Summary: How do the complex, often strange laws of the OT apply to today? What is the function of the law of God? And what does it mean to live lawfully when salvation is by grace?
What do we do with the Law?
As we read the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, we come across some strange rules nearly no one practices today. A.J. Jacobs wrote an intriguing book, The Year of Living Biblically, a chronicle of his attempt to actually follow all the many laws of the Bible (easily one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time). A.J. said his purpose was “to see what I was missing by having no religion in my life.” He recognized that the Bible was “the force behind humankinds’ greatest achievements.” Living in Manhattan and working for Esquire magazine, he saw how challenging a biblical lifestyle would be in a culture that runs on coveting, gossip, lying, self-interest and the distractions of materialism. One of his projects was to volunteer at a food pantry, much like ours. It became a source of great satisfaction, focusing on the needs of others. After his year, he admitted, “My worldview became more biblical.” As the year progressed he grew to appreciate the structure that God provides for us in His word.
What is the “Law of God”? It is God’s absolute, eternal standard regulating the moral conduct of all people. It is God declaring His will and demanding perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, meaning “direction.” In an aimless world, God has pointed us to truth for living. God’s law shows us that there is definitively a “right & wrong” and points us to the right road.
There are three kinds of directives in the Bible:
• Moral Law that is Absolute Truth, unchanging, for all time
• Rules governing the Israeli conquest of Canaan
• Changing rituals, customs and traditions common to society
-In the first category, moral absolutes, we find fixed and unchanging rules such as the Ten Commandments, God’s eternal standards regulating the conduct of all people.
-In the second, we find God’s instructions for the armed occupation of the Promised Land; Israel’s collective life as a set-apart society. The prohibitions against mixing types of threads/fibers in clothing, circumcision, and the prohibition against certain foods was to remind Israel to remain a distinct, holy nation. A.J. notes that the Jews were “marking their territory with their menus”. Some laws came without explanation; Jewish scholars have attempted to interpret their meaning…meanwhile they obeyed; that’s commitment!
-In the third category, are practices that appear like laws but are merely cultural traditions that are not mandatory for today, like primogeniture--the bequest of a double inheritance for the firstborn son. In an agrarian society, this proved necessary for the security of the extended family.
In some laws we note a subtle progression within Scripture. Ancient Israel was given a very liberal divorce policy, which Jesus tightens. Whereas divorce could be for any reason B.C., Jesus limits it to infidelity; Paul adds desertion. Just prior to NT times, in Malachi, the last OT book, God tells Israel that He “hates” divorce. So even with “grounds” we need to consider that divorce is something God hates.