Torah and New Covenant
© March 2001 by Asher Intrater
God designed man to live with him in a relationship that is both holy and loving (Ephesians 1:4). We started in that direction in the Garden of Eden. However, the sin of Adam and Eve ruined that. The sin itself was an act of disobedience. They broke the one law that God had given them. When they sinned, they did something wrong.
However, the sin effected not only what they did, but who they were. It was a matter of both heart and actions. In order to correct the relationship between God and man, God would eventually have to deal with both issues, our heart and our actions. Therefore, the redemptive plan of God would have to comprise two parts, one for the heart and one for the actions.
The law (the Torah), or the commandments of Scripture, deal with our actions. The cross (the death and resurrection of Yeshua) deals with our heart. The law came through Moses, and grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah (John 1:17). Ultimately, our heart and our actions need to come into unity with the heart and will of God.
In a certain sense, the law started with just two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor (Deut. 6:11, Lev. 19:18). However, as the people continued to sin, the more specific prohibitions of the Ten Commandments had to be added to make clear what it meant to love God or our neighbor. After that, parashat mishpatim (Exodus 21-23), was added to give even further detail to the Ten Commandments.
This reminds me of the time when I served on the staff of Montgomery County Covenant Academy (a Christian junior/senior high school). At first, we tried to go without a dress code, simply telling the students we expected them to dress modestly and neatly. Apparently, some of the students had a different idea from us as to the meaning of the words “modest” and “neat”.
After that, we told the girls that their skirts had to cover their knees. Some of the girls came up with the method of curling up their skirts around the belt when they were around the boys, to shorten the length, and then pulling them down when they were around the administrative staff. We found it difficult to itemize every expectation of a dress code.
The ultra orthodox rabbi that I studied with in Jerusalem used to tell us proudly that the beautiful thing about rabbinnic Judaism was that there was a specific law (halacha) for every single action of the day. I remember studying with him the laws concerning whether to put the right shoe or the left shoe on first in the morning, then whether to tie the left shoe or the right shoe first.
It may sound comforting to think that there is a specific law for every single human action. However, that is practically impossible. Let’s say a human being could make 100 choices in one hour. By the end of two hours he could make 100 x 100 decisions. At the end of ten hours there would be 100 to the tenth power. Now multiply that by five billion inhabitants on the earth. I don’t know if even God can make that many laws. If He could, I don’t think He wants to.
To a certain extent, that is a dilemma of the rabbinic or halachic approach to the Torah. The rabbis know that the Torah in and of itself is incomplete. In this we agree with them. The purpose of the talmud (mishnah and gemarah) is to complete the Torah by adding further details and more laws to answer every situation.
However, we have a different solution. That solution comes within Scripture itself and is part of the original purpose of the law. The law was never meant to function by itself but rather to be part of a process that includes a change of heart.
There are two options to completing the Torah. The first option is the rabbinnic method of adding an almost infinite number of halacha. The second option is to have a change of heart, where the purpose of the law is internalized, and a person has an internal motivation and guidance to cooperate with the heart of the Lawmaker.
This internalization of the law is the purpose of the New Covenant. Jer.31:33 states, “I will put my law inside them and write it on their hearts.” We meditate on Scriptures to understand the heart of love and holiness of God our father. It was never His purpose to add an infinite number of sub-laws and statutes to force behavioral control over every minute of our lives.
First God confronts us with moral law and then He seeks a change in our heart. The law is given first externally and then internally. These two stages come in two covenants. The first stage is the Mosaic or the Abrahamic Covenant. That covenant then yields or leads into the New Covenant to deal with our heart.
Yeshua did not come to do away with the law, but to strengthen it by writing it in our hearts. This is the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill” - Matthew 5:17.
In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua reviews the Ten Commandments and explains the internal heart motivation behind the commandments. In this way He is fulfilling the meaning and purpose of the commandments. He is bringing the law into its second stage, “the New Covenant”, which was promised by Jeremiah.
We, as Messianic Jews (and in fact all believers in Yeshua), do not reject any of the law. In fact, we are all to keep the law. However, our approach to the law and our understanding of how to keep the law is different from the halachic approach. Instead of concentrating on the legal particulars, we deal with the heart motivation and moral principles of the law.
The death and resurrection of Yeshua brings us to full repentance and obedience to the will of God. The example of Yeshua shows us how to live in the love and holiness of God. The person of the Holy Spirit guides us into all wisdom and truth. The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the righteous requirements and moral purposes of the law (Romans 8:4).
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