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Over at InternetMonk, in a Lenten reflection, Chaplain Mike gives these 7 propositions for explaining what Torah is.

 

Do you think they are spot on, spot off, or somewhere in between.

 

Proposition One: The word “Torah” (often translated “law”) means “a father’s instruction” — it was given to teach God’s people about God’s ways and how to walk in God’s wisdom.

 

Proposition Two: The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch) is not equivalent to “the Law,” in the sense of a book of legal requirements, but it is a book of narratives that includes passages from Israel’s law codes.

 

Proposition Three: The Torah is the story of (1) Israel’s life before the Law (the Patriarchs) and (2) Israel’s life under the Law (the Exodus generation), introduced by a “prehistory” (Gen. 1-11).

 

Proposition Four: The two key events in the story involve covenants God made with his people — through Abraham (Gen. 15) and Moses (Exodus 19ff).

 

Proposition Five: The Torah presents Abraham as the exemplar of faith, who is counted righteous because he trusts God and receives his promises.

 

Proposition Six: The Torah presents the generation of Moses as those who failed to trust God under the Law and are therefore kept from enjoying life in the Promised Land and warned about the exile that future generations under the Law will face.

 

Proposition Seven: The Torah presents these two great eras, two great characters, and two great covenants as two different approaches to life with God, with two drastically different results.

Tags: Law, Old Testament, Pentateuch, Torah

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In an overview sense, it's ok. However, that's pretty much where it falls apart as well. In our weekly services we read from the Torah, have corresponding readings from Haftarah (later OT), and from the New Testament and have a short exposition based upon it. (This is separate from the sermon.) 

The whole issue is that Torah is so completely woven together that you need to have an extremely good grasp of it in its entirety and then in relation to the rest of the Bible. For example, there are far more generations in Genesis alone, and simply putting Avraham against Moshe falls very short of understanding the five books.

 

Michael -

 

Yes, I loved the first 3 propositions. Still liked 4-6. Then felt #7 was a bit iffy.

I would like to see some justification for the statement that torah:

(1) means "a father's instruction"

(2) that it is not rightly understood as "law."

Marv -

 

That's how I understood it in its "original context". LOL

 

Torah means instruction (or fatherly instruction), not our modern concept of "Law" whereas God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts to get them to see they needed a Saviour. That's why the Hebrews could say they love God's law in the Psalms. It is well worth loving a father's teaching-instruction. But it is not well worth loving something that causes death.

 

So maybe there is a larger context for torah and a specific narrowed context for torah-law. Something like that.

It's needless to present caracature, though perhaps fun and rewarding.

 

We have in the law specific behavioral constraints required of God's covenant people which He constituted into a nation. These come with consequences, blessing for obedience, curses for disobedience. This describes something very much like what we mean by "law."

 

In large part the Law is revelatory of the holiness and righteousness of God. Paul is quite right to agree with the Psalmist that it is "holy, righteous, and good." Did that which is good become a souce of death in me? By no means. But the revelation of God's will, even if it is understood as the instructions in living given by a loving Father, ends up clashing inside with what I believe or desire or will.

 

Thus whatever it also is, it serves to diagnose something amiss in me.

ScottL said:

Marv -

 

That's how I understood it in its "original context". LOL

 

Torah means instruction (or fatherly instruction), not our modern concept of "Law" whereas God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts to get them to see they needed a Saviour. That's why the Hebrews could say they love God's law in the Psalms. It is well worth loving a father's teaching-instruction. But it is not well worth loving something that causes death.

 

So maybe there is a larger context for torah and a specific narrowed context for torah-law. Something like that.

There are several words that are used in the text of the Torah itself to describe the differences ScottL is pointing out.   These are also used in the rest of the Scriptures, of course.  The most concentrated place is Psalm 119(MT).

 

They are:

torah
this does indeed mean "instruction", but is most commonly translated "law" (generic).
choq
statutes, ordinances
mitzvah
commandments
piqqud
precepts
mishpat
judgments
'eduth
testimonies
davar
word (also somewhat generic)

Obviously, this is not the place to go into a detailed discussion of these. Suffice it to say that the OP is correct: the Torah is not the Law of Moses, it contains the Law of Moses along with a lot of other stuff which is just as equally "Instruction", some of which is exact jargon about provisions of the Law of Moses, and some of which is not.  The entire Pentateuch (including, btw, the opening narrative of Gen.) is the Instruction given by God to Moses, with perhaps some finishing work done by Joshua.

"Law" whereas God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts to get them to see they needed a Saviour.

A comment to digress, if you please, "God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts..."???

The account inside Exodus 19:1 - 19:8 shows a different story, for all of the children of Israel agreed, And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.  This does not sound to be a overburden issued by God; for the people all agreed to do the Law which God was laying clearly before them. In fact, if anything, the children of Israel agreed, foolishly, so to speak, to do this Law, without even measuring the burden first, but simply jumping straight into it, so to speak, with no conscious at all about the overburdening that you spoke about. Therefore, since these children of Israel agreed to it, we have no right to assess that God in His Wisdom, overburdened his people with a Law. On the contrary, the Law first of all, is Holy, and Righteous, and a great benefit for Israel's blessings as found inside Lev. 26 and Lev. 28. Here is the account of Israel, foolishly, so to speak, agreeing to do God's Holy Law:

Exodus 19:1: In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

Exodus 19:2: For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

Exodus 19:3: And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

Exodus 19:4: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.

Exodus 19:5: Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

Exodus 19:6: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Exodus 19:7: And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

Exodus 19:8: And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.



ScottL said:

Marv -

 

That's how I understood it in its "original context". LOL

 

Torah means instruction (or fatherly instruction), not our modern concept of "Law" whereas God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts to get them to see they needed a Saviour. That's why the Hebrews could say they love God's law in the Psalms. It is well worth loving a father's teaching-instruction. But it is not well worth loving something that causes death.

 

So maybe there is a larger context for torah and a specific narrowed context for torah-law. Something like that.

Marv -

 

Yes, it diagnoses a problem within me (if not you, at least me!). But I'm not sure it began that way. It was God's instruction, law-torah, for how his people were to live (not only morally, but also civilly). And just because something has blessings in obedience and cursings in disobedience, this does not ultimately make it 'very much like what we mean by "law"', in that this is a restrictive code that is supposed to make you feel burdened. Here is another thought - Jesus' words are torah, right? I'd even argue for blessings in obedience and cursings in disobedience with regards to his instruction. Try living contra to the Sermon on the Mount. Major problems! This is no "works based" idea. This is reality that we were made to live according to the teachings of the king and the kingdom. Sermon on the Mount is a good place to begin and a good summary overall. But we don't get ancy when we think of Christ's teachings and the results of living or not living it out. So maybe Christ's torah, or instruction, could be a little informative here.

 

Anyways, I do think torah as instruction is a good starting point to understand God's torah-teaching-law, and not a more Lutheran (the man, not the denom) problem he was struggling with as he approached Romans or Galatians. Having said that, I think torah can and does very much function in a sin-revealer, whether Pentateuch or Sermon on the Mount. But it is not "law" in some kind of restrictive, I can't breathe, God only wants me to obey 100's of rules kind of focus. It starts as God's instruction for living, and for those who recognise they need grace and mercy to make them new, they are the ones that can live out that instruction.

Marv said:

It's needless to present caracature, though perhaps fun and rewarding.

 

We have in the law specific behavioral constraints required of God's covenant people which He constituted into a nation. These come with consequences, blessing for obedience, curses for disobedience. This describes something very much like what we mean by "law."

 

In large part the Law is revelatory of the holiness and righteousness of God. Paul is quite right to agree with the Psalmist that it is "holy, righteous, and good." Did that which is good become a souce of death in me? By no means. But the revelation of God's will, even if it is understood as the instructions in living given by a loving Father, ends up clashing inside with what I believe or desire or will.

 

Thus whatever it also is, it serves to diagnose something amiss in me.

ScottL said:

Marv -

 

That's how I understood it in its "original context". LOL

 

Torah means instruction (or fatherly instruction), not our modern concept of "Law" whereas God overburdened his people with meticulous do's and don'ts to get them to see they needed a Saviour. That's why the Hebrews could say they love God's law in the Psalms. It is well worth loving a father's teaching-instruction. But it is not well worth loving something that causes death.

 

So maybe there is a larger context for torah and a specific narrowed context for torah-law. Something like that.

Scott,

I don't think "supposed to make you feel burdened" expresses what Law means, nor what the classical theological understanding is.

 

It sets behavioral expectations that can only be satisfied through living by the Spirit of God--as you have said elsewhere--and I fully agree--the way man was always supposed to live. The individual provisions reflect God's standard of righteousness, though only in a spot-check kind of way. Plenty more righteousness in between the various commands, as Jesus lets us know in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

As it is, then, it's a checklist--so to speak--that identifies the life of God within an individual. It is meant to resonate with a regenerate heart, on which God has written His law. Only then can the outward commandment find something inside that agrees with it, and then it is useful for directing our behavior in ways that may please God.

 

Otherwise it hits the garbage inside, finding no place of agreement with our self-willed and rebellious soul, and we have the odd case of good stuff in garbage out. This leads us to the conclusion that the garbage that comes out was in there to begin with.

 

Paul uses the example of "thou shalt not covet." A good command. Once God's grace has written His law in our hearts the commandement can google our insides--so to speak--and actually gets a hit on "thou shalt not covet." Or better yet, it hits "Godliness with contentment is great gain"--I.e. the positive righteousness which covers the gaps between the commands. This is why Paul tells us of the fruit of the spirit, patience, gentleness, self-control and such (positive righteousnesses) that against these there is no law.

 

Otherwise, in my yet-to-be "rethought" fallenness (how do you like my lingo?), the only hit "thou shalt not covet" can find in me is "Did you mean 'Corvette'?" And now I've really got something to covet.

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