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The law: the Pentateuch

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Some Christians tend to ignore or deem the Old Testament, especially the Law, as “no longer relevant” or that the New Testament supersedes or nullifies the Law and/or the Old Testament. Frankly, some Christians do not know what to make of the Old Testament.

In ancient times, covenants were made between suzerains (overlords, rulers) and vassals (servants, those conquered or assimilated). In these covenants, stipulations or laws were made that would either bless the vassals or curse them. If the vassal violated the stipulations, the suzerain would punish the vassal and its people. Likewise, the Law is a covenant between God and his people. When we obey his Law or commands, the people are blessed. When the Law is violated or disobeyed, things get out of order. Blessings and curses come about, though it is not quite as simple as this. This explanation is serving as an illustration.

The Law is complex. There are apodictic laws (do and do not), ritual law, casuistic (case-by –case), food laws, and a few others.

In the case of ritual law, Christ later fulfilled these laws of blood sacrifice. Ritual law was in place to atone for the people’s sins. Blood had to be spilled (a sacrifice) in order for the price of sin to be paid for. Quite frankly, animal sacrifice could never atone fully or perfectly, hence why Christ Jesus came in the flesh, who was sinless, the perfect sacrifice to atone for all sin and was raised again that we too may be united with God, but that is another lesson.

Many laws still apply to the Christian, especially the apodictic, an example is the ten commandments. The food laws are no longer necessary, yet they were put in place to keep Israel away from food usually sacrificed to idols or from disease. (According to allergists, lamb is a meat that most will not have an allergic reaction to). The law of building houses with decks that had railings is not one that MUST be followed or you will not enter heaven. But the point of the law (all law in the Old Testament) was to show God’s character. The building law is not there to make sure one lives rightly before God, but to be sure a neighbor does not fall from your open deck and die or be injured.

What the Law shows is the heart of God for his people. He instructs us to live praising and worshipping God, to live well in his midst, to be protected by the stipulations. To know how to honor God and your neighbor. When Peter had the vision of all the animals to be eaten, this was not a breaking of the Law, but saying that now the Gentiles may be a part of the covenant, since they already eat these foods the Jews were forbidden, “do not hold this against them. Make it easier to enter the kingdom of God, except do not eat foods sacrificed to idols.” The food laws were never meant for salvation, but for protection from disease.

In short, the book of Leviticus (really the Pentateuch—first five books of the Bible) are meant to teach us to obey God, how to love God and our neighbor. The Law was never anyone’s salvation, but our instruction to live rightly before God. When the Law was made into 600 laws that had to be followed, this is when legalism can become the religion. But the heart of the Law is God’s heart. The Psalms say, “O how I love your law. It is my meditation all the day. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.” Galatians says the sum of the law is how to love your neighbor and really how to love God (first).

The Law is not meant to be a rule book, but a way of knowing how to love God and love your neighbor. It is instruction in obedience to God, the one our heart adores. Yet, it also shows us how sinful we are and how impossible it is to follow the Law in its full form. Yet, as a Christ-follower, we are in Christ who is perfecting us and teaching us and disciplining us to love according to his Law.

There are still consequences to disobedience to the Law, but God’s mercy is great. God is not the sadistic overlord who will look for any chance to punish his creation for not obeying. The Law of love beginning in the Old Testament is carried into the New Testament through today. The Law is a gift from God showing us how to live, but also obey God’s command which is to bring us toward love for God and our neighbor. This is the essence of the Law.

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