Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How Can The Law Set You Free?

"There is no freedom without the Law."

The Commandments in Paleo Hebrew
This is a quote from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments (clip, 30 seconds in) [1]  when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone, and then confronts Korah the troublemaker. That quote isn't actually in the Biblical text, though James 1:25 and 2:12 refer to the Ten Commandments as the Law of Liberty, many translations read Law of Freedom.

But what does it mean, that there is no freedom without the law? It seems contradictory,  freedom implies choice, law implies restricting choice. Well, which is it? Is it true? How does the law give freedom?

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Many, including me, see the quote as true. On this point, I agree with Pope Francis who said,
The Ten Commandments are not a limitation, but a pathway to freedom, Pope Francis said in a video message broadcast to thousands gathered in Milan’s Cathedral Square earlier this week. - Catholic Herald [2]
John Rankin, Theological Educational Institute writes,
The “commandments” are literally “words” of freedom. How often do we grasp that reality? For the Israelites, they were gaining freedom from 400 years of slavery. And the ten “words” were instructions that followed and designed to protect their freedom.
The Ten Commandments lead to freedom for creativity, healthy relationships and long life. This was true in theocratic Israel (a community of choice), and is true today in a pluralistic society such as the United States. To willfully break them is to lie to the self, and begin a process of enslavement. - The Nature of the Ten Commandments [3]
Or as C.S Lewis simply said "Obedience is the road to Freedom." - AZ Quotes [4]


Free From Egypt After
Crossing the Red Sea

One answer commonly found is that the liberty ie freedom means deliverance from the bondage of sin. That certainly makes sense. The first thing God says to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai is "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The thing is that God delivered Israel from slavery before giving them the Ten Commandments. So you can't argue that The Law sets you free. God already set Israel free. Michelle Fincher of Calvary Presbyterian gets the order correct and suggests that The Law keeps you free. I will argue below it's more than that, that The Law really does set you free.

"The order of these events is critical. First God freed the people (grace), then came the commandments (law). The law was never given to tell people how to “measure up” so God would accept them or love them.
The law was (and is) given to tell us how to remain free." The Ten Commandments: Signposts to Freedom [5]
In other words, without law, specifically the Ten Commandments, we as humans would be slaves to sin. Ancient Israel wanted at times to go back to Egypt. They were set free, then wanted to return to sin.


Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom from the consequences of the Law. Explaining the phrase "under the law", John W. Ritenbaugh wrote, "it means to be under the law's penalty because we have sinned. Jesus died so that we can be freed from that penalty." - Law of Liberty [6].  In this life we are not always spared the penalty of our sins; to me, being free from "that penalty" means freedom from the penalty of eternal death, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Rom 6:23. My assertion is that the Law sets us free in this lifetime as well. Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom FROM The Law, that we do not have to keep the Ten Commandments - God's Only Law Is Love [7]. It sounds tempting, but in fact is twisting the words of the Apostle Paul. Most everyone agrees humans need laws, but I think what we need is not just any set of man made laws (see how many laws we have, it's not working), but we need the Ten Commandments.

Some want to define terms to explain how law makes one free. I will define my own version of terms later, but consider this quote.
 If law is defined as restraint on hu­man action and liberty as the absence of restraint, the concepts are inimical and conciliation impos­sible.
In the words of Bastiat [8] (a French economits of the 19th century), liberty is "the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so… [and] the re­stricting of the law only to its ra­tional sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense….”
Individual freedom is the lack of formal or informal external re­straints imposed by one man or group of men upon another, save for the collective coercion aimed at preventing individuals from acting forcibly or fraudulently against their neighbors. It is the absence of human impediment to the vol­untary action of fellow human be­ings. The permissible limitation on free choice is the recognition of an equal ambit of choice to all other men.
Freedom not only presupposes a system of law but also could not survive in the absence of law. - Individual Liberty And The Rule Of Law [9]
I found that hard to follow, but what it says to me is that you're free to do what you want (liberty) as long as you don't hurt anyone or steal their stuff. I have to think that The Law is more than that.  Bastiat's law sounds self centered to me, not recognizing kindness, or acts of charity towards others. The Ten Commandments are the expression of love itself, given by and backed by God Himself.
Matt 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tree Of Life

My theory is that The Law sets you free from the impossible task of deciding right from wrong, good from evil. Nearly everyone agrees we need laws to keep people from "acting forcibly or fraudulently", but people do not agree on what laws. It all started with Eve in the Garden of Eden. She ate from the wrong tree. The trees were called the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - note it was not called the Tree of Death, it has this long, arguably clumsy name. And Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong, they knew they weren't supposed to eat from it. So the real meaning was deeper than that. Many teach that by eating of Tree of the Long Name, Adam and Eve took it upon themselves to DECIDE good from evil. "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil" - Gen 3:22. I assert that is an impossible task for an individual, but also impossible for all mankind. Again, look at all the laws man has made to address the need for people to live in liberty, you might say to maximize liberty for all, and it hasn't worked yet - men do like to write laws. In nations that base their law on the Ten Commandments, man's laws work better at providing liberty for all, but look at the fruits.
Look at human history, not just Western Civilization. True, Europe was an oppressive place during the Middle Ages, when the Church reigned supreme. And yes, liberty advanced during the Enlightenment, when deists and agnostics dared to reveal their beliefs. But this is too narrow a focus. How did Christian Europe compare with the rest of the world? Compare it with caste system India or Imperial China. The Moslem world was more advanced in learning, but how free was it? Include women in this metric. Compare chivalry and courtly love with the harems of the East. China had its balanced yin and yang – along with foot-binding. These civilizations would consider Pat Robertson to be a dangerously radical feminist. Law Of Liberty [10]
I offer two analogies to the impossible task of deciding good and evil. The first is music. There are an infinite number of frequencies (notes) in an octave. Choosing notes from an infinite "frequency space" is unlikely to produce anything melodic. But constrain your frequencies to the notes of a scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) - now you can create a melody, yet still have infinite choice. The notes of the scale follow a natural, mathematical law, and all cultures have "discovered" the scale. In other words, the Law is like the musical scale, eliminating worthless choices.

Stay On The Path

My second analogy is: the law is like a path. If I want to go somewhere, I can look at a map, find the direction of the compass and start walking in that heading. However, it would be easier to follow the roads that already exist. It may not be as short a route as flight, but faster. This analogy I didn't make up, the Bible even refers to itself as a path "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"  - Psalm 119:105. God has solved the problem of what is good and evil, of what laws we need to live together. He has given us a map of the paths. We are set free from the curse of the law, which in my theory is trying to "know good and evil".

The Law keeps one free from slavery to sin.
The Law sets one free from the death penalty.
The Law sets one free from deciding good from evil.



Sunday, April 8, 2018


When I think about reading the Bible in context, I usually think of taking a verse out of context – that is, don’t pluck a verse out of a chapter to make it say something the chapter wasn’t talking about. But it’s also important to read the Bible in its historical and cultural context. When we read the story about Jesus’ birth, odds are that we are influenced by the Christmas story we hear every year. All I have to say is “no room at the inn”, or “away in a manger”, and you know the story I’m talking about. But if we look at the historical and cultural context, we see a different story emerge.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Modern Bethlehem At Night
Let’s start with examining where Jesus was born – Bethlehem. My first thought when I hear "Bethlehem" is the Christmas song “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”. But if you lived 2000 years ago in Judea, Bethlehem was known as the place the lambs came from. And by that I mean the lambs sacrificed at the Temple. Every day, two lambs were sacrificed, one at morning sacrifice (the third hour when Jesus was nailed to the cross), and one at evening sacrifice (the ninth hour, when He died). Every Passover, tens of thousand of lambs were sacrificed in one day, all in the Temple. They all came from Bethlehem. “Every first born male lamb from the area around Bethlehem was considered holy, set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem.” - Why Bethlehem [1]. In short “Everyone in Israel recognized Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs” - The Birth Revisited [2].

So it’s no surprise really that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Passover, was also born in Bethlehem. This was already planned out from the foundation of the world. The lambs born near Bethlehem were fulfilling a type of Jesus.

Migdal Eder

Let’s dig deeper into the story. The Old Testament mentions the “Tower of the Flock”, Migdal Eder, which turns out to be a place near Bethlehem - Gen 35:21, Mic 4:8. By New Testament times, this became the station where shepherds brought the lambs destined for sacrifices in the Temple. Here is what happened at the Tower of the Flock.

The shepherds who kept [the flocks] were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal that was to be sacrificed had to be, and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged or blemished. During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priest/shepherds would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. Once birthed, the priest/shepherds would routinely place two lambs in the double-hewn depression of a limestone rock known as "the manger" and "wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes," preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves "until they had calmed down" so they could be inspected for the quality of being "without spot or blemish" - The Birth Revisited [2].

Remind you of anyone? Who else was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger? An angel told the shepherds to look for such a baby, but the angel never told them where to look, he just said “the city of David”. They knew He would be at the Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder) in Bethlehem*. The SIGN of the manger makes little sense to us in the West raised on the standard Christmas story, but was perfectly understood by the shepherds of the time. Why were these shepherds told of Jesus' birth? Because they certified all the lambs sacrificed at the Temple, Jesus included. And despite what you see in Nativity scenes, they weren’t led by a Star, that comes from blending the birth story with the story of the Magi, months after Jesus’ birth. See BBC(Star of Bethlehem) [3] or GotQuestions(Star of Bethlehem) [4] for more info.

A little more info on swaddling, not a common term today. Again from The Birth Revisited [2].

“Swaddling bands" were used for subduing animals prior to sacrifice. These swaddling bands were strips of gauze-like cloth used to restrain a lamb being prepared for inspection before sacrifice to prevent thrashing that they not blemish themselves. A sacrifice had to be bound in order to be valid. Binding an animal for sacrifice is specifically mentioned in Abraham's binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:9

Notice that Jesus was buried the same way, wrapped in cloth, laid in a tomb cut in a rock - John 19:40.

Migdal Eder?
Let’s take a look at “no room at the inn”, and how that translation hides a wonderful truth. The word “inn” really means guestroom. Mary was pregnant with Jesus when she and Joseph traveled to their family homestead in Bethlehem, a family homestead for a thousand years, who knows, they may have stayed with a relative. Mary could not give birth in the house because it would have made all the occupants ritually unclean. Therefore, women of that day would leave the home and give birth elsewhere, returning home after purification. Many suggest that Mary gave birth to Jesus in the Tower of the Flocks. Not provable, but probable, watch Migdal Eder and the Birth of Messiah [5] for more info. In The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [6], Alfred Edersheim wrote ‘That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, “the Tower of the Flock.”’

Also note that according to the Stephens text [7], Luke 2:7,12,16 should read "the manger", not "a manger".

Now let’s read Luke 2 with the right context.

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration whena Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a [the] manger, because there was no place for them in the inn [guestroom].
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a SIGN for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a [the] manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a [the] manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Behold The Wonder

Sometimes we can miss so much of a Bible story if we don’t understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. It’s impossible to shed our own culture completely, but this story shows how important it is to understand the life and times of Jesus Christ. The proper context is not visible unless we understand the shepherds' point of view and that society’s views on ritual uncleanness.

Sometimes so much is revealed by examining one word, in this case “Bethlehem”. I read the lyrics for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” - Metrolyrics [8], and they give no hint of what’s really happening in this story. There is a whole layer of understanding behind that one word. There’s more too, Bethlehem means House of Bread or House of War - What's In A Name [9].

King David wrote, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonders in Your law” - Psalm 119:18 I find the truth about Bethlehem to be a wonder in His law. I hope you do too.

It shows that God planned this symbolism from the foundation of the world. In the days before Passover, consider this - God planned Jesus’ sacrifice long ago  “a body He has prepared” - Heb 10:5. There are hints about it throughout the Old Testament. He planned it in great detail. And He brought it to pass. And He packed all this symbolism into it so that we can see His hand in it all. We can trust in the sacrifice He prepared, and not rely on our own efforts.

Each year before the Days Of Unleavened Bread, I obsessively clean a toaster. Hopefully I can remember it is Jesus’ sacrifice that saves me, not my own efforts – I had nothing to do with preparing Jesus’ sacrifice. Yes we should clean out the old leaven, and yes we should examine ourselves, that’s Biblical, but we should also remember that God loves us, He is always with us, He sees and feels our pains, our joys, and our sorrows, He hears our cries, He will act, and indeed has already acted - He prepared this sacrifice long ago. In the words of John The Baptist “behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”. John 1:29

* In Jesus' time, Bethlehem was a village as small as 300 people - Horrid Herod [10], but today the population is about 25,000 - Wikipedia(Bethlehem) [11]. Conversely, modern Bethlehem is 4 square miles, but may have been a larger area 2000 years ago.