This morning as I was praying about what to read for my Bible study, I felt led to read Leviticus 19 and then 1 John. As I began reading through the moral and ceremonial laws, (much of this chapter is the 10 Commandments Expanded Version) I was immediately reminded that many of the people to whom the Lord was speaking were getting to know Him for the first time. They'd been in Egypt for quite awhile---how many of them remembered the God of their fathers or remembered His ways? By reading the whole story of these early Hebrews, we find the answer is not many.
Surely they had kept some sort of national identity---but their set-apartness had become perverted over time, tainted by the culture around them. Removing them from Egypt and taking them to the wilderness was only the first of many steps God took to bring this people back into right relationship with Him.
Multiple times in this chapter, Yahweh reminds them, "I am the Lord, I am Yahweh, I am your God." We can overlook the power of those statements because we already know this to be true and we figure they did too, but let's imagine for a minute that they didn't know the God of the Bible that we know. Let's imagine they'd been living outside of relationship with Him for so long that they didn't remember Him at all. Let's imagine they'd been living in a world tainted by the enticements of gods who require ceaseless worship but offer nothing to nourish one's own soul. They knew their fathers had served the One True God sometime back in their history, but who He was and what He required was lost to them. His ways were mixed with Egypt's ways to make a confusing, messy way of life where everyone lived under the oppression of man-appointed rulers, yet somehow also did whatever he deemed right in his own eyes.
But watch---as the light shines in the darkness...
"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."
We often read that and figure we can stop right there. "Ok, God told them to be holy. So now they just gotta start being holy! I know how to be holy---it's right here in my....oh wait."
With an open-eyed reading of previous portions of the Old Testament, we can see that Yahweh had given at least some of his instructions to His people already, but much of these ways had been lost over their time spent as a no longer set-apart people. They were brand new at this "following Yahweh" thing. So He needed to teach them.
As we read on, we find He gave them His Torah to teach them. But not only that, He also promised them a Deliverer, a prophet likened unto Moses; someone who would one day help them walk out Torah more fully and on another Great Day, establish them in a forever kingdom where they'd be with Him for eternity.
Imagine being that person receiving clear instructions from the One True God for the first time.
"Be holy, for I am holy."
"Ok God, how do I do this?"
"Here child, I will give you my Torah instructions so you can be sure of what I require of you. Now you no longer need to be confused. Now you no longer need to wander aimlessly from this fix to that fix, searching for the ultimate fix. Here, let me shepherd you into right relationship with Me."
This is why Torah is relevant today. It is just as essential now as it was then. Sure, there are parts we can't walk out right now---there is no temple at this point, no established Levitical priesthood, no ability for every believer to "go up to Jerusalem" (thanks, COVID)---but there is still a lot, a majority, that we can follow.
The Torah wasn't just for a certain people for a certain time. Did you know Jesus said this:
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (God's instructions given through the Old Testament prophets). I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle (tiniest markings in Hebrew text) will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
That's a pretty important warning, I think.
Many people think the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New. That He's mean, judgmental, and full of fiery wrath; whereas somehow Jesus calmed Him down after He became a man and made Him a God who tolerates a whole lot more than before. This is very much untrue. That merciful and patient God can be found all over the Old Testament and that God who brings final judgement is very present in the New. John beautifully ties together the God of the Old with the God of the New in his first epistle. When you read this, imagine it being written by a descendant of those Hebrews who left Egypt and met their One True God at the mountain; and, imagine it being written as a personal letter to you:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life---the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us---that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." (1 John 1:1-4)
He's saying, "Yes! All those things that were promised through the Law and the Prophets---we have seen and touched in the flesh! Our Messiah, our hope, He is real! He has come and is coming again! Yahweh and all that He is is manifested before us! Come, have fellowship with us! Learn His ways so your joy may be full!"
And that's what I want to say to you today. There is so much more to living a set-apart life than attending Sunday church and Wednesday church and praying at dinner time and playing Christian radio in your car. There is the opportunity to know the Holy God who manifests Himself to us repeatedly in every portion of His Word. There is the opportunity to throw off everything that entangles us and run freely to Him and then with Him, but you first must know Him. That is not found by saying the sinner's prayer and sitting under the teaching of a human, usually the same human, once or twice a week. It's found by opening up the book of Genesis and reading it slowly, line by line, stopping often to pray for understanding and to contemplate and look up words and chew on stuff. Then move on to Exodus...and on... Read His Torah, read His Old Testament. Learn how He manifested Himself to our fathers. Then when you go back and read the New Testament that you think you know so much about, you'll find that you see it with completely new eyes---and you'll find that you're truly getting to know Him.