Sunday, August 21, 2011

Retelling the Story 2 - thoughts and mullings on the "law years"

Before we move on to the end of the years of "Law", I want to "zoom in" on some aspects. Those of you who are scholars and thinkers might like to correct or add to my thoughts, and I would love your input!!  Here are some things that stand out to me.

After relationships are broken, and paradise is lost, God continues to walk amongst humanity and relate to individuals. He chooses a man, Abraham, who is willing to trust and relate to him. Abraham's family is crazy and dysfunctional - but God gives them the opportunity to walk with and
relate to Himself, and promises to make them into a nation that will bless all peoples.  Of course, the Jewish nation is not even born yet, so the Jewish religious laws don't actually exist at this point.  They come later, after Abraham's descendents have grown into a nation/tribe known as the "Hebrews".

We follow the chequered fortunes of these so-called "chosen people".  God continues his pattern of speaking and relating to individuals.  He speaks to a fellow named Moses (another hot-head, with a less-than perfect record), who listens.  God empowers Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, where  they have become a nation of slaves.   Initially, God leads the people visibly and audibly.  Moses is a kind of "spokesperson" of sorts, however once the people choose to follow God, He seems to want to reveal himself in ways that all can see and experience.  The problem with this system... is that the people just can't handle it!  After getting a glimpse of the awesomeness of God at Mount Sinai, they beg Moses to do the talking for them!  Moses becomes an intermediary between God and the people, and God's instructions to Moses become written down and codified as the Jewish religious law.

The law is pretty elaborate.  There are rules for just about everything!!  There is an emphasis on social justice that was probably unheard of in those times, but even so - penalties are harsh!  Yet embedded within this strict system, are "rules" that breathe grace, and require nothing less than total trust and reliance on God. For example, every 7th year, the people are supposed to rest the land and not farm it - relying on God to supply their food for a whole year!  Every 50th year, all debts are to be cancelled and all slaves set free.  I'd like to know if they ever really did this!! 

Over the years, the law is interpreted and used by the as a dividing line, between righteous and unrighteous, "us" and "them". It separates the family of Abraham - now known as the Israelites, from the peoples around them. But remember - God's promise to Abraham was that his family would be a blessing to ALL people. In spite of the law's injunctions on behaviour, intermarriage, purity... God insists on choosing individuals who do not fit the picture of "rightness" depicted by the law.

God promises that from Abraham's lineage there will be a great king. In due time, King David comes to rule the people of Israel.    Far from being a "pure Israelite" in terms of the law, David is the descendent of foreigners, and even prostitutes - who have trusted in God.   David himself is described as "A man after God's own heart", however he breaks God's laws in numerous ways.   He breaks the ceremonial laws of the priests; and God is apparently pleased with this!   He becomes an adulterer and a murderer - and has a good and loyal general killed in battle in order to obtain his wife.   God is NOT  pleased with this, and there are difficult consequences.  However God's love for David, and David's close relationship with God do not end.

Interestingly, although David wants to build a permanent place of worship for the God he loves, God refuses him, on the grounds that "he is a man of blood." It is left to David's son, Solomon, known for his wisdom and justice, to fulfil his father's dream.

From time to time, when the nation of Israel had forgotten their God and his promises to Abraham, prophets arose, who spoke to the people on God's behalf. Among these writings are repeated calls for the people to return to keeping God's laws. However these do not read like calls from an angry legalistic God. They are often more like the anguished cries of a lover to a wayward beloved. God's message might often be summed up as "I hate your religious observances - I want your heart!". Words like "justice" and "mercy" are often the catch-cries of these messengers. This is a God who is all about relationship!!


  1. Whey are so many people not interested in fellowship, yet believe in God. We have lost this type of core teaching and understanding, and have become shallow and experience seeking. Mark Paynter

  2. Hey, Mark...
    Seems to me that relationships are kind of experiential... so that's not all bad. But I guess you are referring to "spiritual" experiences of the pentecostal kind. Kind of sensationalism, rather than relationship. Am I hearing you right?

  3. from my experience Mark, I saw too much of the dirty internal politics and power struggles of the different religious denominations, churches and parishes as a kid, to go into the church as a professional. I find a huge number of rectory/manse brats or PKs (preacher's kids) also not following in parent's footsteps and many are where the real fights for people and planet are going on, in the front lines of social, environmental and micro-economic activism.

    I'm a leader, and I really don't feel that my leadership talents are appreciated in the church along with the unconventional and radical thinking that goes with them. So my outreach to others and putting the lesson of the Good Samaritan to work is as a first aider, and putting the other injunctions of Christ to work via my personal interactions with neighbours, delinguent teenagers, and other ways,

    I've found that so many thinking decent people have left or been driven out of many churches, that there is a very small pool of fellowship left.

    There's a lot of people that need help, some committee types, social Christians, zeolots and the guilty, and the professional Christians who I don't feel have quite got it... So I suppose I get my fellowship on the run largely elsewhere.

    I'll probably go back to the Cathedral, but it will be more for the music, singing in the choir and playing the cathedral organ, when I get back up to that standard of playing.,,, maybe I'll find I'm wrong... but when I dropped out due to serious breaches of the codes of conduct by senior church people and the subsequent hassles they created for my family, nobody gave a flying .....

  4. Hey, David.

    I know your experience with your dad at the Cathedral really sucked. And I think you are right about *some* churches being more social clubs, or whatever... and there being a real difficulty for anyone who doesn't fit the prescribed mould.

    However I have to say that has not been the whole of my experience of church. I've had some really bad experiences, as you have. But on the whole, I have connected with people who really do care, and been accepted for who I am. I have been graciously blessed to find a church that really does make room for difference, and doesn't expect everyone to fit a prescribed mould. Such fellowships really are out there :)

    Even in more conventional church circles, I find people who care deeply and know the meaning of love. Because of what is taught, they may have difficulty knowing how to handle some theological differences or lifestyle choices; however I find mostly there is a willingness to try and find common ground and to connect regardless.

    Seems I've stretched the limits of what people in my own fellowship are comfortable with, of late. However I don't feel that I have been personally rejected because of this. I know I am still loved and valued, even though I think some folk are a little perplexed and unsure how to respond. However it is at this kind of "cultural edge" that real acceptance has the opportunity to grow. I need to be gracious and understand that not everyone is, or will be, able to understand my personal journey, just as much as I and others who love Christ need to be gracious and allow others to approach Him from their own perspectives, and to trust Him that He is able to guide them as he guides us.

    Think possibly I'm sounding namby pamby now - but I hope you get what I mean... it's really up to God to have a relationship with each of His kids - and if He is really God - why do we always think we have to sort it out for him??

  5. Kerry,
    Great post and summary of the history of the law. I want to add that at the end of the story (maybe that's your Part 3?), Jesus and Paul put it in context for the "new convenant." Paul said "we are released from the Law," and "Christ is the end of the Law." Of the golden rule, Jesus said "this sums up the Law and the prophets," in other words, focus on love, no need to follow laws, either the Torah or any other man-made law the church makes (sometimes making the NT a new law!).

    This is why Abraham is the father of the Christ-following faith (who you said was in relationship to God before the Law), not Moses.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  6. Thank you, Michael! & glad you "popped in"!

    Yes, I plan to take the story on to Jesus and Paul in part 3 - although I've been slow to get it written.

    Absolutely LOVE your point about Abraham being the father of our faith, and not Moses - SO true, and I'd never thought of it that way!!


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