Recently, I was looking at a website with a section called A Crash Course in Jewish History, and one quote from an article on the Ten Commandments caught my eye: “Because we don’t have the temple, 369 of the 613 commandments are no longer applicable today.” By the First Century, the law of Moses had been so analyzed that scholars could enumerate 613 separate laws – 365 negative/248 positive. In Matthew 22, one comes to Jesus and asks which is the greatest on these laws. In verse 37, Jesus answers with two commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
In Deuteronomy 4:2 begins by calling on the people of Israel to neither add to or subtract from the commandments, and, when we reach chapter 6, we come to the verse Jesus quotes regarding our love of God. Moses goes on from this command to love God to instruct the children of Israel to know the word of God as they know themselves. It can be an imposing thing to know so many laws, and I think many New Testament Christians look at the Bible the same way – as a list of do’s and don’ts. How many commandments are there that we have to keep?
Narrowing the List
In Psalm 15, David asks who will dwell with the Lord, and he reduces the law of Moses to eleven principles.
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
Even in these, we might find gray areas or have a hard time remembering all eleven principles. Isaiah 33:15 narrows this list down to five items – one who walks and speaks uprightly, rejects oppression, avoids bribes, does not listen to words of violence, avoids looking at evil. Taking things farther, in Micah 6:6-8, the prophet speaks of three things God looks for in His followers: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
After going from 613 to eleven to six to three, Isaiah 56:1 reduces the requirements to two basic principles. He calls on God’s people to keep justice and to do righteousness. Amos 5:4-6 calls on God’s people to seek Him, and Habakkuk 2:4 says the righteous shall live by faith. All of these come back to the same general ideas of righteousness, holiness, honesty, justice, and love. These are characteristics that are neither easy to follow, nor are they always encouraged.
The Foundation of God’s Law
I don’t think God looked at His law as 613 commandments. What He wanted and still wants from His people is holiness and uprightness. When Jesus answers the question of the greatest law in Matthew 22, He is telling His listeners to love God more than anything and to treat others the way you want to be treated. Love others even if they do not love you. Remember the Ten Commandments? The first four cover man’s relationship with God, and the rest relate to man’s relationship with his fellow man.
James 1:21 calls on us to put away wickedness and to receive God’s word into our souls, and James 2:22 tells us our faith must be living and active. Back in James 2:8, the author calls loving your neighbor as the royal law. We should respect the authority of God’s word and follow His pattern, but, in our daily lives, it can be as simple as putting God first and loving our fellow persons as ourselves. Instead of focusing on the checklist, we should be focusing on our God and those lives we touch every day.
by Tim Smelser