Further, I wonder if any of you have tried to obey everything that is presented in those Old Testament books. In our lesson this week from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the Israelites, “So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)
Author A.J. Jacobs, who is Jewish but not religious, made a serious attempt to obey all of the rules found in the Hebrew Bible for a year. He actually worked at it for 381 days, and he gives a detailed account of his efforts in his 2007 book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.
Publishers’ Weekly describes his quest this way:
“He didn't just keep the Bible's better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day.”
Mr. Jacobs actually had some quite profound spiritual encounters as he strove to obey them all. And yes, each of the items listed above is an Old Testament rule that, according to Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy, all Israelites were to obey.
Another item which, over the years, has been provoking me to wonder about these Old Testament rules is the satirical “Letter to Dr. Laura” [Schlessinger], by J. Kent Ashcraft, which went viral on the internet back in the year 2000.
Among the silly-sounding issues it raises:
> “When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?”
> “Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?”
> “I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?”
My point in sharing these goofy questions with you is to send you back to your Bible and your prayer closet (Matthew 6:5-6), to seriously consider: How do I know what biblical rules I should seriously devote myself to following ?
Should I give up pork, crabs, lobster, and shrimp ? (Maybe you didn’t like those anyway…) Should I sell my CDs back to the bank and close my savings account? Should I make sure and leave grapes and tomatoes on the vine in case any hungry people come by ? Should I pay anyone who does work for me each and every day before they leave the jobsite ?
In the gospels, Jesus laid down some startling claims about what Old Testament rules we ought to keep— and which ones we can forget. We will look at some of these this week when we read from Mark chapter 7.
Also in the New Testament, there are strong disagreements between Paul, James and Peter about what rules must be kept. See Acts 10 and 15; also Galatians chapters 1-3, for example.
I treasure the words of Jesus on this subject:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you….” Luke 6:37-38 (also Mt. 7:1)