Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter (a yod), not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5: 18).
A yod is the smallest letter in the Hebrew language. It is also the 10th letter in the Hebrew alphabet. A yod looks a little like an apostrophe shaped like a 7 in a swoosh script. It is the first letter in YHWH and in Yeshua. The number 10 was a symbol of completeness in Hebrew interpretation: 10 things were created on the first day and 10 things were created by the end of the sixth day, 10 commandments, 10 plagues, 10 tribes, 10 generations from Adam to Noah and from Noah to Abraham, 10 as the basis of number systems, and so on. It was said by the sages, “Yod does not mean 10 because we have 10 toes and fingers, but we have 10 toes and fingers because yod means 10.”
A recent devotional was entitled “Build Your Fences High.” The devotional noted that there are 613 commands in Torah; 248 say “do” and 365 say “do not.” I chose a rather easy one to understand: “do not take the Name in vain.” There is little controversy in that command. I received no negative comments from individuals who feel that the command is antiquated and therefore no longer applies in the 21st century. No one even disputed the point that we must seek to live and act obediently and therefore we must at least consider whether using slang like gee and omg are pushing the line of obedient living beyond the high fence of obedience.
A few weeks ago I read a short article that was very critical of the ACE curriculum. The individual had been trained to be an ACE monitor. He was highly critical of the curriculum’s stance that the Bible is clear cut in all it intends to teach. He was disillusioned, and rightfully so.
Look up the list of the 613 commands sometime. Those 613 commands become very complicated to understand and apply. That was as true in Jesus’ day is it is for us. Matthew 5 has several illustrations of the point. Every time we read the phrase “You heard it said…but I tell you,” Jesus is adding a new interpretation to commonly accepted limits. And as a noted rabbi, he was not criticized. We read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5: 27-28). That certainly clears up the command, right? Well, not exactly. What is the difference between acknowledging someone with a smile and looking lustfully? There was a group of Pharisees in Jesus’ time who were nicknamed the bent-nosed Pharisees. Do not commit adultery was one of their signature no-no commands. They were so intent on not breaking the command that when they approached a woman on the street it was said that they would close their eyes and often ran into poles and walls, breaking their noses. “You hypocrites!” Jesus said.
From time to time people came to Jesus to test him. Asking why Jesus let his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath was not an accusation. It was a matter of asking the teacher how he interpreted Torah. Sometimes it was a question of precedent or priority. What does one do when an action to keep a command causes one to break another? When a neighbor’s donkey falls into a pit on the Sabbath, is it ok to break the Sabbath command to keep the help-your-neighbor command? Or when a priest happens across a nearly dead man along the road, does he break his vow to remain clean in order to help the man? Which is the greater command?
From the time Torah was given by God through Moses to the people at Sinai, there has been a challenge to understand and to interpret it. I give thanks to God for the Christian schools which hold to a reformed worldview which acknowledges that God’s laws are not clear cut, that God calls us to seek to live obediently, and that we are called to restore shalom to a broken and sinful world. I am thankful for schools that are not afraid to wrestle with tough questions with the Word as our foundation and knowing full well that we serve an unchangeable God.
Jesus told us that we cannot simply discount his commands. We cannot say that some applied then and not now. The yod will not disappear until all things are accomplished. And should you consider thinking that the new covenant replaced the old, be careful. Do we get to pick and choose which of the 613 are now irrelevant?
Those who are called to lead will quickly notice our inconsistencies and hypocrisy. Jesus warned that causing little ones to sin was not acceptable. It would be better that a millstone be hung around our neck and we be tossed into the lake. Jesus also said that when it comes to those impossibly tough choices and decisions, be guided by two things: the greatest command is to love God above all. The second is to love each other.
Those who are called to lead know this, too. We do not fear questions and conversations, even the tough ones. God did not prescribe obedience. He gave us space to seek it and find it. He provided latitude for his children to struggle. He even gave Jacob’s lineage a name: Israel, which means strugglers. It is ok to struggle as long as we seek obedience, knowing full well that the yod of completeness will not be fully attained until the Son returns. Boldly guide those who you are called to lead into the struggle, into the messiness of life, and toward the goal of loving God above all, and your neighbor as yourself.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services