VIII. Israelite Torah:
When we hear the word "law," we typically think of secular authority or social statutes
for the guidance and preservation of a community. Israel knows of no formal or final separation
between civil and religious laws, between the secular and sacred dimensions of life. Every
breach of the law was understood as an affront to God and which diminishes us as well as our
fellowman. Further, we are pre-conditioned, by Galatians and lots of Protestant preaching, to
think of "works righteousness" when we hear of a religious use of the word "law." In the OT,
however, "law" (
) refers to a revelation of God's grace, not a revelation of God's condemn-
ing demand. Ps. 19 and 119 are good examples of this application: "The law of the LORD is
perfect, reviving the soul," (Ps. 19:27), and repeatedly the psalmist exclaims, "I love thy law,"
(Ps. 119:97, 123, 163). Nor is this difference in attitude merely a matter of terminology, since
the writers can also say, "I love thy commandments," (Ps. 119:97, 113, 163), and "precepts" (Ps.
119:159). That the "law" is intimately connected with God's saving acts in Exodus indicates that
the law stands at the heart, and not at the ethical periphery, of Israelite faith.
The OT word for law is
, which means "pointing the way."
It is often associated
with the information a priest can provide; according to Jer. 11:18, and Ez. 7:26, a person
received a "word" from a prophet, "counsel" from a wiseman, and "law" from a priest.
of Haggai gives us a good glimpse of the use of this word
in the life of Israel. In Hag.
2:11, the LORD directs the prophet to "ask the priest to decide this question;" literally the text
says, "Ask the priest for
." In other words,
means "guidance," or "instruction."
literal understanding of the metaphor seems quite helpful: the reason why you ask directions or
guidance is to get where you want to go, and to stay out of trouble along the way. By the same
token, to show a person the way, or to give them guidance is a kind and "gracious" thing to do.