on “Torah” (תורה) or the “Law” of God

We often hear of the word torah(תורה) and associate it with Law (as it is quite often translated this way in the OT) and then immediately we associate Law with rules (do’s and don’ts – can and can’t) and typically we associate rules (do’s and don’ts – can and can’t) with the Ten Commandments (which really is the heart of torah (תורה)).   This is unfortunate because the range of meaning for torah (תורה) can take us in a different direction such as that it most often means “instruction” or “direction,” even “teaching.”  Patrick Miller in his book The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology (Eerdmans 2007) regarding torah (תורה) writes:

The Way of the LordIn addition to their being characterized as “commandment” and “word,” the Commandments do belong to the body of material commonly called torah.  That is the word most often translated as “law,” but it, too, does not strictly mean thatIt actually means “instruction,” which is what the Commandments are, instruction for life, the teaching of God about what is necessary to do in order for the community to live according to God’s way and in harmony with one another.  That understanding of the commandments has implications for the way in which we receive them.  To perceive the Commandments as instruction rather than law, or to comprehend the law as instruction that enhances and provides for life and harmony, is to view them quite positively.   Teaching is meant to guide us and enable us in some fashion to be better, and better off than we would be without it, not to undo us.  To the extent, therefore, that the Ten Commandments have become law or are to be understood under that rubric, it is law in this sense, as the instruction of God.

I don’t know about you all but, I like this.  It has been tremendously helpful for me and has encouraged me to see and read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament as just that, “instruction” or “teaching,” and to ask as I read it, how is the Lord directing me to live or how am I to understand things in light of what I read in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament?

To be honest, in the six years since I started seminary (Sept 2003 – where my first three classes were Biblical Hebrew I&II and an exegesis of the Psalms) I have never heard a pastor speak of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in this manner – that the heart of the torah is not always and only “law” in a legalistic sense (since there are instances of “laws,” especially in the “Pentetuch,”) but it is also this idea of instruction and teaching, even direction (all different aspects of the same thing).   Even the Apostle Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 10 when he lets the Corinthians know “these things happend for our instruction.”  This is how the Hebrew people saw and understood the Scriptures, as instruction and God’s direction for their lives, we should too!

So, I hope this can be of some help to you as well, to know that when the Bible says we are to delight in the “law of God” really we are to delight in the instruction and direction of the Lord in our lives.

ps> go here to see what it would look like of God has sent the Ten Commandments via txt msg!


2 responses to “on “Torah” (תורה) or the “Law” of God

  1. is it because you are in Exodus 20?

    soon as I can I want to get this book – he deals with Torah and the Psalms and those interest me.

    I think too I am going to get Brugge and Millers book Psalms and the Life of Faith – it’s a bit dated but probably still really good!

    Hope the sermon goes well.

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