Subscribe to American Torah to be eligible for my next book giveaway and to follow along as I draw out the connections that are often missed in today's church teachings by clicking
→→HERE!←←

(*You must have a mailing address in the USA or Texas to be eligible for the book giveaway.)

Did God’s Food Laws Change After the Flood?

Did God change the laws about clean and unclean animals after the flood?

Being a Torah observant follower of Yeshua (aka Jesus) means living according to God’s instructions as given to Moses (aka Torah) and as illustrated and explained by Yeshua, including those rules that pertain to diet. Food is a very personal thing and other Christians are frequently dumbfounded that I don’t agree with them that God’s rules for eating were canceled by Jesus. Just read Mark! Read Romans! Haven’t you read Galatians!? Etc. Pick a New Testament book and there’s probably a verse in it that someone will interpret to mean that God no longer cares what anyone eats. I am convinced beyond any doubt that the vast majority of people–even well-educated and sincere believers in Jesus–have never even considered that those verses might be interpreted in some other way, let alone done any serious study on the matter.

American Torah (and other websites that have published my articles) holds other articles on this topic, but the same “counter” verses come up often enough that I think it’s worthwhile to the most common, including what they say and what they are claimed to say. I don’t have the time or inclination to address every possible relevant Bible passage, of course, but I hope that I will be able to add something useful to the collective dialog and encourage you to reconsider what you have been taught or what you might assume about others.

I will add the tag “kosher” to this and other articles on this topic so that you can easily find them here at American Torah and over at Soil from Stone.

And I will begin with The Beginning, Genesis…

Genesis 1:29 & 9:3

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

When God first created man in the Garden, he gave Adam permission to eat plants (“every seed-bearing herb”), but then after he destroyed the world in the Flood, he gave Noah permission to eat animals (“every living thing”).

This raises two questions: 

  1. Did God’s Law change after the Flood?
  2. If God changed the rules once, could he change them again?

God told Noah he could eat every living thing. Doesn’t that mean we can eat pigs and lobsters?

“Every seed-bearing plant” and “every living thing” are descriptions of categories. In other words, God gave Adam permission to eat from the category of seed-bearing plants and Noah permission to eat from the category of living things, but he did not mean for either of them to understand that they could eat absolutely any and every member of those categories.

If you get your drivers license and I tell you, “Congratulations! You can drive all kinds of cars now,” do I really mean that you are free to drive any and every motor vehicle you can find? No, because not every vehicle is yours, some vehicles require special licenses and training, and other vehicles are illegal to drive on regular roads. I think these two Genesis phrases would have been better translated as “the seed-bearing plants” and “the living things” to convey the intended meaning.

Leviticus 11:3 says, “Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.” Does that mean that every cow is available for food to anyone? Clearly not. God did not give anyone permission to kill and eat his neighbor’s cow.

Let me give you a scenario as an illustration.

Your town has an ordinance against driving 18 wheelers on any streets within town limits. You don’t own an 18 wheeler, but your neighbor does. Are you allowed to drive his 18 wheeler on a country road without his permission? No, you aren’t. Not because of the town law–that doesn’t apply on country roads–but because it’s not your truck.

Now, if you take it into your head to become a long haul truck driver, you can get your CDL and purchase your neighbor’s rig. Then you will be free to drive it on that country road, but still not in town, not because it is illegal for you to drive an 18 wheeler, but because it remains illegal to drive it in town. If your neighbor had only loaned you his truck, instead of selling it, with the condition that you can only drive it downtown, you would be no more legally authorized to drive it than before, because his consent in the matter has no effect at all on the town’s ordinance against 18 wheelers within town limits.

Before the Flood, before God allowed Noah to eat animals, he told Noah to take seven pairs of every kind of clean animal into the Ark with him (Genesis 7:3), so God’s laws concerning what makes an animal clean or unclean existed and were in force at that time. God’s laws concerning what makes an animal edible to humans are identical to those that distinguish clean from unclean, and so it seems to me that those laws were also in force prior to the Flood, prior to God granting Noah permission to eat animals.

On the sixth day of Creation, he gave the Garden into Adam’s custody, but not for every purpose that Adam might desire. Adam’s responsibilities as a gardener allowed him to prune and harvest the trees, but not to burn the whole place down. Everything belongs to God, every rock, tree, animal, and person. Before the Flood, cows and sheep were perfectly edible to humans, but they belong to God, and God was (and is) free to disallow mankind to kill his cattle for food, not because it is immoral to eat a cow, but because it is immoral to eat someone else’s cow.

God’s instructions to Noah were not a change in his eternal Law that says “You may eat this kind of animal, but not that kind.” Rather, they were a change in how much authority over his own possessions God had delegated to mankind, much like a farmer allowing his hired hands to take a few chickens home with them in addition to their daily allotment from the harvest.

If God changed the rules about what we can eat once, could he change them again?

Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are the primary passages of Torah that tell us which animals are clean and therefore suitable for food. (See this article for a brief explanation of what clean and unclean means.) God’s Laws concerning clean and unclean animals predate Noah, Abraham, and Moses and haven’t changed.

But if God can change the wages of mankind from plants alone to plants and animals, can he also reduce those wages again to plants only? Or to animals only?

I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t. They and we are all his creations to do with as he chooses.

However, he would need to send a prophet to tell us of the change in such a way that nobody would have any excuse for not recognizing his authority and the truth of his message. The last two times God sent such a message, the prophet who delivered it was the supreme, unquestioned human authority on earth. I am unaware of a single human being in over 1900 years whom I could point to as a certain and true prophet, let alone one with such unimpeachable credentials. If a prophet carried a word from God that was so fundamental to human existence as the revocation of permission to eat animals, surely it would have to be delivered in a similar manner to the original granting of permission.

Perhaps when Messiah Yeshua returns to establish his earthly kingdom in the land of Israel, he will make such a decree. I doubt it, but who am I to say?

Even the Wicked Understand This

What does the Parable of the Unjust Steward mean?

[Yeshua, aka Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.

“And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”

Luke 16:1-17 ESV

This passage has always puzzled me. An incompetent manager found out he was about to be fired, so he conspired with his customers to steal from his employer in order to secure a new job–or at least some charity–with one or more of the customers. And Yeshua wants us to emulate this man? Does he want us to steal from our employers in order to create good will among those less wealthy? That doesn’t make any sense! Since the Pharisees’ immediate reaction was to ridicule him, they were probably thinking the same thing.

However, when reading it again recently, I noticed some details that must have escaped me before. The keys to understanding are in a phrase Yeshua used in his summary and in his response to the Pharisees, who overheard him speaking this parable to his disciples.

Unrighteous Wealth

God’s Law (Torah) requires a public trial for anyone accused of a crime and that justice be rigorously pursued. In other words, there needs to be an investigation, and the accused has a right to defend himself. The rich man in this story held what amounted to a secret trial without the accused even being aware of it until he was told to pack up and get out. He wasn’t a good man to work for.

Maybe the manager was only negligent and hadn’t done anything criminal, or it could be that the case wasn’t strong enough to stand in a legitimate court of law, and so the rich man decided to dismiss the manager from his employ without pressing criminal charges. He certainly had a right to do so, whether the manager was guilty or not. As another of Yeshua’s parables points out, a man is within his rights to hire and fire anyone he chooses and to use his wealth however he sees fit.

It could also be that the rich man didn’t want to give the town elders and judge an opportunity to examine his books too closely.

In verses 9 and 11, Yeshua referred to the rich man’s wealth using the Greek word mammona, which isn’t just material wealth, but ill-gotten gain, and he even added the adjective adiko, meaning wicked or unrighteous.

If then you have not been faithful in adiko mammona [unrighteous, ill-gotten gain], who will entrust to you true riches?
Luke 16:11

The manager had not squandered the possessions of an ordinary businessman, but of a criminal mastermind, and when he colluded with the master’s clients to forge new instruments of debt, he cheated a cheater.

So are we then to seek out employment with criminals so that we can play Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? No, that’s not the lesson either.

Unrighteous Teachers

When the Pharisees overheard all of this (as Yeshua intended, no doubt), they scoffed, probably thinking that Yeshua was telling his disciples to use dishonest means to further their mission. But he turned to them and explained that they were like the incompetent manager, but they were wasting the opportunity to prepare for the coming shift in spiritual power.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes of Yeshua’s day had inherited an unjust system in which the High Priest was appointed by Rome and the ordinary people were denied the right to study and understand the Scriptures for themselves. They had access to wealth and power that had been unjustly concentrated in the hands of a ruling class.

The Law and the Prophets have been read and studied right up until the time of John. And the good news of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is trying to claim a piece of it.
Luke 16:16 (Paraphrased)

The Torah and the Prophets had warned for over a thousand years that a day of reckoning was coming for unjust rulers when the Kingdom of God would be established on earth. Everyone wants to be part of the Kingdom, and religious leaders jockey for position to control the gates.

When John and Yeshua went to the common people and began proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom, the ruling classes naturally objected. This was a golden opportunity for them to earn an honored place with the new King, but in their pride they clung to an obsolete office that seemed golden in the eyes of men but was spiritually rotten to the core.

Even the Wicked Know This…

The Temple was intended to unite the people in a closer relationship to God, yet the religious rulers used it to create division among the people and to separate them from God. Meanwhile, the Pharisees buried the people under onerous regulations, the “burden which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” spoken of by Peter in Acts 15:10. They kept the gentiles as far away as possible, even forbidding a Jew to so much as enter their houses.

When they heard the good news, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, they should have repented from their pride and hatred, embracing their fellow Israelites and inviting the nations into the Tent of Jacob, but they jealously guarded their hoards of hay and stubble.

The point of Yeshua’s parable wasn’t that we should use fraud and bribes to earn good will with men, but that we need to be preparing for what’s coming rather than clinging to what’s passing away. Even the “sons of this world” know to prepare for the next life before this one is over. How much more should the “children of light” know to “lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys.”

When the Judge weighs your life on his scales, what will he find?

This life will end. Every title, every bank balance, and every seat in every boardroom will end with it. You have an opportunity right now to repent from selfish ambitions and instead begin laying up treasures in heaven by keeping God’s commandments and doing good for the people in your community. Don’t waste it.

A Dialogue on the Continuity of the Law

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Deuteronomy 4:2. Should Christians keep the Torah?

The conversation below took place in an online forum more than ten years ago. I’m reproducing it here because that forum no longer exists, and I think the content is worth preserving.

[Original post] Jay Carper:

It seems to me that an honest reading of Scripture without antinomian prejudice can only lead to the conclusion that God’s Law has not been set aside, abrogated, annulled, or whatever synonym for canceled you might prefer.

Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

1 Peter 2:21-22 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (22) Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.

Matthew 5:17-19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (18) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (19) Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Translation:

1) The Law of Moses says that no one may change the Law.
2) John said that anyone who violates the Law has sinned.
3) Peter said that Jesus never sinned.
4) Jesus said that he didn’t come to remove even a single ink mark from the Law and that anyone who does will be called the least in heaven.
5) If Jesus came to change the Law in even the smallest way, then he is a liar and a sinner, and he cannot be the Messiah.

I have never heard anything resembling a convincing counter argument. If you’ve got one, I’d love to hear it.

Jair:

That’s not too hard, everything is predicated on point 2 which is the weak link anyway.
1 John 3:4 is a peculiarity, the root of the word law in both instances is anomee’ah instead of nom’os, its the only time anomee’ah (for lack of text inserts right now) is rendered that way, in every other case it is rendered iniquity. The term in no case refers to the Law of Moses, though nom’os frequently does.

Sin may well be lawlessness, iniquity, wickedness etc. You could argue from this passage that Sin is a transgression of any given law that you are bound, but you couldn’t argue that sin is specifically a transgression of Mosaic law.

Thank God for that, because without cities of refuge, the Levies, the Priesthood, years of Jubilee, and on it is impossible for us to follow the Law of Moses. That was law was for a specific deal which people broke, God totally burned the bridge of following the law of Moses. He made sure we couldn’t pretend the deal was still on by destroying key things required to follow it. I have respect for anyone who tries to emulate its precepts, but no one can obey that law without saying ‘I’ll just do my best here’ and ‘I can’t do that so it doesn’t mater’ there.

Ironically, in trying to apply that deal to themselves people have to change much more than jots or iotas, they have to ignore or comprise the things they can’t do, and that is an insult to the law.

Mark Call:

No offense, Jair, but I’m solidly with Jay, and Yeshua, on this one.

Had He violated His own Written Word, in such places as Deut. 4:2 and 12:32, then He would have been a liar (including not only such references as Matt. 5, but many others, like John 5:47) and could not have been HaMashiach.

(This is, in fact, a very good reason that so many Torah-knowledgeable Jews reject a “Jesus” who supposedly “did away with” it. Many are thus shocked when they hear what “Yeshua the netzir” — a word they already know — actually said!)

But I’ve always considered any argument that relies on a Greek understanding which contradicts not only the Hebrew word, but the Torah itself, to be EXTREMELY suspect. “Nomos” is no better a rendering of the word “torah” than the English word “law” is, and it is very likely that many of the texts in the Brit Hadasha or “new” testament are translations of things originally penned in Hebrew as well.

(Speaking for myself, I will add that such “contradictions” were what originally led me to an agnostic rejection of the Bible as “contradictory”; what else could Mal. 3:6 mean by saying “I change NOT”? It was Greek “gods” who were capricious and untrustworthy, not YHVH Elohim.)

There are some things that CANNOT be done, Jair – and I see no problem with that, since one of the key principles of Torah understanding is discernment. Since I am not a king, or a wife, some things simply don’t apply to me. Same thing goes for certain sacrifices. (BTW, most of the “law done away” with crowd tend to miss a very important fact about “sacrifices” in general, and the Perfect Lamb in particular:
there IS no sacrifice in Torah for “rebellion”! The ramifications are profound…since He knew that “from the Beginning”.)

But good job, Jay; that’s about as good of a one-page summary as I’ve seen.

Jair:

It doesn’t rely on Greek, that’s just a side note, the point is that 1 John 3:4 does not say Law of Moses, there is nothing that says sin is specifically a violation of Mosaic law, just that it is a transgression of law in general.

But note that I never said Jesus changed or did away with Mosaic law either, insofar that that is Jays point point 4 stands on its own and the rest is immaterial.

Much more important than that is the idea that sin is a specifically a transgression of Mosaic law. God doesn’t change, but people do. The Law of Moses and its promises stood binding until all twelve tribes fell and their governments where wiped out due to constantly breaking their end of the deal.

You see that some things don’t apply because of gender, rank, heritage, or occupation. Why is it then a problem that things don’t apply because you are not a person with whom the deal was made? God made sure pretending to follow the Law of Moses as if it applied to you would be hollow by destroying things that where needed to follow it.

Part of discernment is knowing who you are and not applying everything the Bible says to yourself, that’s what the name it and claim it crowd do with anything they see as being good.

Jay Carper:

I haven’t had time to compose a response to your initial comment, Jair, so forgive me for skipping ahead…

For several years (5 or 6?) after realizing that the Torah still applied to the Jews, I said pretty much what your saying: The Law is still in effect, but what does that have to do with me?

Jeremiah 31:31-37 and the writings of Paul changed my mind. The New Covenant is the great hope of the gentiles. It is our way to adoption as sons of God. However, God told Jeremiah that he would make the New Covenant only with the houses of Judah and Israel: no gentiles allowed! Paul, relying on prophecies about “a people who are not a people” and “dry twigs” wrote that the gentile converts are grafted in to the tree of Israel. In the Messiah there is no Jew or Gentile–so far as salvation or entrance to the New Covenant is concerned–because they are all on an equal footing as citizens of Israel.

When a person becomes a citizen of a new nation, he adopts that nation’s laws. He cannot take his old nation’s laws with him and expect his conduct to be excused by the new government.

If the Torah still stands for Jews, then it still stands for all believers.

Mark Call:

I like Jay’s explanation, Jair, but would add another observation.

I’m not particularly fond of the limitation implied by the very terminology, “Law of Moses”, and think it is misleading. (In part, but not only, because of the occasional use of the term ‘torah’ to refer to the Pentateuch. Depending on context, “torah” can mean more.)

“Torah” literally is ‘teaching and instruction’. Yeshua used words translated into English as “torah and prophets” when He referred to what “is Written”. But note that Adam walked with God, and that Noah obviously knew which animals were “clean” and which were “unclean” long before that teaching and understanding were even Written down.

I contend that the “Law” (think “Law of Gravity”) was in place when the “Foundations were laid”. His “teaching and instruction” are a function of His design, and what He has Written about all of it is for our blessing, if we have “eyes to see”.

Jair:

Jay,
But that’s the thing, I can’t see how the legal system of Israel laid down in the time of Moses actually applies even Rabbinic Jews. They cannot honour it, they have to leave out chunks that they simply can’t do and in observing here and leaving out there they force that Law to change, and that is exactly what Jesus said not to do as per point 4 and Deuteronomy said not to do as of your first quotation.

I have no quibble with with the doctrine of adoption as you laid it out here.

Mark,
Yes, teaching and instructions goes beyond the Law of Moses. But the term Law of Moses was used in point 1. For clarity by the Law of Moses I mean specifically the legal system laid down for Ancient Israel by God and the promises tied directly too it. I should double check with Jay to see if that is close enough to what he means by the term. There are eternal ethics (or, eternal laws), but that does not mean that there are temporal or case by case ethics as well. The Law of Moses was a deal with a specific people under specific conditions. The histories and the Prophets detail those people violation those conditions, and the captivities show the deal ending. God promises to make another deal if they turn to him, but it is a different deal.

Your point about Noah knowing clean animals goes to show that cleanliness of animals goes beyond that time and government, I would say that is along the lines of an eternal law, though even then I would make exceptions in the case of starvation.

Mark Call:

I don’t necessarily disagree, Jair.

I just note, however that often the specific term, “Law of Moses”, is used to mean “that which does not apply to ME”.

Since I have come to regard ALL of His Torah, meaning “teaching and instruction”, as valuable for things like reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, and a lamp to my own feet, I can do so far less legalistically.  😉

Jay Carper:

There are definitely parts of the Law that cannot be obeyed today. Those who would try are in the same basic situation as the Jews of the Babylonian exile. The Temple had been destroyed, and they were not allowed to travel Jerusalem anyway. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Perfect obedience was probably always impossible. We just try to play the best game we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. Our salvation is through faith in God’s forbearance and not in strict obedience to the codified Torah.

Jay Carper:

Finally getting around to responding to your initial comment, Jair. I’m enjoying the dialog!

That’s not too hard, everything is predicated on point 2 which is the weak link anyway. -Jair

No, point 4 is the most important. Even if John’s reference to sin and law is irrelevant, Yeshua would still be a liar if he actually did come to remove anything from the Torah.

1 John 3:4 is a peculiarity, the root of the word law in both instances is anomee’ah instead of nom’os, its the only time anomee’ah (for lack of text inserts right now) is rendered that way, in every other case it is rendered iniquity. The term in no case refers to the Law of Moses, though nom’os frequently does. -Jair

Anomia isn’t translated “law” here either, not even in the KJV. It’s translated “transgression of the law,” which is essentially the same thing as lawlessness or iniquity. Therefore, sin = lawlessness. To what law could John have been referring but the Law of God? In every case, both anomos and anomia refer to breaking God’s commands found in Torah, i.e. the Law of Moses. I would have checked every instance of nomos also, but there were 195 of them listed in the KJ Concordance! The first dozen or so bore out the same pattern.

Sin may well be lawlessness, iniquity, wickedness etc. You could argue from this passage that Sin is a transgression of any given law that you are bound, but you couldn’t argue that sin is specifically a transgression of Mosaic law. -Jair

No, you couldn’t argue that sin is the transgression of any law. (Well, you can argue it, but that doesn’t make it true.) That might be a literal interpretation of the word, but that is clearly not the way it is used throughout the NT writings. It is always used in reference to Torah.

Jay Carper:

Thank God for that, because without cities of refuge, the Levites, the Priesthood, years of Jubilee, and on it is impossible for us to follow the Law of Moses. That was law was for a specific deal which people broke, God totally burned the bridge of following the law of Moses. He made sure we couldn’t pretend the deal was still on by destroying key things required to follow it. I have respect for anyone who tries to emulate its precepts, but no one can obey that law without saying ‘I’ll just do my best here’ and ‘I can’t do that so it doesn’t mater’ there. -Jair

God said that he would never reject Israel nor his covenant with them. It doesn’t matter that they broke it. God still promised to keep it. He said that he would never forget them and never destroy them, but that if they would repent, he would be waiting to accept them back.

Leviticus 26:44-45 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. (45) But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.

Ironically, in trying to apply that deal to themselves people have to change much more than jots or iotas, they have to ignore or comprise the things they can’t do, and that is an insult to the law. -Jair

I don’t know if the law can be insulted or offended by one who is under the covering of Yeshua. We do not owe our allegiance to the commands, but to the commander. Obeying his commands, which he has never retracted and never can without breaking his word, as well as we are able can only honor him.

Jair:

Mark,
With that said we are saying pretty well the same thing, cool.

Jay,
I think the shortest way to reply would be to point out that Leviticus 26 isn’t talking about our forefathers but the forefathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Israel himself. All of whom lived before the Law of Moses was given. Gods Covenant with the children of Israel goes beyond that specific legal system, it existed before it and continues to exist after it. Just to be clear I never said God rejected Israel.

I’m very sure that the law can be offended by people covered by Christ, its no doubt plagues could have been minimized by valuing the precepts concerning sanitation. But one way or the other we are not talking about retracting commands, we are talking about trying to follow commands given to other people. Our standing orders are different than those of pre captivity Israel, and he made sure we knew it by making sure we couldn’t actually follow the wrong set of orders.

Jay Carper:

“Offending” was a poor choice of words on my part. “Insulting” was better. I didn’t mean to imply that the commands couldn’t be broken. I was thinking more along the lines of being accountable to the law as an entity in itself.

I agree that the Torah is not the covenant itself, and that it existed before Mt. Sinai.
I disagree that we are talking about commands given to other people. God was clear that the New Covenant is only with the houses of Israel and Judah (together being the nation of Israel) and no one else. If anyone becomes party to that covenant, then they become one with Israel also, sons of Abraham, just like the mixed multitude who came out of Egypt in the Exodus.

Mark Call:

Very good, Jay. I often ask folks, “well, would you like to be ‘grafted in’, or not?”

Jair:

If we aren’t talking about being accountable to the law as an entity in itself I’m not sure we are actually disagreeing anywhere.

To be clear I agree that all of Israel in all time including those ‘grafted in’ are under the Covenant with Abraham, which is neither new nor old, but just is. However only those who lived in the Nation of Israel from the time of Moses to the captivity are bound to say, observe Jubilee as a moral obligation to that covenant.

Jay Carper:

“As a moral obligation to the covenant…”

I would call it a moral obligation to the God with whom we have covenanted. I do not believe that God’s Law is unique to a particular covenant, but rather it is the standard to which he holds his people. When we come into covenant with God, his standards, as the rules of his house, automatically apply.

Jair:

If we aren’t talking about being accountable to the law as an entity in itself I’m not sure we are actually disagreeing anywhere.

To be clear I agree that all of Israel in all time including those ‘grafted in’ are under the Covenant with Abraham, which is neither new nor old, but just is. However only those who lived in the Nation of Israel from the time of Moses to the captivity are bound to say, observe Jubilee as a moral obligation to that covenant.

Jay Carper:

You’ll get no argument from me there. Laws about saddles don’t apply to me because I don’t have any animals that wear saddles. Laws about sacrifices don’t apply directly to me either, because there is no Temple at which a sacrifice could be made. There are definitely valuable lessons to be drawn from those laws, but the laws themselves don’t apply. Many laws did not apply to Moses even after he had written them. He wasn’t a woman. He didn’t have a stone house. He wasn’t a king.

Jair:

In turn I will readily agree that Jesus did not do away with or change what most modern Christians supposed him too, and that your argument against said change is to my knowledge unbeaten.

Jay Carper:

LOL. Thanks!

What Does “Help Meet” Mean?

Eve was created to be a help meet for Adam, but what does that really mean?

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

Men and Women are Not the Same

According to Adam Clarke (Commentary on the Bible), the Hebrew for “help meet for him,” ezer kenegdo, “implies that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself.” He was right to an extent.

Mankind, both male and female, is unique among God’s breathing creations, those beings that Scripture calls nephesh, or souls. This is confusing to many English speakers because we often use the terms “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing in the Bible. A soul is a living being, while a spirit is the incorporeal part of a person that carries on the essence of the person after the body dies.1

Eve was like Adam in that she was of the same kind of being, mankind, somewhere between angel and beast. Like Adam, Eve was a living soul in possession of a body, spirit, and mind. She shared his divine mission of caring for the Garden and, by extension, the whole Earth. She shared in his authority and in his role as a connection between the eternal Creator and his temporal creation.

But Eve was never “a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority.”The physical differences between men and women are obvious. Sane people do not allow men to compete in women’s athletic events, even if those men are pretending to be women. Every society that has every existed has recognized the sexual dimorphism of humanity, sorting men and women into activities that are best suited to their capabilities. Among hunter-gatherers, men almost always do the hunting, fighting, and heavy lifting, while women almost always do the gardening and textile work, which might be even more challenging in their ways, but don’t require the same strength or speed.3

The mental differences are intuitively apparent to most people. Think of the joke about men being a machine with a single switch and women being another machine covered in switches, dials, gauges, and buttons without a hint of what they’re supposed to do. The joke is an exaggeration, of course, but still close enough to the truth to be funny. The mind is significantly more opaque than the body, so the differences between the sexes is harder to quantify, but the work of many reputable researchers, astute observers of human behavior, and less reputable (but possibly more effective) proponents of dating Game, have established their existence and general parameters beyond reasonable argument.

The spiritual differences between men and women are not so obvious. They are evident, however, in the spiritual and hierarchical roles into which men and women have almost universally organized their activities, in the Creation story of Genesis, and in the many scriptural examples of and references to the differently ordained roles of men and women.

Consider just a handful of many dozens of examples:

  • God repeatedly chose a younger son to inherit the covenants and promises of Abraham, never a daughter, although their wives and daughters certainly participated in those covenants. (Genesis)
  • When God chose someone to lead Israel out of Egypt, he chose Moses rather than Miriam. Only men were appointed by Moses as leaders over the people at God’s direction. Only the sons of Levi are permitted to serve at the Tabernacle and only the sons of Aaron to serve at the altar, although their wives and daughters enjoy some of the benefits of that service.  (Exodus, Numbers)
  • The land of Israel is passed from father to son and only to a daughter if the man had no sons. A woman joins the tribe of her husband–never the other way around–and so a daughter who inherits her fathers land must marry a man of her own tribe in order to keep the land intact. (Numbers)
  • God gave fathers the explicit right to annul the vows of their wives and daughters, but not of their sons, and Paul twice wrote of the obligation of wives to respect and obey their husbands. (Numbers 30, Ephesians, Colossians)

At about this point, some readers might be thinking to themselves, “My! What a misogynist!” But how so? If I say that elms make better shade than palms, does that mean I am somehow anti-palm trees? If I say that dump trucks haul more rocks than do refrigerated panel vans, am I saying anything against refrigerated panel vans? Of course not, to both questions. I am merely pointing out that some things are better at one thing than another.

I am also not saying that women have no legitimate role in ministry or leadership. Although men are more suited to many kinds of leadership and a preponderance of women in leadership is almost certainly a symptom of a society in trouble, God never said, “Thou shalt not suffer a woman to lead.” Scripture records a number of prophetesses and one God-ordained woman who served as the national Judge of Israel at a time when men were weak and cowardly.

Men and women are different physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it would be impossible for them to be equally suitable to performing the same tasks or filling the same roles. To insist otherwise is actually anti-man and anti-woman by disregarding their unique strengths and weaknesses.

A Help Meet for Him

If it’s not clear already, the term “help meet” (often mistakenly given as “help mate”) doesn’t mean that Eve was created to be Adam’s slave. In fact, Moses and David both used the same word to refer to God as their own helper. (Exodus 18:4, Psalm 33:20, 70:5) Surely they didn’t think of YHVH as a personal servant to be summoned and ordered about at will! God is the indisputable superior in those relationships, yet he is still called a helper.

In Ezekiel 12:14, God refers to the personal attendants–whether guards, aides, or mercenaries–of the King of Judah with this same word. So ezer ultimately implies neither inferiority nor superiority. Rather than a servant, ezer implies an ally, an indispensable supporter, and even a rescuer.

The Hebrew phrase ezer kenegdo literally translates to “a helper suitable to him”–“Meet” is an archaic English synonym of “suitable”–and by itself the word doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of hierarchal relationship at all.

So then what does it mean for Eve to be a help meet for Adam?

The fact that she was made specifically for Adam’s purposes, and not for her own, demonstrates that God’s intended purpose for her was to assist Adam in his divinely appointed mission, not to launch a separate mission of her own.

Genesis 2:15 says that God placed Adam in the Garden to keep it, but he immediately recognized that Adam could not effectively perform the task unaided, and so v18 says “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Before God created Eve, he brought all of the animals to Adam to examine and name them. The naming is explicit in the text, while the examination is implied by the context and the ancient Hebrew practice of naming a thing according to its character and behavior.

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
Genesis 2:20

A Perfect Complement

One of the purposes of this naming exercise was to demonstrate to Adam that none of these lesser creatures could ever be an adequate help in Adam’s primary task of caring for the Garden. God created Eve immediately afterward and, from God’s reaction, we can know that Adam was acutely aware of the animals’ entire deficiency:

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Genesis 2:23

Eve was like Adam in a manner that no other creature could approach. She walked on two feet and manipulated the world with hands, fingers, and opposable thumbs, just like Adam. She spoke, laughed, reasoned, and loved like Adam, and, like Adam, she was, in her being, the image of God and carried within her the same breath that God exhaled into him.

God didn’t create Eve merely to be Adam’s friend, but she was his friend more profoundly than any of the animals could ever be. A horse can bear a man across country, a dog can show him affection, and an ox can help him plow a field, but none of these can carry on a conversation, help him solve a complex problem, bear his children, or offer him any wisdom. A wife can do all of these things and more.

Eve was Adam’s perfect complement.

It is abnormal for a woman to lead a nation or to be a spiritual teacher over men, but it is certainly no sin, and it is sometimes quite necessary. When a woman steps into a leadership role because the man who should be there is unavailable, unable, or unwilling, she is, in fact, fulfilling her purpose as a “helper suitable to Adam”. It’s a long way from God’s original ideal, but, in his wisdom, his plan included remedies for less than ideal conditions, and we should all thank God for women who are willing to step up to leadership roles when men fail!

God created Adam and appointed him to a task before he created Eve. From this we know that Eve’s purpose is to aid Adam. But God also purposefully created Adam incomplete and unable to perform the task to which he had been set, so that he would love Eve and fully appreciate his need for her.

I suspect that we would all live happier, more fulfilling lives if we didn’t fight so hard against God’s plan and instead used it as a blueprint for our marriages, families, and civil governments.

End Notes

1 Major tangent: Like God, man is a tripartite being, a living soul, made up of body, spirit, and mind. Our bodies are made up of numerous, complex organs and systems that are also made up of complex, interconnected systems. Our consciousnesses, the part of our thoughts and minds that can’t be dissected and objectively measured, also appear to contain separate systems and components. What about our spirits? We know almost nothing about them, and anyone who claims otherwise is most likely either a con-artist or under demonic influence. However, we do know that God’s Spirit is seven-fold in some manner (Isaiah 11:2; Revelation 1:4, 3:1, etc.) and probably more complex in ways that we couldn’t possibly understand. What might that say about our own spirits? Or about the anatomy (for lack of a better word) of the rest of God? Purely academic questions, of course. There’s no way to answer them and probably little value in spending a lot of time thinking about it.

2 I’m sure Clarke never meant to imply that men and women are equal in a mathematical sense, but many people to day really do believe his statement to be literally true despite all evidence and reason.

3 Goldberg, Stephen. The Inevitability of Patriarchy. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1974. 228. “…the central fact is that men and women are different from each other from the gene to the thought to the act and that emotions that underpin masculinity and femininity, that make reality as experienced by the male eternally different from that experienced by the female, flow from the biological natures of man and woman…the women of every society have taken the paths they have not because they were forced by men but because they have followed their own imperatives.”

Related Content

Is Christ Useless to the Circumcised?

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. Galatians 5:2

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
Galatians 5:2

Those are pretty strong words. What should we tell the hundreds of millions of American men? Sorry. You missed the boat. You now have to obey every “jot and tittle” of the Law or you’ll go to Hell. Of course not. Nobody believes that the physical condition of being circumcised equates to a rejection of salvation by grace.

What most people actually believe is that if a man voluntarily becomes circumcised as a religious act of obedience to God’s command, only then has he rejected Yeshua’s work on the Cross. By legalistically adhering to an outmoded command, he acts as if Yeshua’s death and resurrection accomplished nothing.

That certainly sounds like a reasonable interpretation. It doesn’t condemn innocent children for things outside their control, and it emphasizes the liberty we have in Christ. It sounds good, but is it?

Keeping in mind Peter’s admonition that a correct understanding of Paul’s letters requires a solid grounding in the Torah and Tanakh (2 Peter 3:15-16), we shouldn’t assume that the first reasonable interpretation of Paul is actually correct. We need to see what the rest of Scripture says. The older Scriptures have plenty to say about circumcision and salvation by grace, but in this case, I think we need look no further than the book of Acts.

Paul Circumcised Timothy

In Acts 15, some Jewish men were teaching gentile converts that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul brought this to the attention of James and the other elders at Jerusalem and they ruled that new converts from among the gentiles did not need to be circumcised or convert to Judaism. (See “Does Acts 15 Say We Can Ignore God’s Law” for more details.)

Paul then wanted to visit the believers in every city he had previously preached, in part to check on their progress, but also in part to share this news with them. One of his companions on this journey was to be Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, but whose father was Greek. By Biblical standards–if not by modern rabbinic tradition–this made him a gentile by birth, not a Jew, and he was uncircumcised.

According to the common Christian interpretation of Paul’s words in Galatians 5:2 and James’ words in Acts 15, Timothy’s salvation depended on him remaining uncircumcised. Yet, Paul circumcised Timothy who, being a grown man, voluntarily underwent the procedure!

Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Acts 16:3-5

So Paul, who said that circumcision equaled damnation, circumcised Timothy right after the Jerusalem Council said that no gentile should be circumcised?

Either Paul was a hypocrite, making Timothy to live like a Jew while teaching the Galatians to live like gentiles, exactly what he accused Peter of doing in Galatians 2:14, or else Galatians 5:2 does not mean that undergoing circumcision is tantamount to rejecting Yeshua.

Only the latter argument–that circumcision is not rejection of Yeshua–is consistent with the whole of Scripture. The former makes Paul a hypocrite, Timothy a condemned legalist, and James an antinomian libertine.

God’s Law vs Man’s Traditions

In several places in Acts, Luke writes that the great controversy that followed Paul was whether or not a person must be circumcised and keep the whole Law of Moses in order to be saved (E.g. Acts 15:1). The Torah, the Tanakh, the teachings of Yeshua…all of these things stand against such a teaching. The issue was never about whether or not circumcision is a good or bad thing. It was always about salvation and the minimum requirements for fellowship with other believers.

Obviously, Paul was not opposed to circumcision nor to keeping the Law of Moses. His actions and words refute that false teaching over and over. However, he was adamantly opposed to keeping traditions of men (that are still to this day called the Law of Moses or the Torah, though they are not) that put excessive burdens on people and to keeping the Law for salvation.

The Situation in Galatia

There were two parties fighting for control of the church in Galatia. On the one hand, there were the followers of James and Paul teaching them that salvation is only through faith in the grace of God, and that obedience to God’s laws can be learned over time. On the other hand, there were the Judaizers teaching that everyone must submit to the authority of the rabbis and the centuries of tradition built up on top of the Law before they could be truly considered “saved”.

When Paul wrote, “if you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing,” he was writing only within the context of this argument. He was saying, “If you join the party of the circumcision and rely on that for your salvation, then the Messiah is wasted on you.” He was absolutely not saying that circumcision under the right circumstances (for example, on the eighth day after birth) or for the right reasons (for example, to eat the Passover lamb in Jerusalem) is a bad thing.

And if Paul’s actions with Timothy aren’t enough to prove my point, let’s go back to Galatians 5. Just two verses further down, he makes the controversy explicit:

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4

To whom is Paul addressing these comments? “You who would be justified by the law”, not people who want to live a holy life or keep God’s commandments just because God said so. There was a group of people in Galatia (and many other places around the Roman Empire) teaching new converts from among the gentiles that they could not be justified in God’s eyes until they were circumcised and fully converted to Pharisaical Judaism, with all of its burdensome traditions.

Obedience to God Does Not Put One “Under the Law”

Paul wasn’t even opposed to all man-made traditions. According to Torah (God’s Law), there was no reason for Paul to circumcise Timothy. He wasn’t an eight-day-old infant and he wasn’t about to eat the Passover. Yet he did it anyway just to avoid unnecessary controversies with Jewish believers in the scattered congregations. He did not circumcise Timothy to make Timothy Jewish or to ensure his salvation.

Undergoing circumcision does not put anyone under the Law unless he does so because he thinks he will earn special favor with God or eternal salvation by it. Being “under the Law” is to be subject to its curses and under its authority as a law breaker. No one who has put his trust in God for his eternal salvation is under the Law, because our law-breaking has been forgiven and our status has been elevated from slave to son.

That does not mean that the Law no longer applies to us. It means that we are not condemned by it. We don’t have to worry and stress about getting it perfectly. We can learn to walk in greater obedience to God’s instructions over time instead of being afraid that every misstep will earn God’s eternal wrath. Instead of being afraid, we can focus on serving God in our daily lives, on loving him and sharing his love with those around us while we use his Torah to help us learn what that really means.

Go Ahead and Chew that Fat

Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat. Leviticus 7:23

Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat.
Leviticus 7:23

Occasionally, skeptics like to pick this verse to show how ridiculous the Torah is. How can anyone eat meat without eating fat? Are you supposed to trim every bit of fat from every cut of meat? What could possibly be immoral about eating a well-marbled steak?

However, these arguments only betray an ignorance of the Scriptures and the Commandments. Only two verses later, YHVH added this:

For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a burnt offering (Heb: ishshah) may be made to YHVH shall be cut off from his people.
Leviticus 7:25

So the fat that is forbidden is specifically “the fat of an animal of which a burnt offering may be made to YHVH”, which are “ox or sheep or goat”, so it doesn’t apply to all clean animals, but only to those animals which are eligible to be burned on the altar. Furthermore, it doesn’t apply to all of the fat even of an animal that could be offered.

Not all fat is equal

Earlier in this same chapter, in vs 3-4, God gave a short list of specific fats that must be burned on the altar in the case of a guilt offering and not eaten:

  • The fat tail
  • The fat that covers the entrails
  • The fat that is on the kidneys

I take from this that when it says not to eat the fat of any animal that may be sacrificed, that it is talking about these specific fats and not subcutaneous and intramuscular fats, but there are other passages that take the guessing out.

Leviticus 7:6 says that the meat of the guilt offering “shall be eaten” by the priests in a set apart place. No specific priest is required to eat it, but some priest must. This is a command.

Leviticus 11:3 permits eating land animals that chew their cud and have split hooves by any Israelite.

The people to whom God gave these instructions were herdsmen. Your average atheist skeptic today might not know very much about the anatomy of a goat, but I assure you that the average Israelite in the wilderness did. They observed and participated in the slaughtering and butchering of animals on a regular basis. They knew from intimate, personal experience that it is completely impossible to remove all the fat from every cut of meat of any animal.

Torah requires some common sense

If God meant for his instructions to be followed, and he expected the priests to eat the guilt offerings and the people of Israel to eat oxen, sheep, and goats, then it is logically absurd to interpret Leviticus 7:23 to be a total prohibition on the eating of fat.

The Torah isn’t complicated, but it wasn’t written for morons either. It doesn’t explicitly provide for every possible congtingency. It was written for people who live in a real dirt and blood world and who are capable of drawing necessary logical inferences from incomplete data.

I would avoid all organ fat below the heart, but the fat under the skin and around the muscles is fine to eat. It’s even good for you in moderation and if the animal was pastured and cared for naturally.

Hope for the Future of Believers

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Isaiah 50:10

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

It seems that for every gain there is an unequal, disproportionate loss. We gain the freedom to speak and lose the freedom to think. We gain the knowledge to cure diseases and use it to destroy our health and minds and spirits. We invent the means for unprecedented wealth and luxury by mortgaging generations to come.

It is a sorrowful pastime indeed to search God’s words for meaning and purpose in this bleak morass. There are so many things beyond our control. God told us that “the poor shall never cease out of the land,” that there will be war, disease, and famine. Why would God do such things?

It is an invalid question.

Thus says YHVH: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away. Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.”
Isaiah 50:1-3

God didn’t do this to us. If God wanted us to suffer, do you think he couldn’t do better than government oppression, runaway inflation, or a little coastal storm damage? We haven’t seen God’s wrath yet. There will be no mistaking it when it comes. Yet even then our problems will be of our own design. We sold ourselves into debt. We stopped up our own ears. We murdered our own children. He didn’t make us do any of that.

Blaming feminists or liberals or Jews or Muslims is intellectual sloth and emotional cowardice. God-fearing believers in Jesus–admittedly imperfect–were once the dominant economic and political force in America and in many other countries. Our laws and institutions were ours to give away, and give them away we did, without even a fight.

There is a solution, however. Though the rain will fall on the righteous and wicked alike, and there are certain to be hard times, we still have a shelter.

The Lord YHVH has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord YHVH has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord YHVH helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord YHVH helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears YHVH and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of YHVH and rely on his God.
Isaiah 50:4-10

When the Messiah returns the nations will be required to celebrate Sukkot in his honor. Those who listen and obey will be blessed with health, fertility, and abundance. Those who do not, will not. It might be a Hobson’s choice, but we were given three thousand years to contemplate our answer. Have we heard the question?

There’s No Prison in God’s Justice

God's justice--the only true justice--is more concerned with protection of the innocent, restitution for harm, and rehabilitation of the penitent than with punishment or vengeance.

If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.
Leviticus 6:2-5

“Justice”, like all abstract concepts, means different things to different people. Some people say that justice is “leveling the playing field” and others say that it’s making criminals feel the same pain as their victims. However, for those who have sworn allegiance to the God of Abraham, true justice can only be defined by the character and will of God as revealed through the Bible.

A thorough study of the Scriptures will reveal some defining characteristics of justice:

  • Its main purpose is the restoration and maintenance of relationships.
  • It does not favor one person over another based on wealth, sex, or social connections.
  • It is structured and orderly. No person can be convicted of a crime without a public trial including witnesses, testimony, and impartial judges.
  • To whom God has given much, much will be expected.
  • It values forgiveness and mercy over strict prosecution. Sometimes the goals of justice can be advanced more by forgiveness than by conviction.

God’s justice is essentially synonymous with obedience to God’s Law. If we guard and follow his instructions, then our relationships with him and each other will be strengthened. Justice doesn’t equate to what we think of as law and order, although, properly carried out, it ought to result in a well ordered society. It’s more about keeping things in balance and setting it right when it gets out of kilter.

Ideally, our civil laws would be in perfect alignment with God’s Law, but there has never been a government of men to achieve that level of perfection. From the President to the local constable, every position of authority is occupied by seriously flawed people. Until Yeshua is enthroned in Jerusalem, the best we can hope for from government is an approximation of justice.

We will never catch and convict every criminal, restore every broken home, or even know the truth of every matter. We will never even agree on how to apply God’s instructions in many (most?) cases. So rather than trying to perfect a world that can’t be perfected by human power, we have to find compromises that discourage and correct obvious crimes while allowing people to carry on their lives according to their own consciences. Some injustices must be tolerated by the law in order to ensure that liberty and some injustices are beyond the jurisdiction of men.

When we replace God’s standards of justice with our own or we try to right every wrong and force everyone to behave, the end result is the multiplication of that which we sought to oppose: injustice. Oppressive regulations that go far beyond anything God authorized, absurd and useless restrictions, and the criminalization of normal human behavior that doesn’t directly harm anyone.

Prison is a perfect example of man second-guessing God.

If one person steals from another, we lock him as punishment. So that we feel better about kenneling a fellow human being, we often refer to prisons as “correctional facilities.” We’re not putting people in cages; we’re fixing them, helping them to be more productive, happy citizens.

We’re morons. Prison does no such thing. Prison is a short-sighted, feebleminded idea. Debtor’s prison is worse. We’re treating people like irresponsible animals and then expecting them to behave like humans when we let them go again. We’re morons, because we seem to be continually surprised that this doesn’t work. It’s almost as if locking all the offenders up together doesn’t teach them how to live in normal, peaceful society. Who could have predicted that? (Sarcasm!)

God’s Law never prescribes prison for anyone. True justice requires thieves, embezzlers, con-men and the like to restore what they stole plus damages. If they are unable to pay, then they are to work off their debt, in slavery if necessary. According to God’s instructions on justice, murderers and adulterers (true adulterers according to God’s definitions, not man’s) are to be executed, not housed and fed for life. In God’s justice, families and friends, not judges and federal agents, deal with addictions. Addicts are their own punishment and God doesn’t authorize any interference by government until they commit an actual crime against another person.

God’s justice–the only true justice–is more concerned with protection of the innocent, restitution for harm, and rehabilitation of the penitent than with punishment or vengeance. We can’t expect perfection from civil governments, but the closer our laws align with God’s, the closer to perfection they will be.

Pure and Undefiled Religion

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Proverbs 21:3

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:13

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.
Proverbs 21:27

When Yeshua chose his primary twelve disciples, he didn’t surround himself with money, power, and beauty. He chose men who were simple and complicated, rich and poor, soft and calloused. When he called them, they were fishermen, religious seekers, aristocrats, revolutionaries, and enemy collaborators. These were not the kind of men the Jewish religious and political leaders of the day would have chosen to be the companions of the Messiah.

Not only did Yeshua recruit a variety of unsavory characters as his personal disciples, he encouraged lepers, beggars, prostitutes, and tax collectors to gather in public places for teaching and in private places for table fellowship. He went so far as to seek them out and go to their homes.

You can’t spend your life studying God’s Law without learning that mercy is more important to God than sacrifices, but pride is a powerful force for brainwashing. Our tendency is to accentuate the good that we do and downplay the good that we could do, but don’t, even if those omissions are far more important in reality. When Yeshua told the Pharisees to go and learn what “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” means, he tore away their veil of self deception and rubbed their noses in their greatest sin. It’s no wonder they wanted to kill him!

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:27

Religion gets a bad rap, but that’s not really fair. The dictionary definition of religion is the set of beliefs and practices associated with the belief in and worship of a deity. That includes rituals, prayers, doctrines, and even codes of behavior. It can be good or bad. The Bible is full of positive examples of religion, but it also describes a lot of bad, like that of the Pharisees.

In God’s religion, the goal of sacrifice and ritual is a right heart, which is one that is full of love and eager to show kindness. If your religion doesn’t help to conform your heart to God’s, then it’s false and probably involves more worship of self than anything else.

Possess the Gates of Your Enemy

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” Genesis 24:60

In Genesis 24:60, Bethuel and Laban send Rebekah away with this blessing:

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate them!”
Genesis 24:60

We all know from Hollywood that the city gates are the key to capturing an enemy city. If you can break through the gates, you’ve all but one the battle.

We know from the rest of the story that Bethuel and Laban were much more concerned with what they could get out of other people than what they could give, so it’s the kind of blessing we might expect from them. “May you take everything from anyone who tries to take from you!”

However, the Angel of YHVH blessed Abraham’s offspring in the same manner:

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Genesis 22:15-18

Did God mean to bless Abraham’s son with military victory over all his enemies? To an extent, yes, but the Bible uses the idea of gates in a much broader sense than this.

Gates are, by definition, the primary point of entry to any city or home, but they are also the focus of trade, public discourse, and justice. The elders of a town meet at the gates to hear complaints and try criminal cases. God wants his Law written on the gates of our cities and homes, not just to remind us whenever we pass through them, but to signal that all true justice aligns with his standards, not ours.

  • Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. (Genesis 19:1)
  • Abraham transacted business at the gate of the city of Ephron so that there would be public witnesses. (Genesis 23:18)
  • Shechem and Hamor called the men of their city to the gates to discuss a proposed treaty with the Hebrews. (Genesis 34:20)
  • Trials, executions, and civil disputes to take place in public at the city gates. (Deuteronomy 21:19, 25:7, Joshua 20:4)
  • Kings held court at the city gates. (2 Samuel 19:8, 2 Chronicles 32:6)
  • Religious rituals and celebrations took place at the city gates. (2 Kings 23:8, Acts 14:13)
  • Public and private charity was dispensed at the gates. (Luke 7:12, Acts 3:2)

If you sit in the gates of a city, it means that you are a respected elder and judge. People bring their disagreements and accusations for you to hear, and they expect you to tell them what to do. You are the arbiter of public morality.

For the people of God to possess the gates of their enemies doesn’t necessarily mean to defeat them in battle. It can also mean to have a defining influence over justice, trade, diplomacy, and the mechanisms of government.

We aren’t called to overthrow earthly governments or conquer nations in order to convert them forcibly to Christianity. We are, however, called to exemplify and teach God’s ways to our communities. Wherever we live, we have an obligation to promote God’s standards of justice: Equal weights and measures. Judicial impartiality. Due process, including the right to defend oneself and refute all evidence and witnesses. The sanctity of marriage. The defense of the helpless. Generosity to the poor and landless.

For a variety of reasons, we in the United States are utter failures in that calling, and I hear people offering two mutually exclusive solutions: Rise up in arms and take the country back by force or else retreat to mountain camps to wait for God to rescue us.

But I don’t believe that either of these are real solutions.

I tell you that you are Petros, and on this Petra I will build my ekklesia, and the gates of hell will not overpower them.
Matthew 16:19

Most of us live within the gates of Hell even now. Our courts, centers of trade, and seats of government are occupied and controlled by wicked people who have made themselves to be God’s enemies and therefore ours as well.

Yeshua told Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against his assembled people (ekklesia). Clearly he didn’t mean that we are literally to storm the gates of Hell, and divinely ordained armed insurrection is very rare in the Bible, despite the many wicked tyrants described on its pages.

Likewise, Christian isolationism, in which we hide from the world in our homes and simply pray for better times, isn’t an option for God’s people. We have been commanded to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and to be a light to all peoples, teaching the way of salvation and obedience to God’s instructions.

The Great Commission doesn’t end with witnessing to strangers on the street or coworkers in the office. It extends to city hall, the governor’s mansion, and Capitol Hill in Washington. It extends to Wall Street and Silicon Valley as well, because all of these are the city gates, and almost all of them are now in the possession of our enemies.

If you love God, you will promote his worship and his kingdom, and if you love your neighbor, you will promote justice at the city gates. As the people of God and subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, we have an obligation to cultivate influence in the city gates here on earth through righteous means, not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all the people who live within the domain of those gates.