Friday, 9 May 2003

the torah is not merely rules and regulations. it represents the national and religious history of the jewish people. if you want to know about the origins of the jewish people, here is the place to look. it will answer questions like 'how did the jewish race begin?' and 'why did the jewish race begin?'. yet, the torah goes far beyond merely recording the origins of the jewish people. in fact, the torah speaks about the origins of the world and the universe itself, the origins of the human race, the origins of when human sin began etc. to understand god's salvation history (heilsgeschichte - salvation history), one has to begin with the torah. in it, we see how because men and women fell into sin, god had to initiate his salvation plan, beginning with abraham and sarah aand their descendants, the jewish people, and climaxing in jesus' incarnation on earth and culminating in his final return (the second coming).

how does one go about reading the torah profitably? one suggestion is to see all five books as representing a single block of material that has a beginning and end, which are tied together with common themes (like covenant, election, deliverance, promise, land) and has a natural flow. i always suggest to my students to find a long weekend, go somewhere quiet like the beach or the highlands, and read through genesis to deuteronomy in one sitting. this is to capture the majestic sweep and flow of the narrative. i can guarantee that this is far better reading than any of hollywood or bollywood's epics or mills and boon's romantic novels. very often, we don't do this synchronic reading (like slicing a cake from the side through the whole cake). we do what is called diachronic reading (cutting the cake just straight down into different slices). most of our bible reading is done diachronically, especially if you use the american daily bread for your daily readings. you end up reading a little here and a little there but do not read a whole book and thus do not see the whole picture. try a synchornic reading of the torah. it will blow your mind (i.e. to comprehend the salvation plan of god. and this is just the 1st part)!

Monday, 5 May 2003

the first section is called the torah (which in hebrew means 'instruction, teaching'). unfortunately, it has been commonly called 'law' (although we should not read our modern understanding of 'law' into the word for 'torah'). torah means more than mere rules and regulations. they are instructions for life, or teachings given to enable god's people to live their lives to the fullest. how sad christians sometimes have the idea that the ot law is 'bad' or 'restrictive' (becaue of the notion of 'thou shall not do this' and 'thou shalt not do that'). the torah as given to the jews, who are by race god's chosen people, was something that was to be a delight in their eyes. to keep the torah was to find life and meaning to life.
there are 613 commandments in the torah. while it is true christians today are not expected to keep all the 613 commandments in order to be 'blameless' in god's sight, jesus reminded us that all the laws can be reduced to 2 - you shall love the lord your god, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself. in essence, christians still 'keep' the torah albeit in a different way from the jews. while the jews still see observance of the torah as the way to salvation, christians see the torah as part of god's total instructions for his people. with the coming of the nt, we no longer observe and keep the ceremonial and ritual laws as these have been fulfilled by jesus' death on the cross. yet the moral laws, e.g. the 10 commandments, are still abiding for us.
so, what do we do today with the torah? well, we can still read it profitably because they represent the national and religious history of the jews. as christians, we have adopted the jewish scriptures as part of ours. hence, by faith, although we are all gentiles, the torah becomes our scripture too. the torah is the right place to begin to understand our christian roots as well as the jewish roots. here, you find the beginnings of the universe, the beginnings of the human race, the origin of sin, the calling of abraham to be the father of a nation, and the beginnings of the nation of israel.