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Posts Tagged ‘the Law’

We are beginning to draw to a close our ‘on again, off again’ series on the kings of Judah from 2 Chronicles. To give us some perspective on where we have been, we have looked at: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Manasseh and now Josiah. We will have covered 300 years of history.

Josiah – the basics

  • He began to reign at eight – 34:1. His father had been assassinated, which is why he became king so young.
  • He reigned thirty one years – 34:1.
  • He was righteous. As 34:2 says, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”
  • He began to seek the Lord when he was 16 years old, in the 8th year of his reign. As 34:3 says, “while he was still young, he began to seek the God of David his father” (NIV)

The 12th year of Josiah reign

This is when he begins to reform God’s people. Remember, Manasseh, his grandfather spent most of his time as king, 55 years, promoting various forms of idolatry. And his father Amon also took this policy. So idolatry was deeply ingrained throughout the land of Judah and the territory of the former northern kingdom of Israel, which had been destroyed by Assyria. Now here Josiah is, 20 years old, trying to set things right.

First, he destroyed Judah’s idols. “He began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them.” – 34:3-4.

The story goes on to tell how he scattered the dust of the idols over the dead idol priests graves and he burned the bones of the priests on their altars – thus defiling the altars.

Next, he destroyed Israel’s idols, that is, the territories north of Judah. 34:7 says, “he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel.”

The 18th year of Josiah’s reign

This year is the focus of the rest of our story today. He is now 26 and he accomplishes more in this one year, than any other king in terms of reform (only Hezekiah comes close).

Five things need to be pointed out here: 1. The temple restoration. It needed repairs – 34:8. As it says in v. 11, the previous kings had let it go to ruin, presumably Manasseh and Amon.

A collection from both Judah and Israel was given for the work – 34:9-11. So we again see that some in the former kingdom of Israel were connecting with Judah.

The Levites oversaw the work – 34:12-13. It notes in particular the Levitical musicians, who it says, “were over the burden bearers and directed all who did work in every kind of service . . ..” This is interesting. Were they simply supervisors, or did they play music at the work site to set the pace? Its not clear.

2. The “Book of the Law” is rediscovered. 34:14-15 says, “While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses. Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.’”

It may have been hidden in the temple during a time of invasion or threat from an unfaithful king, like Manasseh or Amon.

This could refer to all five of the books of the Law, from Moses, the first five books of the Bible. But most think that this refers to a particular part of the Book of the Law, that is, the book of Deuteronomy.

The book was read to Josiah – 34:15-18. Deuteronomy is clear that breaking the covenant, as they had done, would bring judgment and exile. 34:19 says,  “And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes.” As Josiah says, “For great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.” – (v. 21). He knew they were in serious trouble.

So he sent messengers to see if this would indeed happen – 34:21. They found a prophetess named Huldah, who gave them . . .

3. A prophetic word. She said that, because the people had forsaken God (v. 25) and committed idolatry, judgment would come. “Thus says the Lord, behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah.” – 34:24

She goes on to speak out God’s word in v. 25 – “. . . my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.”

But she also had a word for Josiah. Because his heart was tender and he humbled himself before God when he heard the Book of the Law (v. 27), “Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants.” – 34:28.

So he got mixed messages. Unstoppable judgment for the people. But kind regard for him as king.

After hearing all this, Josiah didn’t despair, but acted to do what was right. He gathered everyone together at the temple, to carry out a . . .

4. A covenant renewal ceremony. He read to them the book of the Law – 34:30. And then he recommitted to following God’s covenant. It says, “And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” – 34:31.

He also led the people to recovenant – 34:32; to be faithful and to do God’s will as well. And he also “made all who were present in Israel (the northern territory) serve the Lord” – 34:33.

The rest of v. 33 sums up, “All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.”

Finally, 5. The celebration of Passover. We won’t get into all the details of this. We looked at Hezekiah’s Passover celebration several weeks ago.

Suffice it to say that Josiah’s was even more grand. For instance, they had nearly twice as many sacrifices at this celebration.

35:18 says, “No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah . . ..” A sweeping statement!

On this high note, Josiah ended his 18th year as king – 35:19.

Lessons from our story

1. Young people can do great things for God. When he was 16 he began to seriously seek after God for himself. Not because of parents, or circumstances, but from his own heart and desire.

And this is what we look for in those who come for baptism. But this is a call to all our young people whether you are baptized or not. Are you seeking after God? There are so many distractions in the world. Give yourself fully to seeking after God and you can do great things for God as well.

When he was 20, he was a leader who began to act as a reformer. Do we as a congregation have room in our midst for young people to serve and to lead?

When he was 26 he accomplished all his great reforms. At 26, he was one of, if not the greatest of all the descendents of David. So, yes, young people can and should be serving and leading and doing great things for God’s kingdom.

2. How to respond to God’s word. Josiah was walking in the light he had. But then they found the Book of the Law and read it to him, he responded immediately to all that was new to him, to obey God’s word. He sought to make things right, when he learned how far off track they were.

When we read the Scriptures, when we hear the word, when we learn something new – we also need to respond immediately to obey God’s word in our lives. When we find out that there are things in our lives that need to change, may we act like Josiah, with humility and speed to make things right.

Finally, 3. How to go about covenant renewal. This is one of several examples of this in 2 Chronicles.

What I want to say is that, since we are in a process of covenant renewal, we can learn from Josiah how to do this the right way.

34:31 says, he “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.”

Our hope, as Elders, is that as we go through our covenant renewal that each of us will take it seriously. And that we will all reaffirm our trust in and obedience to our Lord Jesus. And that it will come from our heart, and that we will make it with all of our heart and soul, like Josiah.

William Higgins

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I want to share with you some teaching today that speaks to the big picture of how we interpret the Scriptures, but which also deals with some specific aspects of Christian obedience; things that are rarely or never talked about.

We begin with the big picture question, which is: Are Christians supposed to keep the Law of Moses? For instance:

  • Are Christians to keep the Sabbath, that is, Saturday, as a day of rest?
  • Should Christian men be circumcised?
  • Should Christians eat only clean foods and abstain from foods like pork?
  • Should we maintain ritual purity for example, if we touch a dead body?
  • Should Christians tithe according to the precepts of the Law?

It seems like there has always been confusion among Christians about the role of the Law of Moses in the Christian life. Didn’t Jesus change things? Didn’t Paul teach that it is no longer binding?

Well, I want us to look at the answer given by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29. But first we have to note, by way of background, that . . .

Jewish Christians continued to follow the Law of Moses

Jesus himself was Law observant, all the way down to wearing four tassels on his garment (Deuteronomy 22:12/Matthew 9:20). Oh, he stretched some things now and again, like touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4; Numbers 5:1-4), but this was to heal the leper. And even in this case, he told the leper to follow the Law of Moses to be certified as clean.

And not only was Jesus Law observant, he also taught his Jewish disciples to keep the Law. As he said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them.” (See Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23).

Now for sure, Jesus rejected the human traditions, or the “tradition of the elders” (the oral law) which the Pharisees used as a guide for keeping the Law (Matthew 15:1-9). Rather, he gave his disciples his own teaching and example as a guide (Matthew 23:10) which clarifies and perfects the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17). So for instance, with regard to the Sabbath: his Jewish disciples should keep it, but recognize that mercy has priority, which is why Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14).

Paul also kept the Law. James, the brother of Jesus, and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, who was himself famous for his strict observance of the Law, bears witness that Paul was Law observant in Acts 21:20-24:

  • When Paul came to visit Jerusalem, James spoke of how the Jewish Christians there were zealous for the Law.
  • But, they had been told a rumor that Paul was teaching Jewish Christians to forsake the Law.
  • To counter this, James had Paul publicly go through a Mosaic vow ceremony.

James says in v. 24, “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”

Now, these Jewish believers, didn’t keep the Law in order to be saved by it. Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. They kept the Law because Moses is the authority that God has placed over them, just as we submit to the authorities that God has placed over us and the laws of our land. And the authority of Moses for Jews will not pass away until the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:18.

The Jerusalem Council

But what about Gentiles? Should they keep the Law? There was a heated debate about this because Jesus didn’t leave any specific instructions on this point.

  • Some taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and become fully Law observant Jews in order to be accepted by God (Acts 15:1; 5). [To be circumcised is to commit to obey the whole Law of Moses – Galatians 5:3]
  • Paul and others taught that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised and keep the Law, to be fully accepted by God (Acts 15:2).

So, there was a gathering to settle this issue, the apostles, along with the elders of the church of Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, called the Jerusalem Council.

They decided that Gentiles are not required to keep the Law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:13-19). As Peter said:

  • Gentile Christians, like Jewish Christians, are “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).
  • They are “disciples” of Jesus, that is, they obey Jesus’ teaching (Acts 15:10).
  • They have received the “Holy Spirit” as a witness to their salvation (Acts 15:8).

But Jewish Christians would continue to keep the Law, not for salvation, but in submission to Moses.

So this helps us to understand the bigger picture of Scripture, why some passages sound like the Law is to be followed; talking to Jewish Christians (see again Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23). And why others sound like the Law does not need to be followed; Paul talking to the Gentile Christians.

Now to the issue of specific behaviors – that are rarely if ever talked about. It was also decided at the Jerusalem council that there was one portion of the Law that Gentile Christians should observe.

We see this in what is called . . .

The Apostolic Decree

. . . a letter that was sent out to the Gentile churches. It says in part,

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” – Acts 15:28-29.

This letter gives three essentials that apply to everyone: 1) Do not eat idol food. 2) Do not eat blood (or what is strangled, because the blood hasn’t been drained). 3) Do not practice sexual immorality

If we ask, where do these essentials come from? It is quite clear. These refer back to Leviticus 17-18, which talk about these same issues in the same order as in the Apostolic Decree: 1) Idol food – Leviticus 17:1-9; 2) Eating blood – Leviticus 17:10-16; 3) Sexual immorality – Leviticus 18.

So the decision of the council was that, Gentile followers of Jesus do not need to submit to the Law of Moses, except for a particular part of it that comes from Leviticus 17-18.

What does this mean practically in terms of specific behaviors? 1. Do not eat idol food. This isn’t a pressing issue in our context today. It was huge for them, and still is in some parts of the world. But basically it means, if you know the food has been offered up to an idol, don’t eat it.

2. Do not eat blood. This means that our meat needs to be butchered so that the blood is drained, which is the common practice today. (The widespread acceptance of the Decree in the Gentile churches and the later influence of the church on society no doubt played a role in this being common today). And also don’t eat dishes that have blood in them.

3. Do not practice sexual immorality. This seems self-explanatory, but Leviticus 18 gets pretty specific, you know, beyond just the basics, (you can read the whole chapter yourself, I rate it at PG 13 or above). Here are three examples:

  • Do not marry close relatives – vs. 6-18
  • No sexual relations during menstruation – v. 19
  • Do not engage in same-sex acts – v. 22

Alright, as I said, some of this is never really talked about, but this is God’s will for our lives. As the letter said, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (the apostles and elders)” – Acts 15:28. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Why these three items?

It’s because they teach a ‘creation righteousness’ that is not Jewish specific, but applies to all people, everywhere.

  • Why can’t we eat food sacrificed to idols? Because God is our Creator and we are to have no participation with idolatry or false gods, including idol food. This applies to everyone, since God created everyone.
  • Why can’t we eat blood? Because the life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17) and the life belongs to the Creator. Originally God only allowed a vegetarian diet. God gave Noah permission to eat meat, but then only without the blood (Genesis 9:4). So this command applies to all the children of Noah; that is, to all people.
  • Why can’t we engage in sexual immorality? Because our Creator has established the boundaries of sexual behavior. And as the end of Leviticus 18 makes clear, Gentiles are held accountable to these boundaries. The Canaanites were judged, in part, for the sexual immorality described in Leviticus 18. These boundaries apply to all people.

Finally, what about Paul and the Apostolic Decree?

Well, he was there, he shared, and he supported the Decree – which, in fact, vindicated his position. Act 16:4 says, “As Paul and Timothy went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.”

He supported the specifics of the Decree. Now, there is no discussion of eating blood in Paul or anywhere else in the New Testament, other than Acts 15. But on the issue of idol food, Paul taught his people not to knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols – I Corinthians 10:14-22. (See also Revelation 2:20). And on the issue of sexual immorality, numerous examples could be given. Here are two: no incest (I Corinthians 5:1) and no same-sex behavior (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

He also supported the general principle of the Decree. This gets us back to the big picture level. All were to follow Jesus’ teaching and example as Christians, and then according to the Apostolic Decree:

  • Jewish Christians continued to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-24)
  • And Gentile Christians were only to keep the three essentials from the Law (Acts 21:25)

Paul affirms this in I Corinthians 7:17-20:

“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision in nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

He is saying, if you are a practicing Jew when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t give up your observance of the Law; don’t remove the marks of circumcision. But, if you are a Gentile when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t seek to start obeying the Law of Moses; don’t seek circumcision (at least not as a means of salvation).

Remain in the condition in which you were called, when you were saved. The Jew remains a Jew, the Gentile remains a Gentile. Just make sure, whether Jew or Gentile, that you are obeying God; that you are following Jesus’ teaching and example.

This is the mystery of God, according to Paul, that was hidden from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 3:1-6).

God has chosen to put together both Jews and Gentiles as the people of God.

  • Gentiles should not be forced to become Jews, which is what Paul fought.
  • And Jews should not be forced to be Gentiles, which is pretty much what has happened ever since the time of Paul.

Both Jews and Gentiles come together in Christ as one, on an equal footing.

____________

A footnote: The teaching of the decree was followed in Gentile churches for centuries as is evidenced in various church manuals and other writings:

  • No idol food: Didache 6:3; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:21.
  • No eating blood: Irenaeus Fragments xiii; Tertullian Apology 9; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:20.
  • No sexual immorality: The Apostolic Tradition 16:20; Apostolic Constitutions 6:5:28 forbids same-sex practice, intercourse during menstruation, etc. and appeals to Leviticus 18.

For an earlier version of this teaching – Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses

For a version of this teaching that focuses on sexual immorality and in particular same-sex practice – The voice of the Spirit and the Jersusalem Council on same-sex practice

William Higgins

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