What, then, is the Nature/Purpose of the Mosaic Law in the Bible?

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By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.

Jews (all those descended from the Israelite community from Sinai, including myself) must contend with the fact that for at least 430 years (and for 2 months after the Exodus) the Israelite community was circumcised, but almost certainly did not keep a kosher diet while living in Egypt.

 

So, I have been writing a great deal about the nature of the Biblical covenants and the bigger role of how Christians today Biblically determine our religiosity while living in society.  I also ran into a bit of a push-back from some people concerning my Biblical Slavery Series, which I very much welcome.  Faith must be constantly tempered by the fires of doubt and challenge in order to be purified and found true.  There were many things that Jesus did purposefully to His disciples in order to prove their trust in Him (pretty much everything He did when you really think about it).

Let us not stunt our own growth where God allows it space.  I will say though, I am very satisfied with the transparency and integration of the Torah that I have provided thus far, and I am even more excited for it to become better and even more accurate and deeper in the discernment of truth.

By now you know that I am Jewish by physical descent…and disclaimer, I can and do claim my Jewish roots for myself– especially since so many secular Jews do the same.  It is part of what makes life beautiful for me. Please read here to find out exactly what I am talking about because I wrote on it before.  Redundancy isn’t my strongest suit.

So then, we must contend with the entrance phrase to this blog post.  If Ancient Israel, from their early patriarchal days in Canaan through Egyptian bondage to the early months after their emancipation (and pretty much everyone else before them, discounting the vegetarian humans in the pre-Flood era) didn’t keep the kosher food laws…then how exactly does the Mosaic/Sinai Covenant factor into the Biblical narrative?  How does the Mosaic Covenant even factor into the Israelite identity?

What was God’s purpose in giving the Mosaic Law to Ancient Israel after they hadn’t been keeping kosher or any of the strict ceremonial laws contained in the books Exodus to Deuteronomy because they hadn’t received them yet?

Why did God choose to make the Israelites under Moses’ leadership kosher?

Good news is, God is incredibly transparent.  God tells us His reason for why–indeed He told Israel even before the full Mosaic/Sinai Covenant was agreed upon between Himself and the motley crew of Hebrews and Gentiles present during the ceremony at Mount Horeb.

Learning God’s purpose for the Sinai Covenant, and the Mosaic Law that it comes with, is clutch for understanding the entire Biblical narrative…even and especially the writings of Paul of Tarsus.

Exodus 19 gives the entire story.  Keep in mind that up to this point, Israel had only received the command to remember the Passover, that had occurred just months before, as a national memorial holiday for all of their generations in Exodus 12.  I leave you with these chapters so that you will see that I am not lying.

Why is there such a large gap between the Passover and the Mosaic Covenant being instituted, (Chapter 12 is a little bit removed from Chapter 19)?

Because, believe it or not, Ancient Israel actually operated for a little while under Moses’ leadership without the Mosaic Law after their Exodus from Egypt for about 2 months.  Oh boy…  Already a lot of nonbelievers, Jews, and Christians alike are quailing at this fact because the temporality of the Mosaic Code is evident, and therefore indicative that Israelite identity is not primarily bound to the Mosaic Code.  It certainly wasn’t an identifier for Israel and his 12 sons and their children and their grandchildren.

Also, weren’t Judah’s children and Joseph’s children conceived by Gentile mothers?  And wasn’t that before the Mosaic Law (and hence before the kosher food laws, ceremonies, and distinctions between Israelite and Gentile?)?  Didn’t Egyptians, like other Gentiles back then (and today) already circumcise their males before Israel began to do so?

But were not these people still Israelites through and through?

Yes.

And by similar ancestry, virtually all Jews today are Jewish (unless, maybe, they don’t claim Judah or Joseph as their father).

But I would rather right now focus upon God’s direct reason for the law that He gave to Israel through Moses the Levite that can be found in Exodus 19:1-6.

1In the third month, on the same day of the month that the Israelites had left the land of Egypt, they entered the Wilderness of Sinai. After they departed from Rephidim, they entered the Wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness, and Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Moses went up the mountain to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain: “This is what you must say to the house of Jacob, and explain to the Israelites: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

If you notice something, the Israelites were to be transformed from among all of the nations into a kingdom of priests.  God already owns all mankind but Israel was to be a special nation of priests for humanity– intercessors to cover for humanity’s sins.

Why is this important?

Well, a priest intercedes between the deity and the people, but a priest is only a priest due to his special position apart from the people that he represents.  We call this a sanctified role.

The priest is always held to the highest standards of morality and he is even given cultural ceremonies in addition to the higher standard of morality as he ministers to the people.  Universally, priests have these ceremonial codes to set them apart from everyone else, codes that are only obligatory for the priest to perform, but not for the people for whom he intercedes.  These ceremonies are not necessarily moral in themselves, but for the priest it would be immoral to break them because of the sanctified duty to which he is called.  And in all societies, as long as the people needed protection from impurities and the wrath of the deity/deities, the priest’s purpose never ends.  If the priest ever became disqualified by breaking either the moral law or the ceremonial edicts, then the people would be lost without a covering from divine wrath, and the priest would be so as well.

When the deity’s wrath came because of the priest’s and people’s failures, it would first come onto the priest who failed and then onto the people.  Think of the pagan myth of Medusa and any other religious tales from mankind’s global societies.

Back to Israel and her chosen purpose for being a nation of priests:

God later chose the line of Aaron from among the Levites to function as the “high priests” while the rest of the Levites were to serve as priests underneath the sons of Aaron.  Within priestly Israel, there was still a chosen priestly tribe, a chosen family, to provide unto God priests to provide cover for sins– even on the behalf of the priestly nation of Israel.

God’s purpose for the Mosaic Law and kosher restrictions was to transform Ancient Israel into a priestly nation on behalf of all of the people of the Earth, thus holding them to a higher ceremonial standard.  He says so Himself.

God calls Israel to eat only “clean” animals.  This should sound remarkably familiar to those who have read the Torah before Exodus 19.  Noah distinguished the clean animals from the clean animals for the ark, and also for sacrifices, Genesis 7:1-3 and Genesis 8:20.  But notice, the first mentioning of clean and unclean animals comes from Noah sacrificing to God, but not with Abel who also offered sacrifices in Genesis 4.  Even this kosher distinction is a temporal one as God unfolds more of the mystery of what He is doing.

But in Ancient Israel, under the Mosaic Covenant, the Israelites could only eat from the ceremonially clean animals, thus the kosher laws.  Because Israelites all were henceforth considered a new kingdom of priests to intercede for the nations even their very physical bodies were to be sanctified like the altars of God, and like a temple to offer sacrifices in.  To become ritually impure was a sin for all Israelites, and their bodies were to be always honored ceremonially according to God’s priestly requirements of temples and altars.

Hmm…seems like we can draw out a moral principle for our own bodies being allusions to the temple of Holy God, since God obviously does care about what humans physically do.  Oh wait!  1 Corinthians 6:17-20!  Oh Paul, you sly Pharisaic rabbi!  You spiritual Jew!  You well-studied Benjamite!

Remember, a priest is needed to provide atonement only as long as an atonement for sins or protection from divine wrath is needed…and the priest must be careful to never become disqualified for the job.

But…does God make the Mosaic (Sinai) Covenant very clear in His intention with it?

  • God explicitly tells the Israelites why He is doing what He is doing, and why they will have a special law for themselves.
  • God explicity raises up Moses, Miriam, and Aaron to lead the Israelites during this time…all three being siblings…all three descending from the priestly line of Levi, the one Israelite tribe chosen to be priest on behalf of the Israelites themselves.
  • God chooses Aaron, Moses’ older brother, and Aaron’s sons to be the high priests presiding over all other priests within the entire Mosaic Covenant.
  • An entire book of the Torah, Leviticus, is named after the tribe of Levi.  The Levites also functioned as the chief tribe of making sure that all Israel kept the Law of Moses since they were held to a higher standard.  This is even why Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan as He did.  Catch the truth.
  • God calls Israel to offer sacrifices to atone for their nation, but later on this expands to even for the entire world once the Temple at Jerusalem is built.
  • The Temple was built upon Mount Moriah, on the threshing floor of Ornan/Araunah the Jebusite (a Canaanite man living in Jerusalem), and Mount Moriah is the same place where Abraham said that God would provide the lamb for sacrifice when he was commanded by God to offer his son Isaac there.  Remember, Israel inherited the Abrahamic Covenant from their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel.  So they still awaited the lamb of God’s sacrifice (which never showed up in Abraham’s lifetime) even as they began to obey God’s ceremonial commands and provide their own sacrifices through the Mosaic Law.

So…did Israel succeed in being priests before the LORD God and bringing sinless atonement for all mankind?

Nope.  Isaiah 43 and the preceding chapters in Isaiah clearly demonstrate that God had to redeem Israel because Israel had rebelled against God, sinned, and had failed in her priestly duties.  The book of Ezekiel details Israel’s failure to fulfill the Mosaic Law clearly…indeed even Moses prophesied it!

Israel was disqualified…just like the rest of the nations who had their hope in redemption through Israel.

So then, the priestly law of Israel, the Mosaic Law, was given to Israel for the nation to be a chosen priesthood before the nations.  But Israel ultimately failed to atone for her own sins, let alone for the sins of the world.  So who is there to save?  Who, if anyone, can save Israel and put God’s plan of worldwide salvation back on track?

God, says Isaiah.  Israel…and God, says Isaiah.

Wait?  Which one?  Who will be the Savior of the world?

The answer is both.

On Mount Moriah, God in Israel finally provided His lamb.  Isaiah goes on to write chapter 53, a chapter that should be familiar to every single person reading this.

It is the prophecy fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah– the Messiah– the anointed king and priest of Israel.

But it was not enough for Messiah to only redeem the failed priestly nation of Israel.  No, for Israel’s failed priestly duty was to atone for all nations, and the Messiah has even fulfilled this in Israel’s place, as foretold in Isaiah 49:5-7.  Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles still needed to be taught by the Holy Spirit Himself that God’s purpose of fulfilling the Mosaic covenant was to fulfill even the redemption of all peopleincluding the Italians that brutalized the ancient world at that time.

Jesus was an Ancient Israelite under the Mosaic Covenant.  Even more, Jesus is Yahweh in human flesh.  As God, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah by being the sole Savior of the world.  As an Israelite under the Mosaic Covenant, Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Mosaic Law by providing the suitable sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world.

As the long-promised Lamb of God, Jesus finally brought an end to the cliff-hanger story that Abraham never saw finished on the mountains Moriah.  Even more, Jesus stood on the mountain named for that very region even while He predicted His sacrificial death and resurrection.  Mt. Moriah is now known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Even Jesus says that He did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but rather to fulfill it.  And He came to fulfill it because even Israel found that the role of human redemption was too heavy for them, just as Paul writes.  But Jesus wasnt a Levite, so the question then os how does He fulfill the Mosaic Law qhich requires Levitical preists?  Easy, even under the Mosaic Law the Levitical priests also were sinners and disqualified.

Theologian’s Note

Did you know that the term messiah in Hebrew only means “one who is anointed (with oil)?”  The Bible has the term used for three clear religious-political roles: a king, a prophet, and a priest.  Ultimately Jesus fulfills all of these three roles for us, and that is why we and the prophets called Him the Anointed One or Messiah.

Our Redeeming Priest needed to be chosen as a root in an exclusive role only He could fulfill– the royal priesthood selection of Melchizedek.  All priests, from Israel to Aaron were chosen by God.  And so, Jesus is superior in that being God the Son He was chosen by God the Father and anointed the full Messiah by God the Spirit before time began.  And Jesus was chosen according to a priestly order more ancient than the nation of Israel.  And so, the whole of the Law of Moses has been fulfilled because atonement has been provided for, and the Mosaic Code is passing away, as our High Priest chosen from an order even higher than the Levitical Order has redeemed us once and for all!  All those who partake in Christ are no longer under God’s wrath for sin.

And that is the Gospel, and this is the nature of the Mosaic Law within the Gospel story.  The Mosaic Law was the legal code by which the Abrahamic Covenant was to be fulfilled.   Now that Jesus has fulfilled the Mosaic Law, the Abrahamic Covenant and all of the Torah have their fulfillment in God in Messiah…the Author and the Finisher of our faith.

This is why, for the Christian/Messianic, we need not fear obeying the kosher Mosaic Law for the provoking of God’s wrath.  Such a code has been fulfilled by God Himself on our behalf.  And as Jews, we need not reach for straining Rabbinic teachings and the difficult innuendos of ethnocentrism that have even seized and have made into ethnic idolatry our view of Yahweh, turning Judaism into a worship of Jewishness but not of the One and True Living Ancient of Days, turning the One and True God of all into an ethnically local (and sometimes created) deity who not even is invoked in the creation of Israel when our nationalism would suffer as the result.  Nothing makes us better than others, and God did not choose our ancestors because they were righteous.  People can read Genesis just like we can…and Isaiah…and Ezekiel…

We needn’t be focused upon every restriction and prohibition from our chosen Jewish sects and traditions to fulfill the Mosaic Law…a law which our people failed to fulfill even with the glory of Solomon’s Temple.

Are you a Jew and do you wish to keep kosher to honor the memory of our Mosaic duties?  Fine and good.  Are you a Jew and wish to live in the circumcision and freedom of our father Abraham?  Good.  Are you a Gentile and wish to live according to the uncircumcision of our father Abraham?  Good.  For we are all children of Abraham by faith, just as all who were with Abraham from among the nations were counted as one with him before circumcision and also afterwards simply by their trust in the Name of Yahweh the Most High.

And in Jesus the son of Abraham, we are unified in the body.

Realize that we are still called to live righteously before God, as the people of God, for even in Christ we are called to be His royal priesthood who are able to approach the altar of our LORD without fear or hindrance.

And with our circumcision done by Divine Hands, we all will live righteously before God by the power of God Himself.

Jesus is our rest.  And Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law.  As the Lawgiver, and the very embodiment of the Word of God, the Law self-fulfilled once Jesus offered Himself up for the world, the innocent offered up for the unrighteous, life for life, blood for blood, exalted humanity for fallen humanity.  And now, the Son of Man reigns from on high, ready unto the end of the time of repentance to bring His everlasting kingdom to its final fulfillment here on Earth.

For that we should celebrate.  And with that, we should all rest assured of God’s redemption.

After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, “I’m thirsty!” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it up to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

-John 19:28-30

 

[UPDATED: April 6, 2017]

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