“Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with you, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, for ever.” [Deut.4: 40 KJV]
“It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law. Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” [Psalm 119: 126, 127 KJV]
In this teaching you will learn to read your Bible which is the Living Word of God, not with the eyes of a Gentile Jesus, not with the eyes of a Protestant Jesus or a Catholic Jesus, but with the eyes of a Jewish Jesus. You will realize that Jesus and His disciples weren’t converted Jews but rather were practicing Jews - keepers of the Law [or Torah] of God.
Some mistakenly believe that the 10 Commandments are the curse and that one is in danger of coming under that curse if he or she obeys God’s laws.
Instead of being harmful, obedience to God’s holy law yields many benefits. The 10 Commandments are really guidelines for an abundantly happy life. Our Heavenly Father has given these instructions to us—His children—because He loves us and wants what is best for us. God’s commandments are analogous to guidelines that wise parents in human families give to their children. Keeping God’s law can only bring benefits.
Let me explain. When we disobey God’s instructions to us no matter how hard we try to justify ourselves it brings consequences no one wants! As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, they were barred from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17, 22-24). Due to repeated disobedience and rejection of God’s laws, the nations of Israel and Judah were conquered by enemy nations and carried captive out of the Promised Land.
Naturally, we want the benefits our Father would like to give us and not the punishments that come from disobedience. The ultimate consequence of disobeying God’s law could not be more serious. “Disobeying the law” is just another way of saying, “sin” (see 1 John 3:4). The eventual consequence of rejecting God’s law is death forever—a death from which there is no resurrection (Romans 6:23).
Since Paul said that God’s law is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12), what did he mean by “the curse of the law”? To accurately understand any verse of the Bible, we must read it in its immediate context as well as the context of the rest of the Bible. That is the only way we can be “rightly dividing the word of truth,” as Paul admonished Timothy to do (2 Timothy 2:15).
That the letter of Galatians was written to deal with serious problems is evident from its beginning: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
This is not a gentle pastoral letter of encouragement; it is obviously dealing with a doctrinal issue—a heretical teaching!
The error infiltrated the Church over several decades through ex-Jewish members who rejected the Church’s policy to allow gentiles to become members of the Church without undergoing physical male circumcision. Even after the Church had formally adopted this policy, these ex-Jewish troublemakers were agitating for the Church to reverse its approach. The agitators possessed a truly legalistic mentality, urging the Church to model itself after Judaism instead of accepting Christ’s leadership.
The fact that it was necessary for the apostle Paul to write this forceful letter demonstrates that those pushing the heresy had achieved a foothold in Galatia.
Their argument centered upon circumcision, which is evident from this emphatic statement: “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” (Galatians 5:12).
The original language is quite graphic, sarcastically implying that those who are so insistent on circumcision might as well go all the way and emasculate (or mutilate) themselves (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Word Biblical Commentary, “Galatians” by Richard Longenecker).
Lest anyone miss the actual meaning, circumcision involves surgical cutting. Paul is saying he wishes that these people who are so obsessed with that kind of cutting would cut themselves off, of the Body of Christ entirely because their thinking has no place in the Church of God!
Therefore, the book of Galatians counters the mistaken thinking that salvation could be earned through some legalistic formula. It was not an argument against whether a believer was required to keep God’s law.
There is a world of difference between thinking that salvation can be earned by keeping a set of rules, and the fact that those who receive salvation must live by God’s rules. This distinction is repeated throughout the book.
Many religious teachers today reflect the widespread antinomian prejudice (opposition to any teaching that a believer must keep the law of God) when they comment on Galatians. They overlook the reason for writing the letter, which was to counter the heresy being promoted by the pro-circumcision Judaizers.
Some religious teachers today write or speak as if modern Christianity were in danger of believing that the way to salvation was through physical circumcision and other regulations. The idea is somewhat preposterous. Christianity isn’t in danger of being taken over by promoters of circumcision!
Please understand The difference between legalism and being law-abiding. Many today believe that the heresy of Galatians was that God required His Church to keep the law. They fail to see the difference between legalism and being law-abiding. Paul argued with equal force against legalism and for being law-abiding.
The analogy of how parents administer household rules illustrates legalism vs. being law-abiding. Legalism would be demonstrated by a home in which parents offer love to their children only if their children adhere to strict rules. In such a home, there are rules for every aspect of life from dawn to dusk. Harsh punishment is administered for breaking them. “Love” has to be earned. Of course, this is not true love, and such a home is dysfunctional.
By contrast, being law-abiding is demonstrated by a home in which parents love their children unconditionally but at the same time teach their children that they expect a definite standard of behavior. When the children fail to live by those standards in some way, the parents lovingly correct the children and require them to change their behavior. The children are always loved, but they are also guided through life.
God is likened to a family. His laws are the household rules for His children’s behavior. He loves His children unconditionally, yet at the same time He guides them in how they are to live. When they fail to live by His laws—and every person sins—He corrects them, requiring them to change their behavior. Keeping His laws does not make people His children. They become His children in a way that is similar to how any human child’s life begins. God produces His children in love, and then He guides them in love through His beneficial household rules, His laws.
Being law-abiding is normal and healthy in both a physical family and in God’s family.
Any peaceful society expects its citizens to be law-abiding. A person who rejects and refuses to submit to law is considered a criminal! Likewise, it is reasonable, normal and, more importantly, biblical to believe that the citizens of God’s Kingdom, the members of His household, need to be law-abiding.
Let’s begin by reading the passage in question from Galatians 3:10-14. Now let’s go through this passage point by point.
It begins, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Here Paul is referring to those who wrongfully taught that one could earn his or her salvation through keeping God’s law. Some mistakenly thought that humans could live in perfect obedience to every instruction from God.
The truth is that no human being has ever obeyed God’s law perfectly on his or her own power. All humans have sinned (Romans 3:23) except Jesus Christ, who resisted sin through the power of God. This reality, however, does not mean we do not need to repent of breaking God’s laws or strive to live in accordance with them.
The truth is that God does expect us, with the help of His Holy Spirit, to obey His instructions and follow Christ’s example. Our desire to obey God is shown by repentance of our sins, faith in Christ and baptism, which are the steps God tells us to take to receive the priceless gift of salvation (Acts 2:38; 8:37).
Emphasizing the point that obedience is still God’s expectation, Paul twice quotes directly from the Old Testament. The first is from Deuteronomy 27:26, taken from an incident in Israel’s history that is well worth knowing.
The essence of what transpired is summarized in verses 9-10 of that chapter: “Then Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel, saying, ‘Take heed and listen, O Israel: This day you have become the people of the LORD your God. Therefore you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God, and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.’”
God had rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and now the second generation was on the verge of entering the Promised Land. God’s ringing advice was essentially: “Keep the commandments!”
Acting out the importance of this, Moses ordered the tribes of Israel (after they entered Canaan) to divide into two units. One half of Israel was to climb Mount Ebal; and the other half, Mount Gerazim. These two mountains are roughly in the middle of the land of Canaan. The people on one mountain top were to shout a series of declarations, all of which related to “curses” for not obeying God’s law. The people on the other mountain top were to shout back, “Amen!” at the conclusion of every declaration. The words Paul quoted were the final shouted words. What a dramatic way to emphasize the importance of keeping God’s law!
The second quote from the Old Testament that emphasizes obedience to God’s law is more of a paraphrase than a direct quote. It comes from Deuteronomy 21:23. In that context, God commanded that someone who broke the law and received the death penalty should be hung on a tree. That doesn’t mean death by hanging, for the ancient Israelites executed people by stoning (The NKJV Study Bible note on Deuteronomy 21:23). But after death, the body was hung on a tree in a public place for one day as a demonstration that sin brings death.
In Galatians 3:13, Paul refers to Christ in conjunction with “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” because Christ’s body was publicly displayed, hung on a stake of wood. Rather than some new doctrine or a change in everything the Bible teaches about obedience to God’s commands, Paul was drawing on the symbolism of Christ’s public crucifixion to emphasize that His death paid the penalty for the sins of humanity. Christ’s death “redeemed us from the curse of the law,” which is the death penalty!
The phrase “the curse of the law” refers to the death penalty that each of us earns for breaking God’s law. It is not to criticize as unimportant God’s holy, just and good laws. This passage simply refers to the mistaken idea that people can earn their salvation without God’s grace, and it upholds keeping God's 10 Commandments.
Christ’s death—in which He suffered the curse of hanging on a tree—makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins. If we repent of sinning, commit to a life of obedience to God’s law and allow God’s Spirit to work through us, we can receive God’s grace.
Christ’s death did not pave the way for Christians to go on breaking the law! Such an interpretation is contradictory to God’s Word. Instead, Christ’s death means we can be forgiven for breaking the commandments so that we can commit to obeying the commandments.
It made it possible for God to write His laws on our hearts and to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk as Christ walked in total obedience to God’s holy law (Hebrews 8:10; 1 John 2:6). Of course, we still need God’s grace and forgiveness because obedience to God’s law does not make up for our prior disobedience. Hallelujah!
Having said that let me finish what I began to share with you last month about Yom Kippur. You will certainly get a better appreciation of what Christ did for you as we learn together a little more on what actually transpired on this awesome Jewish day. As Christian’s saved by grace through faith, it is necessary that we add knowledge to our faith. If we are to be people who can reach forth with the love of God to the Jew, it is necessary for us to know what they believe in.
First, according to Jewish tradition, we need to realize that two sacrifices were required by God for Israel’s atonement – or forgiveness. This was also part of Israel’s calendar new year, thus it was the time when God would erase all the sins of the past year.
The priest was in the temple where he was preparing. He would put on fine white linen – the only time of the year he wore it. As he was preparing, his helpers came to the door of the temple bringing with them not one sacrifice but two goats. [see Lev.16: 7] He then cast lots to determine which goat would become the sacrifice. This sacrificial animal was then led into the temple, while the other was left outside. In the outer courts of the temple, the priests placed the sacrifice on the brazen altar as the high priest cut its throat. The blood of that goat was to cover the sins of Israel. As this sacrifice took place, the priests white robe was saturated with the animal’s blood. In Jewish culture, when something was blood stained, it became impure and untouchable.
Before the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice, he removed the soiled robe and hung it in plain view of all the people. Instead of washing only his hands or feet, the other priests completely washed the high priest from head to toe to make sure that there was not one spot of blood remaining on his body. Then, before he appeared before the people again, the high priest put on a new, white robe. His stain-free reappearance was a reminder that no matter what they did, they had come before the Lord, and His mercy was fresh every morning.
From there the high priest now washed and clothed in white – a symbol of purity-once again ascended to the altar of God. Because he was now “pure” and about to go into the Holy of Holies to make intercession no one was allowed to touch him lest he would become defiled. He would chant these words over and over again: “Do not touch me with anything of this world, for I have not yet been with the Father.” [Remember the words of Jesus in John 20: 17]
The high priest entered the Holy of Holies – the only day of the year this was allowed by God – and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant seven times. This was the atonement that released the blessing and forgiveness of God.
The idea God had in mind for Israel to understand was that the sacrificial goat died, so they might live. The high priest emerges from the Holy of Holies, and for all of the following year, the people’s sins are covered and God’s blessings are released. He dips his hands back into that blood. He confesses the curses. “Father there are sicknesses in the land, marriages being destroyed, crops failing, animals dying, and wells drying up in this drought.” That is the curse of the sin. The sins are covered, but he doesn’t just have one sacrifice – he has two.
The sacrificial goat is dead, but what about the other goat? This is the “scapegoat.” According to Jewish custom, this is the goat that carries our sins into the desert, never to be remembered. Often this goat would run off the cliff. If you were to go to Israel, you would see that there is a cliff right beyond the door of the temple through which the goat would run. If the goat died the curse would be broken.
If it survived, it would usually run into the desert. If the goat died in the wilderness the curses were broken. There is no water in the desert through Jordan to the Red Sea, so the goat would try to get back to the place where it last ate and drank. If the goat managed to come back, the sins of the people was forgiven, but the curse would remain to block God’s blessings.
Jewish tradition states that Aaron would tie a red ribbon around the neck of the scapegoat and then attach a portion of the same ribbon to the door of the temple. Every day, they would wait to hear if the goat was dead. If the Jews had repented, and the goat had died in the wilderness, the ribbon on the temple door would miraculously turn white – a visible sign for the people of God’s forgiveness.
In the Mishna – the book of Jewish wisdom – it is said that sometimes it would turn white and sometimes it would not. Sometimes the curse was broken, and sometimes it was not. The Mishna also states that for 40 years before the destruction of the temple the ribbon stopped turning white.
Since the temple was destroyed around A.D 70 the ribbon would have stopped turning white around A.D 30, or the exact time that Jesus died on the cross becoming our Passover Lamb and breaking the curse off everyone forever and ever.
What did the Jewish nation do in 30 CE to merit such a change at Yom Kippur? By some accounts, on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan, the day of the Passover sacrifice, in the year 30 C.E the Messiah, Yeshua, was cut off from Israel, and He was crucified as a sacrifice for sin.
To this event there is a transference of the atonement now no longer achieved through the two goats as offered at Yom Kippur. Like an innocent Passover lamb, the Messiah was put to death though no fault was found in Him!
But unlike Temple sacrifices or the Yom Kippur events (as detailed above) where sin is only covered over for a time, the Messianic sacrifice comes with the promise of forgiveness of sins through grace given by God to those who accept a personal relationship with The Messiah Jesus Christ. This is essentially a one time event for each person's lifetime and not a continual series of annual observances and animal sacrifices. The mechanism providing forgiveness of sin changed in 30 CE.