Jewish law talks a lot about clean and unclean foods, things, and actions. I find this fascinating to try to study, particularly understanding why God declares things to be clean or unclean. Sometimes this is sanitary such as regulations concerning a woman’s period or a man’s ejaculation, or skin diseases such as leprosy. Other cases separate God’s people from pagan practices and the worshipping of demons and idols. Then there’s ceremonial things such as only eating certain animals, or priestly rituals.
While Christians are not bound to keeping Moses’ laws, they are useful to study. Modern legal codes are based on Moses’ law, such as acceptable sexual practices, and compensation for damages, and incarceration instead of death for manslaughter. Modern medical practice is based on sanitary regulations, including quarantining sick people, and dealing with mould and skin infections.
Ceremonial practices demonstrate a life dedicated to God. The Pharisees and modern Orthodox Jews make the mistake of extrapolating examples these laws give to the extreme so as to not be cursed by God. Jesus chastised them for overlooking God’s intention behind these laws.
Rituals present prophecy, enacting the works of Jesus. Abraham was righteous because he believed in the promise that Jesus fulfilled. Those who focus on fulfilling the law, reject Jesus’ coming to cover our imperfection – they do not believe in Jesus, and are therefore condemned because of that one time they failed to fulfil the law.
The origins of Biblical law
Biblical law starts in the garden of Eden.
Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said, “Be fertile, increase in number, fill the earth, and be its master. Rule the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that crawl on the earth.”
I like this one. Even trying to fulfil this command brings great pleasure. 😉 We are to fill the Earth and govern it wisely. As we nurture nature, it will provide for our needs. Likewise, if we nurture our children and employees, they will be a great blessing to us in return.
Genesis 2:16 The Lord God commanded the man. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden. 17But you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because when you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
God’s laws are simple, but serious. When we failed to keep this one command, we doomed our descendants to being incapable of perfection, and thereby suffering from a corrupted nature, which leads to our death.
The laws of Noah
When Noah stepped off the ark, God extended his initial command:
Genesis 9:1 God
blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fertile, increase in number,
and fill the earth. 2All the
wild animals and all the birds will fear you and be terrified of you. Every creature that crawls on the ground and
all the fish in the sea have been put under your control. 3Everything that lives and moves
will be your food. I gave you green
plants as food; I now give you everything else.
4“But you are not to eat meat with blood in it. (Blood is life.) 5In addition, I will demand your blood for your life. I will demand it from any animal or from any person. I will demand the life of any person ⌊who kills⌋ another person.
6Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans his blood will be shed,
because in the image of God, God made humans.
7Be fertile, and increase in number. Spread over the earth, and increase.”
In Eden, we were given plants to eat. There was no death, so we couldn’t eat meat. But then we didn’t need to. I believe that the loss of species and degradation of nature, particularly through the flood, led to the extinction of plants vital to good nutrition. Therefore, God allowed us to eat meat. But we must not eat blood, because that’s the life of the animal. It’s interesting that occult practitioners consume blood ritually to absorb the life energy. Christians drink wine or juice, representing their absorption of Jesus’ blood.
Jewish tradition talks about the seven laws of Noah, or Noahide laws. These prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual immorality, theft, eating blood and require establishing government to enforce the first six laws. Most of these derive from the above verses. Before the Pharisees, Jews considered foreigners righteous who fulfilled these laws.
The law of Moses
Judaism traces its roots back to Abraham, but it wasn’t until 400 years later that Moses led Israel our of Egypt and established the law for Israel.
Exodus 20:1 Then God spoke all these words:
- 2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. 3“Never have any other god.
- 4Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. 5Never worship them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals. I punish children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. 6But I show mercy to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my commandments.
- 7“Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly. The Lord will make sure that anyone who carelessly uses his name will be punished.
- 8“Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day. 9You have six days to do all your work. 10The seventh day is the day of worship dedicated to the Lord your God. You, your sons, your daughters, your male and female slaves, your cattle, and the foreigners living in your city must never do any work ⌊on that day⌋. 11In six days the Lord made heaven, earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. He didn’t work on the seventh day. That’s why the Lord blessed the day he stopped his work and set this day apart as holy.
- 12“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live for a long time in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
- 13“Never murder.
- 14“Never commit adultery.
- 15“Never steal.
- 16“Never lie when you testify about your neighbor.
- 17“Never desire to take your neighbor’s household away from him. “Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to him.”
These are known as the ten commandments. Most people incorrectly think that Moses went up Mt Sinai to bring back the stone tablets to read these out to the people. In fact, God spoke these words with a thunderous voice from the mountain and totally freaked out millions of Jewish refugees.
The book of Exodus outlines further laws:
21 The treatment of slaves; compensation for injuries or loss of property
22 Living as holy people
23 Three main festivals and following God’s messenger
25 Designs for the tent of God and its furnishings
28 Designs for the Priest’s clothes
29 Appointing Aaron’s sons and descendants as priests
30 More furnishings for God’s tent
The rest of Exodus tells the story of how this was all put together, after the people rebelled against God when they thought Moses was dead.
Leviticus gets into the real gory detail of the law. This book is named after the priestly tribe of Levi – one of Jacob/Israel’s 12 sons.
1 Burnt offerings: animals sacrificed by burning completely
2 Grain offerings: a portion burned and the rest given to the priests
3 Fellowship offerings: animals sacrificed by burning special parts and the rest shared with family and the priests
4 Offerings for unintentional sins
5 Offerings for sinning on purpose
6 Compensation for theft and negligence
7 Guilt offerings and fellowship offerings and sharing offering with priests
8–9 Ordaining priests
10 Behaviour of priests
11 Animals that may and may not be eaten
12 Women recovering after giving birth
13 Skin diseases and mould on cloth
14 Cleansing skin diseases and mould in houses
15 Cleansing bodily discharges from men and women
16 The annual day for making peace with God
17 The proper way to eat sacrifices; blood is sacred and must not be eaten
18 Forbidden sexual practices
19 Duties toward God and other people; avoid pagan practices
20 Executing those who worship other Gods, or do witchcraft, the occult or sexual immorality
21 Priests must be especially holy
22 How priests may eat from sacrifices; acceptable sacrifices
23 The weekly day of worship and other holy days / festivals
24 Arranging display offerings in God’s tent; executing blasphemers and murderers; revenge must be limited to equal injury
25 Resting the land every 7 years; the 50th year of jubilee, when debts are cancelled, property is restored and slaves set free
26 God’s blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience
27 Special vows of dedication
Clean and unclean animals
Leviticus 11 describes clean and unclean animals. Jews may only eat clean animals:
- Mammals with split hooves and chew the cud
- Fish with fins and scales
- Birds that won’t eat meat
- Jumping insects like locusts
Leviticus 11:45 Here is the reason: I am the Lord. I brought you out of Egypt to be your God. Be holy because I am holy.
There seems to be more to that reason. In talking about chewing the cud, some relate it as an image of behaviour that is holy or unholy. Dogs and pigs just gulp down whatever they find. Cows and sheep are very particular. They eat the grass, digest it a bit, cough it up, chew it some more, and repeat until they get all the goodness out of it. This is a picture of how we should meditate on God’s word.
Some think it’s purely sanitary, possibly particularly in a desert environment. However, chickens and doves are just as disease-ridden as pigs – think salmonella and bird/swine-flu.
Since Israel failed to follow the laws of Moses, God brought the Assyrians and the Babylonians to conquer, destroy and enslave them. After 70 years, God gave them another chance to rebuild their temple. They’d sort of learned their lesson and paid closer attention to God’s laws. However, around 160BC when the Jews overthrew the Greek occupation, they went to the other extreme and imposed priestly requirements on all Jews and forced foreigners to follow Jewish law, including circumcising men. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were so pedantic on the details of the law that they’d forgotten the important details. In Matthew 23, Jesus goes on a rant against this hypocrisy.
The Jews turned against God again, in particular by rejecting Jesus, the Messiah. Therefore, God destroyed their temple and exiled them throughout the world. The Romans renamed Israel Palestine in memory of their ancient enemy, the philistines, from whom the giant goliath came that David killed. Since then Palestine has generally been a wasteland littered with ruined cities. But in fulfilment of numerous prophecies, God has been restoring Israel again over the past century. The cities have been rebuilt and the land is flourishing.
Following in pharisitical tradition, today’s orthodox Jews have separate kitchens for meat and milk as a gross extrapolation of
Exodus 23:19 … “Never cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Jesus’s teaching on the law
Jesus affirmed the law of Moses and fulfilled all of its requirements, ultimately with his own death as the price for sin. He had various discussions and “discussions” with the religious guys about the law.
Matthew 22:17 “So tell
us what you think. Is it right to pay
taxes to the emperor or not?”
19“… Show me a coin used to pay taxes.”
They brought him a coin. 20He said to them, “Whose face and name is this?”
21They replied, “The emperor’s.”
Then he said to them, “Very well, give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.”
In other words, obey the government. Note that we are made in the image of God, so we must give ourselves to God.
“Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”
37Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
In John 8, the religious dudes brought a woman caught in adultery, expecting Jesus to condemn her according to the law. I would have addressed their hypocrisy by asking where the man is. Jesus took a more graceful approach. He affirmed the law and said,
7… “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Now they were in a pickle. Whoever threw a stone to execute her, would be executed for claiming to be perfect. When the mob dispersed,
10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Where did
they go? Has anyone condemned you?”
11The woman answered, “No one, sir.”
Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go! From now on don’t sin.”
Jesus reminds us that the law must always be balanced with mercy. The law can only condemn, it cannot fix sin.
Later, as more non-Jews believed in Jesus, cultural differences brought conflict. In Acts 15, some Jews, particularly Pharisees, thought that non-Jews have to follow Moses’ law to be godly. After a great debate, they wrote this letter:
Acts 15:23 … From the apostles and the spiritual leaders, your brothers.
To their non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
Dear brothers and sisters,
24We have heard that some individuals who came from us have confused you with statements that disturb you. We did not authorize these men ⌊to speak⌋. 25So we have come to a unanimous decision that we should choose men and send them to you with our dear Barnabas and Paul. 26Barnabas and Paul have dedicated their lives to our Lord, the one named Jesus Christ. 27We have sent Judas and Silas to report to you on our decision. 28The Holy Spirit and we have agreed not to place any additional burdens on you. Do only what is necessary 29by keeping away from food sacrificed to false gods, from eating bloody meat, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual sins. If you avoid these things, you will be doing what’s right.
Essentially, they reaffirmed Noahide law, which always defined righteousness for non-Jews.
In the teachings of the New Testament, there are many guides, rules and reminders of godly living, derived from the intent of old testament law. Something often overlooked is:
Romans 13:1 Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God. 2Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.
This is the final
element of the original Noahide law.
The laws of Noah are for everyone, forever. They prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual immorality, theft, eating blood and require establishing government to enforce this.
The law of Moses adds details for the nation of Israel, which form the basis of modern laws and medical practice. Ceremonial laws demonstrate holiness, such as clean and unclean animals. Religious festivals remember the key points of God’s plan for history past and future.
Christian law is simple:
- Love God – no idols or other gods, don’t slander God
- Love everyone else – don’t murder or steal
- Don’t eat foods offered to other gods or idols
- Don’t eat meat with blood in it
- Keep away from sexual sins (as defined in Moses’ law)
- Submit to the authorities. Because God has appointed them
I pray this is enlightening.