The Evil Torah

And I on My part gave them statutes that were not good and law through which they could not live.  And I defiled them with their gifts when they passed every womb-breach in sacrifice, so that I might desolate them, so they might know that I am the LORD.  Ezekiel 20:25-26  Robert Alter

Not good – “This is a startling theological idea,” writes Robert Alter.[1]  He could have written it in bold type!  God tells Israel through his prophet Ezekiel that He deliberately gave the people an evil Torah, a Torah designed to lead them astray and to destroy them.  How can this be?

Alter suggests that this is Ezekiel’s picture of ultimate divine sovereignty.  If God is really the sustainer of all creation, then He is responsible for everything that happens, and in this case, He is ultimately responsible for the perverse choices Israel makes.  That doesn’t mean He is guilty.  It just means that the very existence of Israel is God-dependent.  As the rabbis suggest, if a man desires to do God’s will, God will assist him, but if he desires to be disobedient, God allows the path that will separate him.  “ . . . if Israel stubbornly clings to pagan abominations, God will compound the guilt of the people by encouraging them to persist in their waywardness.”[2]

The grammar underlines the point.  In both cases (“not good” and “not live”) the negative Hebrew is לֹא (lōʾ) not, no.  “lōʾ was the primary Hebrew term for factual negation in contrast to ʾal which typically described potential negation.”[3]In other words, God is not warning the people in a contingent prophetic utterance.  He is saying that this has already been accomplished.  He has already led the people astray.  Let this sink in.  It should scare you to death!  Do you think we’ve reached the point of disobedience and disregard for God’s ways where He has decided to give us false instruction so that we will come to destruction more quickly?  Do you think that He simply ignores that “womb-breach” of millions and just lets our world continue without consequence?  Do you think that two thousand years of anti-Jewish replacement theology and Torah abandonment have no consequences?  What if Ezekiel is right?  What if God has already sent us down the wrong path?

Heschel reminds us that, “Reading the words of the prophets is a strain on the emotions, wrenching one’s conscience from the state of suspended animation.”[4]  I wonder if we blindly ignore this fact when we read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and the rest.  We’re happy to hear the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah, but are we shocked from our stupor when we listen to Ezekiel’s theological thunderbolt?  We love the Messianic prophecies.  They make us feel safe in our beliefs, but what do we do with God’s declaration here?  Do we slide over it with the excuse that it was just for the Jews before the Exile?  Or do we hear the alarm clock ringing?

Topical Index: lōʾ, not, Torah, evil commandments, Ezekiel 20:25-26

[1] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: Volume 2 Prophets, p. 1107, fn. 25.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 463). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Hendrickson Publishers, 1962), Vol 1, p. 7.

Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard Bridgan

One’s conscience may indeed be in a state of “suspended animation”; but the reality is that his/her very being is also suspended, contingent on finding the way that leads to life. Moreover, this suspended animation prevails except one moves through the matrix by rebirth into life that is found only in the actual condition of reality. This is not life and being in a suspended state. Rather, it is the life— genuine life— life that is real and actual and is manifest in conscious awareness of, in and through the second Adam, who lived in conscious realization of he truth of his vital unity in truth as Son of God with Father and Spirit.

Did God really give the people an evil Torah, a Torah designed to lead them astray and to destroy them? Only if they are of their father, the devil, breathing out their moments in a state of suspended animation— apart from the reality of actual life in the knowledge of the true Son of God.