Tim and Jon discuss why God gave so many laws to ancient Israel in the Bible. There are 613 laws found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and they were the basis of God's covenant with Israel. What role does the laws play in relationship to the overall narrative of the Old Testament?
In this episode, Tim and Jon go deeper into the themes introduced in our video, “The Law.” What is the purpose of the Old Testament law, and what does it have to do with Christians today? The guys will talk about how the laws were given to the ancient Israelites and how they contribute to a larger narrative about human nature and God’s plan for creation. There’s a lot to unpack here, and there’s definitely something we can learn by understanding these ancient commands.
In the first part of the episode (01:28-22:02), the guys talk about some of the issues with calling the first five books of the Bible, or the Torah, “the law.” These books contain laws for the people of Israel, but “torah” actually means teachings or guidance. Even the laws that you do find are usually in a narrative structure.
In the last part of the episode (22:16-47:03), the guys talk about the purpose of the law. The law wasn’t given to the whole world; it was given for the covenant people of Israel. The reason they exist was so that Israel would be set apart from other nations and God could bless all of the nations through them.
Video: This episode is designed to accompany our video called, "The Law." You can view it on our youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BGO9Mmd_cU
Book References: "The Pentateuch as Narrative" by John H. Sailhamer
"The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible" by A.J. Jacobs
Scripture References: Exodus 20-23 Numbers 14-15
Show Music: Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music Blue Skies by Unwritten Stories Flooded Meadows by Unwritten Stories
Podcast Date: October 20, 2015
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hey, this is the first episode of The Bible Project podcast. My name is Jon Collins.
Today, I'm going to be talking with Dr. Timothy Mackie, PhD, the Co-creator of The
Bible Project with me. We recently put a video out on The Law and there was a ton
of stuff we had to cut out of the video. We have to do this and every video. So this is
a conversation to fill out all the things that we left out, but also to go deeper into
the things that we brought up in the video but couldn't dig deeply into.
In this first episode, we're going to talk about what are these laws, how did ancient
Israel get them, what was the purpose of these laws. In the second episode, we're
going to look at how the Old Testament prophets thought about the law and the
need for a new heart to obey the law. And then we're also going to look at Jesus and
how he jumps in the conversation and turns things on its head.
This has been amazing for me to listen to and discuss and I'm glad you guys are
joining the conversation. You can follow us on Twitter, @JoinBibleProj,
facebook.com/jointhebibleproject. We'd love to hear from you. All right, here we go.
Let's get started from the beginning. First of all, when you say or when I say, "law,"
what am I even referring to there? What's the law?
Tim: In the Old Testament, a law is a command that God gave to the people of ancient
Israel. That's what the laws are in the Old Testament. There's a lot of them, but
they're all concentrated in one set of books in the Old Testament that are within the
first five books called the Torah, which is translated into English as law.
Jon: We talked about in the video how that translation is a bit confusing. Why did we
translate it into law?
Tim: The English rendering law of the Hebrew word "torah" comes to us through...About
200 years before Jesus, there was a large Jewish community living in Alexandria,
Egypt, where it was a center of Greek learning and language. That's where the first
translation of the Bible was ever made into Greek. It was the Hebrew Bible being
translated to Greek.
Jon: That was the Septuagint?
Tim: Called the Septuagint, yeah. The translation of the word "Torah" into Greek was the
Greek word "nomos." Just law. That's just kind of passed into Greek and then Latin
and English throughout the years.
Jon: And why did they choose nomos?
Tim: That's a great question. Nomos was just one of the standard Greek words for—
Tim: Well, I'm not that much of a Greek scholar. So off the top my head I actually don't
know the historical origins of the Greek word nomos.
Jon: But they must have looked at that section of Scripture and were like, "Hey, there's a
lot of laws here."
Tim: Yeah. The nomos is the appropriate word to talk about a command. Actually, "torah"
isn't the only Hebrew word for law. There's about five different words that bring out
different nuances. Just like in English we have law, command, regulation.
Jon: This is what I was wondering. In Hebrew, when I use the word torah, does that mean
command law or did that just refer to the first five books? It's just what they called
it? What's the etymology of the word "Torah"?
Tim: The word torah comes from a verb yarah which means to teach or instruct. Then the
word "torah" is a teaching or instruction or principle or guidance. That's what the
word torah mean.
Jon: So even in Hebrew, the idea is these are books of teachings, of guidance, of laws.
Tim: Teaching or guidance, yeah. Within the Hebrew Bible itself, that word is sometimes
used to talk about the commands where the laws or regulations that you find in
those first five books of the Bible.
Jon: In Psalm, a lot of times David will say, I love your law."
Tim: "I love the Torah."
Jon: "I love the Torah" - and he's referring to those five books. But is he referring to the
books or is he referring to this idea that God gives us commands?
Tim: Well, that's a million-dollar question.
Jon: I answer that question I get a million dollars?
Tim: I wish.
Jon: It's a lot of money in Hebrew.
Tim: That's the 10th question I guess. It can refer to the body of teaching and instruction
that God has given. But in the history of Israel that body of teaching and instruction
began at Mount Sinai. And so, torah became the way to refer to the first five books
of the Bible because there were so many laws in it.
But part of what we're doing in the video is saying that's misleading, it's confusing,
because it leads you to think that those first five books of the Bible are a law book or
a law code. Their purpose is to teach you to obey the laws. But the laws actually
don't appear until you're 69 chapters in to the Torah.
If the Torah is a law book that you're supposed to read and then obey the laws, it's a
very strange one. It's a very strange one. Within Jewish tradition, there's actually a lot
of debate about this. Where does the Torah actually begin? Does it begin once the
first commands are being given, in which case that would be the commands about
Passover in the Exodus story, or does it begin as a narrative, in which case the
purpose of the Torah is something different?
So the Torah, the way it presents itself to us is a story - and the story has a moment
in it where laws are given to the people of ancient Israel. But those are framed in a
narrative framework. And you approach a story a different way than you do a law
book. You read them with different kinds of expectation.
Jon: I don't read a lot of law books so I don't even really know what that would be like.
Tim: I've read one.
Jon: The Constitution?
Tim: People would go to bed reading dictionaries. Like read dictionary.
Jon: Do you know someone who does that?
Tim: Yes, I know, a friend right now who reads five dictionary entries a day of words - to
learn new words.
Jon: But not to fall asleep. Just to learn new words.
Tim: I just made that up. It's an imaginary scenario. But they read the dictionary. They just
are going through the dictionary.
Jon: A dictionary would be a good example of the type...If it was a law book, it's just
entries. You can choose any entry and you can say, "Okay, this is..." And it would
probably be alphabetized in some way, or arranged in a way that was easy to find -
like a glossary.
Tim: I have a few friends that are lawyers. I went in one's office once; he was looking at
his reference books. It's all online now. It was referenced series of case laws and it's
arranged by topics, and it's summaries of the cases and then the law statutes that
were established by that case. And it's all arranged with indexes, and you can look
up topics and stuff.
Tim: The Torah that's in the Bible, it's definitely not that.
Jon: So the question then is, did ancient Israel have that? Was there ever a document that
they had was, "Just here's the whole constitution. Here's the whole list of laws that
you have to follow as an Israelite?"
Tim: Yeah, that is the question. It's a safe assumption to say, "Yes, Israel had some kind of
religious/political/legal constitution that governed their life as a people. What we
have in the Torah, first five books of the Bible is a selection from that constitution.
The basic confusion that we're trying to clarify is people identify the Old Testament
or the first five books of the Bible with Israel's constitution that they lived by. I think
the reason we conclude it is just because there's so many. The official number in
Jewish tradition...A scholar named Maimonides gave the official report of 613 laws
between Exodus 19—
Jon: Why does he get credit for that? I mean, you just have to count them. That doesn't
sound very difficult.
Tim: Well, there's repetition. We're in. So here we go. Some laws get repeated. One law
"don't cook a baby goat in its mother's milk" gets repeated three times. The
tabernacle instructions. There's a lot of repetition of laws. It's a very odd law book
because there's lots of repetition.
So there's debate exactly about how many there are, how do you count repetitions,
and so on? So Maimonides gave the official report of Rabbinic Judaism.
Jon: So that's one of the reasons why we're confident that this isn't the law book that
they had? Because, why would you have a law book that repeats laws?
Tim: Yeah. Why would you have a law book that begins with 69 chapters of a story? The
first 11 chapters...
Tim: The first 11 chapters of the story have nothing to do with Israel. They about the
nations and floods and that kind of thing. Second, why are the laws broken up into
all of these chunks and sections and drops right into a flowing narrative? Why are
some of the most basic laws that you would think should be there aren't in the laws?
Jon: Like what?
Tim: Like 613 laws, there's only two about divorce - any guidance for divorce whatsoever.
There's laws about marriage, but there's only two laws about divorce, which is one of
the most basic human institutions of dealing with marriage and divorce. There's two.
And even those two are not very clear and they assume a whole bunch of other laws
about divorce and remarriage underneath them that are not in the Torah. So there's
a lot of laws like that.
If you actually wanted to run the temple sacrifice system just based off the
information in Leviticus, you don't have.
Jon: You don't have enough?
Tim: Nowhere near.
Jon: So how would we rebuild the temple then and reinstate a new sacrificial system? Not
that we're planning on doing that, I'm just wondering like what—
Tim: There are people who plan on doing such things.
Jon: There is?
Tim: There is a body of literature around the Torah that clarifies all those gaps, that fills it
in, that gives...and those are the traditional Jewish documents called the Mishnah
and the Talmud, which are at their heart commentaries on the 613 laws in the Torah,
and then expanding and developing and adding new laws to clarify, fill in the gaps,
to make it a comprehensive law code that people can actually live by.
Jon: So if you need some more guidance on divorce, you go to the Mishnah and the
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: In the video, we talked about how these laws are interspersed in the narrative and
that you think there's a design to how that's done. Where did you learn that?
Tim: The first two teachers that I had - one in college Professor named Ray Lubeck taught
Old Testament at Multnomah University in Portland, and then the second was a
Hebrew Bible scholar named John Sailhamer, who taught at a lot of different
schools, but he taught in Portland for a few years at Western Seminary...
So, man, foundational reading on the Pentateuch or the Torah is a book that
Sailhamer wrote called "The Pentateuch as Narrative." It's a commentary on the first
five books of the Bible, but it's a commentary that's trying to explore the Torah as a
His basic thesis is that the Torah is not a book of law, but it's a book telling a story
about the laws given to Israel. And that the point isn't that you read this book and
think, "Oh, I need to go obey these laws." It's to get a message from the author
actually about my incapability of truly obeying God's law and how I need God to
transform my heart to make me into a person that can truly love and serve Him.
That's pretty different message. Pretty different ways of viewing the message of the
Torah. One is, obey the laws - viewing it as a story that's trying to tell you something
about the laws and about human nature. It's pretty different.
Jon: In the video, we talked about laws were given, like the first is at Sinai - the Ten
Tim: Ten Commandments come first. Israel comes out of slavery in Egypt, they go to the
foot of Mount Sinai. God says, "You're going to be a kingdom of priests, you're
going to be my unique people set apart to show who I am to the nations." That's
what priests do. Then come the Ten Commandments, then comes the first chunk of
law after that called the book of the covenant or the covenant code. It's Exodus 23.
The first two commands: don't have any other gods, don't make idols, don't murder,
all that, and then the covenant code is thrashing all that out for Israel Iron Age
farming communities. But it's thrashing out what the Ten Commandments look like
in about 50 more commands. Then there's a narrative, the laws come to a close. And
then the first narrative after the giving of the laws is about Israel breaking the first
two laws of the Ten commandments worshiping the golden calf.
Sailhamer's, point is if you pay attention to the storyline of the Torah, you'll see a
pattern of laws of Israel rebelling or disobeying or breaking the laws. Then comes
another big block of laws given to Israel at Mount Sinai, then another story of some
failure or sign of failure, more laws, failure, more laws. You can follow it right
through all the way through the book of Numbers, which is not most people's
favorite book of the Bible.
Jon: Because there's not just laws, there's big block of census.
Tim: Yeah, there's huge census list. I mean, it's hard stuff to get through for most modern
readers. But Numbers you can just see it. The Israel rebels. It's the same principle as
why is there a sign in front of this business building that says, "No loitering." At
some point, somebody came along and loitered for way too long and distracted
customers, and so, "Oh, we should do something about that. Put up a sign."
Jon: Or like why do I have a sign...I don't have one of these. But why would you have a
sign that says, "No soliciting."" It's because you the third or fourth time you got
interrupted when you were reading dinner and you're like, "I'm just going to put a
Tim: Yeah. They come to your door at the worst times and they want signatures for this or
that. It's that principle. It's more laws come as a result of some violation or some
rebellion or something wrong. And that basic principle is what you see throughout
the design of the Pentateuch.
Jon: There is stories of Moses going back and consulting with God and getting more
Tim: Yeah, totally. That's exactly right. Israel comes to Mount Sinai, and they are there,
"Wait for three days. Don't touch the mountain," then God's presence is going to
come down, and then the people were called to ascend the mountain but they don't
when God's presence comes down because they're scared. So Moses goes up
Then he receives the Ten Commandments and the first block of laws. Then he comes
down, golden calf debacle, the golden calf incident. Then it goes back up and
intercedes for Israel, and God renews the covenant. And then you get a little quick
summary in Exodus 34 of the covenant code from 20 to 23.
Then Israel's at Mount Sinai for a year receiving blocks of laws as the tabernacle is
being built and as the priesthood is being instituted, and so on. But then once they
set out into the wilderness, there's a story of rebellion. One of these plagues come
as a result of this rebelling and so some people die.
Then you get a block of laws in Numbers 15 about dealing with impurity and
corpses and dead bodies. I mean, it makes sense. So the need arose for more clarity
about what to do with dead bodies and so they get laws about it.
Jon: Was the idea there that there's all these dead bodies and Moses is like, "Okay, let's
go consult with God," and he gets more laws? Or they already had these laws, but as
an as a way to teach, we're going to place the laws at this point in the narrative?
Tim: We don't know. We just know this is how the Pentateuch is designed. At a story
where some people die, then the next chapter is a law.
Jon: I always had in my mind, Moses just gets the whole constitution. I always wondered
how he got it all on two tablets.
Tim: There's two things relevant just to give a complete answer. At the end of Numbers,
there are some people who come to Moses and say, "Hey, the existing laws we have
about how to observe Passover, or what to do with like the inheritance of the land,
we have some questions, and there's no law for it." So Moses goes and inquires of
the Lord, and then comes back with more laws.
Tim: Then the book of Deuteronomy is for the new generation, the children of the Exodus
generation whose parents died in the wilderness. And then Deuteronomy, the core
of the book, chapters 12 to 26 is a whole hundreds of laws. Some of them repeat
laws from the earlier sections and then a whole bunch of them are brand new. So
that's Moses in a new location - not Mount Sinai - unpacking more laws for the next
generation. So the laws come in stages throughout the story of Moses. That's how it
goes in the storyline.
Jon: The Torah is called the law in English. It even means that in Hebrew.
Tim: But more precisely it means teaching or instruction or guidance.
Jon: And it all culminates the end with Moses giving the speech. And one of the things
Moses says is, "Hey, guys, you're not capable of following all these laws."
Tim: Yeah. He said, "Both from experience..." He spent 40 years with this group of people
so he knows that they have not been able or faithful to follow the laws, and he
predicts that that just going to keep on happening. That Israel is going to fail at
being covenant partners with God and obeying these laws.
What's important is right as the Torah is coming to an end, he says, "You guys
signed up to obey all these laws, and you signed up to the consequences of it, which
is blessing, God's blessing and things going good if you are a nation of justice, and
obey all the laws or curse and devastation and exile if you don't."
We do point this out in... not this video. In a different video. In the Deuteronomy
video. I was thinking about how it recalls the human condition from...
Jon: Deuteronomy, it will come out in November of 2015. We'll talk more about blessing
Tim: But the design of the Pentateuch is to parallel the story of Israel receiving these
commands and not obeying them. The design of the Pentateuch parallels Israel with
Adam and Eve in the garden receiving a command and also breaking it and going
into exile and so on.
So part of the design of the Torah is that Israel becomes a case study in human
nature in general, that we seem to not want to do what we're told to do. We don't
like people telling us what to do.
Jon: So when you come to read the Bible, you're a regular guy, you decide, "I'm going to
read through the Bible," and you get going, there's 69 chapters of narrative, it's kind
of weird stuff, it's ancient literature, it's hard, but you're getting through it. And then
all sudden, you get into the guts of the Torah and it's a bunch of really just lists of
laws. Some stuff are really obscure and weird, some stuff makes sense. Most people
stop, they can't get through it. That's always a problem with the law.
But then the other problem which is connected to it is, as you're reading them, I
think the question you start asking yourself is, "Why has this been preserved for me
to read? Why is this in the Holy Book of my tradition? Am I supposed to follow these
laws? Maybe just some of them." Because the Ten 10 commandments are actually
pretty legit, we kind of stand by those. But then there's other ones like boiling a
goat, and it's mother's milk or ways of grooming different things, you're like, "I'm
not going to do that."
Tim: So what are they there for? What should I do about them? If I believe the Bible in
some form to be a divine and human book or God's Word, what should I do with
these laws? Why are they here? What do I do with them?
I have a handy dandy list of Sailhamer's four roles of the laws in the Pentateuch. It's
a great list. It's in his little book "The Pentateuch as Narrative." First of all, the laws
are not given to all humanity, they're not given to all of the nations, they're given to
the people of ancient Israel as a part of the covenant God made with them.
So you have to ask yourself first, why are these here? They play a role in the storyline
of the Torah, which is that God wants to bring his blessing to all the nations. And
He's going to do that through people, somehow, who will live by these laws in their
own context, in this case, Israel, and embody a new vision of justice and community
and business and family and marriage that sets them apart from the nations.
Moses, in Deuteronomy 4 says if Israel obeys the laws, it shows they're God's
wisdom and God's righteousness to the nations. So, I think you can say the author
has included all of these laws to give us, not a comprehensive, but a full vision of
what life for Israel was like according to these laws. But they are a sample. It's a large
sample, but it's a sample of the actual constitution.
Jon: So that's number one.
Tim: That's number one.
Jon: Number one is these were written specifically for ancient Israel.
Tim: Yeah. Numbers 1 and 2, they were written to show me the reader of the Torah what
life was like under the covenant at Sinai and to show how God's laws were to affect
all areas of their life individually and corporately.
Then two, those laws were to shape Israel so that other nations like me to, you know,
3,000 years later look in and when I read those laws and their ancient context, and I
can see, oh, wow, those are principles of wisdom and justice that God was pushing
Jon: So you think even now, as a modern American you can look at those ancient law
codes and see the wisdom of God?
Tim: Yes, totally. I think there's precedent for that. Within the Bible itself, Moses said, the
nations will look at the laws and see justice.
Jon: Sure, the nations back then who slaughtered the children and stuff.
Tim: Yeah, totally. That's right. No, but that's important. I think it's important to see that
these laws didn't drop out of heaven for all people of all time. They were for Israel at
that time in their history. When you compare the laws in the Pentateuch to laws on
the same topics in Babylonian, the code of Hammurabi or Assyrian laws, I mean, it's
really a step forward.
Jon: You see the wisdom of God.
Tim: When you read them only in comparison to modern Western law, they'll seem
bizarre to you. But when you compare them to other cultures that share the same
worldviews and many of the same cultural practices, you can see women and
servants had a much better life in ancient Israel than they did in ancient Babylon,
largely due to the laws in the Torah.
Jon: What I hear you saying is one of the purposes of the law in the Bible is so that us,
people of other nations can read it and see the wisdom of God.
Tim: Good summary, Jon.
Jon: But we don't have the context of what life was like around that time. Maybe we can
kind of read between the lines a bit—
Tim: You mean if I only read the Bible?
Jon: If you only read the Bible. If we didn't have The Code of Hammurabi if we didn't
have modern - what's that called when you dig stuff up from the ground?
Jon: Archaeology - we didn't have archaeology, then I wouldn't be able to see is clearly
the wisdom of God. Is that a design flaw in the Bible?
Tim: Man, that's more a question about the nature of the Bible. If the Bible is something
like divine golden tablets dropped out of heaven that tell humans what to do so that
they can go to heaven after they die, then boy, the Bible just does a really poor job
of being that kind of document. It was written in ancient Hebrew, I mean, how are
you even supposed to know what any of these words mean if you don't learn an
Here's what it is. The Bible itself is the product of God working with, speaking to, and
working out His purposes in human history. And the Bible is the wedding of God's
Word written and expressed through humans who lived at certain times and places
And so, our modern kind of Western ideal is equality, the democratic ideal and so
we think, "Well if God was going to ever reveal himself to all humans—
Jon: "Do it in English."
Tim: Actually, I was thinking of the UN meetings where everybody gets headsets and
they're just hearing everything automatically in their own language. But that's what
we think. All of a sudden, idea that God would start revealing himself at a point in
history through a people and working himself out, in this case, Israel, and reveal
what to the Israelites were huge steps forward in justice. But now we look back and
it seems archaic to us.
That's just the fact that God has chosen to work within history to reveal himself. You
just got to reckon with that or else nothing in the Bible is going to make a lot of
sense to you, I think.
Jon: Sure. So one of the purposes of the law is to...these are principles. So first principle is
these were laws specifically for ancient Israel. The second principle is they show
other nations the wisdom of God. And that's where I got hung up, because it's like, I
don't see that as clearly as I would if I lived in—
Tim: If I lived in ancient Israel.
Jon: If I lived in ancient Babylon and I got these texts, I might go, "I like this God. This
God seems wise." But I read it as a modern Westerner and I think, "Wait a second,
does He not know about...?"
Tim: You can actually see that in the history of interpretation of some of the laws where
they're meaning was lost to history but then recovered. The law I mentioned earlier
about "don't boil a baby goat and its mother's milk," it's the only law that's repeated
three times. It's the only one that's repeated three times in the Torah.
And what a boil a baby goat in its mother's milk?
In Jewish tradition, what that came to mean is somehow cooking something in the
life liquid of the same species that it came from, don't do it. It's cruel, it's bad. And
that was discerned as the principle underneath the law, which is why in Jewish
kosher law as far back as we can tell, the separation of dairy and meat is law. Kosher
laws, cheeseburgers are off limits.
Jon: That's why?
Tim: That's why.
Jon: Because of that law?
Tim: Because it's putting dairy on to the meat.
Jon: Same principle as boiling a goat in its mother's milk?
Tim: Yeah. The rabbis discern what's this law for, why is it there three times, God doesn't
want us mixing a source of life with something that is dead, of the same kind. So
don't mix milk and meat. So kosher restaurants have a veggie side where there's
dairy, and then a meat side where there's no daily.
Jon: And you use different plates?
Tim: Different plates, different dishwasher, all that kind of thing. What is interesting,
though, is that late 1800s, archaeology and Israel Palestine in full swing, there was a
full excavation done in the ancient Canaanite city dating to about the same time as
Joshua. It's called Ugarit. They discovered a library there, huge library. And it was the
first thing like it, biggest library of Israel's neighbors ever found. There was a temple
But within the library are all kinds of texts that read like Leviticus. They're like priestly
tech manuals for guidelines for the priests to do. And for one, there's a ritual that
mentioned boiling animals in the milk of their mothers. So this was a Canaanite ritual
practice that involved in the worship of Canaanite gods. And one of the purposes of
the laws was to set Israel apart from the nations. So that's an example of where the
meaning of a law was lost to history but then we found.
Jon: So that had nothing to do with cheeseburgers.
Tim: Well, then that's the debate. I mean, that's the debate. And so you have to say,
"Wow, that's interesting. And is it possible that we have this whole practice within
kosher law that actually wasn't perhaps what the law was originally intended to
communicate?" I think that's probably what happened.
There's lots of things like that, where there's something in the Bible, a word a phrase,
a law and its meaning was lost to history once the historical circumstances passed.
That's why biblical scholarship is so awesome because we can learn. We actually are
still learning about the Bible. There's all kinds of things that are coming to light in
light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other stuff.
Jon: That's a bit scandalous. You know, you come with this perspective of the Bible is
everything I need for life and godliness, God gave us this complete library of
literature, but we're 2,000 years after Jesus, and we're still discovering how to read
this thing correctly.
Tim: You can respond to that in a number of ways. One is, narrative is so welcome into
the human brain and psyche, you can read the Pentateuch if you're looking at it as a
narrative and get the idea of the storyline. Even if you are clueless about what half of
these laws meant in their context, you can get that oh, Israel's given these laws, they
don't obey them. They're given more laws; they still don't obey them. They're given
more laws. Like you get it.
And then Moses says at the end, "Yeah, you don't obey them, your hearts are hard,
you need God to change your heart."
Jon: You don't need to be a biblical scholar to figure that out.
Tim: No. You do need to learn how to read stories that are written differently than
modern Western novels. I think a reader who's willing to put in the work can totally
get what the message of the story is.
Jon: So at that level, which is a really important level, the barrier to entry is very small. But
then the well goes deep, and we're still uncovering these facets of these texts, that
up until we dig something out of the ground, we just didn't know.
Tim: Yeah, you don't know what you don't know until you did you dig stuff up. That goes
back to what the nature of the Bible is, that God has revealed himself within history,
which means that God has communicated through people who live in cultures and
speak languages and language - unless God's going to speak to us all in UN
headphones, which He clearly has chosen not to do.
Jon: He blew that opportunity. That would have been awesome. If I could just wake up
and put on a set of headphones and then God just tells me what's up that day...
Tim: Oh, man, imagine.
Jon: He's just like, "Hey Jon. Today you're going to be really tempted to be mad at your
wife and your kids. For these reasons, just patience. Also, you're going to get tired
around 2:30, I recommend a walk." And I'm like, "Cool, thanks, God. I'm on it." Then
He's like, "And love your neighbor." I'm like, "Got it."
Tim: You are not too many steps to move from the theology of the Spirit Holy in the New
Testament. I'm not joking. Maybe not the Spirit telling you to go for a walk part but
Jon: But why not? I'm just saying He could do it through UN headphones. That would be
Tim: This joke isolates part of the problem, I think the story of the Torah is trying to point
out though is that the laws were good and they serve those purposes of setting
Israel apart, God's wisdom and justice, but the laws were not adequate to completely
guide and reshape the broken human condition to live in love and obedience to
God. The humans need something more than just to be told what to do. Somehow
just telling people what to do is not a long term solution.
The reason we make decisions is tied into our affect, like what we want, what we
desire, motivation, not just because it's the right thing to do. Clearly, if we all did
things just because it's the right thing to do, human history wouldn't look the way it
Jon: So the metaphor that Moses uses, and then also the prophets pick up on is a new
heart. Or does Moses actually use circumcise your heart?
Tim: Moses uses the word "hard heart."
Jon: Hard heart.
Tim: Yeah. Actually, this is Sailhamer's third point about the role of the law is that the laws
in the context of the story show that Israel's heart, that their will and moral
sensitivities were actually so broken that they were incapable of obeying the laws.
This is counterintuitive.
There are 613 laws. And Sailhamer's point is if you read the story, the story is trying
to tell you Israel didn't and can't obey the laws. Why are there so many laws in
there? Wisdom of God that whole thing, but also to show you that they didn't and
they can't. There was that thing - the guy who tried to live by all the laws.
Jon: He did it for a year or something. The Year of Living Biblically? Is that what it is?
Tim: I'm just going to pull it up. Yeah, for example, AJ Jacobs, "The Year of Living
Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible."
Jon: I remember hearing interview with him and he like even stoned a woman. He like
threw pebbles at her because she committed adultery or something. He literally took
little pebbles and just pegged her with them.
Tim: That's a great example. The Year of Living Biblically, Sailhamer would say - and I
don't think he's right. He's missing the point of the Torah. Because it's saying, "Oh,
there's 613 laws in the Bible. The Bible's message to me is obey these laws. So I
guess I'm going to follow the Bible. I'm going to."
And Sailhamer's point would be, "No, the Torah is a story, and you follow a story by
reading it to get its message and then responding to its message." So following the
Bible, if you read the Torah as the story, would be to get on my knees and say, "Dear
God, please change my heart so that I want to love my neighbor and love you."
Jon: But if I was a Jew, let's say post-exile, and I'm doing that very thing, I read that story
and I go, "Oh, man, I need a new heart," I still going to try to keep the Sabbath and
all these things because I'm a Jew.
Tim: Totally. That's right. Because they were the—
Jon: That's my culture. That's my heritage.
Tim: Your culture, people who as the tribe they still saw themselves in that covenant. So
the third thing would be in the narrative, the laws are demonstrating this point: Israel
did not and cannot keep the law.
Jon: And then it points to a solution.
Tim: So by that design, the laws then, fourthly, are pointing to the real problem.
Jon: Then we explored that in the video. We showed how the narrative continues after
the Torah. They go into the land; they continue to break the laws. Just story after
story. You got the time of the judges. Those are pretty gnarly times. Then you've got
the time of the kings.
Tim: Yeah, the books of Samuel, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.
Jon: And there's some good moments.
Tim: But the story at every significant figure is a story of some rise, initial rise and a time
of blessing and goodness and obedience, and then a crucial failure to follow the
laws, and then it demise. And that that story for all of the leaders is then playing out
in the life cycle of the nation of Israel as a whole.
Jon: And then that that part of the story ends with Babylon taking them into the exile,
which is kind of what Moses predicts.
Tim: It's what Moses said would happen.
Jon: So that all plays out so. So what Moses predicts in the Torah comes to be and so this
leads the reader to go, "Oh, okay, I get it. They're incapable of following the law."
Tim: That's right. An extended case study...
Jon: Long extended case study.
Tim: ...make a third of the Bible.
Jon: We're third the way through the Bible and we've just thoroughly seen over and over
that the human condition is—
Tim: We're really bad off. It's like watching "Breaking Bad" or "The Godfather" trilogy, you
just walk away feeling dirty.
Jon: But highly entertained.
Tim: But highly entertained.
Jon: And you learn a few things about human nature.
That's it for Episode 1. The next episode is us talking about the prophets, talking
about Jesus, and Paul and New Testament Christians, Jewish and non-Jewish
followers of Jesus wrestling through what do we do now with these laws. You can
watch the video we made on the law. It's at youtube.com/thebibleproject. We have a
lot of other videos on there. They're all free and we're really proud of them. We hope
you like them. Thanks for being a part of this with us.