Pretty much everyone is familiar with the Ten Commandments God gave to Israel (Exodus 20). But there’s a lot more to the Law of Moses – called the “Torah” (תּוֹרָה) which is often translated as “law” into English. In fact, there are 613 laws in the first fives books of the Bible, which as a unit (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) are called the Torah by Jews or the “Pentateuch” (which comes from two Greek words meaning “five books”) by many Bible scholars.
- If the Torah is the “law,” are we supposed to obey some of the commands? Or all of them? It can be a bit confusing, because “law” isn’t always the best way to think about the first five books of the Bible. It’s really a story that has sections that describe laws in it. This story is about how God is creating new kinds of people who are able to fully love God and love others.
- This story is about God creating humanity, who rebels. God then chooses a man named Abram (later “Abraham”) and Sarai (later “Sarah”) who he will use to bless all the world through their family, who are later known as “Israel.” Israel ends up in slavery in Egypt, but God rescues them. At Mt. Sinai, God makes a “covenant” (agreement”) with Israel and the laws Moses gives to Israel on God’s behalf are the terms of this agreement. This is how the OT laws fit into the big story of the OT.
- Some of the laws, like the food and clothing laws, are about rituals and practices that set apart Israel from other groups of people. Other laws were about justice and morality. By obeying these laws, Israel was to show other nations what God is like.
- The rest of the Torah is the continuation of the story, not just a list of all the laws – although there are plenty of laws listed. The laws are broken up and placed strategically throughout the story. Often, laws will follow a story where someone breaks a law or a bad situation arises, highlighting why that law exists. For example, after Moses shares God’s laws not to worship idols, a story is shown where Israel immediately worships idols. Talk about a short-term memory.
- By the end of the Torah, it’s pretty clear that no matter how many laws there are, the people are just going to continue rebelling. At the end of the Torah, Moses tells Israel that it’s clear they are not going to follow God. The problem is that they need new, transformed hearts if they’re ever going to truly follow God’s law (Deuteronomy 30:6).
- The next section of books is the fifteen books of the prophets. They reflect back on the story of the Torah and the historical books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings – which are also considered “prophetic books” in the Hebrew OT), looking at how Israel was disobedient in the past and in the prophets’ own days. The prophets saw that Moses was right: people needed new hearts if they were to follow God.
- Isaiah promised a future leader – the Messiah (Jesus Christ) – who would lead the people in obedience to the Torah and would continue the story of the OT.
- Jesus taught that out of the human heart come the ugliest parts of human nature, but his purpose was to to solve that problem by fulfilling the Torah. Jesus taught that the commands of all the Torah could be fulfilled within the Greatest Commandment – love God most, love people second-most (Matthew 22:37-39).
- Jesus showed how love is far more demanding than we realize. He quotes the Torah, saying we should not murder in Matthew 5:21-26. But he says even more: when you disrespect someone, or hold grudges or bitterness toward them, you are also violating God’s moral ideal. You’re not loving people. True love extends to our enemies, but our hearts without Jesus are not equipped to fulfill even this most basic command of loving God and loving others.
Where Israel failed, Jesus completed the story. As the Messiah, he fully loved God and others and showed what God is like. After his resurrection, he promised to send God’s Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of his followers so they, too, could live as humans were almost meant to live – loving God and loving others. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:8 that the one who loves fulfills the law.
Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Do you think Christians should obey the OT laws? Why or why not?
- Why is it important that many of the laws in the OT are sandwiched between different stories of Israel?
- Why did God want to “set apart” Israel from other nations? Does this have any relevance for Christians today? Explain why or why not.
- “Out of the human heart come the ugliest parts of human nature.” Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement.
- Read Matthew 22:37-39. How can we “love God most and love people second most?”
- Why do people need “new hearts” if they are going to truly follow God? How do we gain a “new heart?”
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.