“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps 19:7-8)
For this year’s District Bible Study hosted by the Oxbridge Church I have chosen a most ambitious area of study, and one that is certainly rarely tackled in the modern Church.
The subject is God’s Law, as presented to us in the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, and looking especially at the modern Christian believer’s relationship to that Law. I will aim to post regular updates from these teachings on the blog as we go through the year.
Special blessings accrue to the person who spends time in God’s Law
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)
and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)
The term “Law” came over time to have a wider usage than just the Five Books of Moses (referred to in Greek as the Pentateuch), and today we can legitimately use it as a shorthand term for the whole of the Bible.
But in the original context of the quotations from the psalms given above, it referred specifically to the 613 commandments contained in that section of the later Hebrew Bible called the torah (law, instruction).
This is unquestionably a hugely-neglected area of biblical study and unsurprisingly therefore one where a great deal of uncertainty and confusion reigns. Yet so many vital issues in modern Christian apologetics relate to aspects of the Law of God.
Why, for instance the sceptics often say, do we Christians so vigorously insist upon those laws pertaining to issues of sexual morality whilst ignoring vast tracts of the Levitical Code where it deals with (say) the prohibition on eating shellfish or wearing clothes with mixed fibres?
The Book of Leviticus especially is regarded as a source of mirth and ridicule by the scoffers. But we as believers have scant cause for complaint over that since we treat the book little better ourselves: this being surely the least-read and least understood of all the books of the Bible.
Yet Leviticus alone is quoted or cited in over a hundred New Testament passages, indeed the Pentateuch as a whole is quoted by Christ Himself more than any other part of Scripture.
We know that when tempted in the wilderness, the resolute and unflinching response of Jesus was “It is written…it is written.” But take careful note of which scriptures are being referenced in that encounter.
It is interesting to observe how the Devil (himself an ardent bible student) sought to draw his Opponent’s attention to the reassuring messianic prophecies of the psalms (Ps 91:11-12).
The Adversary’s promises of angelic protection, dominion, and prosperity would have fitted nicely into any Joel Osteen sermon! Yet Jesus rebuked this approach, sternly and repeatedly bringing Satan back to the demanding requirements of the Law (Mt 4:1-10).
We will discuss the importance of this at a later date when we look at Jesus and the Law.
Given the importance attached to this section of Holy Writ by our Saviour, how then did we reach such a state of affairs whereby most believers in their studies of the scriptures will read through Genesis and perhaps into Exodus so far as the arrival at Sinai, but then just keep turning the pages until they reach the Book of Joshua?
Do we think all of those prohibitions we have just skipped wholly obsolete? Do we consider them irrelevant to modern life?
Yet the Mosaic precepts are shockingly contemporary!
They address a wide range of issues that so frequently come up in our day, most obviously in areas of sexual morality where the believer ought by now to know by-rote how to defend Leviticus 18 from the persistent accusations that it is out-of-date or just plain bigoted.
Consider also how the issue of slavery –a matter closely regulated by the Mosaic Code – is brought up time and again as an accusation that the Bible writers had an immoral perspective on the practice. Could you defend your Bible against that accusation?
The truth is that anyone who is engaging in meaningful witnessing and apologetical encounters ought to be coming up against these questions all of the time. If we are not, then perhaps it is an indication that we are employing “gospel” presentations devoid of any connection to God’s righteous requirements!
Indeed we will spend time looking at how the Law of God is to be used in our evangelistic encounters in order to convict of sin and so to leave men "without excuse." We will see how the Law is not the antithesis of the Gospel of God's grace but rather it's ardent ally!
But contemporary uses for torah go far beyond even this.
The Holiness Code forms the bedrock of so many of our rights and legal safeguards (for such rights come from God and not from any Court). Here we will discover the origins of a range of contemporary forms of legislation from animal welfare to health & safety and understand how the Western world especially has been shaped by men's understanding of torah.
Consider how the Church’s contemporary involvement in foodbanks in modern Britain really cannot be understood outside the context of the Mosaic Law’s emphasis upon social justice and the relief of poverty.
A concern for the poor and the oppressed is at the heart of the Law. How easily we can forget that “Love your neighbour” is an Old Testament commandment (Lev 19:18) not just a New Testament one.
Through the year I also wish to look in more detail at some of the specific regulations of the Holiness Code. Some that are especially important, others that are perhaps just plain baffling to us and invite explanation - where possible!
Though the very thought of the subject may intimidate many, I consider that there are actually very few biblical studies more relevant to our day than this one, nor actually more interesting to the serious student of God's Word.
We live in days when God’s Law is challenged, defied, and outright ridiculed every day, and this is taking place even in the high places of government and the judiciary.
These are not times when believers can afford to be ignorant of God’s holy standards or to airily dismiss those requirements with the quotation of a context-less half-verse like Rom 6:14!
In lawless times God's people need to know God's laws, and need to know why they still matter even (nay especially) in a world that says they don't.