WHY DID ISRAEL HAVE TO OBSERVE SO MANY “STRANGE” LAWS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Why did God give the nation Israel such meticulous regulations that governed virtually every aspect of the Jews’ lives? Let us see what the Holy Spirit has to say in the Holy Scriptures.
Leviticus contains 27 chapters—859 verses and 24,546 words—of laws and procedures regarding sacrifices and offerings, civility, planting and harvesting crops, the kosher diet, hygiene and purification, apparel, real estate, religious ceremonies, the Levitical priesthood, and tithing. It can be quite confusing when reading the scrupulous procedures that JEHOVAH required them to execute under various circumstances. Bible critics attempt to discourage Bible-believing Christians by pointing out that the Old Testament Scriptures have many bizarre laws and many harsh punishments if those laws were not kept. These critics claim that the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is a “bloodthirsty bully,” and should thus not be considered any different from the other cruel gods of primitive religions. Is there is any merit in these claims? We will thoughtfully consider these objections, and analyze some of the verses they criticize, that we may make sense of the matter.
For example, God told the Jews not to wear wool and linen at the same time. He instructed them not to plant different crops in the same vineyard. He did not want them to plow with an ox and a donkey together. He wanted them to have blue fringes on their vestures. A sampling of these “bizarre” commandments is found in Deuteronomy chapter 22: “ Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.  Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.  Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.  Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.”
Another instance is that JEHOVAH God gave the Jews many dietary laws—they were not to eat pork, and they were not to eat sea creatures such as shrimp and catfish. These commandments are delineated in Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14. They were not to eat the non-kosher foods. Additionally, He wanted them to observe the Sabbath day and various other feast days and holidays, clearly delineated in Leviticus chapter 23. They were to physically circumcise their male babies when they were eight days old (Leviticus 12:3)—this physical circumcision went all the way back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race (Genesis 17:1-14).
Why did the LORD God seem so nitpicky? Did it really matter to have them do these things? Why was it unacceptable for them to do these things in His sight? To understand why Israel was to be different, we need to comprehend that Israel’s God was different; to wit, Israel’s uniqueness reflected her God’s distinctiveness.
The word “holy” appears 92 times within Leviticus because God is instructing Israel to be very different from everyone else, from all the (Gentile) nations around her. He commanded Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Leviticus 11:44ab further explains, “For I am the LORD that bringeth you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy:….” JEHOVAH (the LORD) was separate from the pagan gods, so He wanted His people Israel to daily exhibit His uniqueness. He wanted them to lead “holy” lives to distinguish them from the Gentiles (everyone else in the world). He wanted the Jews to engage in practices that the Gentiles did not perform, that He indicate to every that the Jews were His people.
The term that the King James Bible uses to denote exclusive ownership is “peculiar;” this term appears seven times in the Bible’s canon. While we use the word “peculiar” today to mean “strange,” in older English (as in the King James days), it meant “of private property” (from Latin peculiaris, from peculium ‘property,’ from pecu ‘cattle’ [cattle being private property]; the sense [odd] dates from the early 17th century).
JEHOVAH God told the nation Israel in Exodus 19:5: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine….” Deuteronomy 14:2 repeats, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” And Deuteronomy 26:18: “And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments….” And“For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure” (Psalm 135:4). Finally, 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…” God wanted Israel to be His special nation in the Earth (see today’s Scripture). The Apostle Peter assures us that it will happen one day, after our dispensation!
Ecclesiastes 2:8 further explains how God’s Word uses the term “peculiar:” “I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces…” (notice “peculiar” means “belonging to kings…”).
Deuteronomy 4:1-10 summarizes JEHOVAH’S goal in giving Israel the Mosaic Law: “ Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.  Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.  Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you.  But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.  Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.  Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.  For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?  And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?  Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;  Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.”
It is extremely unfortunate that just four centuries after Moses said the above words, Israel told the Prophet Samuel: “Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5)—Israel did not want to be different, she wanted to have a king like all the nations of the world. She was tired of being “odd;” she did not want JEHOVAH to be her King, she wanted a human king like the nations had. Eventually, the LORD gave in to Israel, and Saul was anointed as king of Israel. As the centuries passed, Kings David and Solomon reigned and then Israel’s kingdom was divided between Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom).
For the next nine centuries, right up to the ministry of Jesus Christ, Israel adopted more of the pagans’ ways, false religion, et cetera. As the LORD God through Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 4:9 (previous paragraph), Israel departed from His laws, His covenant given through Moses. Israel participated in her own spiritual defeat: after rejecting her Messiah Jesus and crucifying Him on Calvary, she finally fell before God during early Acts. Thankfully, the Bible is clear that JEHOVAH will restore Israel unto Himself one day via the New Covenant (Romans chapter 11); for now, in our Dispensation of Grace, Israel is fallen before Almighty God.
SUPPLEMENTAL: WHERE WE FIT IN
Writing about us, the Church the Body of Christ, the Apostle Paul penned in Titus 2:14: “[Jesus Christ] Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” While Israel is temporarily fallen (Romans chapter 11), God is forming us, Christ’s Body, that we may one day serve Him in the heavenly places. God’s people are always “unique,” but they are “peculiar” primarily because they are His! The people of the Lord Jesus Christ should have lives that exhibit the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only logical that they behave like they are His people.
We members of the Church the Body of Christ are just as separated unto God as Israel was in time past (and will be in the future). Paul wrote: “ This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,  Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:  Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.  But ye have not so learned Christ;  If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:  That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;  And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;  And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24).
God has forever sanctified us Christians (we are saints, separated from the world). Let us walk by faith in Pauline (grace) Bible doctrine, and our lives shall exhibit the holiness of the LORD. How will this be accomplished?
We just read how Scripture (Titus 2:14) says that we Christians are to be “zealous of good works.” On one hand, religion emphasizes religious works needed to please God, and thus pushes aside faith in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork (the only work that is pleasing in Father God’s sight). On the other hand, these religionists will criticize us grace believers as being anti-good works. No, we are not anti-good works; they are anti-grace (and anti-faith). “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Romans 11:6). “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace…” (Romans 4:16a). Faith is the only thing grace will accept!
Ephesians 2:8-10 says God does not save us unto eternal life on the basis of our works; after we trust Jesus Christ alone as our personal Saviour, the eternal life Father God gives us by grace through faith is a life to be filled with good works, the works He does in and through us: “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” It is “his working which worketh in [us] mightily” (Colossians 1:29), and our laboring together with Him (1 Corinthians 3:9).
What are the good works that Jesus Christ will do in us? Read Romans chapter 12, Ephesians chapter 4, and Colossians chapter 3 for starters. These are not good works we do to make Him happy with us; these are His works manifested in our lives! The Holy Spirit wants to produce in our lives, “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). These are just a few of the works God will perform in and through us. Let us be zealous in allowing God’s Holy Spirit to empower us to daily live the life He already gave us in Christ!
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