Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Law and its Role in Righteousness

"It is not the business of the law to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright."--Murray Rothbard

“But if a man do the whole, with the omission of one, he is guilty of the whole, and of every one.” --Talmudic Rabbi Yochanan

One of the fundamental tenets of Judaism is the Law, from the Ten Commandments engraved in stone, to the ceremonial law inscribed on parchment. As a sign of their piety towards God, Orthodox Jews wear a prayer shawl with 619 tassels, representing the 619 laws of Moses recorded in the Torah.

Yet how do the Jews reconcile their adherence to the Law with the following promises from YHWH?:

"But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." (Deuteronomy 30:14)

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33)

"And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." (Ezechiel 36:27)

The Law does not make us good; it merely shows us up for how bad we are.

The LORD recognized that mankind could not meet the standard of the Law. Always the LORD looked out for his creation, not only safeguarding from the unforeseen consequences, but preparing a way for them to be redeemed, to receive mercy.

For example, the LORD did not cast out Adam and Eve to punish them for eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but to prevent them from unredeemable immortality from eating of the Tree of Life:

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23)

He was merciful to the human race from the beginning, even extending mercy to Cain, the first murderer:

"And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. (Genesis 4:13-15)

Cain deserved to be cast off forever, from the presence of the LORD, both from His love and protection. Yet when Cain cried out to the LORD, he did not apologize for his sin, nor did he offer some way to amend his wrong, but he desperately cried out that the punishment was too much for him. And the LORD had mercy on Cain, not just placing a mark on him for his protection, but allowing him to settle a city and produce offspring.

Later, out of mercy the LORD recognized the innate sinful weakness of man after the flood:

"I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done." (Genesis 8:21)

Fast forward to the Exodus of the Israelites, who followed the LORD, who lead them out of Egypt, healthy and wealthy, across the Red Sea, through the Wilderness. All that time he fed them and cared for them.

At Mount Sinai, the LORD called for His people to enter into the same covenant as the first believer Abraham, who heard the LORD and followed Him, away from country kith and kin, to the Promised Land.

Abraham believed the LORD, and it was accounted to Him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6) Abraham was justified by faith, and faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom, 10:17)

Just as Abraham heard the LORD and followed Him, away from country kith and kin, to the Promised Land, so the LORD wanted to bless the descendants of Abraham, who by faith would access the same grace, the same blessings, for themselves and for the whole world.

Before Moses ascended to Mount Sinai, the LORD declared to His people:

"Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’"(Exodus 19:5-6, KJV)

However, unlike faithful father Abraham, his Hebrew descendants presumed on their own efforts, in spite of everything which the LORD had done for them, declaring:

“All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” (Exodus 19:8-9)

From the moment the Hebrews declared that they could measure up the standards of the LORD, he became dark and foreboding, even menacing on account of the fire and trembling that shook the Earth shortly after. So terrified were the Israelites that they cried out to Moses:

"Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Ex 20:19)

They would not heed the LORD's voice directly, but only through Moses, thus refusing the covenant and refusing his voice.

Torah, by definition, means "guidance, instruction." From the beginning, the LORD had intended that His people would follow Him, and he would lead them into righteousness.

David was not just waxing poetical when he declared in the 23rd Psalm, "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (v. 3)

Yet man has presumed on his own efforts, that on his own he can measure up to God's standards.

Yet even the Messiah Jesus Christ, restored to the Law to its pristine, unassailable standard, both on the Sermon on the Mount, where he exhorted his listeners" "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:48)

He even exposed to the Pharisees the folly of their pretended righteousness:

"Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?" (Jn. 7:19)

Yet it would be by Jesus' death, and only by his death, that we may receive the righteousness that comes from the Law:

"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Rom. 8:3-4)


"For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21)

From the beginning, the LORD intended for mankind to live by the Law, but not by his own strength. By the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer who calls upon the LORD, receiving the sacrifice that Jesus made at the Cross, they may receive the righteousness that comes from the Law plus the Holy Spirit, who leads every believer in the paths of righteousness.

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