On the Fourth Day of Christmas
The Tapestry Project: An Update

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

Snow_4Doubtless there are many Christians who do not spend much time in the Old Testament, who regard it as full of obscure laws and a harsh and scary God who seems unlike the meek and gentle Jesus.  In fact, some would say we now live under grace, not law, and so all those laws have no place in our lives today.  That's a failure to appreciate and make distinctions among the various types of laws which we find in the Old Testament.

The five golden rings of the song are taken as symbolizing the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or Pentateuch.  And while these books certainly contain historical narrative, they are in fact full of laws -- ceremonial, civil, and moral laws.

The moral law is that which applies at all times and in all places.  Think Ten Commandments.  Murder is always wrong.  So is adultery.  These things don't become right even if a culture says they are right.  Furthermore, these laws are expressions of moral principles that carry in their penumbra more than just just the act proscribed.  Jesus so well expressed their far-reaching implications when, for example, he said that to hate someone is in fact to murder them.  The moral law applies to us all and indicts us all. This law is so embedded in the fabric of creation that many natural law theologians and philosophers can trace its outline in all cultures in all times.  Perhaps.

The civil law is the application of the timeless moral law to a particular cultural and historical context.  While these laws may not be appropriate to our context, they are instructive case law, showing how a particular people, the Israelites, applied a moral principle, and hopefully helping us see how to apply the principle in our own time and place.  Honoring our mother and father, for example, is rooted in the principle of submission to God-instituted authority, but how that might play out in a particular employer-employee relationship might be a matter of prudence, considering the specific context.

Finally, the ceremonial law, all those regulations regarding sacrifice, is truly abolished, now that the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God has been made.  These laws are still instructive in helping us better understand the sacrifice made by Jesus.  We don't offer sacrifices for sin anymore; Jesus died once for all sin.

Having said all this, I'm still aware that when I read the Old Testament it is a different experience than reading the New Testament.  God does exercise his justice more readily.  And yet throughout these books of law, I see God's grace, his restoration of his people.  It is, after all, one story told in one book.  Frankly, however, I long for the day when law is so written on our hearts that we need not even think of it.  It will be a part of who we are, as easy as breathing.  Soon.