Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Change in Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays

 

The origins of Christianity and the original customs thereof come not from pagans. They come from the Holy Bible and ancient Hebrew thought.

Christians did not see the institution of holidays like Christmas (Feast of Nativity) and Easter (Pascha) as a negation of God’s law.  They saw these as traditions instituted by the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6) who were believed to have authority to institute such celebrations (Matthew 16:16-19; 18:17-20).

The early Church, from whom the holidays of Lent, Easter & Christmas come, were not committing apostasy because they didn’t believe in following the law of Moses.  They were following their understanding of the writings of the New Testament and which agrees with Hebrew thought of the time.

Note: the purpose of sharing this information is not to bring forth strife and debate about the law (Titus 3:9) but to attempt to display that early Christians were staying faithful to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) not turning aside to “paganism”.

Tit 3:9  But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

Change in the Law

Hebrews 7.12

 

Heb 7:12  For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

Ancient Jews believed the Torah would be changed by the Messiah.  I’m not going to go too in depth on the theology of the change in the law in this article.  The purpose of sharing this information is to display that the early Church’s belief, which has extended to today, that the Law of Moses is not applicable to Christians is based upon ancient Hebrew thought, not a “spirit of lawlessness” as some claim.

 

“The thought of Torah changing in the “Age to Come,” is displayed in the rendering of Deut.17:18, in the סִפְרָא ‘Sifra’ which is the Jewish midrash to Leviticus. Here it is stated that the Lord wrote a copy of the Mishna-Torah for Himself, and that He would not be content with the Mishna-Torah of the fathers. The question is asked:

Why does He say Mishna-Torah?  Because it is destined to be changed.

The Targum of Isaiah 12 reads:
Behold, in the Memra of the Lord of my salvation do I trust, and shall not be dismayed; because my strength and my glory is the Terrible One, the Lord:  He has spoken by His Memra and become my salvation.  And ye shall receive new instruction with joy from the ‘Chosen of Righteousness.’

The Midrash Qohelet on Ecclesiastes 11:8 concurs with this understanding and states:

The Torah which a man learns in this world is but vanity compared with the Torah of Messiah.

According to Jewish thought, God Himself will teach Israel on that great day is portrayed in the Targum on Song of Songs 5:10:

My beloved. Then the congregation of Israel  commences  to engage  in  the  praise of the Master of  the Universe and speaks  thus: ‘It  is my delight to worship God….who delivers anew  every day, new traditions, which He is to make known to His people on that great day….’

It is assumed that in the Age to Come, since we are in the presence of God, and the “Yetzer Hara” [the evil urge] has been defeated, there will be no sin. Therefore, in the “New Torah” that is expounded by God, it is no longer necessary for the people to be bound by the commandments in the Torah of this age. The reference is found in the tractate Niddah 61b, and in the contest speaks of a cloth that is woven of both linen and wool threads. This cloth is prohibited to be worn by the living, however, it is lawful to be used as a burial shroud. This, we are told, is because death bring a release from the Mitzvot of Torah. R. Joseph then states:

“This implies that the commandments will be abolished in the hereafter [Age to Come].”

The early Rabbis and other Jews of two thousand years ago recognized that there would be changes in the Law of God in the Messianic age, when the New Covenant would be fully in force. Messiah himself was seen as the authoritative interpreter of Torah who would explain the differences between the covenants. Whatever he taught was to be obeyed. Moses had prophesied that, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.

“The LORD said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” Deut. 18:15-19

The Talmud says of Messiah, “Come and hear: Unto him ye shall hearken, even if he tells you, ‘Transgress any of all the commandments of the Torah’ as in the case, for instance, of Elijah on Mount Carmel, obey him in every respect in accordance with the needs of the hour!” Yebamot 90b The Torah ends with a reminder of the promise to send Messiah: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt –to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Dt. 34:10-12

The implication is that Messiah would be the prophet who would, like Moses, perform miraculous signs and wonders, destroy the power of the oppressor, and redeem Israel. And, like Moses, present God’s Law to the people. In the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran, especially in the “Rule of the Community”, Messiah is presented as the final interpreter of God’s Torah. e.g. 1QS 3.13 & 4QFlor.1:11-12 To some extent, this same role had also been anticipated in 1 Maccabees, concerning the cleansing of the altar which had been defiled. 1Mac.4:46

Some rabbis expected Torah to change in the days of Messiah. The rabbinic Midrash on Psalms suggests that unclean animals may be declared clean. “Some say that in the time to come all the animals which are unclean in this world God will declare to be clean, as they were in days before Noah. And why did God forbid them? To see who would accept his bidding and who would not; but in the time to come he will permit all that He has forbidden.” Mid. Teh. 146:7 In the Talmud, the Rabbis even say that, “In the days of the Messiah, bastards [i.e. the children of forbidden marriages]…will be pure.” Kid.72b 2Baruch speaks of the inclusion in the covenant community of Gentiles who observe God’s law, and the exclusion of Jews who do not.

Other rabbinic writings refer to a new Torah that is related to the Torah given at Sinai but different in some respects. “The Holy One, blessed be He, will sit in Paradise and give instruction, and all the righteous will sit before him and all the hosts of Heaven will stand on his right and the sun, and stars on His left; and the Holy One, blessed be he, interprets to them the grounds of a new Torah which the Holy One, blessed be He, will give to them by the hand of King Messiah.” Yalqut on Is.26

The Rabbis pondered the relationship of the dead to Torah, since the dead are to be resurrected with the coming of Messiah. cf. Sotah 48b, Gen.Rab.96:5

Once a person has died, is he still obligated to observe all the laws? The Rabbis concluded that those who died were free from the commandments. [Torah prohibits the mixing of wool and linen in the garments worn by the Jewish people. e.g. Dt.22:11-12 This and the other statutes which prohibit the mixing of different kinds of things, i.e. kil’ayim, are symbolic of the separation that God requires of Israel.

“Our Rabbis taught: A garment in which kil’ayim was lost …may be made into a shroud for a corpse. R. Joseph observed: This implies that the commandments will be abolished in the Hereafter….for R. Johanan stated: ‘What is the purport of the Scriptural text, ‘Free among the dead’? As soon as a man dies he is free from the commandments’.” Nid.61b citing Ps. 88:5 [v.6 in English], cf.Shab.151b]

However, freedom from the commandments, either through death or the resurrection, did not mean lawlessness or the freedom to disobey God. Rather, the Rabbis believed that in the days of Messiah, “Man’s deeds will be spontaneously good.” Lev. Rab.18:1 n .5, citing Eccl.12:1

This is much the same as what Paul wrote: “Do you not know brethren – for I am speaking to men who know the law – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?” Rom.7:1 For those of us who are Jewish, our failure to keep the Law of Moses condemns us to God’s judgment of death. In Messiah we are put to death, as the Law requires. Paul then explained that the new life which one receives in the resurrection of Messiah produces righteousness by its very nature, not by any obligation to the Law. It is not the Law which dies, it is the transgressor of the Law who dies.

In Tanakh, there is a basis for these expectations. In promising to make a New Covenant, God said that it would be different from the covenant made at Sinai, but would still have His Law at the center. The text of the New Covenant promise indicates the differences and changes from the Covenant of the Law.

” ‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.

” ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the LORD, because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ ” Jer. 31:31-34

God said that the new covenant would be different from the covenant of the law made at Sinai. His purpose did not change, but Israel broke the covenant of the law made at Sinai, resulting in judgment. Through the new covenant, with its differences, God intends to bring Israel into a righteous relationship with Himself. The nature of the differences between the Covenant of the Law and the new covenant is contained in God’s three prophetic declarations: 1. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” 2. “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 3. “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

1. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”

In the covenant made at Sinai, God had included certain symbolic practices to remind Israel to think about and obey His Law. The mezuzah, tefillin, and tzitzit * symbolize Israel’s submission to God’s Law. They serve as ever-present reminders to keep God’s commandments on our hearts. Dt.6:4-9 As the Lord said of tzitzit, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make fringes on the corners of your garments, with a blue thread on each fringe. You will have these fringes to look at that you may remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.” Num. 15:38-39

The Rabbis say of tefillin, however, that since they are a sign to remind Israel of the commandments of God, they are not worn on Shabbat or the holy days because these days are a sufficient reminder in themselves. cf. Eruvin 96a “The very Sabbath day itself and the very festival itself is intended to serve as an everpresent reminder of God’s Presence and of His commandments….To add the observance of tefillin in the context of its meaning and purpose would not only be superfluous but would imply downgrading the Sabbath.” Hayim Donin, To Be A Jew, Basic Books, 1991, P.146 Unfortunately, although the symbols themselves remind us, as do Shabbat and the festivals, they do not give us the power to keep the commandments, and they cannot produce submission in our hearts. That is why, in the new covenant, God puts His law in our minds and writes it on our hearts. The reminder comes from within.

Where does the power to live righteously come from? From God’s Spirit living within. The Messianic Age, the age of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit is characterized by holiness. Israel and the world are transformed, and “In that day there will be upon the bells of horses: ‘Holy unto the Lord;’ and the posts in the Lord’s house shall be like the basins before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holy unto the Lord of hosts…” Zech.14:20-21 This is the core of God’s second promise in the new covenant He makes with Israel:

 

2. “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

God repeats this new covenant promise in Ezekiel 37:27, after first promising: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.” Ezek. 36:26-27 cf 37:1-14 God’s Spirit provides the power to walk in obedience to His commandments. God gives His Spirit to those who enter into the new covenant. His Spirit draws us into close relationship with Him, making us the people He has always wanted us to be.

Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, is a God-given example of the way we should walk before the Lord. cf Is.51:1-2 He left his country, his relatives, and his father’s house to follow God. He believed God for His promise of a supernaturally conceived son. He obediently put that son on the wood as a sacrifice to God, believing in His power to resurrect Isaac to fulfill His promise. In all of this, we see that Abraham trusted, and therefore obeyed, God completely. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” Gen.15:6 Faith was the means by which Abraham was considered righteous by God, but it is not the sum and the end of that righteousness. Abraham’s faith produced a very tangible deed when he offered up Isaac. Gen. 22

God considered Abraham righteous because of his faith, the internal decision of his heart. The righteousness of the law is different, as Moses told our ancestors: “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” Deut. 6:25 The Biblical record demonstrates that we did not “obey all this law”. Today, we are not better than our fathers. We need a different source of righteousness. In the new covenant we believe as Abraham did, and we receive from God the same righteousness he received.

 

3. “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

In the new covenant, there is a difference in (a) the means of atonement, (b) the power of that atonement, (c) the priesthood which offers the sacrifice, and (d) the Temple in which the sacrifice is offered. Each of these is regulated by specific commandments in the Covenant of the Law. God is therefore promising to change those specific commandments when He institutes the New Covenant. God indicated in Jer.31:31-34 that there would be all these differences between His New Covenant with Israel and the Covenant of the Law He made with us at Sinai.

How can God’s law change? God created Adam without sin in a world without sin. When Adam chose to sin, however, he changed, the world changed, and so did his relationship with God. God Himself did not change, but His instruction to Adam did, because of Adam’s changed nature and circumstances. Initially God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and gave him the responsibility of taking care of it. cf. Gen.2:15 When Adam rebelled against God, he was excluded from the garden and his responsibility changed.

In the same way, in the days to come, when Israel is a redeemed people, we and our circumstances will have changed. God’s instruction for our relationship with Him will change accordingly, even as it did for Adam. His covenant with Abraham, the foundation for Israel’s relationship with God, remains the same. What are the differences in (a) the means of atonement?

In Torah, God had declared that it is the blood, i.e. the sacrificial death, of an innocent other that brings atonement. Lev.17:11 Vicarious atonement, the death of an innocent other in the place of the guilty, is at the heart of the Covenant of the Law. In that covenant, however, sheep, bulls, and goats were the innocent others who were sacrificed. In the New Covenant, it is Messiah. Can one man atone for the sins of another? Can one man atone for the sins of all Israel? If God had not promised and declared it, there would be no reason to believe it. But He did promise it as His New Covenant way of removing our sin from us.

In Torah, God stipulated that a person who unintentionally killed another was to flee from the blood-avenger to a city of refuge and live there until the death of the High Priest. Num. 35:22-28 The High Priest is called the Anointed One, haCohen haMoshiach. e.g. Lev.4:3,5,16 The death of the High Priest canceled any right of vengeance which the relatives of the one killed might have had. In effect, the death of the High Priest, the Anointed One, brought atonement. In the Talmud, the Rabbis also noted, “It is the death of the [high] priest that procures the atonement.” Mak.11b

God commanded the sacrifice of Abraham’s only son. Gen.22 As Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God’s command, he told Isaac that God Himself would provide the lamb for the sacrifice. In response to Abraham’s obedience in offering his only son to be sacrificed, God declared Abraham worthy to be the father of all those from every nation who would be God’s people. On that day, however, God did not provide a lamb in place of Isaac. He provided a ram. The time when God would provide that promised lamb was still in the future. [In the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy, God is asked to remember the binding of Isaac as though it were the equivalent of the atoning sacrifices in the Temple.]

Isaiah the prophet spoke of Messiah as the ultimate atoning lamb: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, but he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth…

“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him putting him to grief. If he would render his soul as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand. As a result of the anguish of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied. By his knowledge the righteous one My servant will justify the many as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot him a portion with the great and he will divide the booty with the strong because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors yet he himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors.” Isa. 53:5-7,10-12

This is a portion which the ancient rabbis as well as the followers of Yeshua understood to be speaking of Messiah. The Lord put Messiah to death as a guilt offering to atone for our sin, transgression, and iniquity. (b) the power of that atonement: The covenant of the Law provided for ongoing sacrifices for ongoing sins. Each sin required another sacrifice. There was no end to the sacrifices because there was no end to the sins. Additionally, atonement could only be made for sins that had already been committed, not for sins that would be committed in the future.

In the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Messiah is not limited to one direction in time. One sacrifice atones for all sins, whether committed before or after that sacrifice is offered. The Messianic sacrifice brings more than atonement. It also brings peace, healing, and being acceptable to God. David spoke prophetically for Messiah, his descendant: “Sacrifice and meal offering you have not desired. My ears you have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold I come. In the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God. Your law is within my heart.’ ” Ps. 40:6-8

In the Covenant of the Law, God did require burnt offerings and sin offerings. Messiah who comes with God’s law within his heart, comes to do the will of God and, by offering himself, makes all other sacrifices unnecessary in and of themselves. They simply serve to teach of and point to the one sacrifice. (c) the priesthood which offers the sacrifice: A Levitical priest cannot offer this kind of sacrifice. In Tanakh, however, God speaks of other priesthoods. The Levites, after all, were chosen as substitutes for the first-born male of each family, the natural priest of each family. Num.3:41 Before God chose the Levites, they were not the priests of Israel. After they were chosen, there were times when God bypassed the order He had established for them. Eli is a case in point. He was God’s high priest, but he did not raise his children to fear the Lord. God rebuked Eli for his immoral sons, and promised, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.” 1Sam. 2:35 God chose Samuel to be His priest in the place of the sons of Eli.

Samuel served as God’s high priest in anointing both Saul and then David as King of Israel. The promise that God would raise up “a faithful priest” referred to Samuel, but it looked beyond him to Messiah, a greater priest. Samuel, after all, did not minister before either Saul or David always, literally “all the days”, as God had promised. When Saul turned away from the Lord, Samuel turned away from Saul. And as for David, Samuel died before David ascended the throne.

God had commanded that when the Temple was built, all sacrifices should be offered there by the sons of Aaron. Elijah, who is not identified as a descendant of Aaron, offered sacrifices on Mt. Carmel in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. God sent fire from heaven to complete the sacrifices and demonstrate that He was the only true God. 1Kings 18 God had chosen Elijah for that purpose.

Long before Elijah, Samuel, Aaron, or even Levi, God had already established a different priesthood. After a successful military rescue operation, Abraham gave a tenth of all the spoils to Melchizedek, “a priest of God Most High.” Gen.14:18-20. Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness”, was also the king of Salem. He was both a king and a priest. Messiah belongs to the same priesthood. “The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. …The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind. You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Ps. 110:2,4 Like Melchizedek, Messiah is both a king and a priest.

In the covenant of the Law, the kings were to come from the tribe of Judah, and the priests from the tribe of Levi. No one could be both, even though all Israel was to be a kingdom of priests to bring the nations to God. Ex.19:6 Zechariah also prophesied of Messiah as a priest and a king. Zech.6:11-13 The Lord told Zechariah to put an ornate crown on Yeshua, the high priest, and seat him on a throne. The Lord said that Yeshua represented Messiah who would be both priest and king.

Messiah is to be a priest like Samuel, doing all that is in God’s heart and mind, and a king like David, a man after God’s own heart. God promised to bring such a priest from the order of Melchizedek because the Levitical priests could not set the people free from sin. They could not set themselves free from sin.

(d) the Temple in which the New Covenant sacrifice is offered: The sacrifice of Messiah cannot be offered within the Temple confines or system. It would defile the Temple altar, rather than bring atonement. cf. 2Kings 23:16 Yet it is this one sacrifice that establishes the New Covenant and atones for all the sins of those who enter into the covenant.

Following the giving of the Ten Commandments, God gave Israel instructions for the altars “in every place” on which they would offer sacrifices to Him. cf. Exod. 20:22-26; vv19-23 in Heb. He did not initially specify one place where sacrifices were to be offered to Him in the land of Israel. There would be many places. Later God designated one particular place.

Where could God receive the sacrifice of Messiah as an offering for sin, presented by a priest of the order of Melchizedek? God encompassed Moses in His glory and showed him the pattern for the Tabernacle he was to make. Ex. 24:15-25:9,40 God supernaturally revealed to David the plan for the Temple. 1Chr. 28:19 In the visions of God, Ezekiel was shown the design of the third Temple.

God commanded that these places of worship and sacrifice be made exactly according to the pattern He revealed from heaven. He was present in their Holy of Holies, but earthly temples are inadequate to fully contain and reveal God’s glory. They are also inadequate for the new covenant sacrifice which brings complete atonement and forgiveness.

The Lord said to Israel, “Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool. Where then is the house you could build for me and where is the place that I may rest. For my hand made all these things.” Is. 66:1 God is enthroned in the heavenly temple, which provided the pattern for the sanctuaries on earth. The Lord warned Israel to trust in Him, and not in the Temple. “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” Jer. 7:4 In the Talmud, R. Joseph taught that this meant the first two temples would be destroyed because of Israel’s sins and a third one built. Naz.32b

The Temple itself could not take away our sins. To the contrary, our sins took away the Temple. A place beyond the reach of our sins was necessary. God spoke of a time of restoration when He would dwell in our midst and Jerusalem would be called “The Throne of the LORD.” “In those days, …men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made.’ ” Jer. 3:16-17

The ark, in the Holy of Holies, was the place where atonement was made for all Israel on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The fact that there will be no ark and that it will not be missed means that complete and final atonement will already have been made. Messiah, as a priest of the order of Melchizedek, will have entered the heavenly Holy of Holies to offer his own blood to secure our eternal redemption. cf.Heb. 9:11-12″  {DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE COVENANTS}

THE TORAH OF MOSES AND THE MESSIAH

“The ancient Sages reject on the one hand the idea that the injunctions received from their fathers will cease to be valid, yet on the other hand they sometimes stress that the Messiah will give Israel a new Torah. RaMBaM states in the 8th and 9th of his 13 dogmas that the “Torah which we now have was given to Moses” and “This Torah will not be changed nor will the Creator — may he be blessed — institute any other Torah”. He nevertheless explains in his work “Ordinances of the Kings” that the King anointed as Messiah will “sit on his kingly throne and write for himself a Book of the Law in addition to the Law given to our Fathers” and “He will compel Israel to obey these commandments”. Not even the New Testament speaks of the abrogation of the Torah but rather of its “fulfilment”.

Could this be the same as when the Pesikhta Rabbati says that “The Torah will revert to its original state”? “Pesikhta Rabbati 89,6″

Jesus “fulfilled” the punishment of the Law by his atoning death.

According to the Rabbis the Messiah will be invested with such authority.  “Yalqut Isaiah states that, “The Holy One — may he be blessed — will sit (in the Garden of Eden) and draw up a new Torah for Israel, which will be given to them by the Messiah.”  Even the fearful thought of “abrogation” appears in the traditions of the Wise: “In the future the commandments will be annulled.’  In the Midrash Mekhilta from the time of the Tannaites — that is, from the first two Christian centuries — we find the statement that, “At the end the Torah will be forgotten.

R.Shimon Ben Eleazar, who was active from ca. 170–200 AD, declares that, “This is how it will be in the days of the Messiah; there will be no ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’ commandments (zechut ve-hovâh).” Klausner, in his book “The Messianic Idea in Israel”, explains that, “The natural interpretation of this is that in the days of the Messiah, the Torah and the Commandments will lose their significance”.

In so far as we understand redemption history as different eras, as we have seen the Sages above doing, we can interpret mentions of the 2000 years of the Torah and the 2000 years associated with the days of the Messiah as more or less mutually exclusive — which is how Klausner and others have understood it. In practice this means that in the Messianic age there will be Messianic laws.

RaMBaM insists upon the natural character of the Messianic age. He writes:

“Do not entertain the idea that the natural course of this world will change in the days of the Messiah, or that the laws of nature will be suspended then. No. The world will follow its own course.”  Hilchoth melachim 12,1

Vayyikra Rabba 9:7 reads:

R. Phinehas, R. Levi, and R. Yochanan said in the name of R.
Menachem;  ‘In  the  time to come, all  sacrifices  will  be
annulled,  but  that of thanksgiving will not  be  annulled
This is indicated by what is written [Jer. 33;11].

Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 146:7 tells us, even the laws of “kashrut” will be abrogated:

The  Lord will loose the bonds.  What does the verse man  by the words ‘Loose the bonds’?  Some say that of every  animal whose  flesh it is forbidden to eat in this world, the  Holy One,  blessed be He, will declare in the time to  come  that eating of its flesh is permitted.  [Eccles. 1:9 is quoted as the proof text.]

The thought of Torah changing in the “Age to Come,” is again made perfectly clear in the rendering of Deut. 17:18, in Sifra. Here it is stated that the Lord wrote a copy of the Mishna-Torah for Himself, and that He would not be content with the Mishna-Torah of the fathers. The question is asked:

Why does He say Mishna-Torah?  Because it is destined to  be changed.

THE NEW TORAH

A second school of thought regarding the mutability of the Torah presents us with the concept of an entirely “New Torah” being revealed in the “Age to Come.” This thought is distinguishable from the previous understanding in that: [1] the first school of thought, although considering Torah to be mutable, confines these changes to the context of the Torah that was revealed to Moses at Sinai; [2] the second group states that the changes will go far beyond the mere “reinterpretation” of the Torah revealed at Sinai. They suggest that the very substance of Torah will be changed, and that in the “Age to Come,” the Law of Torah will be of a different fabric than that of the present age. Proponents of this position use the Targumic rendering of the text found in Isa. 12:3. The Masoretic text reads:

Behold  God  is my salvation, I will trust and will  not  be
afraid, for the Lord my God is my strength and my song.   He
also has become my salvation….With joy you will draw water
out of the wells of salvation.

The Targum reads:
Behold, in the Memra of the Lord of my salvation do I trust,
and shall not be dismayed; because my strength and my  glory
is  the Terrible One, the Lord:  He has spoken by His  Memra
and   become  my  salvation.   And  ye  shall  receive   new
instruction with joy from the ‘Chosen of Righteousness.’

The Midrash Qohelet on Eccles. 11:8 concurs with this understanding and states:

The  Torah  which a man learns in this world is  but  vanity compared with the Torah of Messiah.

That God Himself will teach Israel on that great day is portrayed in the Targum on Song of Songs 5:10:

My  beloved.  Then the congregation of Israel  commences  to
engage  in  the  praise of the Master of  the  Universe  and
speaks  thus:   ‘It  is my  delight  to  worship  God….who
delivers  anew  every day, new  traditions  [or  decisions],
which  He  is  to make known to His  people  on  that  great
day….’

It is assumed that in the Age to Come, since we are in the presence of G*d, and the “Yetzer Hara” [the evil urge] has been defeated, there will be no sin. Therefore, in the “New Torah” that is expounded by G*d, it is no longer necessary for the people to be bound by the commandments in the Torah of this age. The reference is found in the tractate Niddah 61b, and in the contest speaks of a cloth that is woven of both linen and wool threads. This cloth is prohibited to be worn by the living, however, it is lawful to be used as a burial shroud. This, we are told, is because death bring a release from the Mitzvot of Torah. R. Joseph then states:

This implies that the commandments will be abolished in the hereafter [Age to Come].

 

THE TORAH OF MOSES AND THE MESSIAH

 

“Tradition assigns to the Messiah a threefold role: kingly, priestly, and prophetic. When speaking of Jacob’s blessing we also mentioned Judah’s “ruler’s staff”, for which Hebrew uses the word me .hoqêq, ‘lawgiver’. In his prophetic role the Messiah will draw up a new Law for the people.

The Messiah’s Torah and the future of the Law

The future of the Law has preoccupied the Rabbis from early times. They sometimes asked, “Torah, whatever will become of you?”61  And further, in the Talmud there is a discussion of the possible ranking of the precepts in order of importance:  Nazîr 50.

“Moses was given 613 precepts; of these there are 365 (thou shalt) in accordance with the number of days in the year, and 248 (thou shalt not) according to the number of bones in a man’s body…  Came David and cut them down to eleven…  Came Isaiah and cut them to six…  Came Micah and cut them to three…  Isaiah came back and cut them down to two…  Came Habakkuk and cut them to one, as it is written (Hab. 2:4), ‘The righteous shall live by faith’.”   Makkoth 23-24.

Paul founded his teaching of Justification by Faith partly on these words of Habbakuk when he wrote: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’.”   See Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11 and Hebr. 10:38.

The ancient Sages reject on the one hand the idea that the injunctions received from their fathers will cease to be valid, yet on the other hand they sometimes stress that the Messiah will give Israel a new Torah. RaMBaM states in the 8th and 9th of his 13 dogmas that the “Torah which we now have was given to Moses” and “This Torah will not be changed nor will the Creator — may he be blessed — institute any other Torah”.

He nevertheless explains in his work “Ordinances of the Kings” that the King annointed as Messiah will “sit on his kingly throne and write for himself a Book of the Law in addition to the Law given to our Fathers” and “He will compel Israel to obey these commandments”.

Not even the NT speaks of the abrogation of the Torah but rather of its “fulfilment”. Could this be the same as when the Pesikhta Rabbati says that “The Torah will revert to its original state”?  Jesus “fulfilled” the punishment of the Law by his atoning death.  Pesikhta Rabbati 89,6.

According to the Rabbis the Messiah will be invested with such authority. Yalqut Isaiah states that, “The Holy One — may he be blessed — will sit (in the Garden of Eden) and draw up a new Torah for Israel, which will be given to them by the Messiah.”Yalqut Isaiah 26, siman 296.

Even the fearful thought of “abrogation” appears in the traditions of the Wise: “In the future the commandments will be annulled.’ Nida 66b.

In the Midrash Mekhilta from the time of the Tannaites — that is, from the first two Christian centuries — we find the statement that, “At the end the Torah will be forgotten.”  Mechilta, Masechet Piska, 2.

R.Shimon Ben Eleazar, who was active from ca. 170–200 AD, declares that, “This is how it will be in the days of the Messiah; there will be no ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’ commandments (zechut ve-hovâh).” Shabbath 130a-b.

Klausner, in his book “The Messianic Idea in Israel”, explains that, “The natural interpretation of this is that in the days of the Messiah, the Torah and the Commandments will lose their significance”.  J. Klausner, Ha-ra’ayon ha-meshihi be-Israel, p289.

The concept of the ‘annulment of the Law’, a phrase used by some of the Rabbis, has had serious consequences for both Jews and Christians. Certainly there are differences of emphasis between the teachings of Moses and Christ, but both of them strove to realise the unchanging will of God. The Midrash on Ecclesiastes says that, “The Torah which man learns in this world is but vanity compared with the teaching of the Messiah.”  Midrash Qoheleth 71,8.

 

Referring to Psalm 146:7 the corresponding Midrash says:

‘The LORD sets prisoners free’…  What does this ‘setting free of prisoners’ mean? There are those who say that in the future the Holy One will make all unclean animals fit for eating.”  Midrash Tehilim 146,7.

For ‘prisoners’ the Hebrew OT uses here the word asûrîm, ‘forbidden things’, rather than the normal word asirîm, and this gives rise to a discussion of forbidden foods. We remember how Jesus stresses that “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’ ” and, “In saying this Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’ ” (Matt. 15:11 and Mark 7:19). In actual fact the Old Testament’s regulations concerning food do not particularly refer to the pollution of the body, as Lev. 11:43–4 in the original Hebrew regarding the eating of unclean beasts twice declares: “Do not pollute ‘your souls’, eth naphshotêchem!” In other words, it is not merely a question of health but also an aesthetic matter.

It is true that the whole Jewish exposition of the Torah is intended as a private matter for Israel alone. The Sages frequently repeat that “The Torah was intended only for those who ate manna in the wilderness”. The Jewish understanding of the Torah can be depicted as a series of concentric circles: the innermost rings are the Ten Commandments; then come the 613 precepts — the taryag; next come the ancillary rules, the seyag or ‘hedge’ around the Law; In addition to all this the ‘Law’ signifies the teachings of the Pentateuch and also the exposition given to it by both the Talmudic and the Mediaeval scholars.

The word ‘Torah’, however, means only ‘teaching’, even though the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT made ca. 200 BC, translated the Hebrew by the word nomos, ‘law’. Frequently we come across the distinction drawn between the Written and the Oral Law. The scholars themselves do not always consider it necessary to explain the different aspects of the Law because like Paul they are addressing “those who know the Law” (Rom. 7:1). However, in the context of the Messianic Idea the Torah receives a universal significance, made clear by the Prophet Isaiah: ” The Law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem”.

The basis of Paul’s interpretation of the Torah

Paul’s interpretation of the Torah arose from the awareness that the teachings of Christ were meant for all nations. In this way he was forced to take a stand as to what were mere   ‘commandments of men’ in the Jewish exposition of the Torah. As a profound authority on his own tradition he recognised that the Messiah had the right to give ‘a new interpretation to the Law’ and even to tear down the ‘hedge’. In the Christian camp the claim is sometimes made that Paul’s logic is “capricious”, internally “inconsistent”, and “vacillating”.  Eg. E.P. Sanders and Heikki Räisänen in their books.

 

The Jewish camp, for its part, reckons that Paul’s attitude to the Torah was “completely negative”.  Eg. Joseph Klausner, The messianic Idea in Israel, (Hebr.) p287.

One factor which contributes to this Jewish misunderstanding of Paul is the way Rom. 10:4 has been translated into many western languages as “Christ is the end of the Law!”  Des Gesetzes Ende, etc.

However, the Greek word translated as ‘end’, telos, means primarily ‘goal’, as in “The end justifies the means”. This same word telos is found in 1.Tim. 1:5, which in the NIV is translated as “The goal of this command is love!”. Jesus made this point perfectly clear in the Sermon on the Mount when he said: “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” (Matt. 5:17). In this spirit it would be better to translate the verse in Romans regarding Christ that he is the ‘goal’ of the Law. There is nothing negative in that.

What then is the logic of Paul’s interpretation of the Law, and how does his scholarly exposition square up with the teachings of the Old Testament and with the points brought out by the earliest Jewish Messianic Expectation? For the sake of clarity it may be best to divide the answer into a number of basic points.

1. Firstly, we must see that the Bible depicts God as holy and that he demands holiness. Moses on several occasions received the words “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26). Therefore Paul too wrote:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil; first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:18 and 2:9).

When a certain pastor once expressed the wish that young people might be burdened with a guilty conscience until the problem of their sin was dealt with, people took offence at him. Nevertheless, he spoke just as Paul had done:

“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). “We know that the Law is good if a man uses it properly” (1 Tim. 1:8).

The Law is also “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). When God through his Holy Spirit reveals to us our sin, we are forced to say with Paul: “I know that nothing good lives in me”; “So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me”; “I see another law at work in my members…  making me a prisoner” (Rom. 7:18,21,23). Only the person whom God has his hand upon “knows, finds, and sees” his true state.

This is also brought about by the Law, which was given “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19). “So the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Here we see the logic of Paul’s interpretation of the Law, which every believer inevitably experiences as real.

Modern Judaism’s understanding of Man is quite different from that found in the New Testament. The devout Jew reads every morning in his prayer book, Sidûr, the words: “My God, the soul which thou hast given me is pure.” Israel’s most popular TV Rabbi once stated in his Sabbath morning service that, “In us there is more light than dark, more goodness than bad — the Christians teach otherwise”.

And indeed: Jesus taught that   “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, murder, adultery”, the whole gamut of our sinfulness (Matt. 15:11 and Mark 7:21–22). Man is utterly corrupted by inherited sin. That is why he needs forgiveness and atonement for sin. Judaism generally rejects the idea of original sin and claims that the demands of God are not disproportionate. Hence the above-mentioned morning prayer asks:

“Do not let the evil inclination (Heb. yetser ha-Râ) rule over us. Deliver us from evil men and evil companions and let us be joined to good inclinations.”

In other words, evil lies in wait for Man as if it were external to him. Gen. 6, however, contains an account of the generation of Noah which uses just that word yetser: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time”. And Proverbs 20:9 asks: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” It is none other than the holiness of God which leads to the conviction of sin and ultimately to genuine repentance.

2. Secondly, the will of God is manifestly much simpler than the hundreds of ritual and human commandments created by Jewish tradition. Furthermore, differentiating between the true manna eaters and the Gentiles in their relationship to God results in spiritual discrimination. The prophet Amos cried out: ” ‘Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?’ declares the LORD…  Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom” (Amos 9:7–8).

We have already seen the discussion in the Talmud about the possible reduction of the Torah’s 613 precepts to one, “And the righteous will live by faith”. Even Moses hinted at the simple, fundamental intent of the Law in Deut. 10:12:

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The prophet Micah also emphasised the simplicity of the relationship with God:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).

Jesus himself showed that the most important things in the Law are “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). Might also Moses have been aware of the human tendency to create human laws, since he twice stressed when giving the Law, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it” (Deut. 4:2 and 12:32)?

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah feared that the commandments of men might become a substitute for the true word of consolation or some kind of false refuge. Rather than the “rule upon rule” attitude “God said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest,’ and ‘This is the place of repose.’ ” But now instead they “will go and fall backwards and be crushed under their burdens” and they will be “snared and captured”. They do indeed approach God “with their lips”, but their “hearts” are far from him, “because their worship for God is made up only of rules taught by men”. But God will yet have it that the “wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish”. Paul too quoted these harsh words of Isaiah.   Is. 28:10-13 and 29:13-14. Also 1 Cor. 1:19.

In the same way the Old Testament’s weeping prophet, Jeremiah, who was active before the destruction of the first temple (586 BC), complains that the people trust in an external form of worship, whilst otherwise following “the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts”: “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!’ ” Or,”How can you say ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?…  they have rejected the word of the LORD.” The people place their trust in circumcision although “the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart”.  Jer. 7:4, 8:8 and 9:24-26

These prophetic rebukes apply equally to every age. How easily a learned religious tradition can become more important than the personal obedience of faith. The Christian too might say, “We have the church, we have the true teaching and we have baptism” — and done in the right way too! Three times Paul employs the same formula: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing” as such, but rather a) ” the keeping of God’s commandments” b) “faith expressing itself through love” and c) “the new creation”.  1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6 and 6:15

Paul did not disparage circumcision, but he wanted to get matters into their proper perspective. Following the same Pauline framework it could be said that “child baptism is nothing and adult baptism is nothing”, rather a life lived in accordance with the will of God, faith expressing itself through love, and the renewal of the mind available to us in Christ — and yet through baptism we are united with the death and atoning work of Christ.

Personally, baptism has always for me been something very precious, especially so for one who has buried his only son as a fully fledged disciple of Christ in the soil of Israel. Paul was perfectly consistent in applying his Christ-centred thinking to every area of the Christian life.

3. For Paul the Law was not an end in itself but a “schoolmaster” (AV) to lead us to Christ. The Law shows a man his true spiritual state and in this way gives him a longing for conciliation. Christ is the goal of the Law. He is the end of the legalistic, formal relationship with God and the beginning of a new personal relationship. As the Messiah, Christ has the right to give the Law “new grounds of interpretation”, through which the Torah will “revert to its original state”. However, the Messianic tiqun, the healing of humanity’s “sin impediment”, means that Christ will atone for our sins. In this way he   “fulfilled the Law” on our behalf.

Paul speaks of Christ as the goal of the Law “so that there might be righteousness”. He bases this on the words of Deut. chapter 30, which are familiar to every devout Jew, and in which is also found the germ of the vicarious atonement idea. Christ is for him “the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”.

“Moses,” he continues, “describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them’. But the righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” that is, to bring Christ down, or ‘”Who will descend into the deep?’ ” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart’, that is, the word of faith which we are proclaiming.”  (Rom.10:6-8)

Along with the verse which Paul quotes, the Hebrew text in Deut. 30:12–13 states twice the words “yaaleh lanu” and “yered lanu”, “for us” or “on our behalf”, “pro nobis”! They stress the fact that, “There is no need for you to say ‘Who will go up on our behalf into heaven to fetch it for us and to proclaim it to us, that we might fulfil its requirements?’ It’s not beyond the seas, so you have no need to say ‘Who will cross the ocean on our behalf to fetch it for us and to proclaim it to us that we might fulfil its requirements?’ “

The logic behind these verses, in which we find a nascent OT doctrine of redemption, is that a) in the old covenant the Law was proclaimed to men so that they would fulfil its requirements, but now b) in the new covenant Christ has satisfied all the Law’s demands by going on our behalf down into the deep and rising up to heaven, and we proclaim this completed act. Humanity was unable to carry out God’s holy will, deserving only punishment, but now Christ has atoned for our sins, and justification is connected with the forgiveness of sins.

The best definition of justification is found in Isaiah 53:11 where it is said of Christ that, “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities”. Luther’s Catechism defines justification with the words: “When in faith we receive Christ our redeemer, God does not hold our sins against us but forgives them for Christ’s sake. He imputes Christ’s purity and holiness to us. In this way God justifies us.” Luther used his favourite expression opus alienum, ‘a deed done by someone else’, to describe this: another has satisfied the demands of the Law, another has suffered for our sins, another has borne our iniquities. This is all brought out by the OT’s pro nobis phrase, so dear to Paul.

4. Nevertheless, this Messianic role includes Paul’s description of Christ’s “ascending” and “descending”, (Grk. anabesetai and katabesetai.) This was also appealed to by Sabbatai Tsvi, even though he forced it to support his “strange deeds” and denial of the Law. Precisely this kind of common derivation attests to the genuineness of the ideas. Even if such thoughts are utterly foreign to the modern reader we cannot set new conditions to the grounds of the Messianic expectation. Paul says in  Ephesians:

“What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill all tings” (grk. ‘ta panta’, everything ) (4:9–10).

Peter understood this mystery to be that Christ “also went and preached to the spirits in prison”…  “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead” (1. Pet. 3:19 and 4:6). The Apostles’ creed concurs with this when it affirms that Jesus “descended into Hades”.

The Jerusalem Targum says in connection with Deut. ch 30:

“O, would that we had a prophet such as Moses who would ascend into heaven and give us the Torah and proclaim to us its demands!”

Verse 4 chapter 30 promises that God will gather the banished of Israel, even though they be in “the most distant land under the heavens”. Targum Jonathan explains that this will happen “through the efforts of the High Priest Elias, and he will retrieve them from there through the Messiah-King.” Midrash Rabbah rejects the idea that there will come “a second Moses with another Torah from heaven”. Could this be a reaction against the early Christian church seeing in Christ the promised prophet who would be like Moses!

In the context of the Bronze Serpent we discussed the description in the Wisdom of Solomon of the “sign of salvation”, and the passage we quoted terminated with the words: “You lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again”. Proverbs 30:4 asks: “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?…  Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!” Thus the ‘ascending and descending’ idea is prominent even here in this passage, which speaks of the act of creation and of the Son of God.

This humiliation and exaltation is most beautifully expressed by Paul in his hymn found in the letter to the Philippians:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5–11)

5. In the synagogues of ancient times the Ten Commandments were read every Sabbath as a kind of foundation to the faith. In ca. 90 AD, however, the Great Council of Jamnia decided to abandon the practice. According to the Talmud someone might mistakenly assume that God gave only these 10 precepts on Sinai. The same council caused the use of the “translation of the Seventy”, the Septuagint, to cease as the synagogue’s official source, because the early Christians relied on it rather than on the Hebrew original to prove Jesus as the Messiah. For the same reason even the emphasis on belief in the resurrection was toned down considerably. We have seen how the Sabbatai Tsvi movement rejected the Ten Commandments, otherwise accepting the Jewish ritual law.

The decisions made at Jamnia were of momentous consequence for the whole subseqent development of Judaism. It thus became more and more a religion of law, and the minutiae of Pharisaic Torah exegesis began to monopolise the position of authority at the expense of the other streams of Jewish thought. Paul, who tells us about himself that he was a member of the strictest sect of the Pharisees, saw this danger. He writes:

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6).

Originally God justified Abraham on the grounds of his faith. Legal ordinances given some 430 years later to Moses cannot annul this “covenant previously established by God” (Gal. 3:16–19). To this day, Christ as the Messiah still has the answer to the Jewish Torah problem.

The “hedge” around the Law with its traditions and ordinances of men has now been torn down. The Ten Commandments are of course still valid as the irrevocable “words of the Covenant”. The Christian’s protective “hedge” is Christ himself, and so Paul in his letters uses over 160 times the phrase “to be in Christ”. If we stray out of Christ, the “dogs of the Law,” to use Luther’s words will tear us to pieces. In this way the law serves the gospel. Here lay the background and logic of Paul’s Torah teaching.

The strongest testimony against the addition of further human ordinances is however to be found in Moses’ own statement in Deut. 5:23 as he gave the Law: “These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed… and he added nothing more!” In this way these “words of the Covenant”, the Ten Commandments, are sufficient as the expression of the holy will of God. These commandments were not abolished at Calvary.”  {THE TORAH OF MOSES AND THE MESSIAH }

 

THE MESSIAH WHO WILL BREAK DOWN THE HEDGE AROUND THE LAW

“The search for the OT roots of the Christian faith is somewhat reminiscent of diving for pearls in the depths of the ocean. The diver first brings up a great quantity of shells from the sea bed and deposits them on the beach. The bystander sees only these outer casings until the shells are opened, upon which some may reveal a precious pearl hidden inside. Reading the old Jewish literature can be very frustrating since, for the most part, it concerns itself with the exposition of the religious ritual law, which is really of interest only to the Orthodox Jew. The spiritual and psychological dimensions so characteristic of the OT prophets are conspicuous by their almost total absence. Not infrequently, nevertheless, the tightly closed shell may yield up a rare pearl.

Although the Rabbis find ‘mysteries’ in the OT in far greater abundance than that to which the Christian church is accustomed, they still frequently stress the words of Deut. 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever.”

Mental and spiritual concepts must, by their very nature, be described figuratively. We cannot explain precisely what, for example, ‘faith’, ‘hope’, or ‘love’ is. By the same token, the Messianic mystery has, as it were, created its own secret code, which must be “cracked” before it will be understood. One of the toughest nuts is Gen.38:29 on the son of Judah and Tamar:

” ‘So this is how you have broken out!’ And he was named Perez.”

We have already come across the discussion associated with the name of Perez, regarding the Messiah as the conqueror of death. Ben Parets, “son of Perez” is actually one of the best known cryptic Messiah epithets. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus the name appears in the form ‘Phares’: “And Judah begat Phares.” (Matt. 1:3 AV) Therefore Jesus was, in a sense the ‘Son of Perez’.

The ‘Seal of the Midrashim’, R. Tanhuma Bar Abba, speaks again and again of the Messiah in connection with Perez. “He is the final saviour, the Messiah-King.” Tanhuma states that there are sinners who through their falling have sustained great loss, and those who have benefitted from their misdemeanours.

“Thus Judah profited, because from him came forth Perez and Hezron from whom are descended David and the Messiah-King, he who will save Israel. Behold how great the difficulties the Holy One indeed gave until he was to raise up the Messiah-King from Judah, he of whom it is written, “And the spirit of the Lord will be upon him.”   Midrash Tanhuma, Bereshit va-Yeshev. Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Midrash Rabbah discusses this verse at greater length. Firstly the half-humorous observation is made that,

“Judah was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of the Messiah.”  Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, par. 85

One of the Rabbinic expository works known as “The Priestly Gift” says of this that, “The last Saviour is the Messiah, the Son of David, who is descended from Judah’s son Perez,” and the Midrash part continues, “This is the Messiah-King; as it is written, ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse’ and ‘The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion.’ ” (Is. 11:1 and Ps. 110:2) The Rabbis’ explanation adds: “This is the Messiah, who will soon appear, because it is written of him that,’One who breaks open the way [Heb. porets, from the same root as Peres] will go up before them.’ ” (Micah 2:13)

It is important to take note of the Bible passages mentioned above. They illustrate a method by which weakly founded Messianic prophecies are set in their larger context. We see furthermore that the Targums and Midrashim generally speak of the ‘Messiah-King’, and not so much of some nebulous ‘Messiah concept’.

RaMBaN (R. Moses Ben Nahman), who lived towards the end of the 13th century, describes the birth of Perez as follows:

“He was encircled by a hedge, and he was enclosed within it. That is why it is said ‘So this is how you have broken through the hedge and come out from within it’.” Perez was the first-born, “The first-born through the power of the Most High, as it is written, ‘I will give to him a first-born son’. This was written about the holy person who is to come, David, the King of Israel — long may he live. Those who are wise will understand.”    Mikraot Gedoloth, corresponding section.

What would ‘those who are wise’ understand, and what is meant by ‘breaking through the hedge’? Historically this well depicts what happened when Christianity broke out of the Judaic mould, as we can see from the following.

The Rabbis speak a great deal about the ‘hedge of the Law’. Galatians 4:4–5 says that Jesus “was born under law” and “redeemed those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” “It is for freedom,” Paul continues, “that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”(5:1). “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”(5:18). From being a gift, the Law in Judaism can become an enslaving yoke.

In the Judaism of today there are officially 613 commands and prohibitions. It would appear that the development into a religion of law took place at a very early stage. The prophet Isaiah wrote ca. 700 years before Christ that instead of being the ‘word of repose’ religion had become a demand:

“Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there — so that they will go and fall backwards, be injured and snared and captured” (28:10–13), and that the fear of God was nothing more than “rules taught by men” (29:13). The Targum of Jonathan explains that God made Man of 248 bones and 365 sinews, the number of days in the solar year (together = 613). In addition to these ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’ commands there was a separate group of ancillary commands which made up the ‘hedge around the Law’. In the shelter of this fold the devout Jew had to live.

Jesus, in his teaching, was forced to speak about this very misapplication. Referring to the words of Isaiah quoted above, he added that:

“They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men… Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them alone’ ” (Matt. 15:8–14).

Thus Jesus truly broke through the hedge of the Law.

Moses, when he instituted the commandments, said to the people,

“Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you…  Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it!”   See Deut. 4:1-2, Proverbs 31:6 and joshua 1:7
Jewish scholars have, of course, tried to give the taryag, the 613 precepts, a foundation in the Pentateuch, but in both these and in the seyag, the ancillary rules, there are elements which the Rabbis themselves would concede have no basis in the written law. Precisely these halakha or traditional precepts are one of modern Israel’s most difficult internal problems.

Paul spoke about this ‘hedge around the Law’ in Ephesians 2:14–15;

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL of hostility, by ABOLISHING in his flesh the LAW WITH ITS COMMANDMENTS AND REGULATIONS. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.”

By this “dividing wall” and “law with its commandments and regulations” we can only understand ‘the hedge around the Law’. Christ, by his sacrificial death, has broken it down. “And they who are wise shall understand”, claimed RaMBaN.

Isaiah 8:14, which the Talmud interprets as signifying “the Messiah, Son of David” Sanhedrin 38a. describes this same ‘breaking through’, which is connected with the Perez illustration: “He will be a sanctuary, a rock of offence and stone of stumbling to both the houses of Israel, a snare and a trap to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” All of these features are well applicable to Jesus: he was “the first-born through the power of the Most High”, he unintentionally created a breach between the mother and daughter religions, and he became “the stone which the builders rejected”.

Midrash Rabbah attaches the ‘Messiah Ben Phares’ illustration to the prophecy in Micah 2:13: “One who breaks open the way will go up before them… the LORD will be at their head.” RaSHI, Rabbi Shlomo Yitshak (1040–1105), who expounded in his writings the whole Talmud and OT, said of Perez that he is “their saviour, the one who will break open the way”. RaDaQ, Rabbi David Qimhi, declares that “the one who breaks open the way is Elijah, and their king is the Branch, the Son of David”. Micah’s reference to the concept of the ‘one who will break open the way’ is natural since the Hebrew word for this, porets, is derived from the same root as Perez.

The Christian will no doubt understand well this constant reference in much of the Jewish literature to the herald of the Messiah who will prepare the way for him. The Metsudat David, a popular 17th century Jewish exposition of the Prophetic and Historic books, explains the prophecy of Micah as meaning that:

“Elijah will come before the time of salvation to turn the hearts of Israel to their Heavenly Father in order to be a herald of salvation to them…  but by the ‘king’ is meant the Messiah-King, and the Lord will come before them all, because at that time he will also give back his Holy Spirit to Zion.”  Mikraoth Gedoloth on Micah 2:13

It is amazing to see that in the writings of the most widely recognised Jewish exegetes there are thoughts associated with the name of Perez which can help us to understand the Plan of Salvation and some of Paul’s more difficult teachings. Not infrequently, however, these pearls are buried deep in the ocean of tradition, concealed within a protective shell.”  {THE MESSIAH WHO WILL BREAK DOWN THE HEDGE AROUND THE LAW}

 

pagan-christianity

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 1

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 2

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Examine Yourself

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Christianity?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Earth is the Lord’s

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Alexander Hislop

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Ralph Woodrow

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Parallels

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Church Fathers & Paganism

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Constantine

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Origins of Christian Holidays

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter & Paganism?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Eggs

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Lily

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Bunny

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Resurrection Celebration

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Christmas & Paganism?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Christmas Trees

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Winter Solstice

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Law & Holidays

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