainers who were stingy, not the land-owner. Yes, we can all do what we want with our own things. But when we give offerings our attitude must be that we want to give realistically, yet generously and fairly with the recipients in mind.

 

One of the biggest criticisms of Judaic law is its sources. There are two: The Torah or written law (the first five books of the Old Testament), and the Mishna or oral Torah. But the Mishna contains more than just the oral instructions given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. It also contains case law written by the rabbis on various subjects. The Mishna was written about 400 AD to prevent the oral law from being lost during the long period of Jewish persecution and relocation to foreign lands. The Mishna is included with the Gamerah to form the Talmud. What is the Gamerah? It is a commentary, sort of like the Bible commentaries one can buy in a Bible Book Store.

What is the Talmud? There are two Talmuds. One is the Babylonian Talmud, written by rabbis in Babylon. The other is the Jerusalem Talmud. But the Jerusalem Talmud was actually written in Tiberias, the major city on the Sea of Galilee, locally called Lake Chinnereth. It was written in Tiberias because they were not allowed to conduct business in Jerusalem at that particular time. These writings determine how a pious Jew should conduct his life. The way one should conduct his life is called Halacah or the way one walks.

What does all this have to do with Christians? I believe Christians should use those parts of the Halacah lived and practiced by Jesus, those written in the Torah, the instructions from the Writings and Prophets, and what was taught by the apostles. What instructions or laws are included in the New Testament? Supposedly someone has recorded 1050 New Testament commandments, more than what’s found in the Torah.

And you thought you had a tough time keeping the Big Ten!

Let’s attempt to categorize all these commandments by defining some of the words used in scripture. First of all, let’s define the word Commandment.

(Gen 26:4-5 NKJV) "And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; {5} "because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws."

These two verses disclose a lot. First of all, notice in verse 5 that God gave vocal instructions, as well as a charge, commandments, statutes and laws. What’s the difference between these words? Also remember that Abraham obeyed God’s commandments hundreds and hundreds of years before they were given on Mount Sinai.

A charge is a watching, keeping or preserving of a command or instruction. It could be compared to an instruction in managing a business or the keeping of an ordinance. That may not help much because, though the word ordinance is frequently used, there is no single Hebrew word which is translated as ordinance. But even though it doesn’t exist in the Hebrew scriptures, translators have frequently used the word ordinance anyway. The word charge comes from the Hebrew word tsavah, H4931 in Strong’s Concordance. So Abraham obeyed God’s instructions.

The word “commandments” come from the Hebrew word Mitzvoth or Mitzvah, H4687, meaning precepts or laws.

The word “statutes” comes from the Hebrew word Chuqquah, H2706 and H2708, meaning something prescribed, law, ordinance, custom, decree, and commandment.

The word “laws” comes from the Hebrew word Torah, H8451, which really means instructions, not law as many accuse it to mean. So the first five books of the Bible are the Instructions, not the Law.

The word “judgment” comes from the Hebrew word mishpat, H4941, meaning the act of deciding a case. In today’s language you might define it as decisions determined by law.

The word “testimonies” comes from the Hebrew word eduth, H5715, meaning a witness.

There are many ways to categorize these various words, but here are some usages of these words.

Judgments or mishpatim deal with those moral or ethical laws primarily focused upon the last 5 commandments.

The ten commandments are never called commands in the Hebrew. They are called devar or things, hence the ten big things.

Testimonies or eduth deal with festivals and Sabbaths and various aspects of prayer.

Statutes have no apparent explanation as to why we should keep them. One example would be Lev 11 dealing with food laws. I’m sure Christ will logically explain why we are to keep these statutes when He returns.

Then there are “fence” laws. These are extra rules which are designed to prevent us from even getting close to breaking the laws themselves. Lets turn to Genesis 2 to set up our example of a fence law.

(Gen 2:16-17 NKJV) And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; {17} "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

Now for the fence which Eve described:

(Gen 3:3 NKJV) "but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

Where is the fence? Gen 3:3 adds the law “you shall not touch it either.” That is the fence. But the problem is that when Eve found that she could touch the fruit without dying, she figured she could eat it too.

So, some fences cause us to be more enticed to sin. But in this case, Eve was deceived but Adam sinned. Adam knew he was not to eat it because God Himself told him not to. Eve was deceived by the serpent by way of the fence.

Let’s look at some other examples of fence laws. Mat 5:21-22 contains a good fence law given by Christ himself.

(Mat 5:21-22 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' {22} "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.

The fence is that if you don’t get angry with your brother, you won’t murder him.

Verses 43-48 contains another fence law.

(Mat 5:43-48 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

If we really do good to our enemies, we’ll never get to the point of hating them.

(Mat 7:1-2 NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged. {2} "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

The fence: Be careful how you judge people. Work on our own problems, not on the problems of others, unless they ask for help.

The next four verses also contain fences. I’ll let you determine where the fences are.

(1 Cor 10:25 NKJV) Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; [The issue was over meat offered to idols.]

(Rom 14:23 NKJV) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

(Col 2:16-17 NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, {17} which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

(James 4:11-12 NKJV) Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. {12} There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

 

What have we covered today? Here are some major points.

We identified the giving of the law with Pentecost. We then defined what these laws were.

According to Judaism, there are 613 commandments. Of these 365 are prohibitive, 248 are performative. They are oriented toward various groups, many of which are not applicable today. We explained why.

We showed that commandment keeping alone does not buy us salvation; that faith is also required.

We showed that Jesus taught us to walk the correct walk.

We showed why it is important that we must fully understand the relativity of the particular commandment before we can decide whether we should observe it; that many of the 613 commandments do not apply to everyone, but that Christ and John in Rev 22 specified that the “Big Ten” - the “Ten Things” - the Ten Commandments - do apply to everyone.

Let me close by reading a psalm to you, a psalm we often sing from our hymnal. (#90)

(Psa 119:97-104 NKJV) Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. {98} You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. {99} I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. {100} I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep Your precepts. {101} I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word. {102} I have not departed from Your judgments, For You Yourself have taught me. {103} How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! {104} Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.

 

Parts of this sermon were taken from Hebrew Roots publications with permission.

 

 

Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell

May 18, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2013, Wayne Bedwell

 

 

 

 

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