Friday, February 24, 2006

Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 2: The Yoke of the Torah

In the previous entry, we saw that Yeshua didn't come to do away with the Torah. In fact, the New Covenant assumes that the Torah would continue--what else would God be writing on our hearts with His Spirit (Jer. 31:31-33, Heb. 8:8-13)? The "old" covenant that the New Covenant replaces is the Mosaic Covenant, in which all Israel promised to keep all of God's commands in their own power.

"But," one might object, "didn't the Apostles call the Torah a yoke too heavy to bear (Ac. 15:10)?" Not at all! First, let us consider what the Torah has to say about itself:
For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in Heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go up for us to Heaven, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who shall go over the sea for us to the region beyond the sea, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it.
--Dt. 30:11-14
In other words, there is nothing about the Torah that is arduous or humanly impossible to keep—and in that lies our just condemnation under God’s Law. If keeping His commandments was impossible, then He wouldn’t hold us accountable for keeping them; but having given us a Torah that we could keep, our true rebellious nature is made manifest.

Yeshua Himself, though endorsing every last letter of the Torah and saying that those who taught against keeping the least command would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (note that the issue is teaching falsely, and that it clearly isn't a salvational issue), said, "Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). He did not regard the Torah—properly interpreted and applied—to be a burden.

No, this heavy yoke must be something else; and by simply carefully studying the debates between Yeshua and the Pharisees, it's not hard to say what it was. Yeshua never once criticized a single commandment of the Torah, but vehemently opposed adding commandments to the Torah so as to make it a burden or pervert its meaning. For example, He condemned the Pharisees for judging others on how (or if) they ceremonially washed their hands, or for gleaning a bit of food on the Sabbath, or for allowing one to sidestep their oaths and their obligation to care for (honor) their parents by way of legal loopholes. It was the addition of literally thousands of extra-Torahic commands, too many for any other than a scholar to even keep track of, which made the Torah a burden—and it was that culture of legalism that the Apostles wished to protect the Gentile converts from, not the Torah itself.

I've been accused several times of being rabbinic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like to get the rabbis' take on certain issues, just to have the additional perspective, but I don't feel bound by it. I respect the Jewish (extra-Biblical) traditions and even observe some, like the details of the Passover dinner or the praying of the Amidah (sans the 19th "Benediction"), but I am certainly not bound by them the way I am bound by God’s commandments in the Scripture, nor do I judge anyone on them. If I don't rest on the Sabbath in a rabbinically-correct way because I drive ten miles to teach the kids of our youth group, I nevertheless rest from my regular work and teach on the Sabbath as Yeshua and the Apostles did. Doing what God has commanded me to do out of love for Him is far more important than trying to be more (rabbinically) Jewish than a born Jew (cf. 1 Col. 7:19).

The truly sad thing is that most conservative churches do observe--and even quote from--about 90% of the Torah. Nobody here thinks it's alright to steal, for example, or commit adultery, or practice occultism, or cheat in business, etc. Yet take someone like myself, who finds it a delight to observe the Feastdays that God Himself ordained, and suddenly some people get offended.

Let me be clear about this: I am not trying to foster an attitude of legalism or to dictate to anyone, "You have to do this and that in just such a way to be saved." Heaven forbid! What I am trying to accomplish with the last several essays is to change a basic attitude: Instead of saying, "Oh, that's the Law! We're under Grace, so it doesn't apply anymore," I would that the Church as a whole would say, "We are under Grace, and having been shown so great a grace, let us both hear and carry out God's Teachings." (The word Torah, which comes from the word yarah, has more the connotation of "teaching" than "law.")

I'm also trying to get away from the artificial division Christianity as a whole tends to put on the Torah, saying, "Well, the moral law still applies, but the ceremonial law doesn't." That's simply not true, as we can see from the example of the Apostles. Nor are the ceremonial commandments more arduous to keep than the moral commandments--just the opposite! As I explained back in my High Holy Days posts, I have found great joy and blessing in observing God's appointed times.

But even more importantly, such a division creates a rather strange attitude: That the commands that tell us how to love our neighbor (the moral law) are more important than those which tell us how to love God. I'll be exploring this idea in the next essay.


Next: Loving ADONAI Your God

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