This is our eleventh post as we continue to establish a chronological and consistent biblical theology that I am terming a Layman’s Biblical Theology. Throughout these posts it is my goal to avoid theological jargon as much as possible so as not to confuse or overcomplicate these matters, while still employing some terms that are very helpful for understanding.
The diagram above is our map, which is slowly moving us forward on the timeline that is time as we know it. This diagram has been created to define all of existence––the sum total of our reality––according to the Bible. The Scriptures on the diagram serve to give us the true context of what the Bible emphasizes as a whole, unique story. The simple purpose is that a true biblical theology seeks to present an understanding of the big picture of the bible, which I am hoping this diagram does. My goal was to create one picture, only one page with Scriptures, that can holistically cover the details of our Bible and give a person a framework to understand it much more simply than before. Over the last several years I have seen this work in many different settings. Hence, we finds ourselves in this blog series trying to more exhaustively breakdown this one, word-picture.
We have successfully worked through all the Scriptures in the first “pillar” and now we are in the second “pillar” entitled Covenantal looking at the covenants YHWH has made with men in order to bring about His ultimate purpose of “summing up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,” which is “according to His purpose” as He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:9-11). We know this because “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Jesus” because Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven,” (Col. 1:15-20).
Surely this is the testimony of the New Testament, and yet it is intrinsically attached to the good news of the Old Testament that many are so unfamiliar with. How is YHWH accomplishing His will as mentioned above? Why is He doing this a very specific way? How will everything be summed up in Christ? These are the details we are gathering in order to form our biblical theology that we might perceive the story of Genesis to Revelation in a coherent manner. By God’s will we will achieve such by His glorious Holy Spirit who is the very Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation.
In the last several posts we have given much time to the Sinai covenant and the details surrounding it, and in this post we will broadly define the nature of Torah, Genesis-Deuteronomy, before giving more articulation to Deuteronomy specifically.
What we will discuss in this post is of the utmost importance. It may take some rewiring to accomplish our task, but I promise the benefit will be worth it.
The Hebrew Scriptures call Genesis through Deuteronomy Torah, which basically means instruction. You could say that within the first five books of the Bible God gives the explanation of how His story has come to be and also the blueprints of how it will unfold. In short, the whole biblical story is found within the Torah. It may be surprising to you to hear that there is basically no new information in the Bible after Deuteronomy. Yes, that could be more accurate than you think.
That is not to say that no new information is given after Torah ends, but rather that the parameters are set in the Torah in regards to what is going to happen. You could say there is no new what after Deuteronomy, while we do not know the fullness of who until after. For instance, we do not know that Babylon will be the specific people God uses to judge Israel and carry them away to exile, we just know that Israel will be punished by a nation that will carry them away to exile as a judgment from God.
Deut. 31:16 The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. “Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them…”
Leviticus also summarizes “Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins… I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you. I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas. I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.”
In these two passages we see that God is predicting Israel’s unfaithfulness and His response. We find many passages like this in the Torah, and while the specific characters remain mostly unidentified, the big picture is sure.
It is not incorrect to say that Joshua through Revelation is merely Genesis through Deuteronomy being fulfilled. If we can perceive things this way then we gain a lot of ground in biblical understanding.
Now, to our gentile christian minds that have mainly been discipled in years and years of focus on the New Testament, this idea can seem crazy. I am saying what most of you have never heard a pastor or teacher say: Understanding Genesis through Deuteronomy is the most important component of understanding the Bible, the scheme of salvation is wholly within its borders, and the entire testimony of how redemption will be accomplished is found therein. You actually cannot holistically understand the narrative of the Bible unless you first understand Torah. This is single-handedly the greatest problem of why people do not understand the Bible.
Why, you might ask? Let’s give a brief summary.
Note* A brief note on the antithesis of what I will present in this post. What is called redaction theology, and particularly the documentary method of interpreting the Torah, has done immense damage to how many might perceive the Torah today. This method says that the Torah has numerous authors, rather than one, and much later dates of authorship after Israel entered the land. The case I present here holds to the belief that Moses was the only author of the Torah, and what seems to be added by another author (only Deuteronomy 35) was added for simple and helpful context regarding Moses death and the transition to Joshua’s book. With exception to Deuteronomy 35, the Torah was very obviously authored by Moses himself during the time before Israel crossed the Jordan. The case for this, though I will not take the time to argue the theological parameters in detail here, is very strong and I encourage the reader to simply have common sense at the personal information given within the Torah, information that only Moses could have been privy to.
The Meaning of Torah
Let us begin by unpacking the simple terminology of Torah.
“The Hebrew word, torah (תורה), is derived from a root that was used in the realm of archery: yareh (ירה). Yareh means to shoot an arrow in order to hit a mark. The mark or target, of course, was the object at which the archer was aiming. Consequently, torah, one of the nouns derived from this root, is, therefore, the arrow aimed at the mark, the target is the truth about God and how one relates to Him. The torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction, teaching, instruction,or doctrine,” (http://www.torahresourcesinternational.info/definition.php).
The Torah was written by Moses, most likely within the tabernacle in the midst of the manifest presence of God Himself. Let that sink in until the aha! moment settles in upon you. Modern scholarship has taken a sword to this idea like a chef making french fries from one potato, seeking to slice the one unique whole of Torah into different sections written by different authors. There is no time to address such ludicrous claims in detail here. The Bible itself confirms that Moses was the author in more ways than one.
Number one, the Torah is called the Book of the Law of Moses in several places:
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses…” (Josh. 23:6).
We do well to notice here that according to God’s own words Joshua possessed a book that was called The Book of the Law of Moses. This is a very simple proof that the Torah was completed before Moses died and it was given to Joshua. This is confirmed in in the first chapter of Joshua intentionally so that there would be no misunderstanding for the future generations about the Torah’s origin.
“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7
We know from this that Joshua seems to have had everything that Moses had written in his own possession and he and the people were supposed to do according to the words within.
Joshua 8:31, as well as 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 14:6, and Ezra 6:18 all use the same language of The Book of the Law of Moses while referring to, and directly quoting, different books in the Torah. This substantiates our point since many biblical people naturally refer to the author as Moses. As a nice kicker though Jesus Himself confirms this after He rose from the dead:
“Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Clearly we see Jesus summary of the Tanakh here being the Torah (Law of Moses), Prophets, and Writings again confirming, from the mouth of our resurrected Lord, that the Torah was of Moses.
We also see within the Torah that God Himself directly tells Moses to write things down:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14).
“Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD, and these are their journeys according to their starting places” (Num. 33:2).
If we keep a simple mind then this point need not be belabored––Moses is the author of Torah!
I would like to call to mind the man who spent 80 days on top of a mountain with YHWH. This must be the foundation for understanding where the Torah came from. If today men can have a two-day weekend seminar and teach enough material to change people’s lives, then certainly YHWH’s 80 day seminar with Moses was adequate time to inform Moses of everything from creation to present to future. Moreover, we know Moses would spend long periods of time in the tabernacle after it was constructed according to the revelation he received on the mountain, and in those times he would have penned the words of the Torah.
“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:11
“With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD.” Numbers 12:8
This is not to make Moses godlike, because surely he didn’t enter the promised land due to disobedience, but it is to show that God spoke face to face with Moses and Moses beheld His form. That is something no one else in Scripture experiences. It is something God says of no other person. We truly take away from what the bible is emphasizing if we do not maintain the importance of who Moses is in the Bible and the task God appointed him to accomplish––deliver Israel and give them their instruction––Torah.
God appears to Moses in the burning bush and speaks to him directly. He was in the presence of the holy and he removed his shoes to prove it. We see Moses, the sole representative upon Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights––twice!––beholding the uncreated One. And there, in the tabernacle God commanded Moses to build, sits Moses, speaking to God as a friend speaks to his friend face to face and listening to the voice of God tell His version of the origins of existence. This is the simplest way to understand how the Torah was authored.
The point is this: God dictated the words of the Torah and Moses wrote them down. This was the start of the Bible we have today. In the purest way imaginable God spoke His flawless words to Moses who made no mistake as he recorded them. The words stand inerrant. The words are pure instruction. We do well to affirm this in biblical theology.
The prophetic nature of the Torah as a whole is vitally important to the story that is still unfolding today. Since God Himself authored it out loud while Moses wrote it down, we should consider its contents to be of the highest priority. Even Leviticus, which we have purposefully sidestepped in these blog posts, is important and will prove itself important in the age to come. Therefore let us throw off the boredom that so easily entangles us in these five books and revitalize the Torah to mean something to us today.
Torah in the Old Testament (Tanakh)
We believe that God Himself orated the words of the Torah, and although Moses wrote them down, there is no mistaking the foundational influence God intended those five books to have for the remainder of Scripture. They are the glue of the story! They are the axis upon which everything else in the Bible rotates. They are perfect and we just haven’t had the epiphany of how perfect yet because,”now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).
When we look to the Proverbs we do not see Solomon pulling wisdom out of abstract space in his mind, but out of the Torah. Even from Proverbs chapter 1 is his command to “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching,” where the hebrew word for teaching is torah. Solomon is not calling everyone to understand the depths of his wisdom, but rather calling attention to God’s wisdom in the Torah, which could possibly be the embodiment of wisdom itself, or at least the place from where all wisdom stems.
In Psalms we see the same thing affirmed. David says in Psalm 19:7 “The law (torah) of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” David is appropriately saying that the restoration of the human soul and how it will happen is found in the Torah. Then, upon understanding this the soul could be refreshed with hope! There are numerous other examples of how oriented towards this mindset of the Torah the Psalms are,
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law (torah) of the LORD, And in His law (torah) he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2
“Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law (torah) of the LORD.” Psalm 119:1
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (torah).” Psalm 119:18
It might be obvious to remind us that the only book that David and Solomon had to inform them of the truth regarding God and His plan was the Torah. The Torah was David’s only Bible. Those five books were all he had. The contents of Genesis through Deuteronomy was the destination their entire hope was gleaned from, and there was no other hope! It is very important for us to regard the Torah in the same way.
How “God’s Word” Was Understood
In the same way we must process the use of “My word,” in the Scriptures. David again clues us into how he perceived this, saying, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). The hebrew word used here for word is dabar- דָּבָר which means speech or word. It is from passages like this that we have today derived the language of God’s Word when referring to the entire Bible. Since the Torah was David’s only bible, in this fashion he makes clear that He perceives the Torah to be the words of God. It is what God has effectively spoken, and it is forever settled in heaven unable to be altered or changed because, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
The prophets heartily agree with this idea as one voice saying things like,
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Is. 55:10-11),
“For I the LORD will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,” declares the Lord GOD,'” (Ez. 12:25).
The dabar of YHWH in Scripture is very clearly presented as something that man has no control over––it is as divine as God Himself––it will not falter or change, it will all be completed. He is the only One, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Is. 46:10).
The nature of the word of God that is spoken of in these passages is not arbitrary, random, or ambiguous––it relates directly to the things He has spoken previously. He confirms this Himself in the passage directly above in stating that He spoke these things from ancient times. Therefore, when the prophet’s use the standard fare of “Thus says the Lord,” (Jer. 17:5) or “The word of the Lord came to me,” (Jer 1:4) there is not a new or mystical prophecy taking place, but rather, a confirmation of the words that had been previously spoken by God are now coming to pass within His given time frame. This is very important to understand.
The word of the Lord that comes to the prophets is truly a repetition of things God said beforehand, they are just now being fulfilled in real time and space upon real people. The prophet is effectively saying that what God said would happen in the past, is now about to take place. Therefore it is as if the word of the Lord is being re-declared as a confirmation of His previous words, which is why the Ezekiel passage above says “It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,’ declares the Lord GOD.” YHWH is simply saying that what He spoke beforehand has been restrained from being accomplished until now because it had a future orientation, and now He will repeat the word and perform it.
So we should perceive the prophets to function in this way and remove the mystical elements normally attached their books. The prophets are repeating what God said would happen, and simply calling attention to the fact that he is now acting upon those words. The difference that takes place within the prophets is that God now identifies the actual characters who will perform His word. We will discuss this more in detail when we arrive at the prophets but this foundational understanding will help us greatly.
The New Testament’s Confirmation of Torah
The New Testament is faithful to confirm the prophetic nature of the Torah and that its words will by all means be fulfilled as spoken. We should first look to YHWH in the flesh since He is the living dabar.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Now we should let this affect us. We should let this mold our mind informing how past and present emerged and where the future is inevitably going. Jesus affirms that what was spoken in the Torah not being abolished in any way, but rather fulfilled. We must not jump to the stark conclusion that everything was fulfilled in Him then, because He promptly tells us that there will be a future fulfillment when all is accomplished. This example gives us precedence to perceive the Torah in the prophetic manner it possesses.
Luke 21 might be an even clearer picture concerning the prophetic nature of the Torah and its imminent future events as He states,
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.“
We must not overcomplicate this passage. The first telling of Israel’s future judgment is found in the Torah as we’ve seen, and to Jesus hearers all things which are written would’ve only been understood to be the Torah. This is in total agreement with what Jesus told us in Matthew.
We must not overlook that Jesus also attaches a warning to those who handle the torah saying,
19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This warning should be heeded by all serious students of the Bible. Jesus is very personally confirming the words He previously spoke as needing to be kept. Even this should be enough for our modern theologies to sway under the weight of His words and turn from such doctrines that replace and fulfill His words in ways that He did not intend. Rest assured that on His own word Jesus has promised that every jot and tittle will come to pass based on what He spoke beforehand. It is a grave error to not trust in a literal fulfillment of His words––it is unbelief in what has been spoken by God Himself.
Paul will also exhort us in the truth of the Torah, saying, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4) instructing us that the true biblical hope (the very good news we are searching out) comes from the Torah which was written in earlier times. Moreover Paul sums up the life of Jesus as becoming a “servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,” (Rom. 15:8) which we know to be the words spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Torah. Those words/promises are still awaiting their ultimate fulfillment in the future.
Therefore Hebrews exhorts us that “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1) because, “God… spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Peter agrees, telling us to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles,” giving us faith that according to these promises the Father will “send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:20-21). Truly there are numerous examples from the apostles concerning their anchor in the Torah which is the true hope we also await!
These are just a few examples, and I am by no means an expert regarding the Torah. In later posts we will witness more of Jesus’ words on the Torah unto finally beholding the fulfillment of Torah in the redemption of mankind through the Messiah of Israel. This will happen in accordance with, through, and in the very people He gave the Torah to––the Jews. Indeed, the whole of Scripture is pivoting around this Instruction.
The Torah is quite literally the skeleton upon which the muscles and tendons of biblical theology are built. Its skeletal structure supports and upholds everything, and all things thereafter are intrinsically attached to the bones of Torah. This is why you cannot remove, nor replace, nor fulfill those bones, for you incidentally take away a vital part of the frame that is holding everything together. If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are the two femurs upon which the strong muscles of Messiah will be laid, it would be odd to somehow try and make the Messiah Himself become the leg-bones upon which He has chosen to stand. In humility He chose to be the seed of Abraham and this human lineage demands attention from Him although He be the Godhead incarnate.
We must begin our biblical theology in the Torah for it is the frame upon which God’s redemptive plan for humanity is fixed. If we start our theology at the New Testament, we are but looking at the skin of the species from the outside and wondering what’s underneath. On the contrary, if we begin with the skeleton we will understand the foundation of the whole structure as the sum of our biblical theology.
In these many posts we have been slowly identifying the bones of this Torah-skeleton, and we will now see how the muscles and tendons and ligaments connect together to form the whole body and actually begin walking towards its destined redemption. But first, we must look deeply into the conclusion of the Torah which is Deuteronomy.