Does God’s Law Ever Change?

Covenants, priests, plants, and pigs... Does God's Law ever change?

All laws are an extension of the lawgiver’s character. God’s character never changes, therefore his Law has always existed and can never change.

Yet, we have God telling Noah that he can eat animals and telling Moses to set up a national priesthood for Israel and restricting all sacrificial worship to a single location.

Clearly something changed. What gives?

House Rules

Your mother likes a clean house and she has rules to keep it that way: Take your muddy boots off before you come inside. Don’t eat on the sofa. If she lived in the city, her instructions might include leaving your raincoat and umbrella by the front door. If she lived near a river in the wilderness, she might say to clean your fish and game outside and away from the house and not to leave trash where it might attract bears.

These are your mother’s house rules, but, as you can see, the specific rules she chooses to spell out might be different, depending on circumstances. If she replaces her wood burning stove with a gas fireplace, some of the rules are going to change because the things that the rules governed have changed.

But Mom’s character hasn’t changed, only the circumstances into which her character is expressed have changed. The specific rules she spells out are instructions for aligning your actions with her character in a specific time and place–her torah–so they might shift somewhat over time. However, Mom’s character dictates that many of those rules are going to be constant across all circumstances. Don’t spit on the floor. Say please and thank you.

God’s Law Is an Expression of God’s Character

God’s Law and instructions are similar. The rules he gave Moses are an expression of God’s character in a specific set of circumstances. If God gave them today, they might talk about coveting your neighbor’s car instead of his donkey. That doesn’t mean that his Law changes, only that how it was expressed might have been different if it had been given at a different time, to different people.

This is confusing in part because God’s character is too huge, too complex to explain to us in a list of rules, so we have a list of rules, plus lots of stories of how he has interacted with people over time. One thing we can learn by reading the stories in the Bible is that the relationship between man and God requires a priesthood. We are tainted by sin and direct exposure to his presence would destroy us, so we appoint mediators, build altars, and offer sacrifices to facilitate approaching him. (How exactly sacrifices and priests accomplish that is another topic.)

Changing Covenants and Priests

In the patriarchal era, the head of the house or one of the sons would act as the family priest. When God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, that covenant required a national altar and priesthood. Enter the Tabernacle and the Aaronic priesthood. The New Covenant that was hinted at throughout the Torah and made explicit in Jeremiah 31 requires yet another priesthood. In the New Covenant, God’s Law is written on our hearts, and our relationship to him is mediated by the Priest-King Yeshua (aka Jesus).

When Jeremiah said that God’s Law would be written on our hearts, he didn’t mean that the words God gave Moses at Sinai would be literally carved into our flesh, of course. He meant that the principles on which those words were based would be implanted in our minds and spirits so that we would know God’s character instinctively. Nobody will ever need to explain God’s rules to us, because we will simply know them, just as we instinctively know the rules of our own earthly father whose character we have studied since we were infants.

This writing of God’s character, his eternal Law, on our hearts isn’t an instantaneous event. It’s a process that has taken two thousand years so far and will likely never be complete until our Priest-King Yeshua returns to reign in person. There is still so much we don’t understand and even very much that we have forgotten! Clearly we still need to be taught how to behave in God’s kingdom.

As God and Moses carved the Ten Commandments into the stone of Mount Sinai with the fiery presence resting on its head, God, through the Holy Spirit, is now carving his character into us. In a sense, Yeshua’s disciples became the new Mount Sinai in the upper room at Pentecost, with the fire of God resting on their heads too.

In the Sinai Covenant there is a hierarchy within the priesthood. There is one high priest who is the only one authorized to perform some functions, such as entering the Holy of Holies at Yom Kippur. Then there are the sons of Aaron who have some other special duties, such as offering sacrifices on the altar. There are also the Levites, who serve various functions around the Temple and across the nation, but don’t offer sacrifices. Finally, the whole nation of Israel is intended to be a priesthood to the world. In the New Covenant there is also a hierarchy, with Yeshua as our High Priest and every believer acting as a lower sort of priest to the whole world.

These changes in priesthoods don’t represent a change to God’s eternal Law, because they are all in alignment with his eternal character. Rather they represent the application of his Law within the circumstances of a specific covenant.

Changing Dietary Regulations

Another “change” that often confuses people is in our diet. In the Garden, God gave Adam the plant kingdom for food. The plain text says “every plant”, but clearly God didn’t mean every green thing because he explicitly forbade eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. After the flood, God gave Noah the animal kingdom for food.

Did God change his mind about what we could and couldn’t eat?

I don’t think it was that God changed his mind, but that our circumstances had changed so much that a change in the rules was necessary simply to allow life to continue. The Scriptures show that something materially changed in our quality of life after the flood. Lifespans decreased dramatically each generation until we reached a plateau of about 70-90 years. Whether this was due to genetic deterioration caused by increased solar radiation or some other factor is beside the point. However it happened, we are not nearly as healthy as those who lived before Noah’s flood.

I believed that God recognized that if we were going to survive at all, we had to add meat to our diets. Plants alone were insufficient for sustaining the human race, and God’s character dictates that the preservation of life must trump many other considerations. He didn’t change his mind about what we could eat. The principle on which his instructions were based was always to give us what we needed to survive.

No explicit instructions as to which animals could be eaten and which not are recorded in the text of Genesis, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that God gave Noah permission to eat every animal that exists, but I’m convinced that’s not correct. When God told Moses what animals the Israelites were not allowed to eat, he didn’t just say “Don’t eat these.” He said that they are abominable (Deuteronomy 14) and that Israel is also to consider them abominable or detestable (Leviticus 11). Not eating forbidden animals is an important part of being holy, just as God himself is holy (Leviticus 11:44).

Noah knew which animals were clean and which were unclean as offerings to God, which means that God considered those unclean animals to be detestable at the time he told Noah he could eat of the animal kingdom and still does today. God’s character doesn’t change.

On the other hand, if you were faced with a choice between eating pork or starving to death, then by all means, eat the pork. This too is consistent with God’s character. Remember what Yeshua said about healing and rescuing animals on the Sabbath. The preservation and restoration of life supersedes most other considerations.

God Never Changes

God’s character–and therefore his deeper, eternal Law–doesn’t change, but how he interacts with us and what instructions he gives us sometimes do change based on changing circumstances.

Priests are mediators between God and men within the context of a covenant. A different covenant requires a different priesthood and this shift is entirely within the character of God and consistent with his Torah as expressed in the first five books of the Bible.

Idolatry, murder, fornication, and theft are clearly contrary to God’s eternal character independent of any covenant, so they will be wrong in all times and places. Despite what you might have been mistaught about these topics from Bible verses taken out of context, eating unclean animals and laboring on the Sabbath are also wrong in all times and places, except where it is necessary to preserve or restore life and relationship with the Creator.

There is a temporal law, the expression of God’s character in a time, place, and circumstance, and there is an eternal law, which are the principles that extend from the unchanging nature of God himself. Whenever it appears in Scripture that God has changed his Law, consider three things:

  1. Could I be misinterpreting what the Scriptures are teaching?
  2. Is this actually a change in God’s Law or merely in the application of his Law to a different circumstance?

The OTHER Proverbs 9 Woman

Four characteristics of Folly from Proverbs 9:13-18

A few weeks ago I dissected Proverbs 9:1-6 and Solomon’s personification of wisdom as a woman who plans ahead, diligently and efficiently carries out her plans, and then shares her bounty with all who are willing to follow her example.

The last part of Proverbs 9 describes her opposite, the woman Folly.

13  The woman Folly is loud; she is deluded and knows nothing.
14  She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
15  calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
16  “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says,
17  “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18  But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Proverbs 9:13-18 ESV

As with the case of Wisdom, the description of Folly reveals a lot about her character that isn’t explicitly laid out in the text.

Folly Opens Her Mouth

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and
He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Proverbs 17:27-28

Folly is incapable of verbal restraint. She loves to tell about her adventures and conquests, the record-breaking fish that got away, and the sure-fire system she has for beating the stock market. Nevermind that she has nothing to show for all her accomplishments and schemes. She could if she wanted to…

What’s more, she believes her own nonsense. She has told her lies so many times that she has lost the line between fact and fiction. Her entire life has become “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Where the prudent keep silent, Folly speaks. Where the wise ask questions, Folly declares. Where the knowledgeable admit their ignorance, Folly unwittingly advertises hers.

Folly Takes the Easy Way

In contrast to Wisdom, who planned and built her own house, then busied herself in preparing a feast, Folly merely sits in the door of her house. We have no indication that she built it or contributed to it in any way, only that she occupies it.

And not only the door of her house, but the high places of the city. Unlike Wisdom who sends her servants (or goes herself) to the highest places (al gaphi maromi), Folly takes a seat in the high places (al kise maromi), possibly referring to places of honor in pagan temples and shrines. But wherever she goes, whether at home or the high places, Folly takes a seat.

Folly Is Disruptive

Where Wisdom called to the simple and then waited for a response, Folly seeks out people who are already on a mission, who are “going straight on their way”, in order to distract them. She yells at them, confuses them, makes them forget their purpose.

To what end?

Envy and resentment. She can’t stand that other people are accomplishing things, working hard, providing for their families and futures. She can’t see beyond her own failings, so she thinks that anyone with wealth must have stolen it. She would be wealthy too if it weren’t for all those rich people taking everything for themselves. The Haves are her enemy. So she throws a verbal stumbling block into the path of those who might otherwise be productive and pleasant neighbors, dragging them down to the floor with her. Folly loves to watch you fall.

Folly Corrupts

Once she has the attention of gullible people, she isn’t content to see them wasting time and floundering in life. Misery loves to see herself in everyone around her, and Folly is her sister. She wants to corrupt them and watch them rot.

Folly’s primary tools are jealousy and easy gain. She believes that the rich didn’t work for their luxuries, so why should she? A house without building, bread without plowing and sowing, and water without digging. Why work hard yourself when you can live off the hard work of some other sucker? She seduces the weary, the simple, and oppressed, who might otherwise be gainfully employed, to join in her sloth and theft, because they are vulnerable and easy targets. She knows that her bread and water doesn’t compare to the feast set out by Wisdom, but she also knows that, to a man with sore feet and a bent back, that morsel of bread on a doorstep now seems more appealing than a sirloin in a palace later.

Folly Is Death

What Folly has never learned and what she often prevents her victims from discovering until it is too late, is that nothing truly worth having is easy. Real wealth that enhances life rather than destroying it takes time. Houses and families and legacies aren’t built by decree. Riches gained without effort, whether through theft, gambling, or sudden inheritance, are corrupting and tend to evaporate as quickly as they came, as often as not leaving their possessors in a worse position than before.

Once you begin to eat the bread and drink the water of Folly, no matter how good it tastes today, you become mired in the quagmire that surrounds her house. The longer you remain, the more difficult it will be to escape, and eventually even the bread and water runs out.

“Who is simple? Let him turn in here.” And as for him who lacks heart, she says to him, “Stolen waters are sweet, And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, Her guests are in the depths of She’ol.
Proverbs 9:16-18 TS2009

Authority and Separation of Powers in Israel

Authority and Separation of Powers in God's Israel

The Book of Numbers

Numbers, numbers, numbers. This is one of those sections of the Bible most of us skim over if we bother to read it at all. Apart from a few historians, who really cares how many fighting men were in the tribes of Gad and Simeon? Who cares about the names of the census takers?

Well, I admit that it all seems a little obscure, but, as I’ve said before, every detail included in the Torah was included for some enduring reason. There is peshat in every word of the Torah, remez in every passage, drash and sod in every name and number. (See here for an explanation of the four levels of Jewish exegesis.) As pointless as it might seem to the casual reader, there is meaning in the Bible’s long lists of names and numbers.

Here is a bit of drash from B’midbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)…

The Authority to Count

The right to count, number, and name a thing is derived from authority. You do not have authority over your neighbor’s possessions, therefore you do not have the right to see his bank statement, name him or his children, or inventory his collection of rare coins. The exact measure of his strength, his family, and his wealth are none of your business. However, God owns everything, and everything is God’s to count.

In Numbers chapter one, God ordered Moses and Aaron to count the fighting men of twelve of the tribes of Israel. However, they weren’t to do it on their own. God chose one man from each of those tribes to count along side them. They were not allowed to initiate their own count, but could only do so at the command of God. Remember what trouble David got the nation into centuries later when he took a census of Israel’s fighting men. The implication is that the army did not belong to any human leaders. It military might of Israel is God’s alone and any human command is only delegated by him.

The tribe of Levi was not counted by the tribal leaders, but by Moses alone, who was God’s personal representative. Earlier, God had required the firstborn males of the nation to be dedicated to him. Rather than form another pseudo-tribe out of those men, he allowed them to remain in their tribes and took the entire tribe of Levi for himself as a substitute. They were separated out for service to God, and so could not count as an asset of the nation. This is why the twelve tribal leaders could take no part in counting them.

The Structure of Government

Those twelve men were not elected by the people, appointed by Moses, nor approved by any human agency. God chose them for their character and informed the nation of their identity, no paperwork required. Echoing Paul’s criteria for church leaders, they were already leaders among their people, whether by reputation, age, or some other currency. Together with Moses and Aaron, they formed a counsel of tribal chiefs of fourteen men.

Eventually, the government of Israel would be divided into three defacto branches, much as that of the United States. The three branches were the tribal chiefs headed by both Moses and Aaron as mentioned above, the executive-judiciary embodied by the sanhedrin and the system of judges headed and appointed by Moses, and the Levitical priesthood headed by Aaron.

Moses served as president and commander-in-chief, with a great deal of discretionary power. After Moses’ death, Joshua, as senior member of the senate, took his place as the executive. That role came to be known as the Judge of Israel and was never hereditary. Its holder was chosen from among the tribal chiefs until the accession of King Saul.

Notice that not one of the high officials of Israel was elected. The judges, priests, and kings were all appointed. The local judges and officials were to be selected by the people, but God didn’t specify a method of selection. Overall, God does not appear to be a great proponent of pure democracy, despite the preaching of our modern day republocrats.

The Limits of Our Delegated Authority

Israel’s rulers were not democratically elected, but neither were they autocrats. They were not allowed to count the nation or even the army without God’s blessing. They could not change borders, confiscate property without cause, or unseat one another. The nation belonged to God and limited authority was only delegated by him for periods of time.

When we count our income, we count God’s income. When we name our children, we name his children. He has made us to be stewards. Like Moses who was denied entry to the Promised Land, David who brought a plague on the people, and the Israelites who were cut off from the land, we will be held accountable for our treatment of his people and assets. God will evaluate our every act and how we used his resources in his name.

The Proverbs 9 Woman

Four characteristics of Wisdom from Proverbs 9:1-6

In Proverbs 9:1-6, Wisdom is personified as a woman and contrasted with Folly, which is personified as another woman in vs 13-18. (Check out this post on the literary structure of Proverbs 9!) Solomon described Wisdom as building a house, preparing a meal, and inviting guests to join her. We can learn something about wisdom from that alone–She is a builder, a provider, and a generous host–but Solomon gave us important details that add significant depth to this picture.

1  Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
2  She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
3  She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town,
4  “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says,
5  “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6  Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom built a large and elaborate house and prepared a feast from her own livestock and probably also from her own vineyard. She had servants and sent them out to invite strangers to come and share in her great bounty and to learn from her example.

Wisdom Built Her House

Nobody builds a house in a day. They don’t come pre-assembled by mail order…at least they didn’t in 900 BC. Houses take time, resources, and a lot of hard work. Most people when the Proverbs were written built their own houses from straw, mud, or stone, and usually only large enough to protect their immediate family and a few animals from the elements at night. A corner for cooking and eating, an alcove for sleeping, and a little floor space for the ten children. Only the wealthy could afford the time and money to build anything larger and more elaborate than a few walls and a thatch roof.

The house of Wisdom is different. Her house is more than a dirt floor out of the rain. From this passage we can deduce some interesting details:

Her house is large enough to accommodate seven pillars, numerous servants, and a crowd of guests. Wisdom didn’t buy or inherit her house. She built it herself. She selected the site, drew a floorplan, purchased or collected the materials, and managed or executed the construction from start to finish personally. She had a furnished dining area and sufficient storage to hold dishes and platters for a large feast. The rest of her house was also artfully finished in detail. It wasn’t just a utilitarian space for sleeping and eating. The number seven indicates completeness, perfection. She didn’t stop building when her house was a cover for her family and a number of guests, but kept working until every detail was complete.

Wisdom Prepared a Feast

Living in modern America, there is a great distance between us and the source of our food. Most of us have no idea how our food is made or even what it is made from. Corn starch, unsulphured molasses, baking soda, salt… Oh, there’s one I can identify. I know what salt is, but what part of corn does corn starch come from? Unsulphured molasses…does that mean most molasses is sulphured!? And what exactly is molasses anyway?

Michael Pollan wrote a great book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma (affiliate link), in which he traced several meals, including one from McDonald’s, from their original sources in fields, pastures, and quarries, through factories, distributors, and kitchens, and finally to the American dining table. Our food today takes a surprisingly complicated and disturbing journey before it reaches our plates, but it wasn’t always that way. Most people throughout history ate whatever they or a neighbor grew or hunted, and that was that. Ultimately, the American pantry reveals as much about us as it does about what we eat.

Solomon’s sparse description of Wisdom’s table also reveals more than what she served.

Wisdom owned livestock, and rather than buying meat at the market, she killed and butchered her own animals for the feast. Not just one animal, but animals, plural. Whether these were small as birds or large as oxen, we can’t tell, but in either case she was expecting a significant number of diners. She purchased or grew spices and developed sufficient skill as a vintner to prepare her own mixed wine. Finally, Wisdom’s feast was prepared and ready before it was needed.

Wisdom Sent Her Servants

Even in cultures with a slave-based economy, most people aren’t slave owners. Most of the people who have lived in this world did not have servants of any kind. In Proverbs 9, Wisdom had at least two servant girls and probably many more. She had livestock, a garden, a vineyard, and a large house, so she probably also has a number of men in her employ.

The servants of Wisdom weren’t harshly used, but honored and trusted helpers. She sent them out to the city to invite guests, which required that they be courteous and pleasant. She trusted them to execute their mission with gladness, not resentment, which means that they also loved and trusted their mistress.

Wisdom sent her servant girls to the highest points in the city (or she went herself, depending on your translation) because she didn’t waste time and effort. She had no need to confront every stranger on the way because she knew that those who were ready to heed her call would hear it and respond.

Wisdom Shared Her Table

When I was a kid, my parents often invited people to join us for Sunday dinner. These weren’t just people from church, but also the elderly, the lonely, and people who were too often ignored by the world. Sometimes they even invited people to live with us while they sorted out life’s inevitable troubles. Wisdom went far beyond that, inviting a crowd of total strangers to come to her feast.

However, Wisdom’s feast wasn’t intended to fill the belly, or at least that’s not all it did. Wisdom’s food and drink was personal transformation. She invited the simple to grow wise, the foolish to learn how to live, and the lazy to learn industry. Wisdom’s table was reserved for those who wanted to become something more than they were. To eat with her was to experience the full gamut of joy and pain, because it is only through overcoming pain that we become wise and find true joy.

Four Characteristics of Wisdom

Like many great teachers, Solomon didn’t spell out every lesson. A close look at his brief description of Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-6 reveals four distinct characteristics.

  1. Wisdom is strategic. Her plans are long term and exhaustive, clearly envisioning the detailed end results of her labors before she even begins.
  2. Wisdom is diligent. She doesn’t cease from her labors until her job is done. Her house isn’t complete until the walls are painted and the pillars and cornices are carved and fixed. She is not afraid of hard physical labor and doesn’t cut corners that might negatively impact the end result.
  3. Wisdom is efficient. She multiplies her efforts by delegating tasks to trusted servants and applies the most effort on those tasks that are likely to have the most impact.
  4. Wisdom is generous. God doesn’t grant wisdom for our personal benefit, but to enrich his kingdom on earth. Wisdom freely shares what she has received, desiring the same richness of life for everyone whose heart is ready to receive it and who is willing to devote the necessary effort.

Solomon heard Wisdom’s call and joined in her feast. He spent many hard years, making both bad and good decisions, transforming himself from a young man with a good heart into the wise king we remember from the Bible. He set a table for us in his writings–the Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes–and he continually invites us to join him. Since he prepared such a rich feast, we don’t have to make all the same mistakes he did. We have only to heed his call, sit down at his table, and set ourselves to the hard work of applying his words.

That’s not to say that studying the Scriptures will keep us from making mistakes. We have our own lives to live, our own mistakes to make, and there is no real growth without adversity. But remember that Wisdom is efficient. She learns all she can from the mistakes of those who went before. There’s no sense in replowing ground in which seeds have already been sown.

Solomon began Proverbs 9 with a description of Wisdom, but ended it with a description of Folly. Next time, I’ll take a look at vs 13-18 and some big mistakes to avoid.

Is the Law Impossible to Keep?

Is God's Law (Torah) a yoke that neither our fathers nor we are able to bear?

When Peter asked the Pharisees, “Why do you tempt God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples, a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” in Acts 15:10, he was not talking about God’s instructions as given by Moses. He was talking about the traditions and the rules which the rabbis had built up around the written Torah.

Moses told the Israelites,

The secret things belong to YHWH our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our sons forever, so that we may do all the words of this Law….For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in Heaven, that you should say, Who shall go up for us to Heaven, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who shall go over the sea for us to the region beyond the sea, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it? But the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it. Behold! I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you today to love YHWH your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, so that you may live and multiply. And YHWH your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.

Deuteronomy 29:29,30:11-16

Peter did not call Moses a liar and neither did Paul or Yeshua. It is not too hard for us to keep God’s commandments.

Most of the Torah is very simple. It can be summed up in ten statements or even in only two. Leviticus 19 (the beginning of the Torah portion called Kedoshim, or holy ones) begins with another summary of the law: Be holy for I am holy. “Holy” means separate or different. Moses followed that summary with another summary:

  • Be respectful of your parents.
  • Do not employ idols.
  • Express your gratitude. Don’t fake it. Don’t make a show of it.
  • Leave a little extra for the poor and the traveler.
  • Don’t steal, cheat, or lie.
  • Don’t take unfair advantage of others.
  • Don’t punish the rich for being rich.
  • Don’t gossip.
  • Don’t retaliate, and don’t hold a grudge.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

These rules aren’t entirely unique to the Torah. Except for the part about idols, they are pretty standard religious fare. (As far as I know, only the Abrahamic religious traditions prohibit the making and use of idols.) Other than the rules themselves, there are two vitally important things to understand about being kedoshim to God.

  1. God doesn’t care all that much about ritual or prayer or self denial. All those things have their place, but what’s really important is love. Not feelings, but real, active love.
  2. It isn’t the content of our rules that separates us from the world; it is their source and our obedience to them.

We know from Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:23, and 1 John 1:8 that nobody except Yeshua ever managed to live a sinless life. Eventually, everyone gossips. Everyone lies. Everyone steals. Everyone hates. So what did Moses mean when he said that God’s commandments are not too hard for us to keep?

He meant at least three things:

  1. God’s instructions aren’t difficult to understand. You don’t need a theology degree to implement them. They require wisdom to apply, but the words and meaning are simple enough for iron age shepherds and farmers.
  2. God’s instructions aren’t onerous or oppressive. He didn’t give them to punish anyone or to make anyone’s life more difficult. They are the basic owner’s manual for human life and society, and those who live by them will live more joyful and fulfilling lives.
  3. Even though we aren’t capable–as mere humans–of keeping the Law perfectly, we are still capable of keeping it as a consistent lifestyle. Remedies for failure are built into the Law itself, so keeping it doesn’t have to mean never failing in any point. Remember that not every commandment applies to every person, and I am NOT talking about keeping the Law to earn salvation. I am only talking about keeping it to honor God.

The “yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” is not God’s Law, also known as the written Torah. God’s Law teaches us what it means to sin and also what it means to love, for all of the Law is fulfilled in these two commandments: Love YHVH your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

If you keep the two greatest commandments, then you keep all of the Torah, and if you keep the Torah as God intended it to be kept, then you also keep the two greatest commandments. They are, after all, direct quotes from the Torah.

Overcoming Laziness

I’m not a professional on screen. When I make videos, I usually have a few notes jotted down, but otherwise I just make it up as I go. Below this video, I’ve posted a transcript that mostly follows the video verbatim. It’s a little disjointed, but I thought the topic was important enough not to leave it to just Youtube and Facebook.

Watch the video. Read along, if you find that helpful. Comments and questions are always welcome.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Proverbs 6:6-11

There are different reasons that people fail to act, that they are lazy. Some people are lazy because they’re selfish. They don’t want to work. They consciously choose to burden other people with their needs, to allow other people to provide for them, to meet their expenses, provide them a place to live and food to eat. They know that they’re burdening other people and they’re ok with it.

Those are the people that Paul was talking about in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 when he said if someone is unwilling to work don’t let them eat. I’m perfectly happy with that. People who are unwilling to contribute–not people who are unable, but people who are unwilling to act on their own behalf–you shouldn’t help them. You’re just enabling them to be lazy. You’re enabling them to destroy their own lives and you become a party to their destruction. So let them fail. That’s the best thing for them.

But I don’t really want to talk about those people. I want to talk about the rest of us.

If you’re like me, you want to work. You want to accomplish great things, but maybe you find it really hard to take that first step, to really get things done. You know you want to finish that project. You want to make those sales calls. You want to write that book…but you just keep putting it off. You think, “I’m tired” or “I’m just dreading getting started on that project” or “I really don’t like it!” But you know you’ve got to do it and, before long, it’s too late. You’ve missed your opportunity or the deadline’s coming up and now you’ve got to rush to get things done.

It happens to me all the time.

I know it feels bad to call that “laziness” because you really want to work, but that’s really what it is. That’s exactly what Solomon was describing here: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty comes on you like a bandit.” It sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking.

We got here to this place by making a million small choices. You know the Chinese proverb, that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but it took you a million steps to get here and each one was a decision. Every time you are faced with a choice to act or not to act you are making a decision. If you choose not to act, you’re choosing. It’s your problem, your fault.

I know it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like there’s a weight on your spirit like you just can’t think about the thing that you’re supposed to do. You’re tired! There are so many things… You know. Read another little paragraph in the book, just one. Watch a little bit more TV. Play this game for a little bit longer, because that other thing…it’s just so awful!

But these are choices, and one little choice after another creates a habit and before long you’re unable to act. You’re not even conscious of the choices anymore. You’re choosing not to act. You’re choosing to be lazy without ever actually consciously choosing. It just happens and you don’t know how you got here or why you can’t get anything done.

Fortunately we can get out the same way we got in: one step at a time.

It’s not easy.

Mel Robbins wrote a great book a few years ago, and she describes a process that’s just so obvious. It sounds too obvious to be true, but it works. I assure you it works. The book is called The Five-Second Rule, and here’s basically how it works:

When you’re conscious of a choice–and this takes some work–eventually you’ll become more conscious of choices as you develop better habit–but when you’re conscious of a choice, you know there’s something you need to do, and you just can’t get yourself to do it, don’t choose to do that thing. Instead, choose to count down from five. That’s easy! You can do that. But once you start counting…as soon as you hit one, you’re doing whatever it was.

“I just don’t want to sand that wall so that it can be primed and painted. I just hate it! It’s just so boring…Well, I’m gonna count. Five…four…three…two…Get up and sand the wall!”

It takes some effort. It takes time. It mostly takes time to undo all the damage that you’ve done to yourself by choosing not to act, but eventually you make better habits. You make better thought patterns where you’re more aware of your choices, and it gets easier and easier over time to actually get up and act, to do the things you have to do.

You know if you don’t guard your house, burglars come in. The bandit gets you on the road if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. You have to be conscious! So start now watching for those opportunities to make choices, and whenever you have that opportunity and you get that feeling like the whole world is is forcing you to stay in your seat, count. Start at five follow Mel’s five-second rule.

If you’re watching this on YouTube or Facebook I’ll put a link in the comments to her book and I hope you find this as helpful as I have.

This is Jay Carper with American Torah. Be blessed.

Mel Robbins’ The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage is available at Amazon in audiobook, Kindle, and hardcover. Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2zloYVS.

Yeshua, the High Priest of Heaven

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Abraham, Isaac, the angel, and the ram in the thicket.

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29

[Yeshua] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:26

Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy.
Leviticus 6:29

Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.
Leviticus 7:6

Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before YHVH?
Leviticus 10:17

YHVH has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Psalms 110:4

It is a time honored principle that a leader bears some responsibility for the behavior of his subordinates and also in atoning for their trespasses. In eating the sin and guilt offerings, the priests symbolically (and possibly in some real, tangible way) took the sins of the penitent into themselves. They took responsibility before God so that the people could be reconciled to him.

Yeshua is a priest of a higher order than Aaron’s, and his blood is more potent than that of any shed solely on earth. His sacrifice was an order of magnitude greater than any animal sacrifice, and being offered on the altar in Heaven, opened the door for all of us to surrender our guilt to him. We have but to trust in God and make our allegiance to him.

Every blood sacrifice must be perfect. Yeshua, the Son of God, is a King-Priest like Melchizedek, and he is perfect and sinless, and he gave up his life willingly. No mere human death would have been sufficient, yet neither would the death of anything not human and therefore unable to bear the responsibility of human sins. Any other person’s death would have been ineffective for the purpose of eternal atonement for the sins of all mankind. It would have been murder and nothing else.

Yeshua’s death on the cross was certainly murder, but it enabled our salvation. He went to his execution willingly, holding that torment to be nothing compared to the greater reconciliation of man to God. By allowing himself to be killed, he enabled life for billions. In shedding his perfect blood, he took our imperfections, all of our sins, whether intentional or not, upon himself.

We have only to let them go, to trust the Father’s grace to forgive, and to submit ourselves to our new King’s reign. Yeshua, our salvation.

Genocide, Slavery, and the Heart of Man

Jennifer H. Lau's autobiography of her childhood during the Cambodian Genocide, Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge

Everyone knows about the Holocaust, in which many millions of Jews, Romani, Slavs, and other “undesirables” were systematically exterminated by the Nazis during World War 2, but that was neither the first nor the last atrocity of its kind.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist revolutionary group under the leadership of Pol Pot, took control of Cambodia. They executed the wealthy, professional, educated, and foreign people, and enslaved many millions of the poor and working classes. For around five years, they terrorized, murdered, and starved their own people.

As with all genocides, the numbers will never be known with any certainty, but the Khmer Rouge probably killed around two million people.

I recently read Jennifer H. Lau’s autobiography of her childhood during that terrible time, Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge (affiliate link). Throughout this detailed and intimate story of her family’s survival under extraordinarily harsh conditions, I was constantly struck with how vicious ordinary people can be and how kindness often comes from unlikely sources.

Impoverished subsistence farmers became benefactors. Next door neighbors became executioners. Protectors became thieves. Arch enemies became saviors.

People are fickle and desperation drives reasonable people to horrific behavior. No nation or race is exempt. Every people has been guilty at one time or another, and the same stories emerge from every genocide.

We have lived in such amazing peace and prosperity in America for so long that it’s easy to forget it isn’t normal. We have lulled ourselves to sleep and to dream that we are immune to the ubiquitous human tendency to force our will on others, to use people like just another resource to be consumed and discarded as needed.

Even as America prospered throughout most of the 20th century, the rest of the world reeled from genocide after genocide. The Khmer Roughe in Cambodia, the Nazis in World War 2, the Soviets in numerous times and places, the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians and Greeks, and so many others. There were genocides in every other century too, of course; modern technology just made us so much more efficient at it.

However, no matter which century, no matter which group of people are killing which other group, every genocide has this one inevitable fact in common: The belief that some people have absolute authority over others. The people exist for the benefit of the state or the party or the king, and the superior has the right to force the inferior to work, to relocate, to contribute, to live, or to die.

Although some forms of government (communism, for example) are founded on the belief that one person or group of people can have unlimited authority over other people, every form of government can be infected by this disease. It starts small: one person prospers, while another person suffers, so a third decides to take from the first in order to feed the second. It’s only fair. But once you have decided that you have a right to redistribute property based solely on your own (or the majority’s!) determination of what is fair or necessary, the only remaining moral barrier to redistributing life itself is entirely imaginary. If, in my own mind, I have a right to my neighor’s labor and property based on a vote or a pragmatic determination of my own, then I have a right to his life as well.

Every tree is known by its fruit, and communism is one of the most clearly evil schemes of government ever devised by man. There is no such thing as a decent, honest communist. By definition, they are thieves and murderers, at heart if they haven’t yet gained enough power to make their dreams into reality. Socialism is communism for people who haven’t completely killed off their consciences yet, and pure democracy merely distributes the guilt over more heads.

Many people criticize God’s Law because it allows a form of slavery. Yes, God recognizes authority, but he also says that all authority is only delegated by him and only temporarily and for limited purposes. Kings, priests, judges, husbands, fathers, mothers, and elder siblings have legitimate authority over other people, but that authority is always strictly limited. In God’s Law, life and property are sacrosanct. Nobod–not even a king–has the right to take another person’s life, labor, or property without a clear divine mandate or a conviction after a trial.

Of course, people, who reject God, also reject his law and, necessarily, all objective standards of morality. There can be no absolute law without an absolute Lawgiver. They say we have “evolved” beyond slavery and the archaic mandates of the Bible.

They are deluded.

We have not evolved. We are the same murderers and slavers that we have been from the beginning. The only difference is that we have accumulated knowledge and technology and more refined justifications for our atrocities.

If that sounds too grim a prognosis for you, then you need to read Mrs Lau’s book. You can get it here at Amazon.


Full disclosure: American Torah’s links to Amazon products are usually affiliate links. I earn a very small commission if you make a purchase after following one of my links.

The Woman and the Girl: A Parable of Israel

The woman with the issue of blood and the young girl who died are both Israel.

Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:22-43, and Luke 8:41-56 all tell the same story regarding an older woman and a young girl who were both healed by Yeshua. In each account, a pious Jewish man named Jarius asked him to heal his twelve-year-old daughter who was on the verge of death. As Yeshua followed the man to his house, a crowd gathered around him, and a woman who had had an issue of blood for twelve years touched his tzitzit (on the hem of his robe) and was instantly healed. Yeshua acknowledged the woman and then continued on to the man’s house where he brought the young girl back to life.

These seem like two separate events connected only by Yeshua and a shared moment in time, but the Gospel writers deliberately made the older woman’s story a part of the girl’s story by keeping it in the middle. The Gospels aren’t always told in chronological order, so there was no particular reason to maintain the order of events here unless there was a deeper significance. I believe that, while the story is completely true, it is a parable of Israel told through real life events.

Two Aspects of Israel

In the parable, the woman and the girl both represent Israel, as illustrated by the twelve years, but in different aspects or segments.

The older woman was that part of the nation that was/is conscious of her status as the chosen people of God. Her illness is a reflection of the people’s sterile spiritual state. Long before Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, the Jews had abandoned following much of the Torah as it was given by God to Moses. They still studied and revered it, but they had also adopted “the tradition of the elders,” which, through its myriad rules, rendered the real Torah “of no effect” (Matthew 15:1-20). Still today, the Jews follow their rabbis and traditions in direct opposition to the Written Torah. They claim to follow God’s instructions, yet they don’t.

When the woman touched Yeshua’s garments, she wasn’t just touching the cloth. It wasn’t his clothes that she was after, it was the tzitzit fastened on the four corners. Tzitzit represent God’s Law, the Torah, and whenever we see them, we are to be reminded to whom we owe our allegiance and our obedience. The woman, healed through touching the symbol of the Torah on Yeshua’s garment, represents the Jews (and those from the nations who have joined themselves to them) who were/are being/will be restored to spiritual health by faith in God. Their faith will be evidenced by acknowledgement of Yeshua as their Messiah and returning to Torah as he taught it.

The young girl was that part of the nation which remained scattered among the nations. They lived in idolatrous unbelief and had forgotten their identity as children of Jacob. Her father was an Israelite, and she lived twelve years in his house, but her life and awareness was gone by the time Yeshua reached her. Her descendants in the world today are being restored to life through Yeshua along with multitudes of gentiles, but they are neglecting God’s instructions. Like the Jews, they elevate man-made traditions above the commandments of God. The only difference in this respect is the specific set of traditions that have supplanted Torah.

Two Important Lessons

I want you to notice two other things about this story:

First, only those who were conscious of their illness were healed. Someone had to be willing to say, “Yeshua, heal me!” (or in the case of the young girl, “Heal my daughter!”) before they could be healed. People who don’t know that they are sick or who refuse to acknowledge their degraded spiritual state will never call out for salvation. Yeshua once sarcastically told the Pharisees that “Those who are well have no need of a physician.” A very large segment of the physical descendants of Jacob have been cut off and will never return because they refuse to acknowledge their illness and need of a Savior.

Second, after Yeshua raised the young girl, he didn’t tell her to go her way as he did with the older woman. He instructed the people of the house to feed her. In Scripture, food often represents spiritual instruction (See John 21:16-17, 1 Corinthians 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12-14). When the spiritually dead have been brought to life in Yeshua, it is vital that they be taught from the Scriptures or else they will die again. They must be made into disciples, taught to live as Yeshua lived.

Whether native born Israelites or grafted in from the nations, we have all inherited lies from our ancestors, traditions that confuse or entirely eclipse God’s commandments. “By your traditions, you have made the commandment of God of no effect.” We are saved from damnation by the grace of God and not our obedience to Torah. However, once saved, we require nourishment in the form of sound teaching and obedience to sustain our lives.

There will come a day when the New Covenant is in full effect and no person needs to instruct another in the ways of God, but that day isn’t here yet. We are obligated to love one another by keeping the commandments ourselves and by teaching others to do likewise.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving YHVH your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that YHVH swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20


For more on the divided house of Israel watch my Who Is Israel series:

The Oil, the Spirit, Good Works, and the Light of Israel

Let your light so shine before men, so that they see your good works and praise your Father who is in the heavens. Matthew 5:16

Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.
Exodus 25:2 ESV

The materials to build the Ark and the Tabernacle were to be donated. That particular collection was a one time event, and no one was forced to give anything.

The olive oil for the Menorah was different. God said, “And you, you are to command the children of Israel to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually.” (Exodus 27:20 TS2009) In order to fulfill the purpose of the command, this had to be an ongoing tax to be collected for as long as the Menorah should remain burning.

If you didn’t have olive trees of your own, then you would have to work out a deal with someone who did. Maybe you would donate some labor or your community would all pitch in together to buy oil. However the gathering and donation of oil happened, it wasn’t optional. God didn’t give the people a choice.

I am reminded of two of Yeshua’s commands. The first command is this:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14,16 ESV

The second command is this:

Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
Mark 16:15 ESV

Oil, the Menorah, and light are all metaphors of the Holy Spirit, and James told us that good works are the evidence of the working of the Spirit. We are to continually be a light to the world by preaching the gospel and doing good works wherever we go. We can never say, “I told someone about the Gospel once, so I’ve done my part.”

In order for the oil of the Spirit to be constantly replenished and our light to continually shine, we must always be looking for opportunities to serve, to tell of God’s faithfulness, to show his love to the world around us. Those good works are the visible light of the Spirit within us.