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31st December, 2007

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Verity and justice: the “works of God's hands”

No doubt about it: Old Testament law often leaves us moderns scratching our heads as to its meaning and intent. Why on earth would the God of all mankind, the Father of Jesus Christ, the architect of the wonders of universal creation, have the slightest concern for the kind of clothes we wear, as evidenced by Leviticus 19:19?

You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.

Mixed cattle, vegetables, and clothing — who cares? Surely not God, who has His mind on far nobler concerns such as the salvation of mankind. Before one dismisses such words as evidence of lack of divine inspiration of Scripture we should note that these words come immediately after some of the highest ethical and moral teachings known in any historical writings:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (vss. 17-18).

Jesus quotes the last precept as the second greatest command in Scripture (Matt. 22:39). We must conclude that the command concerning mixed “things” has deeper significance than the words convey taken at face value. (Some scholars suggest that these proscriptions are examples of case law, in which a specific illustrative precept conveys a much broader principle. In this case, Israelites as a whole were forbidden from wearing garments which are specified as priestly in nature and from breeding different animals, etc, “because these are reserved for the sacred sphere and its officiants, the priests” [Jacob Milgrom, Law and Narrative and the Exegesis of Leviticus XIX 19, Vetus Testamentum, Oct. 1996]. At the “higher level”, Scripture is showing that we must not act presumptuously by seeking the role of

priest, a position assigned to a specific class by divine election.) Which brings us to the point — biblical law provides us with a magnificent window, albeit splattered with dust and grease, into the mind of God. Creation shows God's “power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20), Jesus Christ demonstrates His boundless love (John 3:16), while the law provides insights into other aspects of His infinitely wonderful attributes. In a recent editorial, “Let him who glories…”, we pointed out that God's justice, for instance, cannot be seen in His dealings with human beings today, and that we will have to wait until His future reign to see this divine attribute in all its brilliant glory. Saying that, however, does not mean we have no peep hole at all today into His sense of justice. Note this amazing passage:

The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them… The works of His hands are verity[‘emet] and justice [mishpat]; all His precepts are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth [‘emet] and uprightness [yashar] (Ps. 111: 2 & 7-8).

The “verity (faithfulness) and justice” of God are shown to those willing to study — and live by — the precepts, or law, of God, called here the “works of His hands”. Jesus kept the law and left no doubts that His followers should do the same (Matt. 5:17-20). This is not the time or place to exhaustively analyze which laws demonstrate the faithfulness and justice of God; that would undoubtedly take a book to explain. Note just two instances; the ninth commandment proscribes committing perjury and thereby imperiling the welfare of an innocent person. So the law proves that God hates injustice and so, by extension, is just Himself. The prophets, who provide commentary on God's seriousness about the law, show that He will bring a curse upon perjurers (Zech. 5:3) and that He will “come against” them (Mal. 3:5). Likewise, His faithfulness across generational boundaries (together with His mercy), is demonstrated in the command against idolatry (Ex. 20:4-6). Those who wish to probe the mind of God as fully as possible will study the everlasting precepts of life He has “made” and given us.


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