Commandment Intolerant

For the week of September 17, 2022 / 21 Elul 5782

Message info over a person holding their stomach and extending the other hand palm out

Ki Tavo
Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8 (English 26:1 – 29:9)
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22

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Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 27:9-10)

I am gluten intolerant. After testing negative for celiac disease, but based on my symptoms, my doctor advised me to stay away from wheat and other sources of gluten. What a difference it made!. I must admit, I do cheat, but rarely. When I do, it is with a sense of trepidation, as I anticipate discomfort.

With this picture in mind, it seems to me that many Christians are “commandment intolerant.” Any suggestion that God might have clear demands upon us, is deemed bad for one’s health, spiritual or otherwise. These folks seek to follow a strict commandment-free diet.

The commandment intolerant tend to regard commandments as part of an antiquated, detrimental Old Testament system. It’s as if God’s word to the ancient Israelites was nothing but damning evidence against their deprived irredeemable nature. Hundreds of commandments over hundreds of years had no other function whatsoever but to demonstrate human beings’ alienation from God as preparation for the coming of the Messiah. This appears to be backed up by New Testament statements such as:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

I don’t deny that this is indeed a function of God’s commandments. By revealing his standards to Israel, God makes clear to everyone the whole world’s fundamentally deprived condition. Accepting this is a necessary step in experiencing restored relationship with God through Messiah’s sacrifice on our behalf. This negative function, however, doesn’t automatically preclude one or more positive ones. Clearly, keeping God’s commandments resulted in all sorts of benefits, individually and corporately, be they health, agricultural prosperity, or national security.

Didn’t Yeshua himself say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Despite such a clear statement, the commandment intolerant claim that Yeshua’s approach is night and day different from that of Moses. Moses, they say, gave 613 commandments (which is really a rabbinic calculation. Whatever the actual number is, there are a lot of them), while Yeshua just gave two. The “two-commandment” version of the Messiah is a complete misrepresentation of what he said on the topic. Both references to the “two commandments” give “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 6:5) as the first, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:18) as the second. The Matthew version (Matthew 22:34-40) has a Pharisee who was also a Torah expert, ask “which is the great commandment in the Torah (Law)?.” In the Mark version (12:28-33), a Scribe asks, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” The differences in the identity of the questioners and their questions suggest that these are two different incidences. This shouldn’t be surprising due to how such questions were and are common in Jewish thought. While the two commandments are the same in each incident, Yeshua’s closing remarks are different. In Matthew’s version, it’s “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” In Mark, it’s that doing these “is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In both cases, Yeshua in no way diminishes the important of obeying God’s commands, but rather provides God’s perspective and priorities on how best to approach them.

A commandment-intolerant position cuts the reader off from Scripture. Whether you are reading the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Covenant Writings, there is just nothing that isn’t a commandment of some kind. Scripture doesn’t require “thou shalts” to be a commandment. Whether it is a “thou shalt” or a narrative section, Scripture is God’s revelation instructing us how to live. The all-wise God has graciously revealed reality to us. To ignore his directives, however spoken, is to purposely disregard God’s gracious benefits.

This is not to say that every single one of God’s commands in Scripture is for all people everywhere for all time. But that’s another issue for another time. Still, the only way to discern the ongoing nature of Scripture is to begin with hearts open to God’s instructions, whatever they may be.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


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