Posted by: Daniel McCurdy | February 26, 2013

Blogging Again and Why did Israel have so many laws?

I have been encouraged by a couple of my friends to start blogging again, and so I think I will. I am looking at my blog and I realize that I never finished the series I started, but I would still like to come back to that. The few posts I have written tend to be a bit long, and I think I may have to do shorter posts for a while. Topics will probably include the Bible, counseling, cooking, parenting and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Today I would like to write about the books of the law in the Bible. If any of you reading this don’t know, I am in the first of two years in the M.A. in Counseling at Biblical Theological Seminary. For the Bible class I am currently taking I am required to read through most of the Old Testament. This past week I read (actually listened to an audio-book) through just about all the laws found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I have often wondered why there were so many rules given to Israel. I often don’t like rules. I simply find them constraining. I highly dislike the idea of a legalistic religion. Christianity is not about a list of do’s and don’ts. If God values the heart, like He says He does all through the Bible; why does Israel get so many rules?

I have encountered a number of theories on this. The one that I have heard most growing up is that God gave Israel these rules to promote social order, hygiene,  food safety, and otherwise take care of Israel. I do believe that there is merit to this idea, however, it does not seem complete. There are a number of rules that seem arbitrary under this paradigm. Take Leviticus 17 for example. Semen and a woman’s period both make a person unclean. Clearly, these are natural functions that it seems like God is condemning. While this may be a part of the reason God gave all the laws and commands, it is not complete.

Another idea that I have heard more recently is that all religions of the era were very ritualized, and that God spoke to Israel in the context of their era. This would later be reflected in how Jesus came and preached in an era appropriate way. In doing this God also made some strong distinctions from the religions of the nations that Israel would face. I think that this theory is much closer to the truth.

The reason God gives for the law is to be holy as He is holy. God was doing something that none of the other gods had done before; He was traveling with Israel. God was clearly among His people, and He had set this people aside. There were requirements that came with this presence. The people needed to purify themselves before God. They needed to be set aside and clean. The ceremonies were not just there because they were familiar customs but because there had to be ways to be cleansed before God.

Having read through all the laws I really wonder to myself, “How could I ever be clean or pure before God?” All through the New Testament this point is addressed, the law was not there to save us but to show us our need to be saved. Israel was not being called to legalism or salvation through acts. Later through the Old Testament God says that it wasn’t all about festivals and offerings but about their hearts. God wanted His people to see that there was a deep need for God.

These rituals to make Israel holy were very important, seeing as God commanded them. Holiness is not a topic I have heard come up very much in the modern church, but it seems important that when we are in the presence of God we need to present ourselves as holy. The kicker is that as Christians we have God with us through the Holy Spirit, I don’t exactly know what this means or looks like, but I can accept it as true. How do we present ourselves holy before God, who is with us, keeping in mind that God desires our hearts? Please comment and discuss this because I am asking for myself as much as you. And if you aren’t a Christian and you got this far, well I appreciate that you are reading what I’m writing, but what do you think a Christian’s life ought to look like?

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Responses

  1. You hit the the point of the Law perfectly! The Law was made to set Israel apart from everyone else. Adam was supposed to be the prototypical man but when he fell (along with Eve of course) things just went out of balance. And if you look at the progression of how God treated Israel, he first was pretty liberal with them. But then they kept messing up and loving false Gods, so in order to 1. Protect them, and 2. for they to prove their love for he, he ordained laws. Some of them seem foreign to us now, but the key component when you read anything in the Bible that seems troubling is to contextualize it. Not everything in the Word is necessarily relatable to us literally. However principally it is. That’s why we read the OT, to know that God wants the best for his chosen ones. Then when Jesus came, he clearly notes that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

    When it comes down to it, if you or Israel is loving God and loving others as themselves, then they are fulfilling the law. More often than not however, we/Israel don’t.

    When it comes to holiness, I’ve always had the view that there wasn’t a Holy Spirit until Jesus ascended into heaven (Matt 3:11) and since Jesus died to clear our sins, the chosen people don’t have to “try” to be holy for God. Israel on the other hand didn’t have the Holy Spirit, so the Law was God’s way to show his love while also directing them in the right direction.

    Let’s just say that I thank Jesus for the Spirit that convicts me and intercedes for me because I would be horrible at following the law!

    I hope this makes some sense. I just saw this at 1:30AM and I wanted to reply before I forgot!

  2. The rituals and everything were very important in setting Israel apart. And I can’t remember if you made this point, but Scripture also says that without actually caring about them or changing or becoming more holy, they were no longer pleasing to God. However, in the Christian life, it isn’t us who’s really doing the changing. As long as we have grace, God will be working in our lives continually. He will be giving us the desire to change ourselves that we would never have on our own. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things that I’m doing now if God hadn’t picked up my heart and brought me to Him, allowing me into the wedding feast (because the church will one day meet her bridegroom and fully know God as we have been fully known.)


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