Unexplained Good Law

2 Samuel 6:6-8 – 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.

Sometimes we fully understand the laws of God. Sometimes we do not. Some spend a great deal of time looking through Leviticus to offer explanations and rationales for the regulations. Why the food laws? Why the thing about boiling the young goat in its mother’s milk? Why not wear a garment of two fabrics?

In many a discussion of this sort, I have often responded with a reminder that God has every right to make a regulation for Israel, and for us, without explaining to us his rationale. We do not need explanation to obey our Heavenly Father any more than does a toddler need to know why mom and dad have made rules about not running out in the street. There well may be a solid reason that the toddler can understand. There may not be. But either way, the rule is good and, and the toddler should obey.

At the same time, I think it can be nice, from time-to-time, for us to see that God’s laws are not only right because he gave them. God’s laws are good because they are always good. God has never given a regulation that is unrighteous. The Holy One could not do that, as to do so would be to go against his very nature.

This all comes to mind as I watch the account of the death of Uzzah. This is a familiar passage for many a believer. Uzzah touched the ark of the covenant. The wrath of God burned against him for his presumption, and Uzzah died. And there we learn something of the deadly nature of holiness. The unholy dare not touch the holy.

We can draw from this account a gospel picture. If we were thrust into the holy presence of the Lord without the Lord doing something to shield us, to cover and take away our sin, we would be consumed. Like Uzzah, we are not nearly holy enough on our own to touch the holy. We would die. Thanks be to God that Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh to pay for our sins and to impute to us his righteousness!

And, when it comes to understanding the law of God, this passage offers us a reminder that I find important in this time reading it through. Touching the ark will kill a sinful man. This is apparently why God gave meticulous instructions as to how the ark should be carried. It was to be wrapped up and not exposed. Levites who knew what they were doing were to carry the ark on their shoulders and walk it to its destination using the poles God commanded made for this purpose. And, had the people of God followed God’s instruction for carrying the ark, Uzzah would never have been in a position to come close to touching the ark or to have felt the need to do so.

What do I see here? God had a law. God’s law was good. God’s law had a purpose. And even if Uzzah or David did not understand the purpose behind the command of God, Uzzah and David should have obeyed. Taking the command of god lightly got Uzzah killed.

I’m grateful to God that Christ has come to fulfill the law of God on our behalf. I’m glad not to be under the Old Covenant codes. I’m glad not to be part of a legalistic religion. But I think there is great wisdom in realizing that God has good commands, even ones he does not explain to us all the way. It is good for us to trust the Lord and keep his commands for his glory and our good.

A Warning about Returning to Old Testament Law and Ceremony

Should Christians return to Jewish law? Particularly, is it good for a believer to bind himself or herself by the laws of God that were clearly intended for the nation of Israel during the time before Christ? Is it good for us to revisit and subject ourselves to ceremonies and restrictions that were intended to point the people of Israel toward the future coming of Messiah?

Imagine a young man engaged to be married. His fiancé gives him a photo of her to keep with him before they are wed. It is proper and right for that young man to gaze at that photo and anticipate the joy of union with his bride. However, would it not be strange for him to, once he is married, find fulfillment in gazing at the photo of his fiancé instead of finding joy in actually spending time with his wife?

In many a way, the Old Testament ceremonies and food laws are like that photo. They were gifts of God to help Israel look forward to the coming of Messiah. But once Messiah has come, the church is no more right to turn back to those meals and laws than the imaginary husband in the previous paragraph would be right to love looking at the picture of his wife instead of enjoying her company.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as it seems that there is a rise in fascination with the Jewish feasts and practices among faithful believers. I am sure that this comes from hearts intent on honoring God. I am also sure that it comes from an emotional connection to the mysterious feeling of ceremonies that are not part of our culture. But I do not believe that the practice of Christians participating in Old Testament ceremonies or binding themselves by Old Testament dietary laws is at all wise or good.

This discussion came to mind as I read through the book of Galatians recently. In that book, Paul is dealing with a church that is being persuaded to return to Jewish laws. Particularly, the circumcision group has persuaded people in that congregation to return to Jewish practices because they suggest that this is required for salvation. With clarity, let me say that I do not believe that my fellow believers who are interested in the ceremonies and practices of the Old Testament are doing so because they believe that they will earn salvation for themselves. Many are doing so out of simple curiosity. Others are doing so because they believe that, with the feasts and the dietary laws, God has given us good things to continue to practice and that he will be pleased with our participation in those practices.

Let’s look at a few things we see in this short letter, however, to see that it is not wise or good for Christians to put themselves under Old Testament restrictions on diet or to practice the old ceremonies.

Galatians 2:11-14 – 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Just after a section in which Paul points out that his gospel was approved of by the other apostles though he did not receive it from them, Paul points to a moment of conflict between himself and Peter. That conflict particularly bears weight concerning the topic of a return to ceremonial law. While Peter was in Antioch, he returned to a Jewish dietary lifestyle. This act confused others around him, because they assumed that, if Peter was limiting his diet to only ceremonially clean foods as revealed in the law, other Christians, gentile Christians, Christians whose cultures never required this in the past, should also restrict themselves to that diet.

Paul, however, opposed Peter to his face. Paul spoke out publicly against his fellow apostle because Peter was wrong. Part of the problem, of course, is that Peter was reshaping his life to gain the approval of other men, the circumcision group. But part of the problem is that God has not in any way called Christians to subject themselves to the Old Testament dietary regulations.

Galatians 4:9-11 – 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Later in the letter, Paul clearly includes the days and seasons from the Jewish law in his discussion of a dangerous temptation to return to what will not benefit a believer. Not only are we not to subject ourselves to Old Testament food regulations, we are also not to return to the Jewish calendar of holy days.

Galatians 3:1-3 – 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Some might argue that, while God does not require a return to Jewish food laws and holy celebrations, to practice them is still helpful to our spiritual lives. Paul says that such a view is false. If you are saved by grace alone through faith alone, if this is a work of the Spirit of God, then there is no benefit to your spiritual life, your sanctification, in your returning to fulfilled ceremonial regulations.

Galatians 5:1-4 – 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Obviously, here, Paul is talking about the call of the circumcision party that circumcision is required for the salvation of gentiles. He is adamant that any person who adds man-made requirements to a faith-alone gospel is not in possession of the gospel.

But can we not also see that any return to the food laws or to the ceremonies as if they are needed or beneficial is dangerous in a similar way? Maybe one claims that this is not about salvation. But a claim that we need the ceremonial law for personal sanctification is dangerously close to adding to the gospel, as being sanctified is a necessary result of salvation.

Dear Christian friends, the food laws of the Old Testament and the ceremonial holy Days like Passover, Saturday Sabbath observance, and even ceremonial circumcision are items intended to point to the coming of Jesus Christ. When Christ came, all of those laws were perfectly fulfilled. Christ particularly and specifically loosed the food laws (Mark 7:19) so that we would know that there is no longer any benefit in being bound by them. The food laws pointed to the separate nature of physical Israel as the nation through which God would bring Messiah. Once Messiah has come, there is no call for Christians to pretend as though we are part of an Israel still awaiting the Savior’s first advent. Similarly, Passover, the feast of booths, even Pentecost were festivals in which the physical nation-state of Israel was to remember the faithfulness of God to them in the past as they awaited the arrival of messiah through their particular genealogical lineage. But now Messiah has come, and there is no reason for gentile believers to subject themselves to those ceremonial requirements or to feel that participating in those ceremonies would be a spiritual benefit.

As the church, the people of God, we have been given by God ceremonies to practice. They are not ceremonies that anticipate the first advent of Christ, as the Savior has come, fulfilled the law, and accomplished the salvation of all the elect. Now we are given different ceremonies, baptism and Lord’s Supper, which point us to Christ’s completed work as they anticipate his second coming, the resurrection of the righteous, and our eternal joy in the presence of our Savior. We do not honor Christ by adding to these simple and beautiful ceremonies a fascination with things that are fulfilled.

A couple of points of clarity before I wrap up. No, I do not believe that it is sinful for a church to lay out a Passover meal to give their people a better understanding of what this would have looked like years ago. Neither do I think it is wrong for a Christian to visit one of those Revolutionary War era villages where people wear costumes and show you how they used to make root beer. However, I’ll add that there is a danger in laying out and practicing such a meal that people can be drawn into the novelty and think they are doing something spiritual when they are not. It is wrong if any Christian believes that he or she is spiritually benefitted by participation in such a meal.

Also, this post has nothing to do with civil law. Though I disagree with theonomy, that has nothing to do with my issue.

Throughout the centuries, there has been a temptation for believers to look for secret spiritual keys that will elevate their walks with the Lord beyond that of the ordinary. Some seek charismatic experiences. Some have looked for hidden spiritual truth in Gnosticism. And I believe that others are tempted by a spiritual-feeling fascination with Old Testament ceremonial practices. None of these is good for the soul of believers who should know that our Christian lives are to be simple lives of love of God, love of neighbor, and obedience to the commands of Christ. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Lord has given us the church and simple ceremonies that point us to salvation and to his return. We do not honor him by looking for ways to bring other ceremonies, fulfilled pictures and loosed laws, back into the faith as if this will make us more spiritual.

The Torn Veil

H – Highlight

Mark 15:38 –And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

E – Explain

At the moment of Jesus’ death, the Lord, as a glorious sign, tore the veil of the temple in two. Theologically, I believe that this shows us that the sacrificial system is fully ended once and for all.

A – Apply

That Jesus finished the work is evident from his declaration, “It is finished,” from the tearing of the veil, and from his resurrection from the dead. The entire plan and purpose of the Old Testament law is fulfilled in Christ.

One application is that we ought to be wise enough not to attempt to return to a required obedience to Old Testament ceremonial law (cf. Gal. 5:2-4). The feast, Sabbaths, sacrifices, and such things are pointers to the work Christ finished. We dishonor Christ if we attempt to put the temple veil back together and bind ourselves to Old Testament regulations. This is not to say that the law is not a wonderful tool to show us God’s character and his standards for justice and righteousness. But we are not to return to the old temple or its trappings.

Another application is that we cannot do anything, not a single thing, to atone for our own sin. The concept is made plain when God destroyed the veil between the holy of holies and the rest of the world at Jesus’ death. When we sin, sometimes we are tempted to attempt to make up for what we have done through acts of penance. This is not acceptable. In fact, this practice dishonors the Lord and his sacrifice. We obey out of love for the Lord and the joy of his glory. We do not obey to change our position before the Lord, to climb a ladder into his favor.

R – Response

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank you that your sacrificial work is fully complete. I pray that you will help me remember that there is no single thing that I can do that would make me climb into your favor. Instead, I pray that you will help me to obey for the sheer joy of knowing you and honoring your holy name. I pray that you will help me love you and love others as you command, not from obligation of law but from joy of grace.

Bloodguilt on a Land

In the law of God, we learn much about the value of human life. In several instances, we see that God demands a reckoning for the shedding of the blood of mankind. If a man kills another, even accidentally, his life is changed forever. And, in the passage I read in my daily reading from Deuteronomy 21, we see that God demands that leaders take responsibility for the loss of life, even if they bear no personal responsibility for that death.

Deuteronomy 21:1-9- 1 If in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, 2 then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. 3 And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. 4 And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. 5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the Lord, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. 6 And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7 and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. 8 Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ 9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.

This statute is pretty straightforward. If a body is found, but nobody can determine who did the murder, the leadership of the nearest town takes responsibility. They have to take a special heifer, sacrifice it, and then declare formally that they did not do the murder or know who did.

Take special note of verse 8, “Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.” Bloodguilt must be atoned for. Failure to do so is a stain on the land. And it is a big deal for a people to bear the guilt of shedding innocent blood.

Here is a good example of an Old Testament law we need not attempt to follow by the letter, but from which we can extract universal principles. Jesus has died the final sacrificial death that will do anything to atone for human guilt. Thus, there is no offering that any people should make for bloodguilt. But so much is clearly true. We should realize that murder is serious. We should realize that it is bad for a people to bear the guilt of shedding innocent blood. And, I think that it would be easy to extract from this that we ought to do all we can to stop the shedding of innocent blood so that our land is not storing up wrath against it.

Note that when we talk about the shedding of innocent blood, we are not declaring the victim of a murder as innocent of all human sin. The point is that blood is shed unjustly. A person is killed without having committed a crime that is worthy of the death penalty. That is the shedding of innocent blood.

Now, look at our world. Look at our nation. We are guilty of the shedding of innocent blood. Unborn children by the millions are slaughtered. They have committed no crime. They are not dying for the taking of other human lives. They are dying, in the vast majority of cases, for the mere convenience of another. These little human bodies are crushed and then torn apart in the name of sexual freedom.

There is no longer a heifer that we can sacrifice, wash our hands, and say that we did not know. We, in our land, do know. WE know exactly who are those who are taking lives by the millions. We know why it is happening. And we, as a nation, bear that guilt. WE must wonder how much innocent blood the Lord will allow to be shed before we fall. Christians, pray. Pray that the Lord will help us put an end to the shedding of innocent blood in our land. If in Israel, the finding of a dead body in the countryside was a big enough deal to require a formal statement from the nearest city leaders, accompanied by a sacrifice, in order to atone for bloodguilt, how much more bloodguilt is on a nation that willingly, often exuberantly, takes the lives of children every single day? We do not need a heifer. We need to repent and to turn to Jesus for his mercy.