Let us continue to cling on to the teachings of the Ten Commandments. Let us hold on to those teachings the way David expressed in Psalm 119:4 “I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches,” and Psalm 119:35 “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it”.
Recently, we published the Ten Commandments. One reader wrote to us that he did not think the commandments were meant for us to keep. Rather, he believed it was to show us how sinful we are that we may cry out for a savior. He said he thought Jesus came to remove the old and establish the new.
We wrote him this reply which we are publishing here with the hope that it will encourage and edify you as well.
We do not know which Scripture passages led him to believe that Jesus came to remove the old but some people have drawn the same conclusion based on two verses.
The first is, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
The second is, “Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
In Matthew 5:17, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used a Rabbinic term when he used the words "abolish" and "fulfil". The phrase “to abolish the law” is a Hebrew idiom which means “to misinterpret Scripture” and the phrase “to fulfil the Law” means “to properly interpret Scripture”. He effectively was saying that He came to teach and interpret the Scriptures correctly. For example, if someone teaches that you must not lend or borrow money because the Scriptures says "neither a lender or a borrower be", he is destroying or “abolishing" the Scriptures.
As you read the very next sentence in verse 18, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” He declared that not one character of the Scripture will change, till heaven and earth pass away. If we were to interpret verse 17 to mean that Jesus’ coming has abolished or destroyed the Law, then verse 18 does not make sense.
In the case of Matthew 22, the dialogue was between a lawyer and Jesus. The Jews, due to their upbringing, would have known their Scriptures by the age of 13. They would have studied and memorized the written and oral laws of God. There were a total of 613 laws, 248 positive (ie thou shall’s) and 365 negative (thou shall not’s). As part of their learning, the laws were summarized into the Ten Commandments.
Just a short deviation from our discussion, in the time of Jesus when many of the Jews conversed in Greek, the word "law" comes from the Greek word "nomos" which could have two different connotations that would lend itself to more than one interpretation; law and order as well as law of nature. However, if we look at the Old Testament, the Hebraic word for law "Torah" actually mean "the direction, the instructions and teachings, the Way". The Hebraic term for legislative "law" ie Law and order, is the word "dath" as applied in Daniel 6 where King Darius signed a law forbidding prayer.
This "lawyer", an expert interpreter and teacher of the Mosaic law, wanted Jesus to explain from all the laws stated, which is the unifying instruction that consolidates everything. In Jesus' answer, He quoted two Scriptures, from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) which is part of the Shema that every Jewish child memorize as his/her first memory verse and “But thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Jesus said that out from the principles of these two Scriptures, the Law (Torah - first five books of Moses) and the Prophets (Neviim – four major prophetic writings and 12 minor prophetic writings) are held together.
No, Jesus did not replace or change the commandments of God, He confirmed them. He referred to them and clearly He followed them and applied them to Himself, and His disciples, during His time on earth. He taught how to interpret them correctly and be blessed by them..
Consider these examples:
Indeed, Romans 7:7 pointed out: “Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
Paul talked at length about man’s tendency to sin, and how because Christ died for us, we have forgiveness from the penalty of sin (Romans 5:8) but he stresses again and again that because of this grace, we should cease living in sin and according to the flesh (Romans 6, 7, and 8)..
What was Paul’s answer to his question in Romans 6:15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” “By no means!”
What guidelines teach us what is sin and what is not? Clearly, it is those commandments we talked about earlier — the Law or Torah. Psalm 119 said it all. His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Indeed, the whole Bible guides us in living a godly life. 2 Timothy 3:16 said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Again what Scripture was Paul referring to?
The Ten Commandments must be read as God's instructions or directions and not some governing legislation. Following them means walking in God's presence and protection. Departing from them and you are on your own.
A simple analogy here. If your daughter lives under your roof, she is under your protection and blessings; she watches TV and has her meals and rest under your covering. If she decides to move out and stay away, she is still your daughter but you cannot (even if you desire to) give her the same protection and blessings. The "Laws" or instructions is not about how sinful we are. We already know that in our flesh.
Let us not confuse the roles of the trespass offering with the commandments. Jesus' work on the cross deals with the forgiveness of our sin. The commandments of God deals with blessings and curses.
God says in His Word “For I, the Lord, do not change” Malachi 3:6. Therefore, it does not make sense that God would spell out His instructions from the time of Adam to Jesus and then say these instructions no longer apply.
Act of Redemption
Christ did not come to free us from having to follow God's ordinances and directions. Jesus came as the sacrificial lamb (perfect and without blemish) so that whosoever acknowledges his sin, can be redeemed by Jesus as his "trespass offering" as an atonement before God. And God will forgive his wrongdoing. This has not changed since the time of Moses. See Leviticus 6:6-7. “And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.”
Act of Blessings
Yet regarding God's commandments, this is what He says in Deuteronomy 11:26-28: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known."
Perhaps an analogy might help here. If a Christian is in a building with 500 other people and that building collapses, he is assured of his salvation by the atonement of his sin because of Jesus, but he has an equal chance of dying like all the rest. But if a Christian disobeys the tenth commandment not to covet and over-gears his loans (by being exceedingly greedy) and over extends himself on his investment in the stock market, having Jesus as His Savior is not going to help save him from his losses when the economy crashes. The natural laws of God dictates that he will get as hurt as the non-believer. Following God's instructions might have removed him from being caught by the crash in the market and would give him peace in his heart.
Take some time to read Deuteronomy 28. You will be encouraged by the many promises of the LORD when we obey and follow His instructions. The Word of God declared in Deuteronomy 28:1-2 "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God." It goes on and on. Again, what commandments is the Word referring to?
If you are interested to know more, and if you have the time, you may wish to listen to a series of teaching by Norm Franz on Balaam's Teaching. You can find it here on this link and enter the Balaam under Title. It basically highlights what we are talking about and shows why sometimes we pray for blessings and protection and yet do not see the hands of God moving. Something that everyone of us should ponder on.