This is the 7th Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy. The immediate preceding blog is Reading the Old Testament in Consonance with the Saints.
For the Jews, Torah is God’s gift to His people. Torah is more than just God’s rules as it is God’s instruction to His people on how to live on earth – It is God’s eternal Wisdom offered in a manner accessible to humans. Torah is for the Jews what Jesus the Incarnate Word of God is for Orthodox Christians. St. Paul upon encountering the Risen Lord Jesus received a calling to proclaim a new agreement between God and His people and the world. St. Paul came to understand that Torah could not cure what was ailing humanity since the fall of Adam in committing the ancestral sin. Torah, for St. Paul, is God’s Wisdom and instruction, but St. Paul came to believe its role was intended to be temporary serving to prepare the Jews and the world for the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ. The Torah could not make us righteous or holy, but it did point out our rebellious sinfulness quite well. With the coming of Christ, the Torah has been fulilled and God’s new covenant inaugurated.
“It was probably during the exile in Babylon (my note: circa 597-538BC) that the so-called Five Books of Moses, also known as the Torah, were edited into their final form, highlighting the ancient story of slavery and freedom, of exile and homecoming, of oppression and Passover—but also setting out the pattern of life for the people who had thus been rescued. When God frees you from slavery, said the Torah, this is how you must behave, not to earn his favor (as though you could put God in your moral debt), but to express your gratitude, your loyalty, and your determination to live by the covenant because of which God rescued you in the first place. That is the logic underlying the increasingly focused study and practice of the Torah from the Babylonian exile to the time of Jesus and beyond.
The Torah was never intended as a charter for individuals, as though anyone, anywhere, might decide to try to keep its precepts and see what would happen. It was given to a people, edited by and for that people, and applied (in the postexilic period at least) to that people; and at is heart it was about how that people would live together, under God and in harmony—that is, justice—with one another.” (N.T. Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 82)
The Torah was never meant to be the Jewish book of magical incantations and spells, which any individual anywhere could pick up and learn how to use for his/her own benefit or to manipulate God. Torah was meant to inform, form, transform and prepare a people who would then accomplish God’s will on earth to be a light to the nations and bring all to salvation. The Torah was meant to be read and lived within the community of believers. For St. Paul, that community – the Jews – lost sight of what the Torah was meant to be to them and what they as the chosen people were meant to be to the world. In effect, the people of God, meant to be the ark of salvation as Noah’s ark was to him and his family, had failed in their mission to be a light to the nations. Instead they came to revel in being God’s chosen people who alone received God’s favor.
“The covenant may have been rock-solid on God’s part, but as Genesis tells the story, it was anything but solid on Abraham’s part. Right from the beginning we run into the problem that will haunt the narrative throughout: What happens when the lifeboat which sets off to rescue the wrecked ship is itself trapped between the rocks and the waves, itself in need of rescue? What happens when the people through whom God wants to mount his rescue operation, the people through whom he intends to set the world to rights, themselves need rescuing, themselves need putting to rights? What happen when Israel becomes part of the problem, not just the bearer of the solution? As cheerful old Rabbi Lionel Blue once said on the radio, ‘Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.’ The Old Testament underlines that on page after page.
But if the God who made the world out of free, boundless, energetic love now sees his world in rebellion, and his rescue operation flawed because of the people chosen to carry it out, what is he to do?” (N.T. Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 75)
The answer, so Christians believe, is that God sent His own Son into the world to save the world. Jesus Himself became what Israel was meant to be; for Jesus made incarnate in the world God’s revelation, wisdom and Word. Jesus did what Torah could not do – reunited God to humanity and healed all of the brokenness and divisions caused by sin.
Next: Jesus Fulfills Torah