Saturday, August 5, 2017
A New Perspective on the Law of Moses Might Surprise you!
If we were to play the game “Tell Me the First Thought That Comes Into Your Mind,” and I were to give you the cue “The Law of Moses,” your response would be quick. You would probably say, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” And if I were to ask you what that means, you would say, “It means that if I put out your eye, you get to put out mine.” You would go on to explain that Jesus brought us a new law that would teach us to love one another rather than to take revenge. Interesting. I have spent the last several decades in Sunday School classes, trying to correct this erroneous perception of the Law of Moses.
Firstly, who gave the law? Was it Moses? No, it was the Lord. And who was the Lord? He was Jehovah, god of the Old Testament, who would be known on earth as Yeshu or Y’shua — Jesus. Would Jesus have given a law of retribution and revenge to his Chosen People? We know he gave them a “school-master” law, meant to train them to be a treasure unto him. But a law of vengeance would be a poor teaching tool to prepare them for anything godly. Secondly, was the Golden Rule first taught by Christ during his ministry? Was the Law of Moses devoid of commandments to love one’s neighbor? Consider this verse from Leviticus, one of the five books of the Bible which contain the Mosaic Law:
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 (emphasis added)
“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:1 “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. “And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: “And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Mark 12:28-34 So let’s begin again. Pretend you know nothing about the Mosaic Law, and let’s build from there — A HOLY PEOPLE When Jesus came, when he finished his atonement for our sins, He fulfilled the types given in the Law of Moses, and He ended blood sacrifice. Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19 (emphasis added) The Laws of Reparation or Restitution outlined in the Law help us to understand the process of repentance. When we injure someone, we restore as best we can and ask forgiveness. Jews restored fourfold, often more, to insure that restitution was complete. This is a basis for charity; making restitution leads us on the path to developing Christ-like love. The Law contains policies of justice, generosity, liberty and equality that were practically unknown outside ancient Israelite society. It differed from the systems of other societies in that it wiped out class distinctions, prohibited harsh and unjust punishments, and guaranteed compensation for victims. This legal system has provided a foundation for every just legal system since then in the Judeo-Christian world.
PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW
One of the priorities of the Law of Moses was protection. Most important, was the protection of the society as separate and holy. That is why the death penalty (or banishment or just reparation)2 was mandated for the following crimes and sins: Idolatry, premeditated murder, kidnaping, witchcraft, sexual perversion, adultery, desecration of the Sabbath, disobedience to parents, robbery (looked
upon as a sort of military intrusion, different from simple theft). All of the above crimes and sins, if left undisciplined and unchecked, can ruin a society, family by family. The part about disobedience to parents might have startled you. You are probably running to show your children right now. There were always caveats in the Law to guarantee humaneness. The parents had to accuse the child, and they had to throw the first stone. The Lord knows how much parents love their children. There is no record of this punishment ever being carried out. But the children knew the commandment existed; they knew how important it was to be obedient to God-fearing parents. And the parents were aware of their responsibility to teach their children righteousness. (Read the Book of Samuel to see how the priest, Eli, was disciplined for not reining in his sons.) Protection for the poor, for women and children, for widows, and for servants,3 was also guaranteed and provided for under the Law of Moses. Provisions for the poor were many. Gleaning, as described in the Book of Ruth, was an excellent system. The farm owner left the corners of his field unharvested. Also, when the rest of the field was harvested, anything that was dropped was left for the poor to glean. (This system is being experimented with in modern times.) Women, under the Law, were absolved from the strenuous details of ritual worship. Marriage was considered sacred. Levirate marriage, where the brother of a deceased man took responsibility for his wife and household, guaranteed that widows would be cared for. (Note that this often necessitated a polygamous marriage.) The stewardship of husbands and fathers were outlined, so that everyone in a household would be cared for and protected. The legal system of the Law of Moses included protections for the accused. Confessions were not considered enough to declare a person guilty. Witnesses were required. Witnesses had to take part in punishments, thereby making them take their jobs very seriously. The accused had to have a friend in court. This is one of the requirements that proves the trial of Jesus was illegal — since he had no friend in court, the case should have been thrown out.
(For a good summary of Jewish court law, read The Illegal Trial of Christ, by Steven W. Allen, 2005, Legal Awareness Series, Inc., Mesa, Arizona.)
COMPENSATING THE VICTIM
And now, back to “an eye for an eye.” Remember, that under the Mosaic Law, someone who injures another person or his property is accountable to the victim, not the state.5 This is infinitely more fair than our current penal system, where the victim is often uncompensated. Harrowing up in his mind what suffering a similar injury would be like, the perpetrator was expected to fully extend himself to compensate the victim. Usually, he would pay money, as we do in civil suits, but he might also work off his debt by indenturing himself to the victim, perhaps part time while continuing his normal duties and family life. His servitude could only last six years, however, for in the Sabbath year, he was freed. This encouraged forgiveness on the part of the victim. If the criminal refused to make reparations, or if his offense was against the community, he could be whipped, but lashing was limited. The infamous “cat-o-nine-tails” of the Romans, which laid open the back, was certainly not a Jewish invention. Only deliberate murderers were surely put to death. Many others chose exile to a non-Israelite society, and other capital crimes could be compensated for by making reparation with money or labor.
NO JEWISH POLICEMEN
Offenses were brought before the court, and witnesses were provided. Policemen were not necessary under this system. Nor were prisons or dungeons. When we read of the clandestine trial of Jesus Christ, we see that wicked men had taken the Law into their own hands and bent it to fit their own will. The system, however, was righteous, having been instituted by the Savior himself.Though the laws of blood sacrifice were fulfilled and done away with by Christ, the other laws as given to Moses continued in their efficacy and desirability. The Law of Moses was and is a law of charity. The 613 commandments are called mitzvot, a word with two meanings. It means both “laws” and “good deeds.” The laws are meant to guide men through this life in kindness; they are laws of ethics. So what was the “new law” instituted by the Savior? It was to extend ourselves in charity past our own capacity to love and forgive, and surpassing our own capacity, to cry unto him for that gift of charity that only he can give, thus blessingthe victim, and the repentant sinner.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING RESTITUTION
One important lesson for the Latter-day Saint in the Law of Moses, is the importance of making restitution during the process of repentance. Why is it so difficult to repent of the “sin against the Holy Ghost,” murder, or adultery? It is because making restitution is nearly impossible. The sin against the Holy Ghost is to deny the Christ once we have a sure knowledge of him; the Lord says it is equivalent to crucifying him anew. It is impossible to restore what we have destroyed. In the case of murder, one cannot restore a life. In the case of adultery and fornication, one cannot restore stolen virtue. The Lord taught the Israelites that there is no such thing as a “victimless crime.” Any shortcoming we might manifest influences or harms others. We are encouraged by our leaders to constantly, daily repent. As we do so, we bless the lives of others around us, restoring damaged testimonies, feelings, and sensitivities.
REFERRING BACK TO THE LAW
Section 98 of the Doctrine and Covenants dictates laws governing persecutions and afflictions and the Saints’ response to them. The pattern and instructions given to early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints exactly follows the Law of Moses. In verse 32 it says, "Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles." This reference helps us to see Moses as a restorer, and not an originator of the law. He was reclaiming a people whose ancestors had been taught and trained by prophets from the beginning of time. Everything those prophets taught, every law they gave, pointed to Christ and prepared them to be his people.