I started to write out the post and then kept going off the track to explain bits and pieces and thought, you know, instead, i should write up a little series on some of the basics of what we are learning about Torah and THEN in light of that being laid out plainly, I will share my thoughts about Stephen. These are thoughts from my heart about our Torah journey.
So, here is part one.
What is the difference between God's written commandments (the Torah or 'instructions' given by the One True Living God) and man's oral traditions (which were/are NOT God given)
We've been taught that Jews kept the 'old law'. This is not entirely true. While some of the Jews (a term which really refers to those from the house of Judah) kept some of the Torah, on the whole, they had been taught to ALSO keep the rabbinic traditions and oral laws like the Talmud and the Mishnah. The body of all these laws all squashed up together is called the Halacha. Mixed in with God's written laws are these man made ones which, Yeshua Messiah Himself called 'burdensome' and a load too difficult to carry. He never called the Torah of God burdensome (in fact he said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light).
These latter two (Talmud and Mishnah) are NOT the written Torah (instructions) that Yahovah gave His people. Rather, these are what is oft referred to as the 'fence' laws which were put around the Torah instructions so that people would not break the commandments or even come close to it! Instead of just taking God at his word, those in charge of the people thought it best to put other measures in place. What may have begun as a 'help' for the people really did turn instead into a 'hindrance'. The customs and traditions were often being put in place of the commandments (instructions) which God lovingly gave as a daddy to his kiddos! Safe boundaries if you will, since He is soverign Creator and knows what is best for us. Who is man that he thinks he can 'add to' or 'take away' from God's instructions?
Check out Mark 7 for what Yeshua (Jesus) says about this. It's a perfect example. The Pharisees begin looking down their noses at him because he was not holding to 'the traditional of the elders' regarding hand washing (Mark 7:3) You will NOT find anywhere in the God given Torah that you need to ceremonially wash your hands/jugs/cups/etc. He did NOT give that commandment anywhere.
That was a tradition of men!
The Pharisees ask, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean hands'?" (Mark 7:5). Do you notice that Jesus is NOT breaking the Torah (God's written instructions) but is NOT obeying man's traditions?! Isn't He fantastic! He refuses to bow down to what they are pressuring Him to do which are man made commandments rather than God-given ones! What does He tell them? Firstly, he calls them 'hypocrites' and quotes from the Tanakh (old testament scriptures) and then He says, get this, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe you own traditions!" Notice He didn't say, " I am going to do away with the commandments of God". Then He quotes Moses. And finally says, "Thus you nullify the word of God by your own tradition that you have handed down. You do many things like that". See, man's traditions were NULLIFYING or making void, God's commandments and Jesus came to set that straight! That's what it means by he came to 'fullfil the law' (in Matthew 5:17). You can check it out in the Blue Letter Bible yourself (link the sidebar) and see that the word 'fullfil' here in its context is Strong's Number 4137. It comes from the Greek word 'pleroo' and is a verb (a doing word!) He was coming to 'fill the law up to its full measure' to interpret the law correctly! He himself said He didn't come to do away with even the smallest stroke of the Torah and that none of it would disapear until heaven and earth pass away....and they are still standing!
Yeshua (Jesus) said so many things like this! Check out Matthew 23 as another example. Far out, this blew me away when I read this for the first time in light of Torah.
'Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything that they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on the men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them".
Moses' seat was a place that had been established from which the Torah was read. Read Exodus 18:13-16. Moses sat down to 'judge' between the people and to 'make known the statutes of God and His laws' (Ex 18:16). What was read from Moses' seat was the instructions given to Moses...ie: The Torah of God! The Pharisees were SAYING the Torah of Yehovah (God) but were DOING something totally different! They were adding to it! They were taking away from it! They were tying up on men's backs heavy loads that they were not doing themselves! Remember that we are NOT talking about the God given commandments here but the added ones.
Once again, we only need to look at what our Messiah Saviour Yehsua (Jesus) said...Do what they say according to Moses but don't do it how they do it. No wonder he called them hypocrites and blind guides.
And what, ultimately, were these Jews saying to the other believers? That unless they did these extra things, they would not be saved. Paul says it beautifully in Romans 3: "For we maintain that a man is JUSTIFIED by FAITH apart from observing the law (Romans 3:28)...Do we then nullify (get rid of) the law by this faith? NOT AT ALL! RATHER, WE UPHOLD THE LAW" (Romans 3:31)
Before I finish off, I just want to say that before I came to know the freedom and beauty in Torah, I too had the understanding from years of hearing teaching on it, that the Torah (God given commandments) were 'old', 'done away with', 'burdensome', 'too difficult to bear' etc etc.
But is this REALLY what the Scriptures teach?
Let's let the Scriptures speak for themselves....
"Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away" (Matt 24:35). He is the Living Word, the Living Torah. The Torah made flesh.
"Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man". (Ecclesiastes 12:13. This coming from the wisest man who ever lived).
"Keeping God's commands is what counts" (1 Corinthians 7:19)
"Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law". (Romans 7:7)
"The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good". (Romans 7:12) Why would Paul say these things if in fact 'the law had been done away with' as we are often taught?
"For in my inner being I delight in God's law..." (Romans 7:22)
In Nehemiah 9 when the people are returning to the covenant of Torah with Yah (God), the people declare that it is a "covenant of love" (verse 32) and that "a man will live if he obeys them (the commandments)" (verse 29). How beautiful.
Well, I hope and pray that even one person out there in Blogland will be encouraged to search deeper into the Scriptures through this little mini look into God's commandments vs the traditions of men. And may you only settle for the Truth of His Word...for the Truth shall set us free.