7 Oct 2016

God’s Law and the Heart: A Case of Misrepresenting the ‘Old Testament’

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Hebrew Bible

OT 1I offer this brief meditation on the unity of the Testaments in honor of Rosh Hashanah we just celebrated (Oct 2-4) and Yom Kippur (Oct 11-12) that reminds us of God’s covenant faithfulness even to the point of the death of his Son on a Roman Cross.

The Law and the Heart

It is not uncommon to hear “New Testament” Christians express (sometimes) amazingly disparaging views of three fifths of the Bible they usually designate the “Old Testament” (the “OT” makes up 76% of the Evangelical Bible).  These views are almost always based upon ignorance of both the contents of the “Old Testament” and more importantly the message of the “Old Testament.”

The First Testament is described as “carnal,” “based upon law (which usually is code for legalism),” “formalism,” and not a matter of the spirit or heart, and other similar terms.  These ideas, they imagine to be NT understandings but are themselves usually grounded in a misunderstanding of things Paul says … in the King James Version.

All of these characterizations are founded on the notion that there is a radical discontinuity between the Testaments with the so called Old Testament being fundamentally about law, works and is essentially unspiritual (with an unbiblical definition of law) and the New Testament is fundamentally about grace, faith and is essentially spiritual.

These notions are demonstrably, false.  If this is the case then what that does is raise the specter of the same kind of gross misunderstanding of Paul himself.  Paul is not contradicting Scripture but sometimes people impose meanings on his words that Paul never imagined. Here  I plan to quote “reams” of Scripture that was inspired by the Holy Spirit … I will focus primarily on those texts that directly call for the “heart” of Israel … To the texts …

Torah

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts …” (Deuteronomy 6.4-6)

The Shema is, declared by Jesus himself, the greatest command of all time and all places in either Testament. It is the grounding of all the frequent uses of “heart” throughout the Hebrew Bible.

So I begin with the heart of the law, the Book of Deuteronomy.  Here are a few interesting statistics on this Book of ‘Law.’  Did you know that the word “love” occurs in Deuteronomy at least 21 times.  It is only surpassed by 3 other books in the Bible (and one of those is itself in the “OT”):

Psalms uses “love” 143x;
Gospel of John uses “love” 27x;
1 John uses “love” 35x.

For comparison sake Paul uses the word 14x in Romans and the Acts of the Apostles stands at 0x. So it would seem there is more “love” in the Law of Moses than the Epistle to the Romans! These are startling facts to reflect upon.

The word “heart” occurs in this book of the “Law” a total of 25 times.  I will begin with the most radical texts for those who claim the Old Testament is heartless.

the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and chose you, their descendants above all nations as it is today.  Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer …” (Deut 10.15-16)

­“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts,you people of Judah…” (Jeremiah 4.4). I threw this prophetic text in before moving on in Deuteronomy.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants SO that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30.6)

I begin with few texts above because most “New Testament”Christians who speak so rudely about the Hebrew Bible have no clue these texts are there and imagine that Paul invented the idea of a heart circumcision.  He did not!! These texts are the basis of all the rest …

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts …” (Deuteronomy 6.4-6)

Ask now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart …” (Deut 10.12)

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and soul…” (Deut 11.13)

The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul …” (Deut 13.3)

Give generously to him [person in need] and do so without a grudging heart …” (Deut 15.10)

He [future king] must not take many wives or his heart will be lead astray” (Deut 17.17)

The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees … with all your heart and soul” (Deut 26.16)

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God …” (Deut 29.18)

When all the blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you take them to heart … return to the LORD your God with all your heart …” (Deut 30.1, 2)

The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deut 30.14)

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you…” (Deut 32.45)

Other examples include but are not limited too Deuteronomy 8:2, 5 & 14

The Law of Moses, from Moses’s own lips, is consumed with Israel’s loving and obeying God from the heart.  The text declares they are to circumcise their hearts … clearly the Torah of God was aimed at the heart of humanity.  Obedience is inherently a matter of heart and never has been simply a matter of ritual legalism. Those who say different have never read it.

Israel was to give monetarily for the Tabernacle as “each person’s heart prompts them to give” (Exodus 25.2). They were not to secretly hate their brothers and sisters in their “hearts” (Lev 19.17)

But ancient Israelites were as susceptible to formalism as any modern Christian. They had to be reminded by Joshua

to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (22.5)

Samuel reminds the people to stop their idolatry but to “serve the LORD with all your heart” (1 Sam 12.20)

OT 2Psalms

The texts can be multiplied into the hundreds my friends. Hardly a Psalm can be read in which the matter of the heart can not be found discussed. What this little exercise has attempted to demonstrate is that the charge that the Old Testament is “carnal” or simply a matter of “law” … both the word “carnal” and “law” being misunderstood is abundantly demonstrated to be patently false from the testimony of the Spirit Scriptures themselves.

I turn to Psalm 119 as a case study. Here the Torah of God is under consideration and the issue of the heart is of central importance.  This psalm is a celebration of GRACE not legalism!!

Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their hearts” (119.2)

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws” (119.7)

I seek you with all my heart” (119.10)

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might sin against you” (119.11)

I have chose the way of truth I have set my heart on your torah” (119.30)

I run in the path of your commands FOR you have set my HEART free” (119.32)

Give me understanding and I will keep your torah and obey it with all my heart” (119.34)

Turn my heart toward your statutes …” (119.36)

I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me …” (119.58)

I keep your precepts with all my heart” (119.69)

Their [the disobedient!] hearts are callous and unfeeling but I delight in your torah” (119.70)

your statutes … are the joy of my heart” (119.111)

My heart is set on keep your decrees to the very end”(119.112)

I call with all heart; answer me O LORD” (119.145)

my heart trembles at your word” (119.161)

The Psalmist shares the same attitude as Paul does. They are inspired by the same Spirit after all!! God’s torah was not means of formalism, legalism, or self-salvation.  It was a matter of the heart and could only be obeyed from the heart.  The psalmist is exceedingly conscious of the need for Yahweh’s love and grace. He has no illusion that he is saving himself!!!

I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant …”(119.176)

Some Classics from the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles

I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have have freely offered all these things …” (1 Chronicles 29.17)

He said, ‘O LORD, God of Israel, there is  not God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in HESED with your servants who walk before you with all their heart …” (2 Chronicles 6.14)

[I]f they repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity, to which they were taken captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their ancestors, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6.38-39)

May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30.20)

Seeking God from the heart is in fact the critical theme within Chronicles as a whole and places an exclamation point on that theology by being the final book of the Hebrew Bible.  Seek God from your heart and he will be found full of grace, full of mercy, full of love.

Final Thoughts

The Old Testament drips with grace! If it were a rag and you squeezed it you would be drowned in a river of grace. It is aimed at the heart.  We are to love God with all our hearts. We are to obey with and out of a loving heart.  We are to circumcise our hearts. This is the heart of the Hebrew Bible, the Scriptures that Jesus grew up as a child memorizing, singing, praying and ultimately conforming his own life from his heart before the Father.

There is no problem with the Torah itself or the so called Old Testament. Paul never claimed there was. Paul said the Torah was holy, just, good, source of wisdom, faith, doctrine, and above all Spiritual (Rom 7.12, 14, 16; 2 Tim 3.14-16).

The Hebrews Preacher never made the claim either. He said the problem was fallen humanity, not the Torah (Hebrews 8.8).  People are the problem.  They were the problem in the “Old testament”and they are problem today. People perverted – and still do – the “Old Testament.”  People pervert – and still do – the “New Testament” as well.

Relationship with God was never once in the history of humanity based upon our earning anything.  Relationship with God has always been a matter of God’s amazing and infinite HESED and his amazing grace.

2 Responses to “God’s Law and the Heart: A Case of Misrepresenting the ‘Old Testament’”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Over the years I have head ties of the “OT” to carnality and it is usually aimed at instrumental music, in that singing with instruments is carnal, whereas singing without instruments is spiritual. It is thus strange when we read the Psalm that we read very spiritual words that also had instruments involved.
    Or we point out how Jesus and the apostles condemned the Jews, but also within those pages are Jesus and the apostles confirming the Jews and their faith.
    And we fail to see that the apostles were Jews who followed the law, even when they didn’t have to, even after they followed Christ. There were no contradictions.

  2. DAVID Says:

    AMEN. THE TWO TESTAMENTS ARE BOTH, GOD’S HESRT, MIND, AND SPIRIT. BOTH COVENANTS MAKE UP THE HEBREW ISRAÉLITES BIBLE, IF IT WERE NOT TRUE GOD WOULD NOT HAVE PUT THEM TOGETHER, JUST AS GOD DIMINISHED THOSE SCRIPTURES WHICH ARE NOW IN THE DEVILS BIBLE, WHICH IS THE CATHOLIC BIBLE. IF YOU WOULD JUST TRUST AND OBEY AND RELY ON THE LORD ONLY, YOU WOULD SEE. BUT GOD’S ENEMY/THE DEVIL AND SATAN HAS BLINDED THE HEARTS AND THE MINDS OF THEM WHICH BELIEVE NOT IN GOD’S KING JESUSCHRIST. FATHERGOD LORD JESUSCHRIST, THANK YOU FOR DIEING ON THE CROSS FOR US, THANK YOU FATHER GOD LORD JESUSCHRIST FOR DIEING FOR THE TRUTH THAT WE MAY HAVE THE TRUTH. THANK YOU FATHER GOD LORD JESUSCHRIST FOR DELIVERING US FROM THE STRONGHOLD OF SATAN AND THE DEVIL, THANK YOU FOR HEALING US AND HAVING MERCY ON US, THANK YOU FATHER GOD LORD JESUSCHRIST FOR BLESSING US AND GIVING GIFTS UNTO US. GLORY BE TO GOD THROUGH CHRISTJESUS FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.

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