The Law is the Law Ė Or Is It?

Signs and Symbols, Civil Law, and Mixtures


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Genesis 17:9-14; Deuteronomy 31:19-27, 17:18-20, Signs and Symbols: Circumcision and writing the Torah (4/23/18)

God knows that we are forgetful and donít read our Bibles much, even when we have them. Therefore he commanded symbols that are a little more difficult to ignore. All Jewish males are circumcised as a sign and reminder of Godís covenant with Abraham. (Not all males who are circumcised are Jewish, however.)

In addition, God acted through Moses to give the Jews written commandments, called the Law or Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). According to the Jewish scholar Maimonides, each man must write a Torah scroll, and the king particularly must write one out Ė in front of the priests Ė for his own personal use.

I like the idea of having rulers write out all the laws personally. It would keep them out of trouble.


Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Numbers 15:38-40, Signs and Symbols: Phylacteries, mezuzot, and tassels (4/24/18)

God gave the Israelites some other visible reminders to wear and to put on their doors: phylacteries for the head and arm, tassels on the prayer shawl, and mezuzot (singular mezuzah) for the doors. You often see modern Jewish men, and some women, wearing the first two, and Jewish households often have the latter on the front door. By the way, we know that Jesus also wore the prayer shawl with tassels, as we saw by comparing Mark with Numbers.


Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-28, Signs and Symbols: Eucharist, a symbol of the blood and body of Christ (4/25/18)

God also gave Christians some physical symbols to remind us of our relationship with God and with Jesus. One of the most important is the Eucharist, or communion.


Matthew 28:16-20, Galatians 3:26-29, Signs and Symbols: Baptism, a sign of putting on Christ (4/26/18)

The second of the two most important Christian symbols is baptism. As far as I know, all Christians baptize and celebrate communion.


Mark 5:24-34, Matthew 9:20-22, Signs and Symbols: By the way, we know Jesus wore the tassels. (4/27/18)

By the way, we know that Jesus, like all observant Jews, wore the prayer shawl with tassels that we learned about the other day. The Greek words translated fringe of (his) garment in the ESV, or often hem of (his) garment, in Matthew 9:20 are exactly the same as the ones in Numbers 15:38.

Actually, my favorite part of this story is when the disciples say, "Um, teacher? A zillion people are jostling you, and you want to know who touched you?" I love the disciples. They are just like me.


Exodus 22:28, Deuteronomy 17:14-17, Commandments pertaining to the King or other leaders (4/30/18)

Itís interesting that God says in practically the same breath that we are not to curse either him or our leaders. The Bible in general takes the view that political leaders are to be respected. Meantime, political leaders are to be worthy of respect, upright and frugal. Note that our obligations toward our leaders doesnít depend on their worthiness.


Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 5:41, 1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7, Commandments and instructions pertaining to government (5/1/18)

Jesus and the apostles teach us to pay our taxes, obey the laws of the land, assist government employees as required and possible, and show respect to government officials. (Note that if your government is asking you to do something contrary to Godís Law, you shouldnít do it [e.g., Acts 4:19-20]; however, if you have to go to jail over it, like Peter, John, or Paul, just go and bear witness there.)

Deuteronomy 1:9-18, 16:18-20, The Law set up a court system, still active in Jesusí time (6/28/18)

When the children of Israel left Egypt, there were six hundred thousand men, plus women and children (Exodus 12:37), but there was only one Moses. Naturally, he was beginning to be run a little ragged by people wanting his judgments. His father-in-law, Jethro, said to him, "Look, you need to get yourself some help. Get some good people to take care of all the simple cases, and let them bring the hard cases to you" (Exodus 18). Moses decided that was a fine idea, and he set up a court system, embodied in the Law.


Matthew 10:5-20; Acts 5:25-41, The Law set up a court system, still active in Jesusí time (6/29/18)

By the first century, the Jewish court system was concentrated in sanhedrins, also translated council, court, or tribunal, or sometimes paraphrased as "to be judged." Check Matthew 10:17 in your paper Bible to see what it has. We mostly hear about "the" Sanhedrin, which was the one in Jerusalem, but from what Jesus says in Matthew, there must have been lesser sanhedrins in other towns and villages. In our own time, courts are mostly a function of civil government, although I think I mentioned earlier that much of Western civil law also can be traced back to the Law of Moses. In addition, various denominations still have ecclesiastical courts to deal with church law.

Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 23:24, 24:14-15, 25:4, Business Practices - OT: Labor laws (5/28/18)

The Law of Moses naturally has many commandments that we recognize to be about sinful behavior toward God, and even about sinful behavior toward each other. It also includes a surprising number of commandments about ordinary civil law. The Jewish medieval scholar Maimonides (also known as Rambam) drew out about 20 commandments that I have called "business practices."

One of the commandments about labor is that workers had to be paid daily; an employer couldnít withhold their wages until it was convenient for himself to pay them. We still have similar laws in modern times; for example, in New Mexico employers must pay wages at least monthly, and I believe employees must be told the schedule in advance. (No doubt one of our lawyer readers will let me know if Iím wrong.)

Iím including the commandment about oxen in labor law because of the way itís used in the New Testament. I think most modern Jews would characterize it as a law about humane treatment of animals, and we certainly have laws on that topic in modern times as well. Rambamís list of commandments tend to be divided up according to the interests of the one doing the dividing, as near as I can tell.


Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 23:19-20, 24:6, 10-13, Business Practices - OT: Borrowing, lending, and selling (5/29/18)

The Law pays close attention to the business of borrowing, lending, and selling. Only interest-free loans were allowed between Jews; however, Jews could charge interest to foreigners.

Have you heard of The Law of Unintended Consequences? Sometimes we, or our leaders, take some action that seems like a good idea at the time, but the outcomes are not the ones foreseen and intended. The Old Testament prohibition on interest-bearing loans among Jews led the medieval Church to forbid interest-bearing loans among Christians. This had a depressing effect on the economy, which led to the practice of using Jewish businessmen as go-betweens. After all, Jews and Christians could lend to each other at interest! People get weird about money, so this led in turn to some hard feelings all around, but on the other hand gave rise to some of the great banking families of Europe, such as the Rothschilds. Probably neither outcome was what God intended when he forbade demanding interest on a loan to the poor.


Matthew 20:1-16, Business Practices - NT: Labor Laws (5/30/18)

I havenít found any actual commandments in the New Testament about labor relations. Jesus clearly expected that his listeners knew the Law about wages, however. The requirement that workers be paid daily is the basis of this parable about Godís equal love for all his children.


James 5:1-4; 1 Corinthians 9:1-12, Business Practices - NT: Labor Laws (5/31/18)

The topic of wages comes up again in the letters of James and Paul. James speaks with a prophetic voice to the rich who fail to pay their workers on schedule. He cites Deuteronomy 24:14-15 in saying that Godís sympathies lie with the unpaid workers.

Paul always took great pride Ė in a very humble way, of course Ė in working for a living and not being a burden to his converts. He is doubly indignant when he is accused of charging them for his preaching, because first, he hasnít (vs. 6), and second, he is allowed to (vss. 3-7)! He cites the labor laws in Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 23:25.


Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:34-35, 11:5-8, Business Practices - NT: Borrowing and lending (6/1/18)

As we saw earlier this week, Jews were allowed to lend to fellow-Jews and even to take collateral, but they expected to be paid back. (Unless, of course, the loan was going to be active in the Sabbatical Year. You had to be careful about that.) Jesus, as is his custom, goes farther: lend even if you donít see the prospect of being paid back. His reason is the same as we saw in the Old Testament. God is good and generous toward everyone, particularly the Jews, and we should be, too.

The parable in Luke 11 is really about prayer, not lending, but lending is the example Jesus uses.


Exodus 21:33-34; Deuteronomy 22:8, The Law contained an early Uniform Building Code (6/27/18)

The International Building Code, formerly the Uniform Building Code, sets forth building guidelines for that are designed to ensure the safety of occupants. In most of the United States, state law requires that the Code be implemented by builders and remodelers. An early (and brief) form of building code is found in the Law of Moses. I couldnít find a repetition in the New Testament.

Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9-11, 7:1-8, 23:2-4, Mixtures - OT: Donít mix plants, animals, fibers, or peoples (6/4/18)

God had a plan for the salvation of the universe, but unfortunately none of us were on board with this plan. So God chose two people, Abram and Sarai, and told them, "You come with me and Iíll give you a great deal." When the family traveled down to Egypt, there were still only about 75 of them. Itís really hard to change the world with two people, or even 75, so God had to build them up into a mighty nation Ė a new kind of nation, the nation of God.

Now, what happens when new people come to this country, which is already a mighty nation? Assimilation, thatís what. After about the third generation, they donít speak the old language or keep the old customs. This would have happened to the chosen people, too, except that God kept emphasizing that they should be separate. He gave them daily reminders of their responsibility not to mix with other peoples in the form of rules about not mixing animals, crops, or fibers.


2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Mixtures - NT: Donít marry unbelievers; if married to an unbeliever, stay married if possible (6/5/18)

Well, to our great surprise, it turns out that Godís plan for salvation includes not only you and me, but everybody else! Who would have thought?? Still, you tend to become like the people you associate with, and so, Paul says, itís a good idea for believers, both Christians and Jews, to keep a little separation between themselves and the unbelievers.

Nevertheless, if you find that you have already married (or, presumably, are already working with or whatever) an unbeliever, itís better to stay in that marriage than to get a divorce. Who knows? You might be the cause of salvation for your spouse or coworker. Wouldnít that be wonderful?


More on the Law
Jesus on the Law, Nazirites, Dietary Law
Signs & Symbols, Civil Law, and Mixtures
Times and Seasons
Sacrifices and Offerings, Priests, and Firstborn
The Ten Commandments, 1 - 3
The Ten Commandments, 4 - 10
The Greatest Commandments

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