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#3.0 THE HIERARCHY OF THE LAW OF MOSES

Greek Word Study on 4521 σάββατον sabbaton Sabbath.
Hebrew Word Study on 7676 שַׁבָּת shabbat Sabbath.
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Introduction 3.0

Jesus often came into conflict with the Pharisees over what he did on the Sabbath day, and they often accused him or his disciples of breaking the law of Moses. What they did not understand was that the law is spiritual (Romans 7:14), and Jesus was fulfilling the law in a spiritual sense; a sense which supersedes letter keeping of the law. There was a hierarchy to the law of Moses, and this bible study shows that some commandments were more important than others.

#3.01 Understand the Hierarchy of the Law of Moses

Jesus was once asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22:36). His reply was:

(Matthew 22:37-39) "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it
, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

No other commandment superseded these commandments, and when a person operated according to these commandments, in faith, he was fulfilling the law. Paul said, "he who loves another has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8), and "love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10). There were also other commandments which were greater than some of the others:

(Matthew 23:23) "Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these you ought to have done, and not leave the others undone."

In this verse Jesus is making the point that justice, mercy and faith were more important principles in the law than paying tithes, even though both should be done. Here in another example:

(Matthew 12:7) "But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless."

Of course sacrifice was part of the law, but in this place Jesus made it clear that mercy was more important and took precedence. Look at another example:

(1 Samuel 15:22) "And Samuel said, Does Yahweh have as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hear than the fat of rams."

This example shows that obeying the commands of God is more important to God than making sacrifices. Thus there is a hierarchy of commands in the law, showing that some commands are more important than others, and when there is a conflict of commands the higher ones take precedence. Understanding how Jesus operated in this hierarchy, and how we should operate, removes many of the apparent contradictions and arguments that Jesus broke the law. "The law is spiritual" (Romans 7:14) and we are meant to fulfil the law in a spiritual way (Romans 8:4). A carnal man can only interpret the law in a carnal way, and cannot fulfil a spiritual law, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." (Romans 8:7). Why can a carnal man not keep the law? Because he is "Sold under sin" (Romans 7:14), and "sin is transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4). The higher commands in the law are love, mercy and faith, and these are spiritual. Therefore, spiritual fulfilment of the law supersedes keeping commandments in a carnal way. When Paul spoke of it he compared the spirit and the letter of the law:

(Romans 2:29) "But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

(Romans 7:6) "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead in which we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."

(2 Corinthians 3:6) "Who has made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills but the spirit gives life."

These scriptures show that the spirit of the law supersedes the letter of the law. However there are some occasions when we do have to keep the letter of the law, as well as the spirit of it. For example, "You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14), is spiritually fulfilled by not lusting in our heart (Matthew 5:28), and loving our neighbour (Galatians 5:14). But then we must ask, "If I love my neighbour, and I do not lust after men or women in my heart, is it then alright to commit adultery?" The answer is obviously no. This is an example where the heart condition (love and no lust) is naturally expressed by keeping the letter (no adultery). Another example is the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3). This commandment is fulfilled by loving God with our whole heart, and our whole soul, and our whole mind (Matthew 22:37). So if we do love God this way, is it then alright to have another God before him? Obviously not! This is an example where our heart condition (love) is naturally expressed by our faithfulness (no other gods), and therefore keeps the letter also. You can examine all of the Ten Commandments in this way, on the basis of a heart filled with love, and find that every one of them will be kept literally in some way. The main thing is that we now fulfil the righteousness of the law:

(Romans 8:4) "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

Look at a general example of this hierarchy structure:

Love God
Love our neighbour
Justice, Mercy and Faith, Human need
Obedience to specific commandments, tithes, no work on the Sabbath
Free-will offerings and sacrifices

The higher commands here take priority over those below. Look at some examples to see how this hierarchy of commandments applies in the bible.

#3.02 Should you help your enemy’s animal?

(Exodus 20:9-10) "Six days you shall labour, and do all your work:
But the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates:"

(Exodus 23:4-5) "If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.
If you see the donkey of him who hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear to help him, you shall surely help with him."

Now here we have some conflicting instructions. If you met your enemy’s ox going astray, you must take him back to him (Exodus 23:4), which would be work, but what if this happened on the Sabbath day when it was forbidden to do any work? The answer is that taking the animal back would be showing love for your neighbour, which is the second highest commandment, so you would do this even though contrary to doing no work on the Sabbath, which was for your own benefit.
The same reasoning applies if you found the donkey of someone who hated you lying under his load. You would help him as an act of mercy, which is a higher command that doing no work on the Sabbath day.

#3.03 Should David have eaten the showbread?

(Leviticus 24:5-9) "And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes of it: two tenth deals shall be in one cake.
6 And you shall set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before Yahweh.
7 And you shall put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto Yahweh.
8 Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before Yahweh continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.
9 And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy to him of the offerings of Yahweh made by fire by a perpetual statute."

(1 Samuel 21:1) "Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said to him, Why are you alone, and no man with you?
2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, The king has commanded me a business, and has said to me, Do not let any man know anything of the business on which I send you, and what I have commanded you: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.
3 Now therefore what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever there is present.
4 And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.
5 And David answered the priest, and said to him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yes, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.
6 So the priest gave him holy bread: for there was no bread there but the showbread, that was taken from before Yahweh, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away."

(Matthew 12:3-4) "But he said to them, Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him;
How he entered into the house of God, and ate the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?"

In this example David ate the showbread which was holy, and intended only for the priests to eat. Why could he do that and not be guilty? Simply because a there was a human need and mercy overrode the letter of the law, which authorised only the priests to eat it.

#3.04 Should the Priests do more work on the Sabbath day?

(Exodus 20:9-10) "Six days you shall labour, and do all your work:
But the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates:

(Numbers 28:9-10) "And on the Sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and its drink offering:
This is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the continual burnt offering, and its drink offering."

(Matthew 12:5) "Or have you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?"

Here we have contrary commands which say that no work should be done on the Sabbath day, and yet the Priests had to make more sacrifices than on a normal weekday, which was more work for them. Jesus said that they "profane the Sabbath", but were blameless. Why? Because they were doing the work of God, and in this case it took priority over the command to rest on the Sabbath.

#3.05 Why did Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for Corban?

(Mark 7:10-13) "For Moses said, Honour your father and your mother; and, Whoever curses father or mother, let him die the death:
But you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; he shall be free.
And you permit him not to do anything for his father or his mother any more;
Making the word of God of no effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things do you."

Here we have a case where people were dedicating a free-will offering with God, called Corban, which should have been used to help their parents. Free-will offerings were accepted according to the law, but not when it broke the 5th commandment to honour their Father and Mother (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). To show love and mercy to their parents and obedience to the 5th commandment should have been a much higher priority than a free-will offering. The Pharisees were exalting relatively minor commandments, and ignoring the more important ones. Jesus referred to them as, "blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:24).

#3.06 Should Jesus’ disciples have plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath Day?

(Matthew 12:1-2, 7-8) "At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, Behold, your disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.
7 But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day."

Technically speaking Jesus’ disciples were breaking the command to do no work on the Sabbath day, because in a small way they were reaping and threshing. However there was a human need because the disciples were hungry, and this took precedence over the letter of the law.

#3.07 Should we obey the commands of magistrates and Governments?

(1 Pet 2:13-14) "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it is to the king, as supreme;
Or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of those who do well."

(Romans 13:1-4) "Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities; for there is no authority except from God; and those who are authorities have been appointed by God.
2 Whoever therefore resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God: and those who resist shall receive to themselves condemnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who does evil."

(Acts 5:29) Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."

In this case both Peter and Paul commanded us to obey the authorities of the country where we live, saying, they have been put there by God, and if we disobey we will be punished. However, when the rulers of the Jews tried to make a law in Jerusalem that the Apostles should not teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and the others agreed to obey God rather than men. The hierarchy here is obvious; God’s commands are more important than man’s commands.

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