Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Changes in God’s Commands Before Sinai

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Answering Hebrew Roots
Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Part 2: From Adam to Moses – Section 2: Changes in God’s Commands

In this section, we are going to look again at the time from creation up to Moses. This time, however, we are going to look at God’s explicit commands. There are more than you probably think. Whereas last time we looked primarily at sins that resulted from breaking God’s law that is built-in in the form of our conscience, this time, we will examine the things God actually explicitly commanded people. Also as before, we will focus on a couple of these, to show how they don’t really fit in well with Hebrew Roots or Torah observant theology when you examine them closely.

Noah and Eating Meat

One very clear change in law is the one that occurred after the flood, when God gave permission to eat meat.

Genesis 9:2-4

2 And fear of you and dread of you shall be upon every animal of the earth, and on every bird of heaven, and on everything that moves upon the ground, and on all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they shall be given. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be for you as food. As I gave the green plants to you, I have now given you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat raw flesh with blood in it.

We will look in more detail at how this relates to the eating of clean and unclean animals in the Law of Moses at a later time, but for now, I just want to point out this change. God is clear that, whereas He had only given the plants to mankind as food before, now He adds the animals. One law was in effect from Adam to Noah. A different law is in effect from Noah forward.

This shows that God is certainly free, in principle, to change laws that He gives man. The mere fact that a command was given or a statute set by God does not automatically make that law permanent. It is also very important to realize that this is happening very early in human history. Scripture sets up many things in the book of Genesis that get repeated later in Scripture. Genesis is where precedents are set, and it is important to realize that, once this happens here in Gen. 9, there can be no assumption that a command given by God is eternal unless God very explicitly makes it eternal.

As an aside, this is why many Mosaic Covenant laws, though described as “lasting” or “everlasting”, cannot be assumed to be eternal based simply on this one word. In Hebrew and Greek, the word for “eternal”, can also mean for a very long time, or for an age. This doesn’t rule it out as meaning eternal, as some who learn this fact assume. Rather, it means that it just depends on the context. Does the text say other things that prove it means eternal or not? What we know from Genesis 9 is that not all of God’s instructions are eternal. Only God can rescind a command, so as long as it stands, it stands, but there can be no assumption that nothing could happen to change a command.

Going Into the Promised Land

This one technically happens after the giving of the Law, but the initial command is before, so I include it here. The promised land was promised to Abraham, long before the time of slavery in Egypt, and then, after God brings them out, He brings them right to the land, but after the spies come back, and all of them except Joshua and Caleb give a bad report, they rebel and say they will not go in.

God then gives His judgment that He will cause Israel to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, so that all of the adults except Joshua and Caleb will die off, and a new generation will be more obedient and go in.

This judgment causes some to “repent” and decide to go up into the promised land on their own, without the blessing of God, and it doesn’t go well.

Numbers 14:39-45

39 And Moses spoke words to all the Israelites, and the people mourned greatly. 40 They rose early in the morning and went to the top of the mount, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that Yahweh said, because we have sinned.” 41 But Moses said, “Why are you going against the command of Yahweh? It will not succeed. 42 You should not go up because Yahweh is not in your midst; do not let yourselves be defeated in the presence of your enemies, 43 because the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and you will fall by the sword; because you have turned back from Yahweh, and Yahweh will not be with you.” 44 But they dared to go to the top of the mountain, and the ark of the covenant of Yahweh and Moses did not depart from the midst of the camp. 45 So the Amalekites and the Canaanites who were living on the mountain descended, and they beat them down, up to Hormah.

Because they broke the command of God, God changed His command so that now, doing what would have been obedience now became disobedience. So here, even after the giving of the Law, we have an example of a command being given, and then, not just rescinded, but actually reversed, so that the ones seeking to go into the land were said to be “going against the command of Yahweh”. When Joshua came back, they had the opportunity to obey, but now, that opportunity has passed. Once again we see that God is free to change His commands to us.

Other Commands Not Broken, but Not Eternal

Having considered the command to go into the land that the Israelites broke, it is important to remember that not all of God’s commands take the form of enduring laws. Sometimes God gives specific commands to specific people, but it is no less a sin to disobey these as the laws.

Consider God’s commands to Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree, and to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. Consider God’s call to Abraham to leave his home and go to Caanan. God commanded Noah to build the ark. He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He commanded Moses from the burning bush to return to Egypt to set the people free.

Think for a moment about these commands. Some were broken. Others obeyed. We can see that God judged those who disobeyed, so these were certainly commands to be obeyed, and a sin not to. And God didn’t stop giving this kind of command after the giving of the Law, as countless examples can be given from the lives of Moses and Joshua, and from the lives of the judges and the prophets. It leads all the way into the New Testament.

Now I’m going to ask a silly question. Are we all supposed to obey these commands? Of course not. With the one exception of the command to subdue the earth, pretty much any believer is going to say that these were commands given by God to specific people at specific times. It is not disobedience for you or I to not go into Egypt to set the Israelites free from their slavery, not just because the Israelites don’t happen to be slaves in Egypt, but because God’s commands to Moses from the burning bush were for Moses to complete, not us.

Mosaic Laws Given Before Sinai

Before I wrap up this section, I want to touch on some laws that were given before Sinai that were actually part of the Sinai covenant. These are specific commands concerning Israel, so they are not just moral standards like we talked about last time. The first example we see is the command to circumcise that God gave to Abraham. The rest are given to Israel as they are coming out of Egypt, but before they actually have reached Mount Sinai. The beginning of God’s giving the Law to Moses at Sinai is Exodus 20, but we have parts given early, Passover in chapter 12, feast of unleavened bread and commands concerning the firstborn in chapter 13, and a sort of partial Sabbath command in chapter 16.

All of these laws are then reiterated and/or expanded in the actual giving of the Law at Sinai. One thing that is interesting about their existence in these earlier chapters is that they serve as examples that show at least one way God can change what He commands. These laws are not changed in any significant way by the Sinai Covenant. The most apparent difference is the Sabbath law, in that Exodus 16 only gives commands regarding gathering double the manna on the sixth day, and none on the seventh. The commands concerning doing “no work” or to not let your servants within your gates work are missing. I think this does give us insight into what the actual command not to work means, but for now, it is important to see that the command in chapter 16 is not the full command, but is preparatory to what will be commanded at Sinai.

How they shed light on what we’ve already seen is that the existence of these laws shows a contrast between the other commands we’ve seen in this article, and these ones. Whereas we have seen and commands that were changed, or that were intended only for a certain person or group at a certain time, these laws are examples of God giving a new law that was not required before. Up until Abraham, no one was sinning who did not circumcise his son. Up until these times in Exodus, no one was sinning who did not celebrate the Passover or who didn’t keep the Sabbath. So the fact that new laws are given is also an example of a change in how God governed His people

All of this also points strongly to the freedom of God to not conform to rules we might try to make up for Him. Before God gave the Law at Sinai, He was free to give many different kinds of commands. We cannot establish any other rule about what God does when we look at the laws, commandments and sin before Sinai. If God wants to give a command that He later changes, for His own reasons, He can. If He wants to give a command that He later reverses due to His judgment for man’s sins, He can do that as well. And if He wants to give a command that did not previously exist that will become part of a later Covenant, He can do that. He doesn’t have to wait for the actual Covenant if He doesn’t want to. The existence of all these different kinds of commands in this pre-Sinai world establish one thing. Any man-made theories that say God always gives one kind of Law is false, and is in opposition to the Torah.

God is free. God does not change, but His commands do. As we finish looking at the Pre-Sinai world, we cannot come to any other conclusion. As we’ve seen, sin was defined independent of the Law of Moses, commands were given, then changed, commands were given that never became part of the Law of Moses, and some of the Law of Moses was given before Sinai. God does not conform to our theories. He is God. Ours is to learn what He is like, and He is not like the God of the Hebrew Roots movement, a God who bases everything on Sinai. The Torah disagrees with the Torah observers on this one.

Series Navigation<< Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Enduring Law, Sin Before the Law of MosesAnswering Hebrew Roots Book 1: The Ten Commandments >>

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