Law School

The Bible repeatedly urges us to meditate continually on God’s Law, meaning primarily its first five books (see Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; 119:97-100 for examples).  Yet many modern Christians not only fail to do so but would consider this to be a detrimental practice. Taking the Pauline phrase “we are not under law but under grace” out of context and using it as a law-repellent mantra of sorts, this generation of churchgoers miss so much of the gospel because they are not meditating on God’s Law as they are commanded to do.

Oh, yes, I have probably already lost some of you.  Not only am I promoting meditating on the Law, but I only listed Old Testament references above for support.  Sorry!  So if you are still with me, please read Matthew 5:17-20, take a deep breath, then ask yourself, “How am I going to keep the least of the commandments of the Law if I do not meditate on them?”  Then read the rest of the chapter and consider the deep heart applications Jesus is making from His own meditations on the Law of God into the lives of His disciples.  If this still does not convince you, go back a chapter to Matthew 4:1-11.  Ask yourself, “In the face of three demonic temptations, what did Jesus do?”   After forty days of prayerful and meditative preparation to face these tests, He quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy each time.  For a generation raised on asking the question “What would Jesus do?”, it seems few have arrived at the seemingly obvious answer that “He would obey the Law of God” with its equally plain corollary “And, with His justice-satisfying blood atonement covering me, so must I.”   

I am raising this issue because the church needs to attend what we might call Law School.  She needs to chew upon the rich food of God’s Law and be nourished on the moral strength it provides.  Just as schooling is designed to take children through various stages of the growth process, in the same way God’s Law takes us through phases of maturity.

For an example, read Deuteronomy 12:20-21.

When the LORD your God extends your border as He has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you desire to eat meat, then you may eat meat, whatever you desire. If the place which the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire.

This commandment is not that difficult to understand, exegetically speaking.  In the first half of chapter 12 of Deuteronomy, Israel was commanded not to imitate the Canaanites when they went into the land by having altars under every tree and on top of every hill and mountain.  Instead, they were to have a central place of worship, which would ultimately be Jerusalem, where the ark eventually ended up and later the temple was built.  This location would be the only acceptable place to offer their sacrifices.

However, in these verses Moses is giving them a further explanation regarding this mandate.  He is actually indicating there will be a fundamental change in the law as they knew it.  Leviticus 17:3-4 instructed Israel at the beginning of their wilderness journeys to bring all the animals slain to the tabernacle to be offered before the LORD.  These were to be not only the animals given in offerings, but commentators agree this commandment was for every animal slain, be it for sacrifice or food:

Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people”

Now at the end of their wilderness journey, they are told that when they live in the Promised Land they will no longer have to offer the animals that are being slain for food in the central place of worship.  They have the freedom to eat their meat within their own gates. Yet they still were to bring their offerings to the temple (see verses 17-19, 26-27 of Deuteronomy 12).

Why was it necessary at the beginning of their exodus from Egypt to make them offer their food as sacrifice to the LORD?  Leviticus 17:7 tells us why:  “They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot.”  Coming out of Egypt, where Israel had seen all food eaten offered to the gods of the land, and being around the pagans in the wilderness who had the same practice, God instituted this protective measure in Leviticus 17 to keep them from secretly giving their food to idols.  They initially needed to sacrifice even their meals to the Lord to train them that now all their life was to be holy to God.  This was forty years of “boot camp” training!  The end of this training in the wilderness coincided in the providence of God with the practical necessity that they could not now offer every meal to God as they came into the Promised Land.  Most of them would be too far away from Jerusalem.  In effect God is saying here, “It is time to grow up and eat meat – whatever you desire – but never forget what I taught you in the wilderness.”

God in His Law acknowledges there are levels of development His people journey through.  We find this same principle in the gospels. In Matthew 10, toward the beginning of His ministry, Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the kingdom of God.  However, He restricted them, telling them “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,” and He did not allow them to take money or weaponry along.  He knew they could not yet be trusted with the greater responsibility of taking the gospel to the Gentiles.  After all, He did not want “the Sons of Thunder” calling fire from heaven down on Samaritan villages when they did not receive them. His disciples had not yet learned that Jesus came to save, not destroy.  He came to redeem the world and its nations, and He was training them through their ministry to the Jews first that important truth.

Yet in Luke 22:35-36 we read that Jesus lifted these restrictions. 

And he said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’

Why did He do this?  After three years of training, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus granted them the freedom to go to the Gentiles and to take swords with them as they went.  They had reached an age of maturity where they could be further entrusted with the ministry of the Lord to the nations.  They would need swords now, because as they traveled through the Roman Empire they would face new dangers which were unlike being among their own people in Israel.  (Of course, Peter had an immediate setback that very night with this new-found sword freedom, but Peter was always having setbacks!).  

At our former home, we lived on a busy street with a driveway sloping down toward it.  Our fear as parents was that one of our young children  might get started down that driveway on a riding toy and go into the path of a car.  That fear was actually activated a time or two!  So we had a rule: the children were not allowed past the corner of the house to play or ride on their toys without one of us with them.  There was a crack in the driveway that marked it, and if the children passed that line they were reprimanded.  That rule worked well – when they were little.  But eventually I had to lift that restriction, so they could do such things as mow my lawn in the front or drive the car.  They matured through stages of our house laws.  

For that is a great purpose of the Law of God, to bring us to spiritual maturity.  However, in this generation the church’s diet of milk only has caused it to be infantile in so many ways.  In these wicked times, when Psalm 119 would have us cry, “It is time for the Lord to act, for they have broken Your law,” the church desperately needs to grow up.  It is time for the church to develop an appetite for the strong meat of God’s Law.  Start reading the Law’s five books and note how foundational they are to the rest of Scripture.  If you have not heard sermons preached from it, ask for them from your pastor.  Do a study with others on a book from the Pentateuch.  Take a class on it.  Memorize the Ten Commandments with your family.  Read and pray through Psalm 119 to develop a heart for the law.  From this psalm, keep sincerely asking God, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”  And from this same psalm, may you and your congregation be able to testify of your schooling in this manner:

O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.

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4 Comments

  1. Thomas April 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Great post Barry, have been thinking about this idea for a while now. When you say “see verses 17-19, 26-27″, to which book and chapter does refer? Leviticus 17 doesn’t go that far, so I’m guessing it’s another chapter. Thanks!

    • Barry York April 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      Thanks, Thomas. I meant to reference back to the original chapter of Deuteronomy 12, which was not clear in the context. So I edited it. Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Jonathan April 6, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    I am sometimes critical of things written on this blog (e.g., when pastors are told they need to tell more jokes in their sermons to be more engaging, http://bit.ly/1imVbYN), but the point of this post is excellent. We aught to love and meditate in the Old Testament Law, for “they are they which testify of [Christ]” (John 5:39). When David wrote Psalm 119, this was the Law he spoke so much of loving and meditating in.

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