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Michael Heiss—July 16, 2011

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What we're going to do today is discuss a subject that is always been a great fascination to me; that is the Law.  What is the Law? How was it understood in ancient Israel? We're going to go through the words for torah, judgment and statute and try to get a feel for it.

Fred mentioned David Jon Hill. Years and years ago he was my instructor at Ambassador College in an Old Testament Survey course. He used to say that 'we have such a big subject, it's going to be a survey not an excavation.' Well, this is going to be a survey not an excavation, because there's just too much involved. Hopefully, I can wrap it up in about an hour.

Secondly, in the opening prayer he talked about 'seeing through a glass darkly.' When you look at the Law you are seeing through a glass darkly. Hopefully, I can lighten it up a little bit. We're going to start, our jumping off point, is going to be Genesis 26:5. We have the circumstances here where God is communicating to Isaac. He's telling Isaac, 'Don't go down to Egypt. Stay in the land, this land I swore to your father Abraham, I will be with you.' And here comes the tremendous tribute:

Genesis 26:5: "Because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." I don't know of any other man of whom God said that.

In addition to that, He said in Gen. 18:17-19 that 'I know him; I know Abraham' and He was going to make of him a 'great nation.' You may want to put in there Gal. 3:29: 'If you be Christ's then you are Abraham's seed.'

"Obey the Voice of God"

Let us take a look and see what it means for these four or five items. What does it mean to 'obey the voice of God'? First of all, whatever God tells you to do, you do! Abraham did! God said to Abraham—or Abram, as it was back then—'get out of your father's house to a land I will show you.' Abram departed! He obeyed! He obeyed the voice!

In Gen. 22:1-2, God said, 'Abraham, take your son—your only son Isaac—and offer him up as a sacrifice.' Abraham was about to do that. He obeyed the voice of God!

I hope we understand, the concept 'only son' means the only son of promise. Abraham did have another son. Some people like to say, 'you just can't believe the Bible because that's a mistake; Abraham had Ishmael.' True, but Ishmael was not a 'son of promise.' Isaac was his only 'son of promise.'
In general, Abraham did whatever God said! That in essence is also how he kept 'His charge.' One thing we need to understand is this word for 'obey' in the Hebrew, you can find the words hearken and hear, all the same word.

Let's look at three distinct Scriptures: In this particular case, Abraham is getting a little anxious, Sarah's getting anxious; they want a son. So, Sarah persuades Abraham to go in and have a son with Hagar.

1) Genesis 16:2: "…Abram hearkened to the words of Sarai."

You could say that Abraham obeyed the words of Sara. It's the same Hebrew word.

2) Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel. Our one God is the LORD, the LORD [is one].

This is the famous phrase throughout Judaism. It says 'hear'; but that's the same word as 'obey'—it's in the imperative form. It is 'shamea' throughout.

Genesis 21—this is one of my wife's favorite Scriptures; she loves this one. Sarah did like Ishmael being with Isaac. She says to Abraham, 'Get rid of this person; get rid of this handmaid.' Of course, Abraham didn't want to; this was Ishmael his son.

What does God say, Genesis 21:12: "…'Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the boy and because of your maidservant. In all that Sarah has said to you, hearken to her words…'" In other words, 'obey the voice of your wife.' Now you know why my wife loves this Scripture.

God backed up Sarah. God didn't want Ishmael around to mess up Isaac. This is the concept of obeying My voice—to hear and to obey—it's all the same word in the Hebrew.

"Keeping MY Charge"

The next one we have is 'keeping My charge.'Abraham kept God's charge. How did he do that? I'm going to read you that phrase in Hebrew, because this is a most effective 'play on words.' You don't get it from the English. I didn't get it from the English either. The Germans have a saying: 'so soono'—so late smart—that's me! Why don't I read it in the Hebrew? Do you think that may be a good idea? Yeah, that would be a good idea. I'm going to read this to you:

Genesis 26:5 (in Hebrew) "…u ishmr mshmrth i…" The 'sh' and the 'ma' and the (???) [transcriber note: to get this one must listen to the audio] In essence these are the same words, only one is a noun form and one is in a verb form. Which means Abraham kept My keepings. That doesn't sound good in English; sounds awkward in English.

But what it means is: Whatever I told Abraham to do He did. Whatever I told him to keep, he kept. Whatever! That's how Abraham 'kept His charge.' He obeyed God and kept His charge.


These are general. Now let's go into the real topic itself. First, the word law. There are three Hebrew words—primarily—that are translated law. The most common is 'torah.'

Torah is the overall arching, the overall encompassing word for law. it means

  • law
  • statutes
  • teaching
  • instruction

Not just law, because the rabbis point out that if it means just law, then the Bible would start with Exo. 12. That's where we find the ordinances of the Passover and the rest of the statutes and so forth.

How much law do you find in the first eleven chapters of Exodus? Not much! What about the entire book of Genesis? Not much! Oh yes, you find 'if man sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed'; but that's it. So, 'torah' means a lot more than just law.

We're going to look at a few Scriptures here to get a feel. To start with, Isaiah 42:21—we should be familiar with this particular verse. It's a very fascinating concept, talking about the Messiah and what He is going to do with what we call the Law.

Isaiah 42:19: "Who is blind but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger… [v 21]: …The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness sake; He will magnify the Law and make it glorious." He's magnifying the teaching, the instruction. This is going to be the Messiah. Think Matt. 5-7—'you have said it heard of old. but I say unto you.' He's magnifying. Not just statutes, He magnifying the whole teaching.

Now we have another section, and this particular one we're going to look at Isa. 8:16—and we're going to see a New Testament application of it, as well. In this particular case we find:

Isaiah 8:16: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Law among My disciples." That's 'torah' the Law…. [v 20]: …To the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them." This is the overall teaching. Think of Galatians, the Apostle Paul. What was his response to what was happening. He was beside himself, he said, 'O Galatians, who has bewitched you?' What does he say, 'If they speak not according to my Gospel; if any other Gospel is preached to you other than that which I received from Christ—which I preached to you—let them be accursed.' Same thing as Isa. 8:16-20. So, we find this is more than just law.

Let's look at the classic example, the one I puzzled over for years, before I decided to read it in the Hebrew, that is. We will see something very interesting, because we have the word instruction and we have the word law, as well.

Proverbs 1:8: "My son, hear the instruction of your father and forsake not the law of your mother." I could not understand the law of your mother.

This 'torah'—remember: instruction. 'Johnny, I need a quart of milk. Here's a couple of dollars, go down to store. You're going to cross the street. Don't cross in the middle, cross at light. Look both ways and come straight home. Don't get sidetracked at Jimmy's place. I need that milk.' That's the law of your mother—mother's instructions. 'Don't touch hot stove'—your mother's instructions.

Ever play Monopoly? Clue? Game of Life? Sorry? Let me see, how many house do I have to build before I can get a hotel? Got to read the instructions! Read the 'torah' of the game. Baseball: ground ball down the third base line: What if it goes into foul territory before the base? What if goes into foul territory after third base? Different rules; what is the 'torah' of baseball? It's the same thing.

If 'torah' means instruction, then what about this other word here: "…hear the instruction of your father…"? This is not 'torah'; this word means discipline, chastisement, reproof.

Hebrews 12:5—we'll see an application of that one: "And you have already forgotten the admonition that He addresses to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor grow weary of being reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He severely disciplines every son whom He receives'" (vs 5-6). That is the meaning this Hebrew word that is translated instruction. In fact, it's the same word in Job 5:17—the same word for instructions.

Sometimes the word for law can mean a specific law. Look at Gen. 47:26—this is not 'torah.' Sometimes you just have to look into the Hebrew to see what word you're looking at. Genesis 47:26: "And Joseph made it a law of the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part…"—that is not 'torah.' That is special decree by Joseph, and it's a different word. In fact, this is the word that most often is translated statute. If you want to get the feel for it, it should really be translated a statute. But remember, these words are all interrelated. Technically, that word is not law.

There's another one in Deuteronomy 33:2: "…From His right hand went a fiery law…" This is not instruction, this is another word which means an enactment, which is more like a royal decree. That's just for your general information.

That is 'torah.' So, 'torah' is an overall instruction and teaching.


Now, we're going to see commandments—'mitsvah.' It's very, very interesting, because all observant Jews know they have to a 'mitsvah.' You can see it from the very beginning. Matthew is the classic example. Every time I read this, I chuckle because I know exactly what was going on. After all, I grew up in this.

Matthew 19:16: "Now at that time, one came to Him and said, 'Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?'" Of course, 'I need to do a mitzvah, I need to do something to obtain the Kingdom of God.' No shed blood, no savior to die for you, but 'what good thing must I do?' So, Jesus responds and He says, v 17: "…if you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments."

What's the next question a good rabbinic mind would think to ask? Which ones? After all, you've got to keep the right ones—right? Yes! So, He lists them and He tells them what they are:

Verse 18: "You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother…" (vs 18-19). These are all those commandments dealing with fellow man; not dealing with God directly. And He sums it up by saying: "…and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v 19). Why didn't He mention about the Sabbath and 'have no other gods before Me'?

Well, if you had any understanding of those Pharisees and their 'righteousness,' if there's anything they didn't need it was the first four. They didn't need them; they would die before they would worship an idol.

We know that these are commandments. So, next under 'torah' comes the commandments. What are the most important commandments? The Ten Commandments! We're going to see something very interesting about them. These Ten Commandments are given in Exo. 20 and Deut. 5. The most interesting thing is they're never called The Ten Commandments in Exo. 20 and Deut. 5. In fact, in Hebrew they're never called The Ten Commandments at all.

I know what you're saying: I, too, I saw my boy Charlton Heston come down from the mountain. I saw him! I saw him with those tablets of stone. I'm with you! But God never called them the Ten Commandments. There are only three times where that phrase is used; so let's take a look at those three times.

1) Exodus 34:28: "And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments."

2) Deuteronomy 4:13: "And He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, even the Ten Commandments. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone."

That certainly sounds as though He's calling them The Ten Commandments.

3) Deuteronomy 10:4: "And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD spoke to you in the mountain…"

But the word 'commandment' in English does not come from the Hebrew word 'commandment.' That's 'mitsvah'—a commandment that you have to perform. This is the word for word—'dabar'; 'dabar-havareem' as it is in the Hebrew—the words.

If you go back to Exodus 20 and Deut. 5, it says 'God made a covenant according to these words. God spoke all these words.' He never called them commandments.

As one orthodox rabbi said, 'Look, God knows what He's doing. God knows the meaning of words. God says what He means; He means what He says.' If God puts a word in there, it's because He has a purpose for it. If a word isn't there, it's because He doesn't want it there. Understand: God knows what He means! The problem is sometimes we don't know what He means.

Have you ever heard the phrase: 'and the Word of the Lord came' he heard the Word of the Lord.' It's the same thing. The Word is all encompassing. The concept of Word means all of God's Law, everything that comes from God: 'Behold, the Word of the Lord.'

We'll take a look at some of these instances where this word would come. Go back to Genesis 15:1: "After these things the Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying…" Who was saying? Is it the Lord saying? Is the Word of the Lord saying? It is the Word that's saying! I think that's telling us something. As this rabbi would say, 'Read it carefully.' The Word of the Lord came saying…

Verse 4: "And behold, the Word of the LORD came to him saying…" Again, the Word is saying. Who or what is the Word? and Who or what is the Lord? I think we're going to find something very interesting on this thing.

I have a couple more items I wish to show you. We're going to look now in Psalms 33:4: "For the Word of the LORD is upright; and all His works are done in faithfulness…. [v 6]: …By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth." God spoke the word and it was done.

This is my own personal belief and philosophy. It's like creation: How was the universe created? Well, you've got evolutionists; you've got creationists; God created it out of nothing. I don't believe that—this is my personal thought, but I've given a great deal of thought to it. God created the world out of Himself. He didn't create it out of nothing; doesn't have to. Just like water, steam, ice—God converted His own Spirit essence into energy, and all the energy forces, the force fields come from His energy. He sustains it that way. From His energy He went to matter.

Remember years ago there was a dogma science—matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed one to the other. Until the advent of the atomic age, and they found out that energy was converted to matter. When I read that, I thought 'of course, you dummy.' God used His own Spirit, transformed it into energy and from energy into matter. He spoke it; 'the Word said.'

Who or what is this Word? Do we dare go to John, the Gospel of John 1:1-4: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And nothing in this universe came into being apart from this Word.

Well, what is Psa. 33:6 tell us? "By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made…" The Word spoke the word. The Word—Who became Jesus Christ—spoke the word and by that process the earth came into being. That is what I think God is telling us. By the Word… Anytime you see 'the Word of the Lord'

  • it's God's message
  • it's God's Law

And by spirit form

  • it is the One Who became Jesus Christ Himself

He said, 'I knock at the door; open up and I will sup with you. I will come in.' So, God the Father and Jesus Christ both are coming into us. The Word of the Lord came by His Spirit—the One Who became Jesus Christ.

Fascinating! We talk about the Word of the Lord! Think of the Word spoke the word, if you want a good play on words.

We're going to take a look at the words The Ten Commandments. God talked about these 'tablets of stone.' We've got to understand, how big were these tablets and what was written on them, really? That also got my attention.

There are 172 Hebrew words that comprise Exo. 20. Were these all written in long from on two tables of stone? We know front and back. Let's go take a look at that.

Exodus 32:15: "And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the testimony were in his hand: the tablets were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other." Here were tablets, and the Hebrew for hand is singular. He could hold both tablets in one hand.

I remember the image—and I've seen it many times—of these big, huge stone tablets. There is no way any man—unless he's a huge, giant of a man—can possibly hold those two tablets in one hand. He couldn't! These were much smaller tablets that could fit in the Ark. Remember, they were put in the Ark along with Aaron's rod and with a jar or container of manna.

How big were these tablets, really? What if you had one word written for each commandment, a shorthand? I can't prove this, but shorthand. We know what the longhand version is, we have it in Exo. 20 and Deut. 5. No doubt about that; no question about that. But could all those words, longhand, been written on these small tablets? I don't think so! If God tells me He did it, 'yes, Lord, I agree, whatever You say.' But I think He had a shorthand. After all, who was going to see them? They were put in the Ark! Who was going to touch that Ark?

Remember poor Uzza in the days of David when they were carrying the Ark to Jerusalem and it was about to fall over, and he just tried to steady it and God struck Him dead. Nobody was going to look at those tables of stone. We don't know what was written on them, and He could of done it longhand. I don't think He did. Moses had in his hands, he gave it to the priests and the priests put it in the Ark.

It's interesting. I think it was a shorthand. Just a thought. Just something to tickle your fancy with so to speak. Let's read Deuteronomy 10:5, just to confirm that those tablets went into the Ark. Deuteronomy 10:5 "And I turned myself and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the Ark which I had made…." So, there they were, put in the Ark. It was relatively small. That is my opinion, but nevertheless, you think about it.

That will give us an idea of these commandments. There are other words for commandments. One is 'peh'—which means mouth. You read English, you don't realize you're reading mouth. You think you're reading commandment. How does God command? By His mouth! His words come out of His mouth. This is the Hebrew concept.

Look here in Genesis 45:21: "And the sons of Israel did so. And Joseph gave them wagons according to the command of Pharaoh…" This word for command: mouth; the mouth of Pharaoh. It doesn't say command. But Pharaoh said to do it, therefore, it's perfectly justifiable to translate this 'command.' But you wouldn't know it said 'mouth' unless you read it in the Hebrew.

There's one other one that we'll turn to. That's all, I don't want us to get bogged down. Lamentations 1:18: "The LORD is righteous, for I have rebelled against His [mouth] commandment…"—it is 'peh.'

After all, when you rebel against God's mouth, you're rebelling against His commands. It's all related this way. Sometimes it is just the Hebrew word said, 'He said.' Look at Exodus 8:27: "We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as He shall command us." As He shall say. This is not a word for 'command.' God said this, God said that—same word. If God says to do something, what is it? It's a command! But it's not the Hebrew word for 'command.' That is just for your overall information.


The word statute really means it is a law, it is a decree, a law written in stone. This is the theory, this is the concept of the Hebrew word for 'statute' They're described as engraved decrees; originally referred to enactments passed by authoritative bodies—law, decrees, enactments. There's only one Hebrew word for statute: 'choq.' Only one root letter. Every time you see the word 'statute' it comes from the root of that one word. There's no question of what that is.


I'm bypassing 'ordinance' for a reason. Judgment in the Hebrew is 'mishpat.' These are judicial decrees. These are verdicts. Judges throughout the Old Testament were to give their verdicts. Exo. 21-23 are the judgments of God. These are judicial decrees of God.

These are not laws per se. If a Hebrew man becomes so poor and sells himself to you, this is how he shall do it. If this happens, then you're to do that. If an ox gores another ox, then you shall do this. God is giving judgments—judicial verdicts given in advance. That's what the word judgment means—'mishpat'—and it comes from that.


The big question is, what about ordinance. The amazing thing is there is no word for ordinance that is separate. When you see the word ordinance—God's statutes and His ordinances—that word ordinance comes either from the word for statute or the word for judgment.

There's no problem in the Hebrew; the problem is the English. I don't know why the king James translators and all the others of the Revised Standard Versions sometimes they took the word for statute and wrote ordinance. Sometimes they took the word for judgment and wrote ordinance.

Why did they do that? I don't know! I can see a difference in English. I can see the statutes being laws on the books of murder, rape, etc. And I can see ordinances. City ordinances: 15 mph near schools; buildings only so high; materials must be of such a nature; garbage must be swept up properly, etc., etc. These are city ordinances. But in God's Word there's no distinction. Let's take a couple of examples and we'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Exodus 12:14—we're talking about the Passover here. There are several verses in here that talk about ordinances. "…And you shall keep it a Feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it a Feast as a law forever." In other translations this one was put as 'ordinance.' But the word is statute. Even here we probably should have put it as a statute. But a law is not a bad translation.

Verse 17: "…Therefore, you shall keep this day in your generations as a law forever." This is not 'torah'; this is the word for statute.

Verse 24: "And you shall observe this thing as a law to you…" That is the word for statute. It's not really law per se.

Exodus 13:10: "You shall therefore keep this law…" Again, this is the word that is ordinarily translated in other translations as ordinance. We have it law.

Where do we get ordinance. Remember, the translators translated sometimes ordinance and sometimes statute; sometimes judgment and sometimes statute. Why they did it, I don't know. Maybe some of you could study that. I'd be very, very interested.

Look at Joshua 24:25: "And Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance..." That's the correct word for statute, 'ordinance'—no. It's 'mishpat'—judgment.

My thinking is that it says a statute and judgment because God is giving you the law itself and then He's giving you the explanation of the law. Remember, what is judgment? A decision rendered by a judge in how the statute is to be carried out!

You'll find out that a statute and an ordinance is the word for judgment. There is no separate word for 'ordinance.' Ordinance is simply a synonym. It's in English word. But in the Bible statutes and ordinances are the same—they are literally the same, there's no difference.

Book of the Law of Statutes:

Finally, in concluding, I want to discuss the Book of the Law of Statutes. This one was fascinating to me. Deuteronomy 5:30—just prior to this God had spoken the Ten Commandments. He was explaining things with Moses. God says to Moses: "Go say to them, 'Go into your tents again.' But as for you, you stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments [mitzvah] and the statutes [choq] and the judgments [mishpateem] which you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land which I am giving them, to possess it" (vs 30-31).

Beginning in Deut. 6:1, clear through Deut. 28 is a separate covenant of statutes that God made with Israel.

Come to Deuteronomy 29—He just finished with chapter 28, the blessings, the cursings that correspond with Lev. 26, the blessings and the cursings. Deuteronomy 29:1: "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb." This was a separate, distinct covenant full of statutes.

Do you want to know the statutes of God, read them: Deut. 6-28, and God is going to judge Israel based on how well they keep this Book of the Law of Statutes. It is a book, by the way, of statutes.

Deuteronomy 30:10: "If you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statuteswhich are written in this book of the law…"

Verse 16: "In that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments…"

This is the Book of the Law, and this Book of the Law is going to be put in the side of the Ark. It is to be spoken every seven years.
Deuteronomy 31:9: "And Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying, 'At the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before the LORD your God in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law…" (vs 9-11). Which law? Not the Old Testament as a whole—although they could have done that—it is this Book of the Law—Deut. 6 thru 28—because this is the Book of the Law by which God is going to judge Israel in the land.

We have:

  • Obeying God's voice
  • Keeping His charge
  • The Law—'torah' which is the overall arching of God's instruction
  • The Statutes—specific written decrees
  • Judgments—which is the explanation, the judicial decisions by judges
  • The Book of the Law

That pretty much covers what I wanted to cover. There are so many more Scriptures we could look at. At least it will give you something to go by. If you want a further study of it, you'll know to look for the Hebrew words that are translated law, statutes, judgments and commandments.

I can only sum up by saying, this probably could have been as clear as mud, but hopefully it covered the ground.

Scripture References:

  • Genesis 26:5
  • Genesis 16:2
  • Deuteronomy 6:4
  • Genesis 21:12
  • Genesis 26:5
  • Isaiah 42:19-21
  • Isaiah 8:16, 20
  • Proverbs 1:8
  • Hebrews 12:5
  • Genesis 47:26
  • Deuteronomy 33:2
  • Matthew 19:16-19
  • Exodus 34:28
  • Deuteronomy 4:13
  • Deuteronomy 10:4
  • Genesis 15:1, 4
  • Psalm 33:4, 6
  • John 1:1
  • Psalm 33:6
  • Exodus 32:15
  • Deuteronomy 10:5
  • Genesis 45:21
  • Lamentations 1:18
  • Exodus 8:27
  • Exodus 12:14, 17, 24
  • Exodus 13:10
  • Joshua 24:25
  • Deuteronomy 5:30-31
  • Deuteronomy 29:1
  • Deuteronomy 30:10, 16
  • Deuteronomy 31:9-11

Scriptures referenced, not quoted:

  • Genesis 18:17-19
  • Galatians 3:29
  • Genesis 22:1-2
  • Matthew 5-7
  • Job 5:17
  • Exodus 20
  • John 1:2-4
  • Exodus 21-23
  • Deuteronomy 6:21 thru Deut. 28
  • Leviticus 26

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