The Owners Manual
It’s called “The Law of Moses,” but that’s not a terribly accurate description. First, Moses—the “Great Emancipator” of Israel—didn’t “think up” any of the so-called “Mosaic Law” himself. Yahweh did. The God who had been worshipped by Moses’ ancestor Abraham, a God with whom he was barely aware of when he began his last great adventure (leading Israel out of bondage) dictated every word of this body of “law.” It bears little or no resemblance to the only system of jurisprudence with which Moses would have been intimately familiar—that of 18th Dynasty Egypt. (Specifically, Egyptian “law” was designed to establish or reinforce the authority of those in power—something that shifted back and forth over time between the priesthood of Egypt’s pantheon and its monarchy—the Pharaoh and the civil administrators under him. Under the Mosaic system, the priests had lots of responsibility, but no power whatsoever. And—after the leadership of Moses and Joshua had run its course—there was to be no civil ruler at all: God Himself was in charge, governing Israel through the words He had said to Moses.)
Second, in the strictest sense, the “Law of Moses” was not primarily characterized as a legal document at all, but rather, “Instructions.” The word is Torah (or Towrah). Although it’s translated “Law” 219 out of 219 times in the KJV, “Torah” actually means direction, instruction, that which is taught, custom, manner, or mode of living. So “law,” though not exactly incorrect, is a less than precise definition. The word is based on two Hebrew roots that may lend insight into its meaning. Yarah means to throw, cast, shoot (as in archery), or pour—with heavy emphasis on the control or direction brought to bear by the subject—leading to its salient derivative definition: to teach. The second root is towr, which speaks of a circlet, plait, or turn (of hair or gold, for example), hence its broader usage as a custom, manner, or mode—the way things are done.
The idea behind “Torah,” then, is God’s instructions for us, teaching us what is proper, safe, edifying, and constructive—the “right way to do things,” as opposed to making up our own rules, methods, and customs as we go along. Of course, the fact that these Instructions were given to us by God Himself automatically bestows upon them the force of Law. Considering the Source, we have every reason to take them seriously, for the One who told us to do these things is our Creator, omniscient and omnipotent, not to mention being the very personification of love.
Think of this as you might a high school shop class. The experienced, concerned teacher is trying to instruct his students in how to properly handle some potentially dangerous equipment. The idea is to show them how to take raw materials—wood or metal, for instance—and make them into useful, attractive, or valuable end products. To do this, they’ll have to use power saws, drill presses, lathes, and other sharp, fast moving tools. The students could (conceivably) just come in and “give it a try,” but without proper instruction, they’re running the risk of cutting off body parts. Also, they’re far less likely to end up making anything remotely as good as it could have been, even if they do somehow manage to avoid bloodshed.
Of course, in this “class,” the subject—“getting through life”—is infinitely more complex and fraught with peril than your typical high school woodworking, home ec, or auto shop course. In “Mortal Life 101,” the object is to learn how to function properly in relation to God and our fellow man. We come equipped with two “natural” influences: our consciences, and our fallen, sinful human natures, but these two things are often at war with each other. One says “live peaceably with your fellow man,” while the other says, “Grab what you can, when you can.” Conscience says, “I wouldn’t want others stealing from me, seducing my spouse, spreading vicious rumors about me, or killing me, so I won’t do those things to them.” Human nature, on the other hand, says, “Conscience be damned. I want what I want, when I want it. So my only real rule in life is ‘Don’t get caught.’”
As you are about to learn, however, there is essential data to be learned in the schoolroom of life that cannot be arrived at through either conscience or human nature. As fallen creatures, we are—by definition—separated and estranged from our Maker. We can’t “think” or “work” our way to Him (which is not to say people don’t try—the result is called religion.) That is where God’s Instruction—the Torah—comes in. Yahweh’s Instructions not only tell us how to interact with our fellow human beings. Actually, that sort of thing comprises only about ten or fifteen percent of the Torah, and it all meshes perfectly with a healthy conscience. The remainder—the bulk of God’s Instruction—teaches us how to recognize and interact with Him.
That explains why so much of the Torah is comprised of what may seem like pointless, irrational, or unreasonable rules, rites, and rituals—things that look for all the world like so much religious hocus pocus. As much as one may wish to do so, none of this body of “law”—some ninety percent of the Torah—can be literally performed today—not as Yahweh instructed, anyway. Why? Because all of it depends on having a group of men—verified direct biological descendents of Moses’ brother Aaron—suitably consecrated to serve as priests of Yahweh. Most of these precepts also depend on having a temple, or at least a tabernacle, set up in the “place where Yahweh chooses to make His name abide” (which since the days of David, three thousand years ago, can only be in Jerusalem), complete with certain pieces of ritual furniture. As described—and commanded—in the Torah, these things must be done throughout Israel’s generations; and yet, they can’t be done today, for the temple is no more, and the priesthood has been scattered to the four winds.
What happened? The prophet Hosea, writing seven centuries before the time of Christ, warned Israel in the name of Yahweh: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to Me. And since you have forgotten the law [i.e., Instructions, torah] of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6) The Temple was destroyed (and not for the first time) within a generation of Yahshua’s sacrifice on Calvary—in 70 AD. The priesthood was dispersed for good in 135. All because Israel “rejected knowledge,” that is, failed to hear and heed the lessons in “their part” of the Torah—the ninety percent of it that was designed to reveal Yahweh—in the person of Yahshua the Messiah—to them.
Could not the gentiles have picked up Israel’s mantle and carried on? No. The Torah is quite specific about who was to do what. We see the phrase “And Yahweh said to Moses, saying ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say…” (or words to that effect) literally hundreds of times in the Pentateuch. The physical, literal performance of the rites of the Torah were designed to be done exclusively by Israelites (commonly referred to these days as Jews), within the Land of Israel (as defined in Numbers 34). If they did, they would be immeasurably blessed by God (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Meanwhile, the gentiles (literally “the nations”—everybody else) would see the faithfulness of Yahweh demonstrated in Israel and honor their God. Well, that’s how it was supposed to work. The rest of Deuteronomy 28 delineates in gruesome detail what would happen to Israel if they would not follow Yahweh’s Instructions. It’s not pretty, but it reads like a history book: the “curses” that were to follow disobedience befell Israel just as Moses had warned them.
Ironically, Israel’s rebellion was prophesied as well. Indeed, it led inexorably to the direct fulfillment of most of the Torah’s ritual-pictures fifteen hundred years after Moses wrote it all down. I’m speaking, of course, of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Yahshua in 33AD. His death (and all the rest) taught us at last what all of those ritual sacrifices and offerings in the Torah actually meant: they were prophecies of the means by which Yahweh would reconcile sinful man to Himself, healing the rift that had been created between God and man in the Garden of Eden.
So no one outside of Israel was commanded to perform the rites of the Torah, but everyone would (potentially) benefit from what they signified. Israel’s fortunes rose or fell (as a nation) in direct correlation to their adherence to the Torah’s precepts. But keeping the Torah—physically performing the rituals it said to do—never actually saved anyone, Jew or gentile, never reconciled them to Yahweh, never redeemed them from the curse of sin.
The Torah, in the end, was but a shadow, a reflection. Only the Reality that cast that shadow, the One whom we saw in its shining reflection, could do that. It is He whom we are to observe in every precept of the Torah. His name is Yahshua the Messiah—Jesus Christ—whose name means “Yahweh is Salvation” and whose title means “the Anointed One.”