The Story: The Law of Moses (and Grace of God), Part 2

Heart obedience

It has often been said that the Law of Moses was about external obedience whereas Christianity is about the heart. It’s just not true — and obviously so –

(Deu 6:4-6 ESV)  4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”

Jesus famously quotes these words as the most important commandment — and it’s plainly about the state of one’s heart.

Election

The Old Testament doctrine of election is that God chose the nation of Israel because he first chose Abraham and keeps his promises.

(Deu 7:6-8 ESV)  6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

(Deu 9:5-6 ESV)  5 “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  6 “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

And notice how closely God associates election with grace. God elected Israel, despite their sins, not because of their righteousness — all because of Abraham.

The Holy Spirit

We next come to one of my favorite passages –

(Deu 10:16 ESV)  16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

– not because of what it says but because of what it leads to. The contrast of law vs. grace is often better understood in terms of the absence of the Spirit vs. the presence of the Spirit. This is how Paul ultimately argues his case in Romans 8.

You see, no one can adequately shape his heart to honor the command to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” which follows, and repeats the thought of, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” I mean, all your heart? Really? Who could really do that?

In chapter 30, God looks far into the future and offers this solution –

(Deu 30:4-6 ESV)  4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.  5 And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.  6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

He says that even if Israel rejects God and God removes them from the land and scatters them among the nations (as actually came to pass), God himself will “circumcise your heart … so that you will  love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Even in the depths of rebellion and sin, God promises to reach out to Israel and transform their hearts so that they can love God as they should — and live.

Centuries later, the prophets explained this in greater detail –

(Eze 36:26-27 ESV)  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

And then the apostles –

(Rom 2:28-29 ESV)  28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

That’s right. The Christian covenant is based on promises made by God in Deuteronomy. And, of course, that’s all based on God’s promises to Abraham. We receive the Spirit as Christians because God promised Israel to circumcise their hearts for them. And we’ve been grafted into Israel.

Yes, the Law of Moses urges obedience to all sorts of commands, but at its core, in its heart of hearts, it’s about grace, election, and even the Spirit.

Widows and orphans

The very next thing declared by Moses about God after Deu 10:16 is –

(Deu 10:18-19 ESV)  18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

God re-introduces himself to Israel, and rather than saying “Love me or I’ll damn you to hell,” he says, “Let me tell you something about myself. I love widows and orphans so much that I provide for them. And I love sojourners.”

“Sojourners”? The Hebrew word is defined as “sojourner, temporary dweller, new-comer (no inherited rights).” But once the Promised Land is conquered, all Israel will own land. Therefore, Moses is clearly speaking of foreigners living among the Israelites — aliens or immigrants.

The HALOT lexicon (perhaps the most respected Hebrew language source) defines the word as –

a man who (alone or with his family) leaves village and tribe because of war 2S 43 Is 164, famine Ru 11, epidemic, blood guilt etc. and seeks shelter and residence at another place, where his right of landed property, marriage and taking part in jurisdiction, cult and war has been curtailed.

Think “refugee.”

(I’m not sure that there’s a perfect analogy here to “illegal immigrant,” but neither would I totally ignore these passages regarding the question. Rather, we must seek the heart of God in all things, and so the first question regarding any question, even an emotionally charged political question, is to ask what God thinks about such things — remembering that God is revealed in Torah but even better in Jesus. This class won’t answer the question, but we should decide not to answer it based on our political party’s position. We need to seek God’s position, whatever it may be.)

In short, the sojourner is someone who, in the modern world, is hated for being in the wrong place. Right? That’s how most nations think of refugees and aliens who have no rights — that is, who don’t have the modern equivalent of land: a green card. You see, land in ancient Israel gave the right to work to earn your own living. No land meant you had to live on the kindness of Israel.

(Again, not wanting to debate illegal immigration, just to ask that the class not take their positions from the political platforms of the political parties. We far too easily adopt secular political positions as though handed down from Mt. Sinai.)

(Deu 14:28-29 ESV)  28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns.  29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”

A portion of the tithe was set aside to provide for those who had no land and thus who could not support themselves (or the fatherless, who would be too young to work the land for themselves). (It was an early form of welfare.)

(Deu 24:17-22 ESV)  17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge,  18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”

Again, Moses provides another form of welfare — called “gleaning.” Those with land had to leave a part of their crop in the field for the landless to glean. The landless had to work — they had to harvest their part of the crop themselves — but except for the work of harvesting, it was free.

And notice this heart command –

(Deu 26:10-11 ESV) 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God.  11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

The Israelites were to rejoice, not only in what God had done for them, but also in what God had done for the landless — especially the sojourners.

You see, God gave Israel the Law for many reasons. One was to teach them to become like God — and God loves the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner. To be like God is to have the same heart as God and to rejoice in God’s provision of care for those he loves.

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5 Responses to The Story: The Law of Moses (and Grace of God), Part 2

  1. Great post! The love of God for the sojourner, I believe, has direct relationship to the illegal immigrant. After all, most of these are here because of economic reasons (famine?). I see little reason to ignore this clear teaching of the Old Testament.

    By the way, this series should be doing a lot to rehabilitate the OT in the eyes of Christian people generally. We have long said, “The OT is the NT concealed; the NT is the OT revealed.” But we have not treated the OT as if we really believed this aphorism. This series is taking that “saying” seriously!

  2. Gary says:

    Thank you for pointing us to God’s unfailing compassion as our moral guide. How Christians can worship God on Sunday and then advocate harsh policies against those Jesus calls his ownfamily in Matthew 25 has always been more than I can fathom. WWJD applies to politics. Yes some issues are complex but other issues should be nobrainers for all who claim to be disciples of Jesus.

  3. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    It’s fascinating to see people react when I suggest that “Love your neighbor” applies to political questions, such as illegal immigration. I don’t say that it drives a particular conclusion, because we have to love those who are hurt by illegal immigration, too. But we aren’t allowed to love Americans and hate Mexicans. Rather, we start with “love your neighbor” and go from there, and never, ever contradict “Love your neighbor.”

    I really think that many of us don’t know how to even begin to analyze hard questions from that perspective — even where to start. In fact, suggesting that love might be foundational makes a lot of people angry.

  4. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    Thanks. I’m just trying to apply the earlier series concluding that the Law is all about God revealing himself. More to come …

  5. John says:

    I have read it in different ways by different writers that those who suffer should receive the greater attention. Some may be thinking, “Well, that goes without saying”. But it helps us to understand that philosophy better and have a better focus when we humbly accept that what we may deem as a “threat” toward our culture does not constitute suffering on our part. Jesus never said, and neither did the prophets of the OT, “Love your neighbor…but be careful for yourself”. A good reading of the prophets and the gospels presents a wrenching challenge to the comfortable mind.

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