Blogging Old Testament Style – Boundaries and Law

The topic for this blog is boundaries and law. The Israelites had many, many, many laws passed down to them from God. Some of them made sense and others are head-scratchers. Why do they care so much about skin diseases? Why are they so considered with bodily discharges? If you go through the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, sometimes your head spins. The laws are very specific. There was no part of life that was not affected by these laws. Even with the obscure laws, I focused on the obedience of the Israelites to what God has told them to do. Even if it doesn’t make sense, do they still have the faithfulness to follow God’s laws? The level of discipleship called for in these laws are pretty rigorous. I couldn’t imagine following them to the letter of the law. Yet since they were God’s chosen people, they lived under the laws of God. As long as they followed these laws, they were under the protection of God. This discipleship was building an identity which I talked about in my last blog post. These laws are setting God’s people a part so that other nations could see God glorified through their obedience. Also, the Israelites had shown a propensity to disobey God when Aaron made a golden calf while Moses was away receiving the Ten Commandments. Thus, they needed boundaries and laws to be obedient to God. They were serving under Yahweh. They were in the presence of the most Holy. They had to live in a way that reflected the holiness of the God they served. God continues to repeat throughout the Old Testament that Israel is God’s people and that God is Isreal’s God. This covenantal relationship is sealed in these laws.

Many of the laws were very just. There were laws on freeing slaves and returning land to their original owners after certain amount of time. It was forbidden to charge interest on loans. The practice of gleaning allowed the poor to pick up the uncollected harvest that had fallen onto the ground. There were direct and clear laws to protect and take care of the widows, orphans, and foreigners. These just laws were pervasive throughout the Old Testament. It is when Israel starts to forget to follow these laws of justice that God gets angry. Israel will forget to take care of the least of these. However, in God’s law, the vulnerable should be taken care of.

Another theme that pervades the laws is this ban on intermixing. There were specific laws banning the mixing of different breeds of animals, of different species of plants and crops, and of different threads for their clothes. This seemed to be a large metaphor for them not to intermix and assimilate into the cultures of their neighbors. God wanted his chosen people to be set apart and not to be tempted to defile themselves by entering the sinful worship practices of their neighboring cultures.

So what do these laws mean for Christians today? Jesus said he came to not abolish but to fulfill the law. Christ through his incarnation opens up who can be included into the people of God. Many times we can easily dismiss the Old Testament laws as antiquated and useless. However, they have much to teach us about how to live an obedient life of discipleship. We must know and understand the laws of the Old Testament to understand what is going on in the New Testament. Why is circumcision such a big deal in the time of Paul? You need to know the history of circumcision in the context off Israel. Also, Jesus expands and redeems some of the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. The point is that you must understand the full context of the Old Testament laws to understand what Jesus is doing in the New Testament. We should not be so hasty to just devalue and dismiss what God did through these laws for his chosen people.