Monday, 14 September 2015

Things that will surprise you in the Mosaic Law

A while back I wrote a post on whether or not Christians should be keeping the Mosaic Law. It is an interesting topic for me as many of my friends and acquaintances would answer that question in the affirmative. For whatever reason the Hebraic Roots Movement has taken off and is growing at a rapid pace in South Africa. Pretoria is actually home to the largest formal messianic educational institute in the world and I have heard it said (but cannot officially confirm) that South Africa is at the forefront of this movement. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to study this topic as much as I would have liked and so my views remain pretty much where they were in my previous article. I have however managed to spend some time going through the actual 613 laws that are contained within the Torah.  What I found was rather surprising and so I thought that I would share those findings here as well as sharing some reflections on them at the end.

To be clear, let me start by saying that I do believe that the Law was from God and while I may not always understand it, I accept that it accurately reflected Gods commands to the Jewish people from the time of Moses until Jesus. Most of what is contained therein makes sense and is good but as the title of this posts suggests, there are some exceptions in there that stick out like a sore thumb. I have split those laws into three categories below, the ones that are weird, the ones that are just plain disturbing and then the ones that people, even those in the Hebrew Roots Movement, don’t seem to be following.  

The weird

These laws I can only assume have some significance in being shadows of things that were to come in Christ. One example would be that it was (or is) prohibited that you would wear an item of clothing that is made from two different materials like having wool mixed with linen (Deuteronomy 22:11). Another one only applies to the Nazarites but is equally bizarre; the Nazarites are not allowed to eat raisins or anything else made from grapes like juice or wine (Numbers 6:3). That however is nothing compared to Leviticus 21:20 which says that hunchbacks and dwarves are prohibited from making offerings to God. Similarly, anyone unfortunate enough to have had his testicles crushed suffered similar exclusion and was not allowed to enter the assembly of God (Deuteronomy 23:1 – read the KJV for the funniest translation of this verse).

Then there are a few laws where you have to wonder what had to first transpire that it was deemed necessary to make these rules in the first place. Did someone actually boil a young goat in its mother’s milk triggering Exodus 23:19 to be added to the list? Or did two men one day get into a fight and the wife of one of them grabbed a guy by the testicles to try and help her husband out prompting Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (which has a rather extreme punishment tied to it) to be written?


Some of the laws are just hard for the 21st century mind to even consider; they are nothing short of horrific and unthinkable and seem more suited to groups like ISIS than followers of Christ. Let’s start off small and work our way up. The Israelite's were not to make loans carrying interest to fellow countrymen (Leviticus 25:37) but at the same time it was mandatory to charge interest to aliens (Deuteronomy 23:21). Numbers 5:11-31 contains instructions on how to deal with a wife whom one suspects of being unfaithful. To summarize what it says, you take her to the priest who would make her drink water mixed with dirt from the temple floor; the priest would then write a curse in a book and scrape it off into the drink and if the woman was indeed guilty on drinking the concoction her “thigh would rot and her belly would swell”. Can we even go downhill from there? Unfortunately yes, "if a man beats his male servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property" (Exodus 21:20-21). According to Leviticus 25:45-46, you can “buy the children of the strangers among you” and “they will become your property”.

There are several other laws that are totally incompatible with one who calls himself a follower of Christ; Deuteronomy 13:13-17 commands that you slay the inhabitants of a city that has fallen into idolatry. Then Exodus 21:20, Leviticus 20:10, 14 and 26:25 tell us that the Court shall pronounce the death sentence for certain crimes by various methods which include decapitation and burning with fire. The last two that I will mention here concern parents and their own children. Leviticus 20:9 says that anyone who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death (which would account for every teenager in the world at some stage I think) and then Leviticus 21:9 tells us that if a daughter of a priest plays the harlot she should be burned alive. Unfortunately the list goes on a little longer, some other laws that fall into the ‘uncomfortable’ category can be found in Deuteronomy 20:16, 21:14, 23:7 and 25:19.

Laws that you probably are not keeping

 Religion tends toward selective reading; many in the Hebrew Roots Movement have taken to wearing tzitzit’s as commanded in Numbers 15:38 but for some reason the tefillin’s do not seem to have caught on (see Deuteronomy 6:8) among the same people. Similarly, many Christians like to quote Leviticus 19:28 in condemning tattoos but very few seem to take the command to “not shave around the sides of your head or disfigure the edges of your beard” in the verse hat precedes it equally seriously. Then while many of us have a certain time in the morning or evening when we like to set some time aside to read the bible, how many of us have obeyed the command to religiously do both morning and evening readings (Deuteronomy 6:7)? To take it a step further, how many of us have made hand written scrolls of the Torah which we have written out (Deuteronomy 31:19)? How many people choose to dwell in booths for seven days during Sukkot (Leviticus 23:42)? If you have any ornaments in your house you are breaking Exodus 20:4 and if you pray before your meals you are breaking the law which is stated in Deuteronomy 8:10 which says that a prayer of thanks should be given after the meal. Lastly, the tithe mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:26 should be spent on yourself and your family, sharing whatever food and drink your heart desires.

tzitzit                      tefellin

Final thoughts

I cannot call this a conclusion as it is an ongoing thought process for me, as a Christian I have a high regard for scripture and so I sincerely have a hard time accepting some of the things mentioned above that come out of the law. As highly as I view scripture, I regard Christ to be infinitely higher; He is my Bread, my Truth, my Way, my Word and my Authority. It is Him who the scriptures testify of and so when I see something that seems contrary to the Jesus that we see in the gospels, I have to follow the greater command of love that He demonstrated for us. In Jesus, I see someone who does not take lives but lays down His own life for others. In Jesus, I see someone who calls for enemy love rather than enemy slaying. It should not escape our attention that the Jesus who completely fulfilled the law is the same Jesus who touched dead people and rescued a woman who was about to be stoned when the law demanded her life.

Our minds should not be as concerned with the carrying out of religious tasks as much as it should be fixed on Christ. One can practice law without ever being changed internally. As my online blogging friend Jeremy Myers rightfully said, “By living in love we naturally fulfill the instructions and guidelines of the law. Living according to law is living according to the actions of love where there is no love. Living by law is practicing the actions of love without the attitude of love.” This is the law that is written not on tablets of stone but on hearts of flesh.

To end this off, these are the questions that I would ask of my Hebrew Roots friends (who I must say have all being gracious and accepting toward me and I hope that they can recognize the spirit which this post was written in). I sincerely want to know, if the Mosaic Law has not been done away with and we are still bound by the whole of the written word (as far as it is still possible), then what do you do with the commands like the ones mentioned in this post? Do the Laws of the land override the Law of God (John 18:31)? Relating to the current refugee crisis, would you be okay with people taking the refugee’s children away and forcing them into slavery (Leviticus 25:45-46)? Lastly, regarding the section above on “Laws that you are probably not keeping”, do you recognize them as part of what Torah commands? Is there a reason for not keeping them or are they simply not as widely known as some of the more popular commands like not eating pork and keeping the Sabbath?


  1. Hi Wesley,

    I hope this isn't going to be the end of a beautiful friendship (??), but I think the solution is more radical than you have indicated.

    1. The scholars tell us that many OT laws are very similar to laws of contemporary pagan societies, and that many of the events surrounding the giving of the law are of doubtful historicity (see What the scholars tell us about the Old Testament. If the laws originated with God, they came by a circuitous route. It seems more likely that much of the early OT is legendary or not totally historical, and this may well apply to the Law.

    2. This doesn't mean that the Bible isn't inspired or doesn't convey information that God wants us to know, but that he used a different process than we might expect. CS Lewis said: "If you take the Bible as a whole, you see a process in which something which, in its earliest levels (those aren’t necessarily the ones that come first in the Book as now arranged) was hardly moral at all, and was in some ways not unlike the Pagan religions, is gradually purged and enlightened till it becomes the religion of the great prophets and Our Lord Himself." Read more at CS Lewis on the Bible, history and myth

    3. Jesus began a new covenant at the "Last Supper". We are no more under the OT law. See The Old Testament Law and christians.

    So I conclude that we don't have to follow those laws, we don't even have to think they were all absolutely from God, we can think that they were part of a process of God gradually revealing himself. The OT helps us understand who Jesus was and what he said, but our faith and reason to believe rest in him 100%. I think that is a more satisfying view, better based on the evidence.

    But of course it is a little scary at first.

    1. Hi Eric!

      I have friends who think John Piper and MaCarthur are the bees knees so you are not going to offend me that easily :) I am 100% with you on points 2 and 3 and I love your concluding paragraph. As for point 1, I need to chew on it a while longer and read the links more thoroughly (I had a quick glance through them now). While I do not believe in inerrancy, I tend to think the OT has been misunderstood and misapplied rather than it just being plain old wrong. Jesus tended to interpret rather than challenge what Moses (and others) wrote beforehand. I am still processing this though and am eagerly awaiting Greg Boyd's "Crucifixion of the Warrior God" book, hoping that it will shed some more light on the topic for me. Thanks for the links though, let me spend some time in them and get back to you!

  2. Hi Wes very interesting check it out.
    I have many scriptures to show you, I also can clearly see where you are coming from.
    I will have to explain the full context. Remember that many of these scriptures you have brought up here refer to when Israel is in the land that G'd gave them, and He was in their midst. This was not the only conditions.
    Therefore am I keeping G'd's commandments by going against the conditions that He has stated in His Word?
    Many believers make a distinct difference with "G'd of the old testament" "G'd of the new testament", based purely on similar "conclusions". I ask the question what about Acts 5, and is G'd a liar or the same yesterday today and forever.

    The Law I believe deals with many things that sounds harsh and cruel, lets take the adulterous woman for instance - if the husband has suspected her of adultery she is blatantly stating no she is innocent she goes before G'd and states this in the temple, if she is guilty is she not lying to G'd similar to Ananias and Saphire in the NT?
    I look at the cup that this adulterous woman is to drink - it reminds me of the cup my Saviour drank for me that "adulterous woman". Israel that Adulterous Woman that was to drink the cup, your sweet Messiah drank it for you.