God's Laws and Principles
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 than 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 that spirit person who made himself the Slanderer (gr. Diabolos or Devil) to openly defy God? Well, as the results proved (Revelation 12:4 tells us that, 'a third of the stars of heaven' were dragged to the earth), 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.
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 who willingly chose to rebel against Him╔ returning to nonexistence. And because the particular evil spirit (who had likely already made himself the first universal rebel) 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 had 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!'
When we think of the worst crime that is possible for us to commit, we usually think of murder. And 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 apparently there was no law up until then that forbade murder. 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 that, as it says, 'God saw all the badness that men were doing on the earth was increasing and that the entire 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.
After Noah and his family left the chest (ark), God gave him some basic guidelines as to what would happen to those who 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.' Here's what God said at Genesis 9:3-6: 'All living and slithering animals can serve as meat for you╔ I have given them all to you as though they were green vegetation. But you must not eat flesh with its blood of life (gr. psyche or soul). Otherwise, I will require your blood at the hand of all the wild animals. I will also require a man's life at the hand of his human brothers. Whoever spills the blood of men will also have their blood spilled, because I made man in the image of God.'
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 who murdered another was liable to be killed by fellow humans.
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.
An interesting story that well illustrates the types of good choices a man could make before the Bible tells us of 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: 'Why, 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. So, righteous people don't really need laws to tell them what is right and what is wrong!
However, because men really didn't 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 which was said in the Law was meant for just those who 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!'
And at Romans 5:20, 21, we read: 'Now, the Law came along so as to show up many errors. However, where there are many sins, a superabundance of loving-care can be shown. Therefore, as sin has reigned and brought death; [God's] loving care will bring a righteous rule and age-long life through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.'
Yet, despite all that Paul wrote, many religious people today still think that they will be declared righteous by following the Old Law, 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!'
Whenever people wish to degrade the Bible, they point to the old laws and their penalties, claiming them to be the product of a harsh and unloving God. Yet, if you understand the purpose of these laws, you'll see that they weren't really harsh or oppressive, because nobody was really required to follow them other than those who freely chose to live in the land of IsraEl!
It was God's land and He gave it to the people who wanted to be parties to His Sacred Agreement. And all who wished to live in this sacred land (IsraElites and gentiles alike), since they claimed to be His people, were required to follow the rules and laws that He set down for them. Then, to show that they were part of this sacred relationship, He said that all males had to have the sign of circumcision on their flesh, and He told them how to dress, how to groom themselves, and how to act.
Realize that the land had been set aside not just for IsraEl, but for all who wished to serve God. And any who didn't want to be part of this relationship were free to go wherever they wished and to dress and act however they wished╔ the story of the prodigal son well illustrates this.
So, why were such apparently minor infractions as breaking the Sabbath or entering God's Temple in an unclean condition punishable by death? Not because God considered such things major sins, but because anyone who 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.
Probably no period in time better illustrates God's purposes and ways than the one that we call the time of the Judges. For although 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 who were appointed by God to decide legal matters and to take the lead in war, when necessary. There were no politicians to make laws and no policemen to enforce them; the people were just trusted to know right from wrong. But it was the IsraElites themselves who later demanded to have human kings, which brought the beginning their taxes, legislators, local laws, and the foibles of human rule.
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.
However, as any person's good sense and conscience would tell them; there are in fact 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 who have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists, won't inherit God's Kingdom.'
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 some things that God warned against practicing back in Genesis and which love of God would forbid us from doing. These were repeated by Peter, James, and John when laying out the guidelines for Gentile converts to Christianity 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) reminds us that God's instructions to Noah were still viewed as important by early Christians╔ as were the other instructions against immorality and worship 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. 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.
Now, in the past, 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 a serious sin. 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 they were under the Law of Moses, the Pharisees made up rules that went well beyond the Law. Yet, despite the fact that Jesus recognized the righteous principles behind their rules, he still condemned them as hypocrites. He didn't say, 'Well, they had good motives' (as some have done today), because they didn't; and it was their self-righteous creation of religious rules that condemned them╔ as it condemns all who think they can add to God's laws.
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 Bible principles (which is obviously displeasing to God). 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, 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 are the laws of men, not God. As Paul explained it at Romans 6:14: 'So, sin must not be your master; because, you aren't under Law, you're under [God's] loving care.'
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!
And if there are those who still wish to argue that they have the right to set out Bible principles as laws; consider the fact that God spoke of eating creatures that live in the water which don't have fins or scales (such as catfish, shrimp, oysters, lobster, scallops, crabs, etc.) as something disgusting (at Leviticus 11:9-12). And please don't (as some readers have done) turn that into a law!
The point is; there are many Bible principles that people commonly consider to be less important. And since the 'Rainbow Covenant' allowed mankind to eat all sorts of animals, we have to assume that the dietary laws of IsraEl were just for them. So, recognize that Christians aren't bound by the Old Law or any of its principles that the unrighteous 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!'
So, is 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 who 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 that you were created to rule over.'
The Bible tells us that there is no man who 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 come to view us as unrepentant sinners (see Romans 2:5-7). We should never try to justify or cover over the bad things that we've done before Him, because this indicates a bad heart and bad motives╔ and admitting our sins to God is a very difficult thing to do!
God also requires that we turn from our bad ways. And if we do, 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.'
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