What Are All of These Laws Doing in My Bible If the Law Is Obsolete? — An Excerpt from "Old Testament Today (2nd Edition)"
Over the past several weeks we've introduced to you John Walton's and Andrew Hill's newly revised and extended foundational Old Testament textbook, Old Testament Today (2nd Edition). If you haven't already, you can read a column on how this book will benefit your students. Also, check out two author videos explaining their goals for this book and what makes this book unique.
Walton and Hill acknowledge that the Hebrew Scriptures are "largely lost to the church" because "people simply don't know what to do with it." (xiii) They go on to say many who come to its books are "frustrated by its laws, bored by its history, or confused by its prophecy" and have "written off the Old Testament as irrelevant to the modern world," concluding that "the God of the Old Testament is a tyrant." (9)
Hence they wrote a book that would stand in the gap between the ancient world and our world, in a way that would help the Church appreciate and understand the Old Testament, for today.
One of the reasons I love their book is that they designed it to not only make the Old Testament accessible, but to make it applicable, too. This particular benefit shines bright in chapter 4, when Walton and Hill explore the relevance and application of the Pentateuch.
In the excerpt below the two professors ask the question many of our people ask when the come to the Torah: what are all of these laws doing in my Bible if the law is obsolete? As you'll see Walton and Hill take great care to not only make space for the question, but to engage it in a way that's contextual, biblical, relevant, and applicable.
-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)
PS—If you're an Old Testament professor, request a free exam copy (ISBN: 9780310498209) to use for your class. If you're a student of the Old Testament, order it here.
Christ made it clear that he came to fulfill the law, not do away with it (Matt. 5:17 – 18). In addition, Paul affirms that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).
So what are we to do with all of these laws? We have to approach them as revelation of God (which they still are), not as rules for society (which they once were) or means of salvation (which they never were). That means that as we look at each law, whether it is one of the Ten Commandments or a law about mildew on the wall of a house, our first step is to try to understand what that law revealed about God to the Israelites. Once we understand that, we must make a cultural transfer to formulate a general principle about what that law reveals about God to us. Then we can use that principle to try to apply the revelation to our world in specific ways of acting or thinking. It is not the ancient law itself that carries the authority of the text. Authority is found in the revelation of God that is offered through the principle behind the law...
A Sense of the Holy
We must renew our attention to holiness... What does this ask of us? Where do we have to improve? In Old Testament ritual laws the presence of God in a physical sanctuary required steps to maintain physical purity. Everyday issues such as the location of the latrine, mildew on the walls of houses, skin conditions, or bodily emissions could result in physical impurity.
While the law was concerned with internal matters as well, much of Leviticus deals with external matters.
Now, with God’s presence within, holiness has become almost entirely an internal matter. Personal holiness concerns not only what we do, but how we think and what motivates us... We can discipline ourselves to practice the presence of God by attending to the following three tasks:
- Keep the space pure.
- Maintain an environment and routine of worship.
- Monitor the status of the inhabitants of sacred space.
Keep the Space Pure
The priests kept sacred space pure by carrying out rites of cleansing and purification. In following the mandate of holiness, we must keep careful accounts and be sure to deal with sin or impurity in our lives. Even though the defilement of sin or impurity has been cared for through Christ’s blood, our sin can still draw us away from God. That is why we must continue to seek his forgiveness (which is guaranteed for the asking) and the restoring of our fellowship with him.
We must also preserve the purity of the church. This means that we cannot allow sin to take root and fester... In the permissive and litigious society in which we live, it has become more and more difficult to carry out church discipline. As a result, accountability is at an all-time low. Just as the priests sought to restore wholeness to those who had contracted impurity, so the church must seek to maintain its purity not just by driving some “outside the camp” but by engaging in procedures that will bring the disenfranchised back into the camp.
Maintain an Environment and Routine of Worship
Priests ministered daily in God’s presence as they offered the sacrifices (morning and evening) for the nation and assisted the people who brought their sacrifices day by day. But they also maintained the details of the worship calendar from Sabbath to New Moon to the great annual pilgrimage festivals. The worship environment of our personal sacred space needs also to be maintained through the “times” of our schedules and calendars…
If our thoughts are full of ourselves and our plans, the environment of our minds has no room for another to be adored. In the temple complex of Israel, this focus was represented in centrality... It is too easy to allow God to drift to the outer edges of our personal world and make something else our center of gravity.
In the church, it is also true that God must be firmly in the center of who we are and what we do. Many causes are worthy of the church’s attention, and we should not just huddle in our pews singing hymns. But we cannot allow any distraction, as noble or worthy or necessary as it may be, to usurp the central role from Christ.
Monitor the Status of the Inhabitants of Sacred Space
In our personal lives we must take very seriously the priestly role of gatekeeper, preventing that which is impure from taking up residence in, or even gaining entry to, God’s sacred space, our lives. There was nobody to regulate the status of the priesthood but the priests. On the individual level, this means self-examination. This extends beyond our behavior (Paul’s subject in 1 Cor. 6) to our thoughts. This is very difficult to accomplish because of the great amount of impurity that is all around us.
We must also keep the corporate sacred space pure. How is the church (the corporate body of Christ) in danger of allowing defiling influences in its midst? When the church allows qualities to become characteristic of it that are an offense to God’s presence, we risk defilement…
Can political alliances defile the church? Can social apathy? Can worldliness or materialism or secularism? Of course, they all can… The holiness mandate calls us to the narrow way of self-sacrificing service, of purity, of practicing God’s presence minute by minute, of worship and adoration. It does not call for a method; it calls for a lifestyle. It does not call for establishing a devotional time to touch base with God before we go on with our day; it calls for an attitude that fills our day with God.
Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition
Edited by John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill
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