The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law.” Droning on and on...
Last week I quoted the Dead Sea Scroll, Miqsat Ma’aseh ha Torah — you know, that bit about clay pitchers and ritual uncleanness? The scroll ends with, “…and these are some works of the law.” When the reformers heard that we are not saved by works of the law, some of them heard that we are not saved by obeying the Ten Commandments. If they had read the Dead Sea Scrolls first they might have changed their minds about that, but they couldn’t because the Dead Sea Scrolls were lying undiscovered in the Judean desert at the time. The only two places in Hebrew literature where the phrase “works of the law” is mentioned are the writings of St. Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls. When Paul said that we are not saved by works of the law, he seems to have meant that we are not saved or made right — that is justified — by the minutiae of kosher law.
One is not saved by avoiding barbecued ribs and not wearing linen and wool in the same garment. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law.” (Romans 3:20) However he also says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2Cor 5:10) and “He (God) will render to each one according to his works.” (Romans 2:6). But then he writes in chapter 3 of the letter to the Romans St. Paul that we are not justified by our works, after he has just said in chapter 2, that we will be repaid according to our works. (“Works” here is the same exact word in Greek “ergon”) Who was proof-reading his stuff anyway?
It seems that there are works and then there are works, and frankly a lot of Paul’s fellow Israelites agreed with him. It is reasonable to think that when he says works aren’t going to justify us, he’s talking about mixing wheat and wool and milk and meat. We still have to live moral and generous lives. I suspect that if we have been fornicating and murdering as some of the reformers suggest, we may be in trouble at the judgment. Jesus says this quite clearly “Then He (God) will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’”… (Matthew 25:41-43) I don’t know how much more strongly the connection between what we do and where we spend eternity can be made and this is good and gentle Jesus talking and not mean old St. Paul! So it seems that these Nazarenes, these followers of Jesus who were later called Christians, believed that moral conduct was important to one’s eternal salvation, but kosher law was not.
Well, why are some of the 613 laws still in force and others are not? Remember the Exodus? You know the story in which Moses looks like Charlton Heston? Moses receives the law on Mt. Sinai and then comes back and goes down to the Hebrew camp only to find Edward G. Robinson dancing around the golden calf. Moses has a righteous hissy, smashes the tablets of the law and the earth opens up and swallows Edward G. Robinson. Moses then goes back up the mountain and comes down with the law once again. (This is not quite the biblical account, but close enough.) There are some who theorize, that the first time God gave the law he gave Ten Commandments. The second time he gave 613. My friend the Rabbi thinks this is crazy. Heaven gave 10 commandments the first and 613 commandments the second time. The idea is that if you don’t accept law you don’t need less law, you need more! It’s like the kid who won’t eat his broccoli.
“Just two spoonful’s then you can go out and play”
“Alright, one spoonful!”
God does not negotiate. When you encounter God you will find that He is someone who cannot be bribed, bought or bullied. He has this problem. He thinks He’s God. “You aren’t going to eat your two spoons of broccoli? Here’s a whole bowl of it, kid. And we’ll sit here until you’ve eaten it. I’ve got all the time in the world. In fact I have eternity,” saith the Lord! In order to make them a light to the nations the Almighty gave Israel six hundred and thirteen laws some of which seem very arbitrary. It is like that scene in the movie Forest Gump. The drill Sargent makes Forest clean the barracks floor with a tooth brush. It’s a really lousy way to clean a floor, but it’s a great way to train a soldier.
Through the Torah with its 613 laws, Heaven brought the light of morality into a fallen world and taught that God is sovereign and not just a being among beings. When that light had been sufficiently planted, the Messiah came into the world. The law prepared His coming and the means of preparation were no longer necessary. The very concept of a people set apart had been established, and thus the Messiah could set apart those who would accept the God of Israel though not necessarily of the house of Israel. With the Messiah, a new age had dawned, an age that was unexpected even to those who longed for it. Well, what laws do we keep and what laws don’t we keep, if all that is so?
More next week, of course.