Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Spirit of the Law and the Letter of the Law

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, April 1, 2013:  Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30

“You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself."  Deuteronomy 22:12 (NKJV)

The Law as recorded in the first five books of the Bible is an amazing thing.  In it we find a clear moral code, but we also find a seemingly endless sequence of detailed instructions.  It ranges from marital relationships to how to build a house.  It deals with clothing and gardening. 

I am struck by the violent nature of many of the laws.  For example, an insubordinant son is to be stoned! (Dt. 22:18-21)  Almost any sin requires that SOMETHING die -- a heifer, a sheep, a goat, or a bull. 

Then, right in the midst of a bunch of "Thou shalt not's" we read the words, "You shall make tassels on the four corners of your clothing" (Dt. 22:12).  It is far too easy for New Testament believers to dismiss all Old Testament law as outdated and irrelevant.  But, remember, that law also includes "Thou shalt not kill... thou shalt not commit adultery ... thou shalt not bear false witness."  It is obvious that certain portions of Old Testament law have very real application today and are to be LITERALLY obeyed.

But then, what is this thing about the tassels?  Is God telling us to literally tie little twisted strings to our belts or shirt tails?  If so, WHY? 

It is worth noting that many within Judaism DO interpret this passage literally.  There is a practice in which orthodox Jews wear something they call tzitzit (pronounced "sit-sit").  It is a specially knotted ritual fringe that is worn on the hem of one's garment.  It is worn for two purposes: first, to remind the wearer of the commandments of God, and second to tell the world that this person is seeking to obey God.

I believe that there is something far more important here than the strings on the end of your shirt.  Why does God tell His people to do this seemingly trivial thing?  The answer lies in our understanding of THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW vs. THE LETTER OF THE LAW.

God is not interested in the edge of your garment.  He is interested in YOUR HEART.  Again and again, in the Old Testament, we read words like these: "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart." (Ps. 51:16-17). 

These tassels do not make a man more holy.  They are nothing more than the knot we at times tie on our finger to help us remember something.  That's it!  God is not telling us how to dress, He is telling us TO REMEMBER!  -- to remember Him!  -- to remember His Word!  -- to remember to trust, to believe, to live fully for Him!

The letter of this law says that we all need to make little knotted strings so that we can tell the world that we are holy.  The spirit of this law says that we are to REMEMBER the Lord our God in all that we say and do.  It truly is a matter of the heart.  If our hearts are right with God, then our lives will shine with His love and grace.  That is the objective God is after.

1 comment:

  1. Numbers 15:38-41 tells us to remember the commandments of YHVH and do them. As you said, not to make us more holy. No act of obedience can make a person righteous or holy.

    I wear the fringes because I want to, and because my Father in heaven said to do it. I have not found a good reason not to. This implies that I intend to keep all of His commandments as much as possible. It is not to achieve self-righteousness by keeping rules. I want to because He is my Father and I love Him. His teaching is written on my heart.

    You're right that the letter of the law is not sufficient to make us understand what God wants. We need His Spirit to teach us and cause us to remember what He said.