How to study the Law: A little deeper

            One of the limitations which I’ve put upon myself on this blog is brevity. In order to keep strict limits on my natural wordiness, I tend to keep my devotionals to about a page or so. If I get up to a page and half, I usually break it off into another devotional posting. I realize that the intended purpose of a daily devotional is for someone to spend about 10-15 minutes reading God’s word and then a short commentary on it. Any more than that and I risk losing my audience.
            But in this case I need to do something different. I feel the need to delve into a certain topic with a certain “take” that a lot of my fellow Evangelicals might find a little disconcerting, at least at first. What I’m going to say is different from what some of you might've heard from other Bible teachers. At first it’ll seem a little radical, but I don’t think it really is. What I’m proposing has some pretty strong biblical support. If you think I’m wrongly applying Scripture, then so be it. But since what I’m saying is a little different from what you might’ve been taught up until now, I need to take a little extra space in order to make sure I’m understood.
            What am I proposing that might seem weird to you?

The Old Testament, particularly the Law of Moses, has purposes for the modern-day believer other than just pointing directly to Christ's nature and work in salvation.

            Now, before you go ahead and write me off as a rank heretic, please let me clarify what I’m saying and what I’m not saying.

I thoroughly believe that the main purpose of the Old Testament is to point towards Christ.

How does the O.T. do this? You’re probably familiar with these:

·         The prophecies which predicted his nature, the details surrounding his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, the purpose of his coming (i.e. to die for us), etc.
·         By showing us God’s standards for righteousness, the Law acted as a sort of “nanny” in order to lead us to Christ. Basically by showing us his standards, he shows us how far we fall short of them and our need for a Savior. Paul repeatedly points out this purpose of the Law. I also believe that one of the purposes of the recorded history of Israel is to underscore this point by showing us how badly the nation screwed up over and over and over and over. If anyone thinks they can be considered righteous before God by observing the Law, I think the sordid history of Israel is pretty decent counterevidence to that notion.
·         We have foreshadows and symbols which pointed us towards Christ: The blood sacrifices, the priesthood, the types which were fulfilled in him (e.g. the ram which took the place of Isaac on the altar), etc.

            I completely believe that in these ways the Old Testament—of which the Law of Moses is the foundation—points us towards Christ. Jesus told the religious leaders that Moses had written about him. If you read the Old Testament and don’t see Jesus, then you’re missing out on the most important aspect of it.
            However, does this mean that the only purposes of the Old Testament are based on the ones listed above? Does everything in the Old Testament fall into one or more of them? Really?
            I don’t think so, and I think I have some evidence for my position. Here’s a purpose which I think a lot of Christians miss. My thesis:

One of the purposes of the Law of Moses (also known as the Torah) is to show us the heart of God: What he loves and hates, what’s important to him and what isn’t. As a corollary to this, the Torah is important to us as a guide to righteous living as modern believers this side of the cross.

            Once again, I need to quickly clarify what I’m not saying here. As believers we’re not under the Law as far as dietary laws or holy days or making blood sacrifices. Paul explicitly said that those things were the shadow, and the reality is found in Christ (probably referring to purpose #3 above).
            Let me try to explain what I mean by making a very sharp and very very very important distinction. We need to distinguish between principles and applications.
            What do I mean by principle? Well, Merriam-Webster defines it as “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.”  What would be some principles?

·         Keep the Lord as first place in your life, and deal decisively with any rivals for that first place.
·         You do things God’s way, not the way that seems right to you.
·         You must treat sin extremely seriously and hate it passionately.
·         God has a special care for those who are "the least of these": the poor, the immigrant, the orphan,  the widow, the outsider, the oppressed, etc. He takes extremely seriously and personally any efforts to exploit, oppress, or take advantage of them. And this means that God's people will reflect that concern in how they treat anyone with a disadvantage or who's marginalilzed. 
·         Keep a proper balance of work and rest. Set some time aside to refocus yourself on him.
·         When he blesses you, he expects you to “pay it forward” by blessing others.
·         Every human being is uniquely created in his image and thus has (incredibly high) intrinsic value and is entitled to dignity and respect.
·         Property rights are important.
·         God’s standard for all expressions of sexuality is one man united with one woman for life.
·         Humans are more important than things.
·         Honor your parents.

            In contrast, a lot of the Torah is made up of applications of principles like those listed above. So what would be some examples?

·         You’re expressly forbidden from working on Saturday.
·         Don’t wear clothing made from more than one type of material.
·         You have to physically separate yourself from unclean people, animals, houses, etc.
·         Kill idolaters and sexually promiscuous people. Adultery and homosexuality are capital offenses.
·         When you harvest your crops, don’t glean at all. Leave your gleanings for the poor.
·         When you come to collect on a loan, don’t go into the man’s house to do so.
·         Don’t move a land boundary marker.
·         Cursing your parents is a capital offense.

            You see the pattern here? Principles are eternal. They don’t change any more than God does. They apply to us just as much as they did to the Hebrews at Sinai. But applications are largely time-bound. I don’t for one moment think we need to worry about wearing different material clothing, and I’d never support capital punishment for adulterers or homosexuals today. But God hasn't changed his stance against homosexuality or any other sexual expression outside of marriage. He hates idolatry just as much now as he did in the days of Moses, but I don't advocate any type of legal penalty for it, much less death. So for me, I take the principle (absolute hatred for any type of idolatry) and apply it, not by trying to pass laws against it, but by proclaiming (to myself and the world) that it's just as much as sin now as it was back then.
            So what about the Ten Commandments? Which are they? That's a good question, and like most good questions, it doesn't have a simple answer. "No other gods," "Eschew any idols," "Don't misuse the Name," and "Honor your parents" are eternal principles. You could, I suppose, make the case that "Do not murder" and "Do not steal" are applications of the principles "People are made in God's image" and "Property rights are important."  Based on Paul, I'd strongly make the case that "Keep the Sabbath Day holy" was a time-bound application of some greater principles.
            Actually, based on the words of our Savior and Paul, you could make the case that "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" are the bedrock principles, and everything else in the Torah is just application of them. I might have to think this through in more detail.
            But with these exceptions aside, I think it's pretty clear most of the time what's an eternal principle vs. what's a time-bound application of a principle. If you read something in the Torah and you can't apply it directly today (e.g. you don't own a field and gleaning isn't an issue) or if the N.T. specifically says it doesn't directly apply to you anymore (e.g. the dietary laws), then it seems to me that it's pretty clear it's an application. If it's repeated in the N.T. (e.g. "Love your neighbor as yourself"), then it's definitely a principle you need to follow. When reading about something that seems to be an application, prayerfully ask yourself questions like "Why would God want his people in that time to do this? What does it say about his priorities, what he values highly and doesn't value as highly?" If you don't come up with any good answers, a good study Bible or Bible teacher can probably help you out. 
            Do I have any scriptural evidence for this, or am I pulling something out of nowhere? I'm getting a little long here, so let me present some in the next posting. 

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