As we’ve discussed many times in confirmation class so far, one way to summarize the Bible’s story of God’s solution for the problem of sin and death is this: A Covenant for a Holy People. We’ve spent some time defining what a Covenant is, but what does it mean to be a “holy people”?
Holiness is a word that you see a lot in the Bible but there is probably a lot of misunderstanding as to what it really means. When something is holy or sacred, it means it is set apart. It is something distinct from the mundane. Something sacred is something meant to be cherished, and its something meant to have priority.
“The whole point of having something sacred, is that it takes precedence over anything else you have going on.”
When God brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt, he wanted to make these people set apart. He was creating a holy people. So God gave Moses laws and commandments to give the people. The Hebrew word for this is Torah. We often call the first five books of the Bible “The Pentateuch”, but Jews most often call it Torah. After the stories of escaping Egypt in Exodus, most of the remaining text in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are laws, codes, commandments and customs for the people of Israel to be set apart, to be holy.
There are a few different types of laws and commandments in the Torah.
The first is moral law. These are basic, universal commandments about how we should treat one another and honor God in the world. The most basic list of moral laws in the Bible is the Ten Commandments. These are commandments that are meant for all people in all places because they are universal ways we love God and neighbor.
It didn’t really happen like that.
What do the Ten Commandments specifically mean?
- Do not worship any other Gods besides me. God and only God can save us from sin, death, and the powers of evil. So we are to turn only to him for our salvation.
- Have no idols. God is Spirit, we cannot see or touch him. If you can worship something you can make and hold, then you are not worshipping the true God, because he is the creator. Idolatry is loving the things of creation more than the creator.
- Do not take the Lord’s name in vain. God is worthy of respect, so speak reverently of God. This is more than just saying, “Jesus!” when you stub your toe. This means we don’t try and use God’s reputation for our own selfish purposes. Saying, “God wants me to be happy so I’ll take something I want…” is a kind of vanity and disrespect to God’s name and reputation.
- Keep the Sabbath Holy. Nobody should work 24/7, part of life is rest and worship, so one day out of 7 should be set apart for rest and worship.
- Honor your father and mother. Children should respect and obey their parents, but that is not all that this commandment means. Its for adults too. When parents get old and are unable to work, their sons and daughters have an obligation to help them. They took care of you, so you should take care of them.
- Do not murder. Life is precious, so all care should be given to preserving life. Not just killing people, but harming and endangering people as well in mind, soul, and body.
- Do not commit adultery. God intended marriage to last our entire life. Sexual relations belong only between a husband and wife. Sex outside of marriage weakens the loving relationship between a man and woman.
- Do not steal. Do not take what belongs to another. Since the world’s resources are not unlimited, we should not take more than we need either so that everyone has enough.
- Do not bear false witness. Tell the truth. We cannot live in peace if we cannot trust each other.
- Do not covet your neighbor’s house, spouse, and property. Coveting is an intense desire to have what you shouldn’t. The things we fantasize about in our heart has a hard time staying in there, the more you think you want something, the more likely you are to do something harmful to get it.
There are also judicial/civil laws in the Bible, laws designed to keep order in the ancient nation of Israel (see Exodus 22:4-5). Judicial laws of the Bible are meant for the specific context of living in an ancient nomadic/agricultural society.
Then there are ceremonial customs and laws. These are customs God had given to the Hebrew people as specific identity markers that would make them unique among the tribes and nations of the ancient near east. Specifically these were laws about food (eating clean and unclean animals), circumcision (physical alteration of a male’s foreskin), sabbath (what days you can and cannot do work), and laws and customs about worshipping at the tabernacle or temple. These are all very culturally specific with the intention to help the Israelite people live distinctively from the world around them.
While we most commonly translate the word “Torah” as “Law”, it might be better to translate the word as “Life”. Torah is life. Torah is what protects life (judicial law), Torah is how to live a good life (moral law), and Torah is also a way of life (ceremonial and cultural custom). The ultimate purpose of the Law is not just rules for the sake of rules, the purpose of the Law is to make life flourish.
The challenge of understanding the Laws of the Old Testament is to reinterpret laws that are thousands of years old from a different culture. Fortunately, the New Testament helps us in this. The Apostle Paul worked hard to teach the earliest Christians that Jesus Christ has given us a new way to understand the law outside of ancient Israel (Romans 13:8-9, Galatians 5;14).
This is why Christians still believe in the importance of God’s law in the Old Testament, but we do not observe ceremonial and judicial laws in the same way as the ancient Hebrews (Kosher foods, circumcision, sabbath, etc).
But it is still our job to be set apart for God. The Law still tells us to be holy. For Christians, our lives should look distinct from the world around us. Just like for the ancient Hebrews their diet, their bodies, and their customs made them unique in the world, so Christians should be unique. Jesus calls us to be unique in our love and kindness. How is your life set apart from others? How do you live your life in Christ differently from the rest of the world?
Journaling Questions this Week
Read 1 John 4:8, Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, John 10:10. Your journaling assignment is simple this week. Make a mind map about these two phrases: “God is Love” and “Life is Sacred”. Spend some time praying with God about these two words: life and love.