Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Religious, or Israel-Only Laws, Part 1

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Answering Hebrew Roots
Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: The Christian Ethic – Part 3: The Law of Moses – Section 3: Religious, or Israel-Only Laws: Food, Feasts, and Sabbath

The motivation by Torah observers to deny that there are distinctions in the Law of Moses comes down to this: There cannot be specific, religious laws that only applied to physical Israel. Really, when I said previously that they want to see all laws as moral, I was speaking of what they are hoping to prove. Now we come to what they are trying to avoid. The reason they want all laws considered moral is so that we cannot have a category for religious, ceremonial, or ritualistic laws. It is to deny the existence of this kind of law that they call for all laws to be called moral.

But, having shown already that distinctions and hierarchies exist in the Law, and that moral law in general cannot be made identical with the Law of Moses, we have already proven the propriety of the existence of laws like we will examine now.

Some Different Ways Laws are Described and Treated

We’ve already very clearly seen that Scripture makes distinctions between different kinds of laws. Now, I want to go over a few specific ways in which it does so. To start with an easy, and rather uncontroversial one, all things considered, how do we recognize those laws that may be called “civil” or “judicial”?

  • Civil laws are just those that regard what to do when another law is broken.

As we saw in the previous part, there are laws that are specifically about how to handle when other laws are broken. Sometimes, these establish sin, as in the cases of kidnapping or theft. At other times, they just deal with what to do regarding “violations” that are not sins, such as cleanliness laws.

What cannot be denied by anyone is that some laws are directed specifically at the civil authorities of Israel, and the people of Israel in general as the method of making things right and upholding both justice and religious purity in Israel.

  • Sacrificial laws are just those that regulate the priesthood and sacrificial worship in the tabernacle/temple

All those doing work related to the tabernacle were to be from the tribe of Levi

Numbers 1:51

And when the tabernacle is set out, the Levites will take it down, and when encamping the tabernacle the Levites will set it up; the stranger that approaches it will be put to death

As far as actual priestly duties regarding sacrifices, they were to be done only by descendants of Aaron. One family within the tribe of Levi.

Exodus 28:1

And bring near to you Aaron, your brother, and his sons with him from the midst of the Israelites to serve as priests for me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron

There is not space to go on about the sacrifices themselves, but what we see clearly is that there are definitely laws that are specific to the work of the tabernacle. These laws apply to the Levites and sons of Aaron, and are specific to the sacrificial system. Again, whether you give these kinds of laws a name or not, the category exists in the text. These, we will find, are a subset of the greater religious laws of Israel.

Which Laws are Religious?

Here we find the crux of the debate about the Law of Moses. The most heated debate is between Torah observers, who see all the laws as binding upon believers today, and those who hold that, in one respect or another, some laws do not apply to believers today in the same way they applied to ancient Israel. However, there are debates among those who all agree that some laws have changed, as to which laws have changed or which criteria we use to determine what is considered binding today upon followers of Christ. We won’t have time in this series to get into all those debates, but I do acknowledge they occur.

For now, let us jump right into which laws we are really talking about when we talk about Hebrew Roots and Torah Observance. What laws do they believe that Christians are not following that they should be? As I can see it, here is a more-or-less complete list:

    • Dietary laws: whether we can eat “unclean” meats prohibited by the Law
    • Feasts and Appointed Times laws: whether we should keep the feast days
    • Sabbath: whether we should only worship on Saturdays
    • Tzitzits, fabrics and hair: clothing/grooming regulations
    • Hebrew Names/Sacred Names: whether we are to pronounce only the original Hebrew names of God/Jesus/Biblical people
    • Modern Holidays: whether it is unlawful to celebrate Christmas or Easter or other holidays not commanded in the Torah
    • Circumcision: whether it is still required

What you see here are the main things that those in the Hebrew Roots movement point to when challenging the fidelity to Scripture of those of us who hold to a Christian ethic. Of these, while any is certainly on the table for argument, I find that the first three are the most common points discussed. The reason for this, I believe, is that these are the commandments that the Hebrew Roots teachers believe we are able to follow today, but largely are not.

What I plan to do in this post is to point out how these first three items have elements in the text that clearly cut against the idea that they are intended, as written, to apply to all believers in all places and at all times. Let’s look at the texts and you will see what I mean.

Dietary Laws

I’ve discussed the changes in dietary laws in a video in my Cross and the Torah series, showing clearly what I’ve also discussed earlier in this series, that the laws concerning what meats can be eaten have definitely changed. The question I’d like to address here is this: does the Torah establish the dietary laws in their final Mosaic form as binding upon people outside of the Mosaic covenant?

The reason I ask the question this way is that, now that we are looking at non-sacrificial religious laws, we are coming across laws that Torah observers do take to be binding on everyone. Everyone can limit their diet and not eat unclean animals. Is it therefore a sin not to? I mention the Mosaic covenant because here we also see some of the features of the Mosaic covenant expressed. Let’s look at how and why the dietary laws are given to see this.

The first set is found in Leviticus 11, as part of what was given to Moses at Sinai. The whole chapter contains the specifics on what kinds of animals are unclean and clean, and therefore what is forbidden and allowed to be eaten, respectively. What I’m interested in here, though, is not so much the specifics regarding the animals, but the purpose behind the law. At the end of the specifics, we read this:

Leviticus 11:43-45

You must not defile yourselves with any swarmer that swarms, and you must not make yourselves unclean by them and so be made unclean by them, 44 because I am Yahweh your God, and you must keep yourselves sanctified, so that you shall be holy, because I am holy. And you must not make yourselves unclean with any swarmer that moves along on the land, 45 because I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you as God. Thus you shall be holy, because I am holy.

The specifics about the insects mentioned here are simply because they are the last ones mentioned, but what we find are some statements of God’s purpose in these laws.

  • I am Yahweh your God
  • You must keep yourselves sanctified so you will be holy, because I am holy
  • I brought you up from Egypt to be your God

Many Hebrew Roots teachers point this out as well, saying God wants His people to be recognizable as different from the unbelievers. That being said, let’s look at some other passages so we can see the common thread.

Next, let’s look at some details surrounding the feasts and appointed times in the Law. The first feast that is inaugurated is Passover. Though it does evolve from how it is to be observed from Exodus 12 when it is introduced before the Israelites have left Egypt, and the instructions later at Sinai in Exodus 34 and Leviticus 23, it does contain some important insights as to its purpose right from the beginning.

Exodus 12:12-13

12 “And I will go through the land of Egypt during this night, and I will strike all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human to animal, and I will do punishments among all of the gods of Egypt. I am Yahweh. 13 And the blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and I will see the blood, and I will pass over you, and there will not be a destructive plague among you when I strike the land of Egypt.

So we see that the initial purpose of the first Passover is to make a distinction between the Hebrews and the Egyptians, so that God would not kill the firstborn from among the Hebrews. Here we find the beginning of a thread that we saw tied to dietary laws above. One of the reasons for both of these laws is to make a distinction between Israel and the other nations.

The next feast is the feast of Unleavened Bread

Exodus 23:14-15

14 “‘Three times in the year you will hold a festival for me. 15 You will keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you at the appointed time, the month of Abib, because in it you came out from Egypt, and no one will appear before me empty-handed.

Exodus 34:18

18 “You will keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you will eat unleavened bread, which I commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.

Deuteronomy 16:3-6

You shall not eat with it anything leavened; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread of affliction, because in haste you went out from the land of Egypt, so that you will remember the day of your going out from the land of Egypt all the days of your life…You are not allowed to offer the Passover sacrifice in one of your towns that Yahweh your God is giving to you, but only at the place that Yahweh your God will choose, to let his name dwell there; you shall offer the Passover sacrifice in the evening at sunsetat the designated time of your going out from Egypt.

These passages tie the same thread of the flight from Egypt, which is no surprise, as this feast starts the day after Passover, and so is tied to the same events. So once again, we have the distinction between Israel and the other nations in this feast. Additionally, this feast adds onto Passover and itself the concept of offering, which must be offered at the tabernacle, which is Israel in the wilderness, but in Deuteronomy, when they will ultimately be settling in one place, will also be settled in one place.

So now we have two threads.

  1. The thread of distinction between Israel and its neighbors, which ties the feasts together as well as to the dietary laws.
  2. The thread of sacrificial offerings, which must be made at the tabernacle, and not in other towns, which ties the feasts to each other.

Concurrent with Unleavened Bread is the feast of Firstfruits.

Leviticus 23:11-13

11 And he shall wave the sheaf before Yahweh for your acceptance; the priest shall wave it on the day after the Sabbath. 12 And on the day of your waving the sheaf you shall offer a yearling male lamb without defect as a burnt offering to Yahweh. 13 And its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of finely milled flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire for Yahweh, an appeasing fragrance; and its libation shall be a fourth of a hin of wine.

Notice this feast continues the thread of offering.

The next feast after which we have a gap is the feast of Weeks or Pentecost.

Exodus 34:22-24

22 And you yourself will observe the Feast of Weeks—the firstfruits of the wheat harvest—and the Feast of Harvest Gathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year all your males will appear before the Lord, Yahweh, the God of Israel, 24 because I will evict nations before you, and I will enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before Yahweh your God three times in the year.

Leviticus 2316-20

16 Until the day after the seventh Sabbath you shall count fifty days; then you shall present a new grain offering for Yahweh. 17 You shall bring from your dwellings for a wave offering two loaves of bread made with two-tenths of an ephah of finely milled flour; they must be baked with leaven—the firstfruits belonging to Yahweh. 18 And, in addition to the bread, you shall present seven yearling male lambs without defects and one young bull and two rams—they shall be a burnt offering for Yahweh with their grain offering and their libations, an offering made by fire, an appeasing fragrance for Yahweh. 19 And you shall offer one he-goat as a sin offering and two yearling male lambs as a sacrifice of fellowship offerings. 20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before Yahweh; in addition to the two male lambs, they shall be holy for Yahweh for the priest. 

Deuteronomy 16

“You shall count off seven weeks for you; from the time you begin to harvest the standing grain you shall begin to count seven weeks. 10 And then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks for Yahweh your God with the measure of the freewill offering of your hand that you shall give just as Yahweh your God has blessed you. 11 And you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you and your son and your daughter and your slave and your slave woman and the Levite that is in your towns and the alien and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst in the place that Yahweh your God will choose to let his name dwell there. 12 And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and so you shall diligently observe these rules.

This feast happens 7 weeks after Unleavened Bread, and we clearly see the sacrificial thread, as well, as, in Deuteronomy, the distinction thread, when it says it is to remember “that you were a slave in Egypt”.

These are the spring feasts, which are followed by the fall feasts, starting with the feast of Trumpets.

Numbers 29:1-6

On the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you will have a holy convocation; you will not do any regular work. It will be a day for you of blowing trumpets. You will offer a burnt offering as a fragrance of appeasement for Yahweh: one bull, one ram, and seven male lambs in their first year; they will be without defect. Their grain offering will be finely milled flour mixed with oil: three-tenths for the bull, two-tenths for the ram; and one-tenth for each of the seven male lambs; with one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, in addition to the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their libations, according to their stipulations, as a fragrance of appeasement by fire for Yahweh.

Here, to get the high holy days of the fall feasts started, we see the blowing of trumpets, as well as offerings, just as the other feasts.

Next is the Day of Atonement, which is, of course, full of sacrifice. Numbers 29 offers great detail, but I’ll just quote from the Leviticus passage here.

Leviticus 23:26-28

26 Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Surely the Day of Atonement is on the tenth day of the seventh month; it shall be a holy assembly for you, and you shall deny yourselves, and you shall present an offering made by fire to Yahweh. 28 And you must not do any regular work on this very same day, because it is the Day of Atonement to make atonement for you before Yahweh your God.

One thing to also notice here is the command to rest and not work, which of course links this with the Sabbath, and also appears in other feasts. This actually constitutes a third thread, as the Sabbath itself is listed in Leviticus 23 at the beginning, making it among the appointed times, just one that is observed weekly.

Finally, we come to the Feast of Booths, celebrated during the week started by the Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 23:35-36

35 On the first day there shall be a holy assembly; you must not do any regular work36 For seven days you must present an offering made by fire to Yahweh. On the eighth day it shall be a holy assembly for you, and you shall present an offering made by fire to Yahweh; it is a celebration; you must not do any regular work.

So, here, in the final feast of the year, we see again the continued thread of sacrificial offering, as well as resting from work, as with the Sabbath.

Following the specific instructions for each feast, in Leviticus we have a summary about the feasts, of which I quote part here.

Leviticus 23:37-39,43

37 “‘These are Yahweh’s festivals, which you must proclaim, holy assemblies to present an offering made by fire to Yahweh—burnt offering and grain offering, sacrifice and libations, each on its proper day— 38 besides Yahweh’s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides your vows and besides all your freewill offerings that you give to Yahweh 39 “‘Surely on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, at your gathering the land’s produce, you shall hold Yahweh’s festival for seven days; on the first day there shall be a rest period and on the eighth day a rest period….43 so that your generations shall know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them from the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.’”

And here, in the summary, we have all three threads mentioned again: offerings, rests, and the distinction from Egypt being the remembrance. Why do I take note of the threads we find here? To point out something important about them, and that is that they are all commands that, by nature, must only apply to the nation of Israel at that time and place. One does so explicitly, in the reminders of God saving them from Egypt. It may seem silly to ask, but were these feasts commanded of Egyptians? How is it that God would give a feast of remembrance of His saving Egyptians from themselves, especially when He clearly did not do that?

Regarding animal and grain sacrifices here mentioned, God made it clear that, after Sinai, there was always only one legitimate place to offer them. The Tabernacle at the center of the camp, followed by its location in Israel, which ultimately became the Temple in Jerusalem. Sacrifices were never commanded of other nations, and indeed were not permitted for other nations, who were not ceremonially clean. At no point did this change in Scripture. Animal Sacrifices were always exclusively commanded of the nation of Israel in the context of their Tabernacle/Temple and functioning Levitical priesthood.

Sabbath Rest

Now, regarding the third thread found in the feasts, we have, as I stated above, the first of the feasts, the Sabbath. From the groundwork laid in this article, we can discuss the Sabbath rather briefly. Sabbath functions both as a thread running through the feasts, and as a feast itself. Does the Sabbath exhibit any of the other threads we have seen? Specifically, is it ever said to be given in order to distinguish Israel from its neighbors?

Exodus 31:13

“And you, speak to the Israelites, saying, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, because it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, in order to know that I am Yahweh, who consecrates you

The Sabbath is a sign between Israel and God, so they know God, who consecrates them. “Consecrates” means to make holy, or set apart. In other words, this is a way God set Israel apart from its neighbors. So, here we see that the Sabbath also is given specifically to Israel, and not its neighbors.

Conclusions, and one last very important verse

So, regarding the first three areas of religious law given above, we see that God consistently makes reference to the distinctions between Israel and the other nations as a rationale for the laws. And for the feasts, literally every one but the Sabbath requires animal sacrifices to observe, which were limited to Israel as well.

I want to point out one more little verse that gets overlooked in the Torah regarding the dietary laws. Consider this.

Deuteronomy 14:21

“You shall not eat any carcass; you may give it to the alien who is in your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people for Yahweh your God

An alien is a non-Israelite. This is someone who lives among the Israelites, or is traveling there, but is not of the family of Jacob. But here we have a dietary law that is different based on whether you were a natural born part of Israel or not. This flies in the face of any argument that, just because God commanded ancient Israel to eat a certain way, He intended for all people everywhere to do so. Consider this in conjunction with what is said about the Passover.

Exodus 12:49-50

48 And when an alien dwells with you and he wants to prepare the Passover for Yahweh, every male belonging to him must be circumcised, and then he may come near to prepare it, and he will be as the native of the land, but any uncircumcised man may not eat it. 49 One law will be for the native and for the alien who is dwelling in your midst.”

This also happens regarding sacrifices in Numbers 15:16 and 15:29. In all of these passages, notice that there is a law that applies to everyone, but it’s everyone in a certain group. It is the alien “who is dwelling in your midst”. And regarding the Passover, it is only required for this alien to be circumcised if he wants to also celebrate the Passover. It is not required that foreigners passing through get circumcised.

Yet, above, regarding eating the meat of an animal found dead, there is a different law for the foreigner than for the Israelite. This is helpful for understanding everything from before, as it helps us see that all these threads that make dietary and feast laws exclusive to the nation of Israel are not just us making things up. There are some laws that are even more explicitly stated to be only for Israel.

And this is where we see that, when it comes to these religious observances, the first three categories are clearly shown to be only for the nation of Israel, not for anyone dwelling in nations around Israel, and by extension, never did apply to any non-Israelite person, then or now. As we continue in this series, we will see ways in which all of the laws point forward to fulfillments that certainly impact all believers, but we don’t just copy and past laws for an ancient nation into the multi-ethnic religion that is the fulfillment of all that was given to that nation.

Series Navigation<< Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Civil LawsAnswering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Religious, or Israel-Only Laws, Part 2 >>

3 thoughts on “Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Religious, or Israel-Only Laws, Part 1”

  1. Hi I am a pastor and has been approached by friends. If Hebrew roots movement and I love grace teaching and studying it for more than 10 years , but specially today after speaking with my friend that is into Hebrew roots he kind of told me the Judaism has some truth and Christianisim has some too , and he is panting to convert to Judaism , what advise can you give me ?

    Pastor Maximo

    1. Maximo, sadly, many who go into Hebrew Roots keep going out of the Faith. If that’s where he is going, to reject Jesus, I would recommend Dr Michael Brown, who is a Jewish Christian who evangelizes Jews. Holding onto Jesus is the first thing. After that, if he’s willing to talk with you, it’s about digging into Scripture and being willing to answer his questions honestly and biblically.

  2. Please understand that I appreciate your combing through the Word in search of truth.
    If I didn’t think you were an honest broker I wouldn’t waste my time casting pearls before swine. I get the impression that you are genuine in your search and that gives me hope that we can discuss in truth and disagree in love.
    It appears your arguments hinge on the idea that you haven’t been grafted into Israel (Romans 11). You are claiming these things are for Israel and therefore do not apply to you. How many christians have traced their lineage back to determine if they are bloodline Israelites? Is that what Yahweh requires of us? I think you would agree that He doesn’t. This is what the Pharisees thought.
    Once you’re grafted in there is neither Jew nor Greek but we are all one under Messiah. Are we to walk as Yahushua walked or was his message to “do as I say, not as I do?” Did Messiah keep Sabbath? Did Messiah keep feasts? Did Messiah eat clean? That’s good enough for me. Shouldn’t we be modeling our lives after Messiah instead of the Roman Catholic Church that brought us such religions as modern day Christianity?
    You mention how the commands were for Israel to show them separate from Egypt and make the invalid point that Egypt wouldn’t do those things to be shown separate from Egypt. That’s exactly what He wants from us. To put away the old man (Egyptian) and be grafted into His people. I hope you realize Egyptians left Egypt with the Israelites and were subject to the same commandments…the were the sojourners among them….the mixed multitude who decided to be grafted in.
    And if we are, in fact, grafted in to Israel then when we read Exodus 31 we see that Sabbath was a sign between Him and us (now part of Israel) “forever” “throughout your generations” “as a perpetual covenant.” That’s what Yahweh says, but you say it’s not forever and not a perpetual covenant.
    I think you are making some arguments that, by definition, are invalid and not supported by scripture. One must ignore huge swaths of the Word to come to these conclusions. I would love to hear your thoughts on the points I’ve brought up. I know I haven’t addressed all your points but I’ve addressed enough to start a conversation. Shalom.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on an argument I put together at named Hebrew Hammer Guest Blog.

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