Paul states in Romans 10:4 that the Messiah is the goal of the Torah (see also 2 Cor 3:14–15; Col 2:16–17). In John 5:46, Yeshua argues that since the religious leaders did not believe Moses, they did not accept Him as the promised Messiah. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” Likewise, in Matthew 5:17 Yeshua says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” The author of Hebrews argues the Law was never a goal in and of itself, but rather it prescribed a system of worship that was divinely intended to point people to the Messiah. He writes about the tabernacle,
By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation (Heb 9:8–10; see also 10:1).
Though the New Testament teaches that the Messiah is the goal and fulfillment of the Torah as a whole, and the Law in particular, it is worth going back to the Torah (the five Books of Moses) to consider how Yeshua, Paul and the author of Hebrews came to such conclusions. Are their conclusions based on the grammatical-historicalinterpretation of the Torah, or can one only arrive at such interpretations by reading the Torah through the lens of the New Testament writings? We believe the authors of the New Testament did not impose added meaning on the Torah (“extra-Jesus”), but actually understood the original meaning intended by Moses when he wrote the Torah (exegesis).
Why is the Breaking of the Law Anticipated?
If the ultimate goal of the Torah is to provide Israel with the Law and to motivate them to keep it, we should expect to find some indication of this aim in its introduction and conclusion (Gen 1–11; Deut 29–34), since introductions and conclusions in biblical literature typically contain the major themes and purpose of entire books.
In order to understand the purpose and meaning of Genesis 1–11 and its function as the introduction to the Torah, it is important to point out a common literary feature in the Genesis narratives, a feature later described by the rabbis as “ma’asei avot, siman l’banim,” meaning “the deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons.” Ma’asei avot, siman l’banim means Moses wrote stories about the Patriarchs, not only to tell us about the Patriarchs (and about those who preceded them), but also to tell us what would happen to the descendants of those patriarchs (i.e., the nation of Israel) in the future. Though some scholars use this Hebrew phrase to identify this literary feature, others refer to it as narrative typology or literary analogy. Though some may accuse us of deferring to allegorical interpretations to reach our conclusions about the meaning of the stories in the Torah, this is not the case at all. Ma’asei avot is a tangible, identifiable feature in the text itself and was recognized by ancient and modern interpreters, Jewish and Christian, alike. There are also commonly accepted and recognized criteria for making the claim that one text was intentionally written as an analogy (or, foreshadowing ) of another text: (1) common or unique language; and (2) common plot. We also make use of a third criterion, namely, the history of interpretation. In other words, it is extremely helpful to find others in the history of interpretation who recognized how one story foreshadows another, or how one story was written in the light of an earlier story.
For example, the story of Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt due to a great famine, God’s striking of Pharaoh’s house with plagues, and their “exodus” from Egypt with great riches (Gen 12:10–13:2), reveals not only what happened to Abram and Sarai, but also prefigures what will happen to Israel over 400 years later (Gen 43:1 through Exod 12:38).
Just as Abram’s sojourn in Egypt was written as a sign of later events, likewise, the story of Adam and Eve was written with Israel’s future in mind. In other words, by reading about Adam, we can also know what will happen to Israel in the future. So, with Israel in mind, we should look at the general storyline of the first three chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 1:28, God (1) blesses Adam and Eve and (2) tells them to be fruitful and (3) to subdue (conquer) the Land. Notice that all the major elements of God’s promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1–3), blessing, seed, and land, are contained in this verse. Later in Genesis, God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants include all three aspects of the creation mandate: blessing, seed, and the conquest of the Land (Gen 14:18–15:18; 35:9–12; see also Exod 1:7; Numb 32:22, 29).
In Genesis 2, God prepares a very special land (garden) for Adam and then brings him into it. Adam’s continued enjoyment of this Garden is contingent upon the keeping of just a few commandments: “be fruitful,” “subdue the land,” and “do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 1:28; 2:17). In Genesis 3, we are introduced to the serpent, an “inhabitant” of the Garden, who deceives Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve should have subdued the serpent (Gen 1:28), but, instead, are themselves subdued by the serpent, disobey God’s commandment, and are subsequently exiled from the Garden, eastward, where their descendants eventually find themselves in Babylon (Gen 11).
This story should sound familiar, since Adam’s story becomes Israel’s story in Joshua through Kings. God blessed Israel and made them fruitful. He gave them, not a few, but 613 commandments. He brought them to the Land of Canaan in order to subdue it and to conquer its inhabitants. Their presence in the Land was contingent on keeping the Law. Like Adam, they broke the commandments, and were exiled eastward to Babylon.
If the purpose of Genesis 1–11 is to both encourage and to warn Israel to keep the Law, it is difficult to see how this introduction achieves that goal. Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world. Their continued presence in the Garden was contingent on the keeping of only a few commandments, not 613 commandments. Under the best conditions this world has ever seen, Adam and Eve break one of the three laws and die in exile. It is not at all clear how the telling of the story of Adam and Eve’s failure to keep only a few commandments in a perfect world is supposed to encourage Israel to keep 613 commandments in a fallen world. Actually, it offers no encouragement, at all. And if we take the principle of ma’asei avot’ siman l’banim seriously, Adam’s story never was intended to warn Israel from following in Adam’s footsteps (i.e., a warning to keep the Law). Rather, Adam’s story was intended to be a prophecy that Israel would follow in Adam’s footsteps. “Israel, you will be just like Adam. You will enter the Land, be tempted by the Canaanites to follow their ways, you will break the Law, and then you will be exiled!”
When we look at the conclusion of the Torah (Deut 29–34), we see the same exact perspective that we find in the introduction. Moses did not expect Israel to keep the Law. Rather, he predicts Israel will break the Law and go into exile.
In Moses’ forty years with Israel in the wilderness, he experienced Israel breaking the Sinai Covenant the moment it was made (Exod 32), continuous complaining (Exod 15:24; 16:2, 7–8; 17:3; Numb 11:1; 14:2, 27, 29, 36; 16:11; 17:6, 20), and unbelief (Numb 14:11; 20:12; Deut 1:32; 9:23). These experiences led him to the conclusion that Israel’s enjoyment of the Land would be short-lived. In the conclusion of the Torah, Moses prophesies that Israel will assuredly repeat Adam’s story by breaking the Sinai Covenant and being exiled.
And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you (Deut 30:1).
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that 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 devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give” (Deut 31:16–21).
The fact that Moses so clearly prophesied Israel’s disobedience and exile at the end of the Torah strongly suggests that our interpretation of the story of Adam is correct. Adam’s story was written with Israel’s future disobedience in mind.
Since the Torah’s introduction and conclusion take for granted, prophetically speaking, Israel’s disobedience to the Law, it hardly makes sense to understand that the Torah’s ultimate goal is encouragement to keep the Law. In other words, the Torah’s ultimate goal must be conceived, not in terms of bringing Israel to the Law, but in terms of leading them through the broken Law, through the broken covenant, and beyond.
Some might object by pointing to the numerous times Moses calls Israel to keep the Law. How do we reconcile Moses’ pleas to Israel to keep the Law on the one hand, with his prophecies that Israel would not keep the Law on the other? Perhaps an analogy to this tension between a call for obedience and the certainty of disobedience can be found in Jeremiah. Jeremiah assumes Israel’s failure to heed the prophet’s numerous warnings to keep the Law throughout the book (Jer 1:1–3). For instance, Jeremiah implores Israel to keep the Sabbath or else Jerusalem would be burned (Jer 17:21–22, 24, 27). But the Book of Jeremiah also makes it clear that Israel did not obey, and so we read about Jerusalem’s destruction by fire at the end of the book (Jer 52:13). Jeremiah’s consistent warnings to keep the Law, found throughout the book and which were given prior to the Exile, coupled with Israel’s failure and exile at the end of the book, help bring its message and its theology more clearly into focus. The ultimate purpose of the Book of Jeremiah is not to get Israel to keep the Law so they would not be exiled. The ultimate purpose is to tell us how God will graciously save Israel in spite of their disobedience, through the Messiah and the New Covenant (Jer 30–33). It is in this light that we more clearly appreciate the Torah’sultimate goal as well. Israel is repeatedly told to keep the Law and is promised blessings for obedience, but God graciously and unconditionally promises to bless Israel through the coming Messiah in spite of the certainty of their failure.
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