“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

Continued from The Torah, Foundation of Covenant Continuity: Introduction.

The law, also referred to as the Law of Moses, consists of four of the five Pentateuchal books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Torah (“instruction,” “teaching,” or “law”) is the compilation of the four Pentateuchal books mentioned, together with the first book Genesis. Although perhaps less explicit than books like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in terms of Mosaic law, Genesis provides both history and instruction, and like the other books of the Pentateuch, it is also attributed to Moses and offers a revelation of Yahweh to the people. The terms “Torah,” “Pentateuch,” and “Books of Moses” are each synonymous of one another. What is more, it is worth mentioning that “Torah” may also be used to refer to the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh,[1] as a whole; however, this study will adhere to the more precise meaning: the five Pentateuchal books. The Torah also presents a biographical account of the life of Moses. Something to note, “The Decalogue”, “The Ten Sayings”, or “The Ten Utterances” are all other names for the Ten Commandments.

The law not only functions as the covenantal terms God established with ancient Israel, which includes both God’s expectations of His people and what the people can expect from God, but the Torah also reveals the character of Yahweh, which undergirds our modern theological understanding and biblical application. “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45, ESV).[2] Deuteronomy defines how the people of Israel could enjoy relationship with a holy God by issuing various edicts for obedience by which the covenant would be upheld: “You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deut 12:2). 

But the Pentateuch also imparts a vision of a Messiah priest-king, which John Sailhamer observes as having been woven into its compositional strategy;[3] for example, consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 18: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (15), and “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (18). Roy Gane also attributes the Torah to more than a mechanism to regulate human behavior; however, like Sailhamer, the purpose Gane posits is to “teach God’s covenant people how they can enjoy the life, the good, and the blessing that he promises to those who love him and ‘walk in his ways’” as stated in Deuteronomy 30:16.[4] Gane goes on to acknowledge an important delineation in chapter 30; that the law is not simply Mosaic in that Moses is not the originator, but rather, the communicator of God’s will to the people and presents them with the choice whether or not to uphold their side of the covenant relationship.

The dominate theme of the Torah, and probably the OT as a whole, is the life of Israel; a narrative history unfolding in the shadow of Sinai in view of its covenant relationship. As Paul writes to the Galatians about the need for the law: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (3:19), and the apostle goes on to explain in verse 24 that the law “was our guardian[5] until Christ came.” Therefore, without the Torah there would be no grounds on which Paul could have one day spoken of the grace of God that is in Christ as redeemer and deliverer, and it is in this vein that the Torah takes on a strong pastoral role.[6] Keeping the law is a human response to God’s grace and not a way to merit His favor (cf. Deut 5); therefore, this NT theme is not new at all.

Despite conceding various reasons why the book of Deuteronomy is interpreted as supporting a perception of legality, beginning with its name meaning “second law,” Daniel Block makes an impassioned argument that the dominate voice heard in the Pentateuch is not that of a lawgiver. Instead, by ascribing sermonic features to Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy, Block advocates for a pastoral interpretation of the Torah.[7] Block finds agreement with both Sailhamer and Gane in the affirmation that the Torah functions as “an invitation to an ongoing relationship with YHWH through feasting and fellowshipping in his presence,”[8] as well as a challenge to the people to “never to forget YHWH’s saving and providential grace, and never to forget the economically marginalized in the community.”[9] “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut 14:2) Setting aside legalistic presuppositions and engaging the Torah through the lens of grace, a pastoral exhortation emerges within its pages that is unmistakable. This messianic vision, according to Sailhamer, is incorporated into the compositional strategy of the whole Pentateuch: “It is the compositional glue that holds it together and gives it a shape. The Prophets and Writings sections of the Tanak are a detailed exposition of the Pentateuch’s messianism;”[10] therefore, the law does not simply function as a code. On the contrary, the Pentateuch not only extends and deepens a messianic vision throughout the rest of the OT and into the New, but the Torah establishes the supremacy of faith, and the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promise.

Not rejecting its legal and ritualistic function, this more comprehensive understanding of the role of the Torah, which encompasses the revelation of Yahweh, origins of creation, national and conventual history, pastoral and sermonic features, and an invitation to a relationship with a sovereign and loving God, though not exhaustive, presents a more robust picture of how the Pentateuch, and by extension the OT, functions within the event space of ancient Israel. As Block explains, “the so-called ‘Deuteronomic Code’ (Deut 12–26) has a predominantly pastoral and didactic (rather than legal) flavor,” which Block substantiates this position: “the semantic range of תּוֹרָה, is much better captured in Greek by διδασκαλια or διδαχη, rather than νομος as the Septuagint renders the term”[11] Consider Exodus 34:6: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’” In response to Israel’s idolatry, Yahweh reveals Himself as merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and overflowing in love and devotion. The next section will explore how the Torah operates as a foundation of this love revealed throughout the rest of Scripture.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

[1] Jacob Neusner, The Emergence of Judaism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 57.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[3] John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2009), 236.

[4] Roy E. Gane, Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 17-18.

[5] Whereas, the ESV translates παιδαγωγὸς as Guardian in verse 24, other translations prefer trainer, tutor, or schoolmaster.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), 79.

[7] Ibid., 79.

[8] Ibid., 99.

[9] Ibid., 101.

[10] Sailhamer, 236.

[11] Block, 109.

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