8. “Shomer Mitzvot” (Torah Observant)

 

Because of the importance of the discussions on the Law of God—the Torah—within the scope of a Messianic commentary on the book of Galatians, I have decided to devote an entire section to Torah observance for Jews and Gentiles in Messiah.  By this point in my commentary, it should not be difficult to comprehend the massive differences between the prevailing Christian opinions and the prevailing Messianic Jewish perspectives, particularly in regards to the Law of God.  In a word, historic Christianity does not embrace the so-called ceremonial and civil parts of the Torah of Moshe as an everyday lifestyle the way historic Messianic Judaism and the current Torah Movement of today does.  This is what we call an in-house debate.  Both groups of people profess belief in Yeshua as Messiah.

 

In my experience, much of the differences between these two “saved people” organizations, regarding the relevance of Torah for Christians, lean towards one or two key verses in the gospels or in Paul, rather than carefully reasoned examinations of a whole book the likes of Galatians, and this is unfortunate because a single verse can, in effect, become the “spokesman” for an entire theological position.  Your average Bible student, then, too easily becomes lazy and fails to test the soundness of theology that is rooted either in a single religious slogan or in a single verse.  If this is not the case, then why aren’t many who study the New Testament basing their interpretations and applications of the Law of God primarily on the Old Testament itself?  To be sure, the overwhelming context of the TaNaKH as whole does not present a view of Torah that suggests it will be relaxed once the Messiah arrives on the scene. 

 

I would tend to think that most religious Jews—myself included—would find the prevailing Christian conclusion that the “Law is done away with in Christ” to be “unfortunate” in the sense that it such a view essentially robs heritage Isra'el of a rich collection of historical and religious traditions that, in many cases, are actually rooted in the text itself!  After all, not all traditions are bad. To be sure, the popular view that sees the “ceremonial” and “civil” parts of the Law as expired, with the “moral” parts of the Law continuing on, amounts to what I find to be a cleverly veiled adversarial attack on those commandments that tend to make a person look like an historical Jew, viz, they tend to make a person resemble someone who is an advocate for establishing the ‘works of the Law’ all over again (Sabbath, food laws, circumcision, etc.).

 

What is more, nothing in the prophecies of Isra'el hints at an “apostle to the Gentiles” who will enforce policies in Isra'el that teach the abrogation of Torah as a viable lifestyle of the redeemed peoples of HaShem.  I would like to present what I believe to be scriptural “proof” that the book of Galatians and indeed Paul as a follower of the One, True Jewish Messiah simply could not have taught the abrogation of the Torah as a whole.  Drawing from the biblical principle of presenting two or three witnesses to strengthen an argument, I will cite two from the 5 Books of Moshe, two from the Prophets, and two from the Writings.  We will then allow these TaNaKH witnesses to either buttress Paul’s statement about the Law, or to pale in comparison to his conclusion in Galatians.  So that no “foul play” accusations may be leveled, in my choice of verses from the Chumash, I selected only verses that refer to the written Torah, as it pertains to its historical revelation, viz, “Sinai” (post Avraham, post Egyptian Exodus):

 

Torah:

 

Look, I have taught you laws and rulings, just as ADONAI my God ordered me, so that you can behave accordingly in the land where you are going in order to take possession of it. Therefore, observe them; and follow them; for then all peoples will see you as having wisdom and understanding. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, 'This great nation is surely a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has God as close to them as ADONAI our God is, whenever we call on him? What great nation is there that has laws and rulings as just as this entire Torah which I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

 

And,

 

"However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah, if you turn to ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being. For this mitzvah which I am giving you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach. It isn't in the sky, so that you need to ask, 'Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?' Likewise, it isn't beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, 'Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?' On the contrary, the word is very close to you - in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (Deuteronomy 30:10-14)

 

Nevi’im (Prophets):

 

Only be strong and very bold in taking care to follow all the Torah which Moshe my servant ordered you to follow; do not turn from it either to the right or to the left; then you will succeed wherever you go. Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed. (Joshua 1:7, 8)

 

And,

 

"Blessed be ADONAI, who has given rest to his people Isra'el, in accordance with everything he promised. Not one word has failed of his good promise, which he made through Moshe his servant. May ADONAI our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors. May he never leave us or abandon us. In this way he will incline our hearts toward him, so that we will live according to his ways and observe his mitzvot, laws and rulings which he ordered our fathers to obey. May these words of mine, which I have used in my plea before ADONAI, be present with ADONAI our God day and night, so that he will uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Isra'el day by day. Then all the peoples of the earth will know that ADONAI is God; there is no other. So be wholehearted with ADONAI our God, living by his laws and observing his mitzvot, as you are doing today." (M’lakhim Alef [1 Kings] 8:56-61)

 

K’tuvim (Writings):

 

The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the inner person. The instruction of ADONAI is sure, making wise the thoughtless. The precepts of ADONAI are right, rejoicing the heart. The mitzvah of ADONAI is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The rulings of ADONAI are true, they are righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold, also sweeter than honey or drippings from the honeycomb. Through them your servant is warned; in obeying them there is great reward. (Tehillim [Psalms] 19:8[7]-12[11])

 

And,

 

For the mitzvah is a lamp, Torah is light, and reproofs that discipline are the way to life. (Proverbs 6:23)

 

Finally, the witness of the Apostle Paul himself in books other than Galatians:

 

So the torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good. (Romans 7:12)

 

And,

 

But you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, recalling the people from whom you learned it; and recalling too how from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which can give you the wisdom that leads to deliverance through trusting in Yeshua the Messiah.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

 

This admittedly limited presentation of select Bible passages clearly enjoins ongoing covenant faithfulness and loyal to HaShem upon any and all who wish to be counted among the members of God’s family called Isra'el.  Christians may not choose to identify the life they lead as “Torah observance,” but make no mistake, it is in fact in keeping with the Law of God—the Torah of Moshe—to espouse genuine faith in the Messiah Yeshua, and to pattern one’s life after the life that he lived.  In this way, whether one is Jewish or not, or whether a Christian embraces the so-called ceremonial and civil parts of Torah or not becomes an issue related to ongoing sanctification due to the biblical reality that “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) is, in point of fact, to be (as orthodox Jews say) “shomer mitzvot,” viz, Torah observant.  So, let us talk about this notion of “Torah observant" for a bit.

 

The Hebrew word remw{v "shomer" means "keeper of," or “to be observant”; in the Qal stem, the root word rmX “shamar” suggests the idea of “safeguarding.”[1]  The Hebrew word t{w.cim "mitzvot" is the plural form of the word hwcm "mitzvah," meaning, "command”; thus, t{w.cim remw{v "shomer mitzvot" (say: show-mair meets-vote) means "keeper of the commands,” or more generically “Torah observant.”

 

Many believers—specifically Jewish believers without a formal background in Judaism, and Gentile ones who wish to identify with the Scriptures of Isra'el—have questions about what it means to be “Torah observant.”  Pursuing the Torah as the Master Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ) modeled it for his followers is sometimes referred to as hklh “halakhah,” coming from the Hebrew word $lh “halakh” for “walk.”[2]

 

In Judaism, safeguarding and keeping the Torah is central to performing the will of HaShem.[3] Indeed, as properly understood from HaShem’s point of view, the whole of Torah was given to bring its followers to the "goal" of acquiring the kind of faith in HaShem that leads to placing one’s trusting faithfulness in the One and only Son of HaShem, Yeshua HaMashiach.[4] To this end, the Torah has prophesied about him since as early as the book of Genesis (3:15), and continues to speak of him until its conclusion in Revelation (22:20). In this capacity, the Torah hrwt acts like its etymological counterpart hry "yarah"[5] (an archery term) in that it "teaches" its adherents how to properly identify with HaShem by helping them to "reach the mark.” To be sure, one of the most common Hebrew verbs used to identify "sin" חָטָ֖א “chatah” literally means, "to miss the mark.”[6]

 

As our current expedition into the book of Galatians has so aptly demonstrated, obedience to the Torah has long since been an oft-misunderstood subject, both in the Jewish community and the Christian one.  To be sure, as we seek to better understand the historical context of Paul's writings in Galatians, we must continually remind ourselves that in the 1st century Judaisms, the prevailing theology sincerely—albeit incorrectly—believed that genuine and lasting covenant status was granted to Jewish Isra'el and Jewish Isra'el alone.  Tim Hegg captures this concept well in his book The Letter Writer:

 

If the extant Rabbinic literature contains at least some expression of the general viewpoints of 1st Century Pharisaism, then it is safe to say that the prevailing Pharisaic view of Paul’s day was that every Israelite was secured a place in the world to come.[7]

 

All Isra'el have a portion in the world-to-come, for it is written, Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.[8]

 

The verse referenced in the Talmud above (“for it is written”) is taken from Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 60:21, which reads:

 

Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified (ASV).

 

However, the literal Hebrew of “Thy people also shall be all righteous” is ~yiqyiD;c ~'LUK .$eM;[.w And your people all of them [are] righteous [ones].  The translator’s insert of “shall be all” is not in the text, however the future context of the passage lends to this choice of wording, of which I agree.  Nevertheless, this statement of the prophet’s lead the Sages to adopt a position similar to the one listed in the Talmud, viz, Isra'el exclusively shall be righteous.  In this capacity the Sages imagined that Torah does not function to lead the individual to an imputed righteousness (the way the pedagogue leads the boy-student to the Teacher of Righteousness in Galatians 3:24), rather, the Torah is given to the person who is righteous either by birth or by conversion.

 

It is my understanding that the errors surrounding one’s relationship to Torah can be corrected once a person resolves the issues surrounding identity and legalism, begins to understand the intended nature and function of the Torah in the first place, and then faithfully applies it to their own lives. 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 HaShem the Father. It should not be presumed that it could be obeyed mechanically, automatically, legalistically, without having faith, without having trust in HaShem, without having love for HaShem or man, and without being empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh. To state it succinctly, Torah observance is a matter of the heart, always has been[9], and always will be.

 

It is my desire that this commentary to the book of Galatians will assist the average non-Jewish believer, or new Messianic Jewish believer in his desire to become a more mature child of God.

 

"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer" (Deuteronomy 10:12-16, NIV).

 

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!

 

In conclusion to this section on Shomer Mitzvot (Torah Observance), consider this explanation (Hebrew=midrash) on our relationship to two of the more well-known biblical covenants:

 

The following explanation is meant to serve as a primer to the individuals’ search to become “Torah Observant.”  It is not meant to be an exhaustive definition on the subject, rather, it is simply an introduction to a series of teachings in this area.  To be sure, this Torah Teacher is not the subject matter expert.  But the following “midrash” (teaching example) should enlighten the average believer:  (I’m pretty sure my friends at First Fruits of Zion have made me familiar with the following example.  I have, however, modified it somewhat.)

 

‘Most new automobiles come with two important pieces of literature: an owner’s manual, and a set of registration papers.  The first of these is free with the purchase of the car.  The latter needs to be obtained legally by the purchaser.  ‘In the event of a traffic altercation (accident, speeding, etc.), the driver of the vehicle is required to produce the proof of registration (among other things) to the policeman making the report.  Failure to do so will have serious repercussions on the part of the driver, as this information vitally links the driver to the ownership of the car.  Obviously the registration paper is very important.

 

‘On a similar vein, a long trip out and abroad on a hot summer day, without the use of the air conditioner, will prove to be uncomfortable, to say the least—especially, if the region is a humid one.  A flat tire during this trip would spell “double disaster.”  Because this is a new car, the driver is unfamiliar with the climate controls, so the heat is unbearable!  Also, he or she may be ignorant when is comes to changing a flat tire!  Where does the driver turn to for assistance?  Fortunately the owner’s manual covers such topics as “climate controls, changing a flat, oil pressure, engine maintenance, and even radio features.”  The owner’s manual proves to be a valuable tool in providing both comfort and peace of mind in this situation.’

 

The matter of Torah Observance is made clearer when one understands the relationship he or she has to the Covenants.  The Torah spells out at least two very important Covenants in the life of a follower of HaShem (God).  There is the Avrahamic (with Abraham) Covenant and the Moshaic (with Moses) Covenant.  The Avrahamic Covenant serves to represent the registration papers, in our above midrash.  Prior to coming to faith, the Torah served as a reminder of sin (Romans 7:7-12).  This is not the only function of Torah, but it is a primary one.  After coming into a relationship with HaShem, through His Son Yeshua, the person underwent a change in relationship to the Torah.  The Avrahamic Covenant became for him or her, a “promise of inheritance.”  And what is this “inheritance”?  “Eternal life,” through trusting faithfulness.  It became their “proof of ownership” so-to-say.  It still reminded him or her of their sin.  However, because we now constitute the “Righteousness of HaShem” (Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21), we are now free to pursue following HaShem without the threat of death for disobedience!  To be sure, the Torah spelled certain death for some disobedient acts committed by the supposed covenant follower (see: Exodus 31:12-18 “Sabbath violation”).  Even the New Covenant Scriptures (B’rit Chadashah) teach, “The wages (payment) of sin is death.”  But now Yeshua’s atoning death has “redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13, KJV).  “Death” and “condemnation” are no longer our wages (Romans 6:23; 8:1).

 

The Moshaic Covenant was added for the “enjoyment of the promise” already available through our participation in the Avrahamic Covenant.  The Moshaic Covenant became our “owner’s manual,” providing blessing, maintenance, and enjoyment of promise to our lives. 

 

“For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given.  In other words, faith must precede obedience.  But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one, which naturally flows into obedience.  True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith.  It is always the result of true biblical faith.”[10]

 

Torah Observance is a matter of the heart.  It always has been and always will be.  The Torah Proper (first Five Books of Moshe) instructed the people of Isra’el to “love ADONAI your God with all their heart, all your being and all your resources” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is where “Shomer Mitzvot” begins—by loving HaShem, and accepting Him on His terms.  By this, I mean accepting His means of covenant obedience.  For today, this means acceptance of Yeshua, His only Son, for Jew and non-Jew alike.

 

Covenants require a response on the part of the follower.  HaShem, for His part, has provided the “promise of inheritance” for all those who participate in the Avrahamic Covenant.  The response to this covenant is “faith.”  The nature of the Moshaic Covenant is “blessing, maintenance, and enjoyment of promise.”  For all who wish to participate, the response to this covenant is “obedience.”  It’s that “easy.”

 



[1] Brown, Driver, Briggs (BDB), rmX.

[2] Ibid, $lh.

[3] Deuteronomy 5:1.

[4] Luke 24:27, 44-47; Romans 10:4.

[5] BDB, hry.

[6] Ibid, חָטָ֖א.

[7] Tim Hegg, The Letter Writer (FFOZ Publications, 2002), p. 85.

[8] m. Sanhedrin 10:1, the gemara is b. Sanhedrin 90a.

[9] Deuteronomy 6:6; 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 31:33;Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans 7:22; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16.

[10] Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, Torah Rediscovered (FFOZ, 1996), p. 32.