Mitzvot (Matthew 5:18)

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

It is said that the Law of Moses has 613 mitzvot (commands). These range  from the well  known ten commandments to far more arcane sayings long considered irrelevant by modern society. From “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13) to “If a man dedicates to the Lord part of his family land, its value is to be set according to the amount of seed required for it—fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed.” (Lev 26:17). Just like in these two examples, some are negative (you shall not) and some are positive (you shall). 

Someone once counted that there are 248 positive mitzvot (“the Do’s”), and 365 negative ones (“the Don’ts”). In addition to the 613 laws of Moses, the Prophets added additional requirements, often in the form of pronouncements of blessings or woes. Witness Isaiah, “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”  and Habkkuk, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.” 

Obviously, God’s moral law is always applicable and always valuable. One needn’t question if the Christian should apply the ten commandments. But while the Christian who is under the New Covenant needn’t literally obey the Jewish ceremonial law, these other laws, commands and decrees (and woes and blessings) also have value. We just need to translate the principle behind them into our own culture. 

For instance, what Moses said about land is a sound principle to avoid both speculation and profiteering (consider the value of the land based on the use you can apply to it). Isaiah’s warning has value for any who look to expand their living space at the expense of others (community is more valuable than comfort), and the warning Habkkuk gives is highly relevant in an age when so many young people go out for social drinks. The Law of God is always relevant and always useful, even far beyond the context of the people to whom it was originally given. That is because what is most important is not the wording of the law as we read it (that changes every time we read it in a different language or translation), but the spirit in which it is given. We ought to obey the spirit of the law because “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The best worship starts with obedience.

So while the Christian is not under any obligation to obey the Jewish mitzvot to the letter, the Christian also must know that God’s law is always good, and that breaking the law of God is always a detriment. It is as Paul said, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.”  That is because breaking His commands is not only damaging to your faith, it lessens your own sense of blessing. The peace of God flees from you, the presence of God becomes almost impossible to discern, and the power of God unavailable. Effectively, you become diminished and not blessed. If you persist in that state, and if you exacerbate the situation by teaching others to do the same as you are doing, you eventually become spiritually blind. Nothing good will come of that! “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

Jesus’ warning must then be taken to heart most carefully: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

To come to Christ is to be under a yoke. It is an easy yoke, but it is nonetheless a yoke.

Michael P.V. Barrett

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

How are you fulfilling Christ’s law today?

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