Laws: God-Made & Man-Made

In the previous blog entries, we have been showing God is a God of order and a provider. This week, we will show why God gave the laws he did and what man has done with them.

God’s Laws

According to the Dake’s Study Bible notes, there are 2,713 commands in the Law of Moses not including the 109 commands in Genesis. These laws have a purpose.

Religious laws, rituals, and feasts taught the Hebrew people:

  1. A form of government.
  2. A time of festival.
  3. How to know and walk with Him on a daily basis.
  4. For their protection. The “no’s” in the Bible were to keep them safe.
  5. Blessings. The scripture gives blessings.
  6. Warnings. God would rather give blessings than woes.
  7. A picture-to-person and a timeline of events.

God’s Law is good. The priests followed the laws that God had given the Hebrew people through Moses. But as usual little changes were made here and there. Since the Israelites return from Babylonian captivity though the 400+ years between Malachi and Matthew, many more changes occurred mostly brought about by two major Jewish sects.

The Two Major Jewish Sects

In the time of Jesus, there were two major sects: Pharisees and Sadducees. The two groups didn’t particularly like each other. However, they did, in general, get along with each other because they had found their niches in Jewish society. The Parasees oversaw the Synagogues while the Sadducees oversaw the Temple. But, they were united in their hatred of Jesus.

The Pharisees

  • Viewed the whole Old Testament (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) as authoritative.
  • Accepted both the written and oral law.
  • More liberal in interpreting the law than were the Sadducees.
  • Quite concerned with the proper keeping of the Sabbath, tithing, and purification rituals.
  • Taught that the way to God was through odedience to the law.
  • Progressive thinkers regarding the adaptation of the law to situations.
  • Exercised great control over the general population.
  • Tended to have a self-sufficient and haughty attitude.
  • Opposed Jesus because He would not accept the teachings of the oral law as binding.

The Sadducees

  • Accepted only the Torah as authoritative.
  • Practiced literal interpretation of the law.
  • Rigidly conservative toward the law.
  • Stressed strict observance of the law.
  • Opposed oral law as obligatory or binding.
  • Materialistic.
  • Exercised great political control through the Sanhedrin, of which many were members.
  • Opposed both the Pharisees and Jesus because these lived by a larger canon—not just the Torah.
  • Opposed Jesus specifically for fear their wealth/position would he threatened if they supported Him.

Cite: The content of these two lists came from Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions by Broadman & Holman Publishers, pp 88–89.

The Pharisees changed Judaism from a religion of sacrifice to a religion of law. At the same time, the Sadducees corrupted the Temple practices though greed and self-serving. The people were taught the modified laws. These two sects enforced these changes until the religious leaders believed them to be true.

Unfortunately, this is a sad fact about mankind. Laws start out good. Then loopholes are sought. And, changes are made which twist and dilute the intent of the original laws. In this case, they put a yoke around the Jewish people similar to what the Egyptians did to the Hebrews. This is what made Jesus angry about the money changers in the Temple.

Man’s Law

For example, ancient rabbis formulated a list of 39 general categories of work that are prohibited on the Sabbath. The 39 Melakhah (מְלָאכָה) or “prohibited activities and skills” are part of the Oral Law of Judaism. Believed by Jewish teachers to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the written law.

The 39 (fourty minus one) Melakhah

  1. Plowing earth
  2. Sowing
  3. Reaping
  4. Binding sheaves
  5. Threshing
  6. Winnowing
  7. Selecting
  8. Grinding
  9. Sifting
  10. Kneading
  11. Baking
  12. Shearing wool
  13. Washing wool
  14. Beating wool
  15. Dyeing wool
  16. Spinning
  17. Weaving
  18. Making two loops
  19. Weaving two threads
  20. Separating two threads
  21. Tying
  22. Untying
  23. Sewing stitches
  24. Tearing
  25. Trapping
  26. Slaughtering
  27. Flaying
  28. Tanning
  29. Scraping hide
  30. Marking hides
  31. Cutting hide to shape
  32. Writing two or more letters
  33. Erasing two or more letters
  34. Building
  35. Demolishing
  36. Extinguishing a fire
  37. Kindling a fire
  38. The final hammer-blow (putting the finishing touch to a newly manufactured articles)
  39. Carrying from the private to the public domain (and vice versa)

Jesus and His Sabbath Miracles

On a number of Sabbaths, Jesus chose to miraculously heal several people suffering from various illnesses. Of course, all of these healings broke the commonly accepted rabbinical interpretations of Sabbath law. The Jewish law forbade the people to receive medical attention on the Sabbath.

Examples of oral laws the religious leaders said Jesus broke on the Sabbath:

  1. By mixing dirt and spittle to make salve for the blind man in John 9, Jesus broke the Sabbath law against preparing mixtures for medicinal purposes. John 9:16 (KJV), “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man who is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.”
  2. By saying to the disabled man of Bethesda, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8 (KJV)), Jesus bid the man to break the Sabbath law against carrying. The Jewish leaders, in John 5:10 (KJV), said to the cured man, “It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.”
  3. By healing the cripple woman in Luke 13, Jesus broke several Sabbath laws. The Mishnah states that one “may not straighten a deformed child’s body or set a broken limb” on the Sabbath. Although this law may not have applied to this woman, He set her body aright on the Sabbath.

Jesus also broke the Sabbath law because by healing this bent-over woman, He had in effect untied a knot. Luke 13:16 (KJV), “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”

Jesus Himself also broke the Sabbath law against carrying. Matthew 8:17 points out that by healing so many people of their diseases, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4 (KJV), “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

Why did Jesus take the risk of breaking the Sabbath laws?

  1. Through His miraculous life and ministry (such as healing on the Sabbath), Jesus fulfilled specific prophecies, proving that He was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.
  2. As the Messiah Jesus had the authority to supersede the Sabbath. It was taught that in the days of the Messiah a new Torah would be given to Israel.
  3. As the Messiah, Jesus had the authority to correct, reinterpret, and even change the Sabbath laws.
Matthew 5:17–18 (KJV)
17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18For verily I say to you, Till heaven and earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
John 2:16 (KJV)
And “[Jesus] said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.

Jesus driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple shows His zeal for true holiness and prayer among those who claim to worship God. The priests were finding fault with the offerings where there were no faults so people would have to buy their offerings from the sellers.

Isaiah 56:7 (KJV)
Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.

Jesus makes it clear that God’s house was meant to be a “house of prayer” for Gentiles as well as Jews. The buying, selling and money tables were taking place in the court of Gentiles, making it impossible for the Gentiles/nations to pray.

Jesus, as the Messiah, understood that the people and their needs were always first in God’s sight. In Matthew 12:11–12 (KJV), Jesus said, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it shall fall into a pit on the sabbath, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” Compassion and caring were to be supreme. Human needs were to be put before animals and rituals.

Added on 12.17.2010: Someone just found this page by searching on the terms “John 5:17 Melakhah”. This verse fits very well with this lesson. Jesus had just healed the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda. This occurred on the Sabbath (John 5:9). Read John 5:16–18. In John 5:17 (NIV), Jesus justified his action by saying, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” The desire to kill Jesus became all the stronger because of this.

The Corban Vow

Matthew 15:1–6 (KJV)
1Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

3He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4“For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”6‘then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

In Matthew 15:1–20, Jesus confronts the Pharisees about how they valued their traditions over God’s commandments in the Torah. But, Jesus held off His desire to confront them on this topic until they challenged Him. So, exactly what is the issue?

Remember that the religious leaders started adding their own traditions (man-made laws) after the return from Babylonian captivity. One of these traditions was called the “corban vow”. By taking this vow, the person committed to give a certain amount of money to the Temple. In their eyes, they were giving money to God. But by taking this vow, the person was excused from supporting their aging parents. The excuse was that they couldn’t do both.

So, many people, especially the Pharisees, were taking this vow to get out of the responsibility of caring for the elderly. This is why Jesus spoke about how the Pharisees valued traditions over God’s commandments. For the Torah stated:

Deuteronomy 5:16 (KJV)
‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

David and the Law

David, in Psalms 119, shows us how God intended us to feel about His Law in our lives. We know it is a long chapter but please read Psalms 119 even though it may take a few days. If you have the Bible on audio CD or in MP3 format, listen to it. David uses the following words, repeatedly, to describe the law in Psalms 119.

Word “law” and synonyms in Psalms 119 (KJV)

25 times
21 times
18 times
21 times
22 times
22 times
38 times
167 times in 176 verses

David did not find God’s law a burden. He rejoiced in them. He wanted to learn them. He wanted them implanted in his heart! David was a man after God’s own heart because he loved God’s precepts. Here are a few verses from Psalms 119:

Psalms 119:12–15 (KJV)
12Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.

13With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

14I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.

15I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

Psalms 119:97 (NIV)
Oh, how I love your law!

I meditate on it all day long.

God gave us rules from his Holy Word and through local, state, and national governments. We are to pay our taxes and obey these laws as long as they don’t go against God’s laws. Yes, over time the priests and religious leaders modified the laws and added new ones such that they became a burden to the People. This is happening today in our churches, denominations, and our governments. We, as individuals, even put a yoke around our necks when we try to fit God’s Word around the lifestyle that we want. This happens because of man’s sinful nature. However, let us rejoice in God’s commandments because he made them for our protection and guidance.

Next week, we will we will teach about offerings.

Until then,

שָׁלוֹם (Shalom!)