and now Israel, what does the LORD require 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, . . . Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV
Israel – One of the principal differences between the Greek-Christian biblical worldview and the Hebrew-Semitic worldview is the scope of the precepts. Greek thinking is universalized thinking. That means the vocabulary, the theology and the ethics are applied as if they were meant for all people. There is good reason for this universal tendency. After all, YHWH is not simply the local god of Israel. He is the Almighty, the One True God, the Sovereign, the only Creator, the Master of the Universe. Hebrew Scriptures constantly reiterate this theme. All other “gods” are false and non-existent. It’s easy to project universal consequences from this ontological superiority. Even without Christian theology, Greek philosophy thought in terms of absolutes. The Greeks did not define Man as Athenian or Spartan or Mycenaean. Man was Man wherever he happened to appear. Truth was truth. Law was law. The highest ethical principles were held to be the same for all human beings. It was a small step for Christian theology to move from this philosophical foundation to the claim that Christian doctrine is true for all or that the Christian idea of salvation is the only right answer. For the most part, Christian theology universalized the first three chapters of Genesis, applied the Messianic prophecies of the Tanakh to Yeshua and concentrated on the doctrines of salvation, the Church and heavenly reward in the New Testament. As the “new” Israel, the actual history of Israel (which occupied most of the Bible) could be set aside as no longer relevant.
But notice how Moses delivers the obligations of Torah. “And now Israel.” Moses doesn’t say, “And now to everyone in the world.” He doesn’t add that these commandments apply to Egyptians, Sumerians or anyone else for that matter. He says that God’s requirements are for Israel. God is Israel’s God. God has a special relationship with Israel. God reveals His demands to Israel. God makes covenant commitments to Israel. The Italians, the Norwegians, the Chinese and the Nigerians aren’t included. Does that mean they can’t be included? Of course not. They can become part of Israel. But there is no Torah for Germans or Russians or Iranians. The Torah, God’s instructions for how He desires His people to live, is given to His people – Israel.
The point here is that in this sense Torah is not universal. God doesn’t demand that everyone walk in His ways, love Him or serve Him. He just demands that those who choose to align themselves with Israel, who become part of the Kingdom of His children, walk in His ways, love Him and serve Him. In fact, if you think that you are connected to the God of Israel but you do not walk in His ways, love Him or serve Him, then we can raise serious questions about your claim. There is no biblical example of any person who lived in opposition to God’s way, who did not love Him or who did not serve Him and yet was considered one of His children.
Torah is not for everyone. It is only for those who love God and want to serve Him. It is the guidebook of the righteous. No pagan is expected to follow Torah. In fact, no pagan is able to follow Torah. When the Christian Church universalizes some of the requirements of Torah, it attempts to apply a selective ethics designed for the few to the masses. The result is morality by legislation, either religiously or politically or both. And that results in a nightmare of hopeless confusion and a vast majority of people who really don’t understand the “rules” they are supposed to follow. They never signed up as citizens of the Kingdom of the God of Israel. There are consequences for not accepting the invitation to join the Kingdom, of course. But there is no expectation that people who do not join the Kingdom will still live according to God’s ways. They won’t, even if the government or the Church tries to make them.
If you want to follow God, obey His ways. But don’t expect your nation, your culture or even your Church to do so. Torah is for the few, the proud, the servants of the Most High – and not for anyone else.
Topical Index: Torah, Israel, ethics, Deuteronomy 10:12