Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Bechukkotai

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Bechukotai The Gospel in Leviticus Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:3-27:34 | Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 16:19-17:14

This week’s Torah teaching introduces one of the central aspects of the covenant made through Moshe of obedience to His statutes. The Torah clearly teaches here in this parashah that blessing is predicated upon obedience to its chukkim (laws).

The word chuk (“statute” or “decree”), which gives the Parshah of Bechukotai its name, literally means “engraved”. The Torah comes in two forms: written and engraved. On the last day of his life, Moses inscribed the Torah on parchment scrolls. But this written Torah was preceded by an engraved Torah: the Divine law was first given to us encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, which were etched by the hand of God in two tablets of stone. By the Holy Spirit - the Ruach ha Chodesh we now have the Torah engraved in our being as well as having the written Word.

Because the Torah is written on the hearts of all who truly name the name of Yeshua as Lord and Savior, it is meant to be followed to the best of our ability. We have no reason for fear of condemnation, or the trappings of legalism! (Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans 7:22; 8:1; Hebrews 8:10)

We enter into the blessing of His life through faith, but we maintain His life within through not grieving His Spirit, that is, by keeping His precepts. Thus we maintain fellowship with Him and do not allow ourselves to become separated from Him by disobedience.

Covenants require a response on the part of the follower. Yahweh, for His part, has provided the “promise of inheritance” for all those who participate in the Abrahamic Covenant. The response to this covenant is “faith”. The nature of the Mosaic Covenant is “blessing, maintenance, and enjoyment of promise” on the basis of “obedience”.

If you walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)

If you will walk in My statutes and keep My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you: I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. I will turn My attention to you, I will make you fruitful and increase you; and I will establish My covenant with you. You will eat very old grain and remove the old to make way for the new. I will place My Sanctuary among you; and My Spirit will not reject you. I will walk among you, I will be God unto you and you will be a people unto Me.

The word "if" is understood as a plea on the part of God: "If only you would follow My statutes.. .. "(Talmud, Avodah Zarah 5a)

As a loving Father Who desires our good, His heart longs that we might choose to do what is right that He might not have to chastise us to bring us into the path of life. He would rather shower us with blessings than use corrective punishment upon us. These punishments here are temporal and meant to be corrective. When a child trespasses and breaks the family covenant, he is not excluded from the family, but disciplined with the intent that he will learn and grow from the experience. So it is with our heavenly Father - His love is unconditional but not without corrective chastisement. It is meant to correct us.

In verse 23 Yahweh warns them about behaving 'casually' with Him - an attitude of familiarity that breeds contempt for His instructions. In the Targum Onkelos the word is interpreted with the meaning of 'witholding' - that is withholding obedience from a heart that is hardened. This speaks of wilful disobedience and disregard for His instructions to us - going one's own way. It is the attitude expressed by the actions rather than the behaviour itself.

The Curse of the Law

From a New Covenant perspective, some teach that all of the curses of the law have been removed in Messiah. It is a common teaching, based on Galatians that, “Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Torah.” (Galatians 3:13). This seems to indicate that in Messiah, the curses are removed, but the blessings remain --  ? “The curse of the law” spoken of in Galatians 3:13 is not the curses for disobedience listed out in Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28. The “curse of the law” in Galatians is the end result of the spiritual condition of being separated from God which is death - the judgement upon man’s sinful state which is eternal separation from God. This is different from the curses which come from acts of disobedience of a redeemed community or a person who are in covenant relationship with Yahweh.

According to Paul, “The curse of the Torah/Law” is condemnation in the eternal court of judgment. This is the curse of condemnation and death that was unleashed upon Messiah on the torture stake when He took the penalty of sin upon Himself so that all who accepted His atonement would be delivered from its consequences. It is this condemnation from which we have been redeemed and which has been nailed to His cross. (Colossians 2:14) The “certificate of debt” which has been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross is the judgement of eternal death. This is the ultimate curse of the Torah/Law. It is this curse which Messiah took upon Himself in becoming “a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13)

Therefore it is incorrect to suppose that there are no longer any consequences for sin. The ultimate consequence of condemnation has been removed — nailed to the cross. But the laws of cause and effect are still very much at work. Sin still reaps punishment. Obedience to God still results in blessing. (Romans 4:15, 5:18–20, 7:25–8:1, 1 Corinthians 3:9)

Blessing and the Curse

It is interesting that the rewards for keeping His commandments are returned in the physical realm of life to give us abundance in the things which we need for livelihood. Whereas the absence of His blessings cause us to labour under the heaviness of our existence when things don’t go well for us, with the intent that it will be corrective and that we will turn our hearts toward Him again seeking His deliverance from the result of our errant ways. The blessings of obedience are an encouragement to continue in the bond of the covenant in relationship with Him and the curses which we reap from eating the fruit of our own ways are meant to keep us from going on unchecked in our rebellious lifestyle.

After the blessings comes the “rebuke” or “punishment” --a harshly detailed prediction of what will befall the people of Israel when they turn away from God. His reproof to them, found in chapter 26:14-45, is in Hebrew the “Tochacha”, a “minor” listing of “curses” brought against the People for their disobedience. A similar yet “major” listing, also referred to as “Tochacha”, can be read in Parashat Ki Tavo at D’varim (Deuteronomy) chapter 28.

The Hebrew word tochacha means reproof, correction, scolding, reprimand, punishment, etc. By its context it conveys the purpose of “divine retribution”. Interesting by comparison, the Hebrew of this current chapter is written in the plural, addressing collective Isra’el. Its counterpart in Dvarim 28, however, is written in the singular.

There are three things which are listed here specifically as a mandate for the blessings to follow and they are - “You shall not make idols for yourselves .. .. .. “ “You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My Sanctuary .. .. .. “

These are the priorities of worship - of loving Him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength - which if we do, He says,

  1. “I will give you the rain in its season “ ..
  2. the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
  3. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage .. .. (no shortage of supply)
  4. you shall eat your bread to the full .. .. .. (full satisfaction and nourishment from what you eat)
  5. and dwell in your land safely. I will give peace in the land.”
  6. I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land.” (3-13)
  7. He gives promises of power over our enemies, to overcome them (v.7-8) And most importantly,
  8. “I will look on You favourably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you"

Yahweh says that He will ‘confirm’ or ‘maintain’ the covenant, or more correctly translated, “I will cause My covenant to stand”. In other words He will cause the promises of the covenant to stand. “I will set My Tabernacle among you, .. .. .. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” (v.11-12)

His literal Presence with them was part of His covenant with them at Sinai. He said, “My Presence will go with you” into the land (Exodus 33:14), and in the land His Tabernacle was set up as a permanent dwelling place among them. So it continued with them while they kept His covenant.

The Basis of the Blessings and the Curses

Before commencing the blessings, Yahweh states: “If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments and do them .. .. “ The blessings were conditional. (26:3 ) Before the curses the He states: “But if you will not hearken to Me, and will not do all these commands .. .. “ 26:14 “And if you shall despise, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that you will not do all My commandments, but that you break My Covenant.” 26:15 The standards applied to the blessings evidently differ from those relating to the curses. Thus, the curses are not to be administered upon the mere transgression of the laws (space is given to repent); only upon despising and abhorring them, as noted by Seforno: If you shall despise My statutes beyond mere violation, you will despise them; And if your soul loathe My judgments consciously i.e., loathe them as one might willfully spew out something that is objectionable.”

Thus the preconditions of the blessings radically differ from those of the curses. The understanding is that it is the rejecting of His commandments that brings the curse, not the failure to keep them by one whose heart is toward Him and who fails through the weakness of the flesh.

These statutes are defined for the corporate body of Israel (all twelve tribes including those who join themselves to greater Israel) from its founder, the author and finisher of our faith, Yahweh. These statutes stand as eternal decrees, permanent rules, which were not annulled at Calvary. These statutes are also considered (the laws) or instructions enacted by our legislative branch of divine government through Yahweh. Throughout the discourse of this study, we see that blessings are given to those who observe His statutes in obedience, but to those who are given to disobedience, we see punishment. Even in the natural, there is a consequence to disobeying the laws and instructions which govern a unified community of people formed into an association such as a society or nation.

Yahweh assures us that if we obey His statutes, we will be so busy with prosperity that we will still be busy threshing grain when the time comes to harvest our grapes and even then we will still be occupied when it comes time to sow the next year. Even the very old grain, the stored crops from previous years, will remain fresh and even improve with age so that the old grain will be superior to the new. And when the new crops come in, new storage houses will need to be built to make room for the new crop. These passages of scripture are rich with the fullness of being close to Yahweh’ heart, however, it does come at a price to us. The cost for Yahweh’ favored hand of blessings will require us to be obedient and faithful to His statutes. However, if we choose our way above His, we will face a series of punishments.

The first series of punishments:

But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments; if you consider My decrees loathsome, and if your being rejects My ordinances, so as not to perform all My commandments, so that you annul My covenant – then I will do the same to you; I will assign upon you panic, swelling lesions, and burning fever, which cause eyes to long and souls to suffer; you will sow your seeds in vain, for your enemies will eat it. I will turn My attention against you, you will be struck down before enemies; those who hate you will subjugate you – you will flee with no one pursuing you.

The second series of punishments:

If despite this you do not heed Me, then I shall punish you further, seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your might; I will make your heaven like iron and your land like copper. Your strength will be spent in vain; your land will not give its produce and the tree of the land will not give its fruit.

The third series of punishments:

If you behave casually with Me and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you – seven times like your sins. I will incite the wildlife of the field against you and it will leave you bereft of your children, decimate your livestock, and diminish you; and your roads will become desolate.

The fourth series of punishments:

If despite these you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave casually with Me, then I, too, will behave toward you with casualness; and I will strike you, even I, seven times for your sins. I will bring upon you a sword, avenging the vengeance of a covenant, you will be gathered into your cities; then I will send a pestilence among you and you will be delivered into the hand of your enemy. When I break for you the staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread by weight; you will eat and not be sated.

The fifth series of punishments:

If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave toward Me with casualness, I will behave toward you with a fury of casualness; I will chastise you, even I, seven times for your sins. You will eat the flesh of your sons; and the flesh of your daughters will you eat. I will destroy your lofty buildings and decimate your sun-idols, I will cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols, and My Spirit will reject you. I will lay your cities in ruin and I will make your sanctuaries desolate; I will not savor your satisfying aromas. I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate. And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you, your land will be desolate and your cities will be a ruin.

There is an increasing severity in the punishments meted out, but this is not vengeance in operation but a greater measure of discipline required by the stiff-neckedness of the rebellious and their failure to repent in the previous lighter measures of judgement which required Him to exert greater pressure upon them.

Because of Israel’s disobedience and failure to observe the commandment of keeping the Sabbatical years, they were exiled from the land into Babylon for seventy years. During that time, the land made up for the rest in which it had been deprived. Israelities, Judah and Ephraim, have been scattered throughout the nations of the world, and were cut off from one another.

Faith and Obedience to Yahweh

The keeping of Yahweh’s principles does not cause one to inherit eternal life - you cannot earn spiritual blessings. It is only by faith that you enter into His life (which is an eternal spiritual quality of life) and not by any works of righteousness that you do - you cannot earn salvation. But as a result of inheriting His life and becoming a recipient of it, Yahweh’s expectation is that you will walk in His precepts.

If we are to ever experience the heights and depths of a real relationship with Yahweh, it will require not only our faith but that of works. Faith without works is dead. If we say we love Yahweh and keep not His commandments, then we are a lie and the truth is not in us. For love is a word of action and requires work to show forth your affection and love. If we are in love with someone, it requires faithfulness to that person. So then did our faith in Yeshua at Calvary annul the commandments of Yahweh? May it never be! What our faith in fact does is establish a unique and personal relationship with our Messiah Yeshua and Yahweh. Our faith in Yeshua does not lessen our commitment to Yahweh’ instructions and statutes, but in effect establishes and brings about a synthesis of love and obedience to His statutes, and a desire to never wander far from His divine presence ever again.

Because the Messiah has already come, the Torah is now a document meant to be lived out in the life of a faithful follower of Yeshua, through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, to the glory of the Father. It should not be presumed that it can be obeyed in one’s own strength, automatically or legalistically, without having the faith and trust in the empowering of His life within. Nor can it be performed mechanically without having a motivation of love for Yahweh and for others. Torah observance is a matter of the heart, always has been, and always will be.

This idea of commandment-keeping is a state of mind, as well as a daily function! We should never fall for the age-old, compulsory reasons for keeping the commands of Yahweh for being accepted by Him!

It is not something we do to become saved; it is something we do because we are saved! It is the result from having the Torah placed in our inward parts, as new creations in Messiah Yeshua, giving us a new nature that desires to obey Him!