The Law in Perspective

My friend Jim is teaching a class on the Presence of God and sent out a few observations from, “The Lost World of the Torah” by J. John Walton and D. Brent Sandy.  These points offer a better perspective, even providing a different way of thinking about the Law and how it can be read.

What “the Law” is not:

  • Legislation. It is not intended to be a basis for determining a moral system. God is not requiring rule-keeping.
  • A means of salvation.
  • Intended as an ideal social structure; its purpose is not to transform culture.
  • Should not be divided into categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial law.
  • Comprehensive. There are “10 Words” (not commandments) at the beginning (Exo 20) that are the main stipulations of the covenant. Scholars estimate that there are a total of 613 statutes, precepts, testimonies, commands, etc. They don’t cover every scenario. Statutory law, such as ours, did not develop until the post-Reformation period. Our laws are more comprehensive.

Because it is not legislation, the response is not intended to be obedience, at least in the way we think of following rules. “Torah provides wisdom to the Israelites to help them understand what their co-identification with YHWH should look like” (from. J. John Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of the Torah).

What “the Law” is:

  • Part of a covenant treaty between YHWH, the suzerain, and Israel, His vassal state. It is intended for Israel only, not Christians.
  • The Law consists of legal sayings. Legal sayings in the ancient near east are not legislation. They are intended to demonstrate the wisdom of the king who in this case is YHWH.
  • Legal sayings don’t cover every scenario. They are examples of how a king would rule in situations, some from actual experiences and others as a “if such and such occurs, then such and such would be the action taken”.
  • Wisdom. Again, the intent is to demonstrate the wisdom of the king. The response is not obedience (rule keeping), but understanding. Obedience in this case means gleaning the wisdom behind the command and heeding it. E.g., how to treat the foreigner, wives, neighbors, etc. Each of these groups (and all other members of society) have a higher value in God’s eyes than they do in the eyes of the gods and their followers in the surrounding nations.
  • The means by which Order in society is brought about. Order as opposed to disorder enhances the reputation of the king. By heeding YHWH’s instruction (the meaning of ‘Torah’) the Israelites would enhance YHWH’s reputation among the surrounding neighbor countries.

The Torah tells us about YHWH’s values, who he is as a person, how he views right and wrong, good and evil. The objective of Torah is to demonstrate the wisdom of YHWH. By “obeying” the Torah, the Israelites obtain the blessings promised by their suzerain, YHWH. God will get the glory whether they obey or not. But blessings come with faithfulness to their suzerain. By going after other gods, they would violate the covenant treaty and this would be considered an act of war.