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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.