God’s Laws and Principles
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- Before God Created Humans
- The First Law
- The First Murder
- God’s Laws After the Downpour
- We are Still Under These Laws
- The Examples of the Patriarchs
- The Law to Moses
- Were the Old Laws Harsh?
- The Period of the Judges
- Laws and Rules Aren’t God’s Way
- When Men Turn Principles into Laws
- We Are No Longer Under the Law of Moses
- The Old Law; a Stumbling Block for Christians
- Aren’t God’s Laws the Final Word?
- Finding God’s Forgiveness
Before God Created Humans
Although the Bible tells us very little about the period before God created humans, there are enough indicators available for us to draw some critical conclusions when it comes to the beginning of His laws. For it appears that in the very beginning, after God created His heavenly sons, He gave them no laws. He was simply their Father and He showed them the things that He wanted them to accomplish.
We draw this conclusion from the fact that until the Slanderer (Devil) rebelled and lied to Adam and Eve, there was no mention of a law to condemn him or other heavenly messengers to death. In fact, the first mention of a penalty for his disobedience is found at Genesis 3:15, where the curse on the snake (and the one behind its words) was cryptically foretold to be a ‘watching for its head.’
So if there were no laws from God (and we can’t dogmatically say that there weren’t), why hadn’t He created them? For He obviously realized that His sons could choose to rebel, because He deliberately created each of them with the ability to do whatever they wished to do. And for the heavenly sons, both right and wrong and the results of displeasing God must have been obvious. Therefore, it appears as though God didn’t want to start off their relationship with Him on a negative footing by even discussing what would happen should they choose to disobey Him.
But, what incentive would there be for the spirit person that made himself the Slanderer (gr. Diabolos or Devil), or any spirit creature, to openly defy God? Well, as the results proved; his motivation was a desire for power, and he knew that he had raised an issue that all living creatures both in heaven and on the earth would be watching to see if he would win.
And this must have been the same motivation for other spirit creatures (‘sons of God’), for Revelation 12:4 tells us that the Wicked One also dragged ‘a third of the stars of heaven’ down to the earth.
The First Law
The first law that we read of in the Bible is the simple one that was given to Adam in the Paradise of Delights, when God told him not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
And a penalty was also spelled out, should they choose to disobey:
Death to the offender.
Think of what the creation of this simple rule must have meant for all of God’s heavenly sons. For it showed for the first time what God’s sentence would be for those that willingly chose to rebel against Him… returning to nonexistence. And because the particular evil spirit had a stake in seeing Adam break this rule, he set out to challenge God by lying to the first humans and leading them to disobey the law, which would then raise the question before all living creatures everywhere of whether God has the right to expect their obedience and love.
It’s interesting that God’s law to Adam and Eve was so simple. Once again, no negative thoughts of the possibility of murder, theft, rape, or any of the hundreds of other human vices were mentioned.
There was just the one command:
‘This is mine, so don’t touch it!’
The First Murder
When we think of the worst crime that is possible for us to commit, we usually think of murder.
Then, as might be expected, the second sin mentioned in the Bible was when Cain murdered his brother, Abel.
And here, it is interesting to note that God’s penalty on Cain wasn’t death, but the curse of having to live a hard life.
Recognize that there doesn’t appear to have been a law that forbade murder up to that point. There was just the good example set by God’s love, and what we call ‘conscience’ or ‘good sense,’ to tell all intelligent living creatures what was right and wrong. Yet, as the Bible tells us, murder and other human vices continued to increase to the point where, as the Bible tells us:
‘God saw that all the badness that men were doing on the earth was increasing, and that the motivation of their hearts was always twisted toward evil.’
So, except for the righteous man Noah and his family; He destroyed all of humanity and much of the animal kingdom.
God’s Laws After the Downpour
After Noah and his family left the chest (ark), God gave him some basic guidelines as to what would happen to those that did extremely bad things. You can’t really call them laws, because He didn’t tell men what not to do, He simply told them what results to expect if they were guilty of wrong conduct.
These rules are often thought of being part of what is called, ‘the Rainbow Covenant.’
So there were just two evil actions that He said would provide bad results. They were:
1. The blood of animals was not to be eaten (it was to be poured out as some sort of a sacrifice to God); otherwise, the violator was liable to be killed by wild animals
2. Any man that murdered another was liable to be killed by fellow humans.
We are Still Under These Laws
Recognize that since these instructions were given to the common forefather of all of us, they still apply to us, no matter what traditions, modern ideas, or so-called ‘politically-correct’ thinking may teach us.
And while the ban on murder is quite well understood, the reason for the warning against eating animal blood is particularly interesting. Remember that in God’s instructions to Adam in the Paradise and also to Noah following the downpour (flood), men were told to ‘rule over the fish of the seas, the winged creatures of the skies, all the herding animals of the ground, all the slithering animals that crawl on the ground, and the whole earth.’ So, notice that He didn’t say anything in the beginning about us being allowed to kill and eat the animals that were entrusted to our care. However, likely due to what had become common practice prior to the downpour, God told Noah that men could eat the animals as long as they poured the blood, which He described in Hebrew as the ruach or in Greek as the psyche (soul or life) on the ground.
So, what conclusions may we reach from all the above? The evidence shows that the making of laws and rules wasn’t God’s way. Rather, these things were forced on Him by the inventiveness and badness of humans and of the rebellious desires of the spirit sons of God.
The Examples of the Patriarchs
An interesting story that well illustrates the types of good choices a man could make before the Bible tells that there were any laws from God on such matters, is that of the actions and thinking of Jacob’s eleventh son, Joseph. You likely remember the story of what happened to him as he was serving as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Petrephes (Heb. Potiphar).
Petrephes’ wife was attracted to Joseph and she tried to seduce him. Yet, Joseph resisted and ran away. His thinking? He said:
‘My master doesn’t even know what I do around this house and he has put me in charge of everything …
So, how could I do such a bad thing and actually sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:7-9).
Realize that at this time, God apparently hadn’t given a law forbidding illicit sex or adultery. However, Joseph used his good sense of propriety (his conscience) in understanding that having sex with another man’s wife (especially his master’s) was wrong, and that doing such a thing would offend God.
So notice that no law was required for this righteous man to make the right decision.
The same was true of the righteous man Job.
Again, before we read of God providing any laws, Job repeatedly spoke of things that he knew would be displeasing to God. The point? Righteous people don’t really need laws to tell them what is right and what is wrong!
The Law to Moses
However, because men didn’t really understand all of God’s righteous ways, He did provide an extensive list of laws to govern His nation (IsraEl) after He delivered them from bondage in Egypt. And the foundations for these laws (all of which are related in detail from Exodus through Deuteronomy) are what we call the Ten Commandments.
What did the Old Law accomplish? Well, Paul explained it when he wrote (at Romans 3:19, 20):
‘We know that everything that was said in the Law was meant for just those that are under the Law.
Yet it stopped every mouth and made the whole world deserving of God’s punishment.
But now, no flesh is going to be called righteous before Him by obedience to the Law, because the Law just helped us to understand what sin is.’
Then he wrote (at Romans 3:27, 28):
‘So, where is our reason for boasting? It’s gone! Does it come from our obedience to the Law?
No, it comes through the Law of Faith, since we believe that a man is called righteous because of his faith, not by the works of the Law!’
Yet, despite all that Paul wrote, many religious people today still think that they will be declared righteous by following the Old Law (the ‘Ten Commandments’), which they wrongly believe was given to all of mankind, not just to IsraEl. But as Paul pointed out in his numerous letters; though the principles of God’s thinking are all there as a guide to living a righteous life, this Law was impossible for imperfect humans to keep.
And so, one of the reasons why Jesus gave his life for us was to do away with that old Sacred Agreement of Laws and to make a New Sacred agreement with us, the laws of which are simply to love God and to love each other.
For righteous people don’t really need laws to tell them right from wrong.
As Paul wrote (at Romans 13:10):
‘Love doesn’t do bad things to one’s neighbor, for the Law is fulfilled through love.’
He also wrote at Romans 3:28:
’We believe that a man is called righteous because of his faith, not by the works of the Law!’
Were the Old Laws Harsh?
Whenever people wish to degrade the Bible, they point to the old laws and their penalties, claiming that they were the product of a harsh and unloving God. But if you understand the purpose of these laws, you’ll see that they and their penalties weren’t really harsh or oppressive at all, because nobody was really required to follow them other than those that freely chose to live in the land of IsraEl!
It was God’s land! And He just gave it to people that wanted to be parties to the Sacred Agreement with Him… and yes, they had a choice!
So all that wished to live in His sacred land (IsraElites and gentiles alike), since they said that they wanted to be His people, were required to follow the rules and laws that He set down for them. And what He required of them to show that they wanted to be part of this sacred relationship, was that all the males had to put the sign of circumcision on their flesh. Then He also told them how to dress, how to groom themselves, and how to act, if they wanted to represent Him as His people.
Realize that the land had been set aside not just for IsraEl, but for anyone that wished to serve God. And if a person didn’t want to be part of this relationship, he or she was free to go, and to dress and act in any way that they wished… but He was still watching. The story of the prodigal son well illustrates this. However, they couldn’t live in His land.
So, why were such apparently minor infractions as breaking the Sabbath or entering God’s Temple in an unclean condition punishable by death? Because anyone that deliberately chose to disobey Him and yet live in His sacred land had to be dealt with in a deliberate way to maintain the cleanliness and sacred purpose of that land.
The Period of the Judges
Probably no period in time better illustrates God’s purposes and ways than the one that we call the time of the Judges. For though the people had God’s Law, there was no government as we know it or any civil administration in the land. All they had was judges that were appointed by God to decide legal matters and to take the lead in war, when necessary. There were also no politicians to make laws and there were no policemen to enforce them; for the people were just trusted to know right from wrong.
But then it was the IsraElites themselves that later demanded to have human kings, which brought the beginning of their taxes, legislators, local laws, and the foibles of human rule.
Laws and Rules Aren’t God’s Way
As we can see from all the above; although God was responsible for the first law (not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad), the making of laws aren’t His way. In fact, that’s why Jesus so strongly condemned the Pharisees; because, in their quest for self righteousness, they looked at the principles of what God considered to be good and bad, and turned these principles into laws for ‘righteous’ people to follow. Yet, ‘Christian’ religions continue to follow this same practice today by setting out lists of rules that they have created, but which aren’t specifically outlined in the Bible.
Yes, as any person’s good sense and conscience would tell him; there are things that people who love God just shouldn’t do. Paul outlined them at 1 Corinthians 6:9,10:
‘Don’t make any mistake about this; sexually immoral people, idol worshipers, adulterers, gays, men that have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists, won’t inherit God’s Kingdom.’
But realize that Paul wasn’t laying out Christian ‘laws’ here. He was simply enumerating things that a good conscience should tell us aren’t right.
There are also other things that God warned against practicing back in the beginning (in Genesis) and which love of God would forbid us from doing. Peter, James, and John mentioned these things when they were laying out the guidelines for Gentile converts to Christianity as recorded at Acts 21:25:
‘As for the gentile believers; we’ve already sent them our decision to stay free from things that are sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.’
Note that this mention of blood and strangulation (where the blood isn’t poured out before eating the meat) reminds us that God’s instructions to Noah were still viewed as important for us all by early Christians… as were the other instructions against immorality and worshiping of idols.
Principles are the basis for God’s laws… they are the reasons behind His laws. And if you were to read the entire Law of Moses, you would have a much better understanding of God thoughts on many matters. They are the guidelines we can refer to in order to make wise decisions.
However, it has often been said that principles are more important than laws, because God’s laws for mankind have changed, depending on the circumstances, while His principles remain the same. And though this is true, we must understand that God’s laws have always been far more important than obedience to the principles. For whereas principles are general guidelines, His laws are the dividing lines, and He has used His inspired servants to write them down in the Bible so we would know the difference. Remember that laws are greater because they are also principles, but principles that God felt strongly enough about to turn into laws.
When Men Turn Principles into Laws
Note that whenever someone felt that he or she could take Bible principles and turn them into laws for others to follow, the Bible plainly shows that God considers this to be wrong. The Pharisees, for example, were guilty of turning principles into laws, and Jesus condemned them for doing it. As you read the Gospels, notice the many ways they did this in regard to matters of tithing, washing, the Sabbath, the way they dressed, etc.
What’s wrong with turning principles into laws?
Well, as is so typical of man-made laws; back when the IsraElites were under the Law of Moses, the Pharisees made up rules that went well beyond the Law… to turning their own ideas and whims into laws. Yet, despite the fact that Jesus recognized the righteous principles behind their rules, he condemned them and called them hypocrites. He didn’t say,
‘Well, they have good motives’
(as some have done today), because they didn’t have good motives; and it was this self-righteous creation of religious rules that condemned them… as it condemns all who think that they can add to God’s laws and create the standards of right and wrong for others to follow.
Yet through the years, super-righteous religious leaders have continued to follow the lead of the Pharisees in creating their own laws of right and wrong based on what they claim to be ‘Bible principles.’ We see such rules being made today in regard to recreation, the way we dress, the things we eat and drink, in matters of bathing and washing, taking up unhealthy habits (such as smoking), in private relations between husbands and wives, and in innumerable other matters. And yes, while good sense and manners should be everyone’s desire, and suggestions may be given; making religious rules about such things goes ‘beyond the things that are written’ (1 Corinthians 4:6). Understand that virtually all religious laws that weren’t given to his followers by Jesus are the laws of men, not God.
As Paul explained it at Romans 6:14:
‘Indeed, you aren’t under the Law, you’re under [God’s] loving care.’
We Are No Longer Under the Law of Moses
Recognize that God’s principles are all laid out in the Old Law.
And if we turn these principles back into laws again, we are putting ourselves back under the Old Sacred Agreement, which Paul showed time and again to be something that is unnecessary and wrong, since we are all under the New Sacred Agreement, which is based on love, not laws!
But if there are those that still wish to argue that they have the right to create laws from Bible principles; consider the fact that God pointed out at Leviticus 11:9-12 that the eating of creatures that don’t have fins or scales but live in the water (things such things as frogs, catfish, shrimp, oysters, lobster, scallops, crabs, etc.) is disgusting. Yes, that is God's opinion, and it is a principle.
But please don’t (as some readers have done) turn this into a law, because God also gave us the right to eat any sort of animal that we wish in the ‘Rainbow Covenant’ that He made with Noah.
Understand that the problem of creating laws from Bible principles is that those who do this are usually very selective of which Bible principles they consider to be important and which ones they don’t.
Also understand that the dietary laws of IsraEl applied just to that nation, not to all of mankind (as was true of God’s instructions to Noah).
So as Paul pointed out;
Christians aren’t bound by any principles that the self-righteous may wish to turn into laws.
Notice how Jesus himself showed that rules about things we eat (for example) should not be our concern. For he said (as recorded at Matthew 15:16, 17): ‘Don’t you get the point? Don’t you realize that whatever you put into your mouth goes into your belly and then into the sewer? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart… these are the things that dirty a man!’
The Old Law; a Stumbling Block for Christians
Since the death of Jesus, the Old Law has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Christians.
Why do we say that?
Well, since the beginning, and even within the First-Century Christian Congregation in JeruSalem, Christians have been going back to the Old Sacred Agreement (Covenant) that God made with IsraEl through Moses and started quoting that Old Law in an attempt to turn Christians away from the New Sacred Agreement that was inaugurated by the blood of Jesus (see Acts 15:1-5).
However, we are no longer under that Law or Sacred Agreement. Rather, we are under the New Sacred Agreement and its Law of Love.
So if we ever find ourselves referring to the Old Law when teaching about God’s Laws on a matter, we are rejecting the New Sacred Agreement for which Jesus laid down his life.
Then, does this leave us without any Law?
For what the First Century Apostles in JeruSalem said at Acts 21:25 was:
‘As for the gentile believers; we’ve already sent them our decision to stay free from things that are sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.’
And Paul wrote at 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 that:
‘Sexually immoral people, idol worshipers, adulterers, gays, men that have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists, won’t inherit God’s Kingdom.’
And beyond that, we have only the Law of Love.
Aren’t God’s Laws the Final Word?
But isn’t it true that God’s Laws are the final word on the matter?
No, for many stories in the Bible show us how righteousness and good sense outweigh even God’s rules and laws. Note for example, that God told the IsraElites that they were to destroy all the people that had been living in the Promised Land, because they were so wicked. Yet when the spies entered JeriCho, they vowed to spare the lives of a prostitute named RaHab and her entire family, because she believed that God had the power to destroy her people.
Then later on, the IsraElites unwitting made a peace agreement with the people of the city of Gibeon, because they were fooled into doing it. Yet the IsraElites honored that agreement and let those people live, because they had sworn to do so… and this breaking of His Law was blessed by God.
As you can see, Laws never come before righteousness. Rather, righteousness is the purpose and basis of God’s laws.
So His instructions could be summed up as:
* Don’t do anything that is overtly bad.
* Use your Christian-trained consciences.
* And when in doubt, do whatever shows that you love God and your fellow humans, and that you even respect the value of the lives of the animals over which you were created to rule.’
Finding God’s Forgiveness
The Bible tells us that there is no man that doesn’t sin (see 1 Kings 8:46). Therefore, it is important for us to talk to Him about such things regularly, so He doesn’t view us as unrepentant sinners (see Romans 2:5-7). We should never try to justify or to cover over the bad things that we’ve done before Him, because this indicates a bad heart and bad motives… and understand that admitting all our sins to God is very difficult, because this makes us think about the reasons why we do everything!
God also requires that we turn from our bad ways. And if we do, then even the worst things that we’ve done can be can be forgiven. For we are told at Isaiah 1:16-18:
‘Bathe yourselves and get clean!
Remove your wicked lives from My eyes!
Stop being bad and learn to do good;
Insist on [judgments that are] fair;
Rescue those who’ve been wronged;
Give decisions [in favor of] orphans,
As well as justice to widows…
And then you can come and plead before me, says Jehovah.
‘If your sins should be crimson red;
As white as snow, [I will make them].
And even if they are like scarlet,
I’ll make them as white as fine wool. ’
However, recognize that in the case of serious sins, there may still be a heavy price to pay.
For example: when King David took another man’s wife (BathSheba) and had him killed; although God did forgive him, the first son that was born through this union died, and he was plagued with trouble and rebellions throughout the rest of his life. So we can expect to reap the rewards of our own bad actions. And the more we can personally do to set matters right, the better it will be for us in the long run.
Also, people often think that they can be forgiven by God for sins that they’ve committed against others without trying to seek the forgiveness of the one against whom they’ve sinned. This indicates an unwillingness to correct the wrong and to show any repentance.
Notice what Jesus said, as recorded at Matthew 5:23, 24:
‘If you bring a gift to [God’s] Altar,
But while you’re on the way you remember,
That your brother holds something against you;
Leave your gift at the Altar and go.
First make peace with your brother,
And then return to offer your gift.’