As we continue to wind our way through the first five books of the Bible, one of the things we can't help but stop and ask is, "why are there so many laws in these books?" And, "why are they in the Bible?" For most of us, I think we feel like there is little that we can gain today from studying them, and we never hear them preached on, if not for more than a passing reference here and there. This blog is an attempt at helping all of us to understand the place these laws have in our faith today.
If you think about it, these first five books were the only Bible the Israelites had for quite some time. In fact, for several thousand years, when Jews would ask the question, "How do we live in a way that is pleasing to God?" these books- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy- were their answer. Their ONLY answer.
So imagine if you had been alive many, many years ago before the Bible came to be the Bible. You had no written record of what pleased God and what didn't. One day, God came along to you and said, "Person, if you sin, you should bring me a sacrifice!" With no other reference point, you are going to have many, many questions. Such as, "what is sinful and what isn't? What kind of sacrifice? Do all sins require the same sacrifice? When do I bring the sacrifice? Where do I bring it? Do I sacrifice it myself, or does someone else do that? What does it mean to sacrifice something to begin with? Burn it? Kill it? Eat it?" All of these questions and many like them would be logical, and expected responses to God's command.
In light of this, the length and specificity of all these books starts to make a lot more sense! I have been told that even in the 1st century at the time of Jesus, Jewish school boys were still required to memorize the entirety of these books in school. Crazy as that may sound, it actually makes a lot of sense when we remember that these rules were their primary link to pleasing God.
If reading all of these laws and commands does one thing for us, it ought to make us eternally grateful for the work of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice has ended the system of sacrifice (Hebrews 10) and made righteous forever all who trust in His name. So as you read about bulls and goats one more time, pause and thank Jesus for coming on your behalf.
So while Jesus made our approach to God much simpler, he actually made the requirements infinitely more challenging! When you think about it, Jesus summarized thousands of laws with two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Very simple, but very, very hard to do. It would actually be much easier for us to follow the sacrificial system than to live out the laws of love in every single thing we do.
This is the amazing conundrum of Jesus. He raised the bar of God's righteous standard even higher than the Old Testament law, but he lowered the bar of acceptance. In the past, the people had to obey all the commands in order to be acceptable. Jesus, however, made everyone acceptable through His blood. Why? Because God knew that when people understood they were loved and accepted by God already, they would be empowered to go and live out his law of love.
We can never hope to love God and others perfectly. But thanks to the amazing love and grace of Jesus Christ, we have the freedom to try, knowing that our acceptance before God isn't contingent on how well we obey His law. How cool is that?
So go for it. Go and love God and love others with all that you have. And when you realize you've come up short, which you always will, fall back into the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. And then go out and love some more.
May your journey through Scripture give you a deeper love for Jesus than ever before!