Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Jewish Moral Law and the Gospel of Christ

There are many moral laws in the first five books of the Bible (i.e. the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses, the Torah) which many people, even Christians, find confusing and others often mock as proof that the Bible is an antiquated book with little relevance to me today. This is probably best exemplified in an open letter written to Dr. Laura Schelssinger a few years ago posted below. Schelssinger is a radio personality who gives advice to those who call her radio show and this satirical letter was posted on the internet in response to her quoting Leviticus 18:22 and condemning homosexuality as an abomination. 

Dear Dr. Laura: 

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law.  I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.  When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination.  End of debate.  I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.

1.  When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord—Leviticus 1:9.  The problem is my neighbors.  They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?

2.  I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.  In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3.  I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness—Leviticus 15:19-24.  The problem is, how do I tell?  I have tried asking, but most women take offence. 

4.  Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations.  A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.  Can you clarify?  Why can't I own Canadians?

5.  I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.  Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

6.  A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination—Leviticus 11:10—it  is a lesser abomination than homosexuality.  I don't agree.  Can you settle this?

7.  Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.  I have to admit that I wear reading glasses.  Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8.  Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27.  How should they die?

While I give the writer of this letter points for creativity, wit and humor, it is misguided for several reasons. One, it completely ignores the context in which these laws were written. The Bible is not a code of moral ethics by which people curry favor from an insatiable and insecure deity. It's ultimately a story, written by and about a God who loves us and who is pursuing a relationship with us which has been broken and initiating that restoration through His Son. 

Second, the writer fails to understand the fundamental problem of sin -- especially in the presence of a holy God. Have you ever noticed that anytime a person enters the presence of God in Scripture their immediate response is to fall on their face? That's "shock and awe". Notice it's not a holy God scurrying away from sinful man. It's sinful man falling down and hiding his face from an awesome and holy God. 

"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" -Exodus 15:11
As a child I used to think that sin somehow has power over God - as if God is Superman and sin is his kryptonite. We have it backwards. It's not so much that a holy God cannot dwell with sin - but rather it's sin that cannot dwell with a holy God. When Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sa 6:7) the Ark was not destroyed....he was. Sin and anything sinful is simply vaporized when it comes into contact with the awesome holiness of God. It's as simple and sobering as that. And so God did not send His Son as a panacea to His greatest weakness - He sent His Son as a panacea to our greatest weakness. This was not God's solution to His greatest problem - it was God's solution to ours. 

If you're still not convinced or would like to understand how it all ties together better please watch the video from The Bible Project below which does a great job of describing the structure and purpose of the book of Leviticus. Here you will see that Leviticus is pointing (as every book in the Bible does) to both the nearness and to our need of a Savior -- Jesus Christ -- who is ultimately revealed in the New Testament. 

You can choose to see the confusing moral laws in the Old Testament as arbitrary nonsense that disproves the relevance of the Bible. Or you can choose to see it as defining our problem with sin before an awesome and holy God, leading to God's gracious and merciful solution in His Son - Jesus Christ. 


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