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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hashem, Moses and Paul: Confused about Torah?

(The following is a study-lesson on Parshat Ki Tissa which I taught at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA, February 26, 2005. The beginning should be read tongue in cheek. )

I have a problem with two of today's texts, the Torah reading and the New Covenant Reading. But maybe some of you here can help me resolve my problem. My problem is with Hashem, with Moshe and with Paul--they seem to have a wrong attitude toward the Law of God--the Torah. And this troubles me greatly.

I am going to ask you all to be my physicians, my diagnosticians. As we examine the texts, I need for you to locate where I have problem.

So let's locate my problem with the texts and afterwards, decide what to do with them!

Shemot/Exodus 34:1 The Lord said to Moses: "Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered. 2 Be ready by morning, and in the morning come up to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to Me, on the top of the mountain. 3 No one else shall come up with you, and no one else shall be seen anywhere on the mountain; neither shall the flocks and the herds graze at the foot of this mountain."

Where is my problem in the Torah reading? Where do I find Hashem's and Moses' attitude toward the Law of God a problem?

Just this. The Israelites have already demonstrated they could not keep the Law--in this case, the Ten Words/The Ten Commandments! They built the Golden Calf, and broke the first two commandments [Worship Hashem only and no other gods, no graven image] even before Moses came down from the mountain!! That's why Moses shattered the tablets at the foot of the mountain! So here is the problem. Why would Hashem give the Israelites another copy of the commandments if they had already proven they couldn't keep them? Hadn't the commandments already served their purpose. . .to show them their sinfulness, their need for grace and for a Savior?

Why did they need a second set of the Ten Commandments? Such a puzzlement!

Not only do I have a problem with Hashem and with Moses,. I have problems with Paul. See if you can locate one of my problems in the following text.

"1 While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, "Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God." 2Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. 3At this Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?" 4Those standing nearby said, "Do you dare to insult God's high priest?" 5And Paul said, "I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.' "

The first problem with Paul is this: Paul doesn't seem to realize that we are "not under the Law" any more!!! This incident comes late in his life, when he has been an Apostle about thirty years. You would think he has his doctrine down straight! But look what happens here! After Paul reviles the High Priest and is rebuked for it, he then says "I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.' " Here he is quoting from the Old Testament [Exodus 23;22]! From the Torah!! Doesn't he realize he is not under the Law any more?

And let's not read our 21st century worldview into this. He is not apologizing because he was rude. He is apologizing because he broke Torah! Doesn't he realize that we're not under the Law more? Doesn't he realize that maybe, just maybe, the only part of Torah we have to pay attention to is the Ten Commandments or maybe the moral law?

What's gotten into him?

But, as if that's not enough, I have more problems with Paul! Look what he says in the second paragraph of our New Covenant reading!! He says "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees!" Shouldn't he have said "I was a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees?" And notice how the other Pharisees say, " We find nothing wrong with this man!" Didn't Paul realize that he wasn't a Pharisee any more?? What is he doing chumming up too the Jewish community, here so that the Pharisees there say they have no problem with him?? Doesn't he realize that the Jewish community is not his community any more and that his job is simply to confront them rather than earning their approval? What is he doing., pandering to them?

Such problems.

Well, there are problems here, but the problems aren't in the texts--they are in our presuppositions. Let's look at each of these problems in turn and see how the problems are not in the texts, but in ourselves.

First, why did God make a second set of Tablets for our ancestors in the Wilderness after they had proven themselves unable or unwilling to obey the commandments? The answer is, because the people still needed the Law of God as a guide for life, even if they obeyed imperfectly. They also needed to know that these stipulations were what God expects of his Jewish people who claim to be in covenant with him.

We are wrong when we think of the Law of God as simply a means whereby we can either get a 100 percent passing grade, or else, by breaking even one commandment, fail, thus proving our need for a Savior. That would mean that as soon as we got the point that we couldn't keep the Law, and as soon as we came under the protection of the Savior, we could just jettison the Torah.

That's not what God did. He directed Moses to create a second set of tablets upon which God wrote again the Ten Words. They were still needed then and are needed now.

And the problems are in ourselves rather than in the texts when it comes to Paul too.

How many of us have heard the phrase, "We are not under law, but under grace?" Some people use this as a blanket statement of some sort, usually meaning something like this: "We don't have to worry about the Law anymore; instead, we depend upon God's grace and do the best we can and whatever we feel led to do." Sounds good. However, it is hard to defend this from the Bible. Frankly, there are all kinds of problems here.

First of all, I wonder how many people who use "we're not under law but under grace" even know where the phrase appears in the Bible? It is found in Romans 6:14, 15, and also in Galatians 5:18. In Romans 5, Paul divides God's salvation dealings with humankind up to our time into two broad eras, which he characterizes as "from Adam to Moses"--that is, through to the rule of Torah as God's way of instructing humanity and forming righteousness in His people, and then, the latter period, "in Messiah" or the era of the Spirit. In chapter six, he uses the phrase "under the law" to pertain to the first period, and "under grace" for the second period. But he does NOT use this to mean that there was no grace during the era of Moses, nor that there is no law during the era of Messiah. Rather, he is comparing each era in regards to how righteousness is formed in us.

Before Messiah came, and the Holy Spirit was poured out on His people, even though, in Paul's words, the Law of God was holy, just and good, and spiritual [Romans 7:12, 14], the human tendency to rebel against God's standards and his boundaries thwarted the formation of righteousness in us. We could approve the Law of God in our minds, and yet watch ourselves breaking that Law time and again. Paul says this is due not to some defect in the Law, but to sin that dwells within all of us as a principle of rebellion and lawless autonomy.

But now that Messiah has come, with the consequent resources of the indwelling Spirit made available, we have new resources available, and a different mechanism in action. Paul speaks of this in Romans 8: "the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua"--that is, the way the Spirit works in us through Messiah Yeshua—"has set me free from the law of sin and death"—that is, the principle of operation that formerly prevailed--the way sin and death worked against righteousness-formation in us when we were apart from Messiah. Again, the idea is: just as sin once defeated the operation of Torah in us, marring the formation of righteousness in God’s people, so the way the Spirit works in us now defeats and replaces the way sin worked in us. "For what the law [and here he means, the Law of God] could not do in that it was weakened through the flesh [that is, our rebellious nature, dominated by the tendency to sinful rebellion], God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin; He condemned sin in the flesh [that is, he dealt a death blow to the domination of this endless defeating cycle by implementing new resources and a different approach].

But why did He do this?

He did this on order that "that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh [by the old principle of operation, with our limited former resources], but according to the Spirit [by the new principle of operation, with our new boundless resources].

But notice, the purpose is "that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fully met in us." God is not jettisoning the Law, but through the Spirit, enabling its actualization in us. As Paul will say a few verses later, it is "the carnal mind [that is] enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." If we claim to be in the Spirit, we should walk in the Spirit, not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, and subject to the Law of God.

So, those who imagine that "we are not under the law" means that we can have a take or leave it approach to God’s law, are inventing a position not found in the writings of Paul.

And his conduct in our chapter demonstrates that even under the high pressure, polemical conditions of a kangaroo court trial before the Sanhedrin, he evaluated his behavior by Torah. . . and here it is not one of the Ten Commandments, but a relatively minor passage found in Exodus 23.

Why is this an important issue? There are many reasons.

First, as a counterbalance to our native narcissism and self-centeredness. Our relationship with God should not be expressed in doing what we feel comfortable doing.

Second, because alternative versions of honoring God are out there being advocated and embraced.

Third, as an antidote to our individualism which is NOT how Scripture views us or our responsibilities

Fourth, because honoring God in this manner is clearly what Jewish people are supposed to do.

Fifth, because if this what the followers of Yeshua did in the first century, who are we to say "I pass?"

At 2/28/2005 1:58 PM, Anonymous Paul Kugelman Jr. said...

Stuart:

I am curious: do you review these comments? If so, please let us know about your upcoming book.

 

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