The Law That Couldn't

Torah Portion: Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)
Gospel Reading: Romans 3:21-31
Commentary by: Matthew Day

I want to use this week's Torah portion to draw an illustration for you. For all you apologists out there, keep in mind that an illustration is not a proof (as tempting as it may be), but a teaching tool. That being said, I find it remarkable the ways in which the story of Israel's entrance into the land parallels Romans 3.

Toward the end of Numbers 27, we are reminded that Moses cannot lead Israel into the Promised Land. The reason is rebellion against the Word of God--the swelling up of pride that he should take credit himself for the living waters that came forth from the Rock. "Shall we bring forth water from this rock?" (Num. 20:10). God said that at that moment Moses did not believe in Him. The Hebrew word here is Aman--the same root for faith and faithfulness. One could argue that Moses and Aaron failed in trusting God or in remaining faithful to God. The result was that they failed to uphold God as holy. God is loving, He is merciful, He is forgiving--but He is also holy, set apart and far above anything and everything that is within creation. For this reason Moses could not lead Israel into the Promised Land. For this reason the Torah can never take us into the inheritance of the Kingdom.

What did Moses do then? He came to God and said, "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." When once Moses, the old tutor had finished his course, he then turned to pass the mantle onto another, chosen by God Himself--Joshua. Yehushua. Or as his buddies probably called him, Yeshua. Moses and Eleazar bore witness to the new leader, that he was indeed appointed by God. He laid his hands on him and anointed him. Thus Joshua was commissioned to take Israel across the Jordan and slay the final enemy, that giant that feeds on sin and threatens to stand between us and the Promise. It is through the baptism into Yeshua that we pass from death unto life and rise up in victory over death, sin, and all their children.

This is Romans 3:21-31. A righteousness was made manifest apart from Moses, apart from the law, though Moses bore witness to it. This righteousness came through an anointed one, Yeshua. It is He who would lead a people who formerly had been dead in sin, wasting away in a wilderness of exile for centuries. It is He who would lead the way through death and on to victory, bringing us at last to the inheritance. Then what of the boast? It is excluded. It was in our boast that we failed to obey. It was in our boast that we failed to uphold God as holy. It was in our boast that we failed to humble ourselves and trust the God to whom we are to remain faithful. No, there is no boasting here. In a sense, Joshua was greater than Moses in that Joshua showed his trust in God when put to the test. In this and every other way, Yeshua was greater than Moses and the Torah.

"Do we overthrow the law by this faith?" Read the words of God to Joshua: "Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to given them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left..." Moses and the Torah were not enough to bring us to the promise. Though the Torah is holy, we are weak and unable to bring about the redemption ourselves simply by doing good deeds. Yet, the Torah teaches us how to live in that redemption, how to conduct ourselves as we march into the promised Kingdom. Thus, God calls us to walk after the way of our Master, to be strong and courageous for He will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us wherever we go. And He grants us the Spirit, just as He did for Joshua so that in the strength of God (not our own strength; Moses tried that) we might walk in the fruits which are consistent with the royal Torah: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." He works within us who place our trust on Messiah the will and the power to do His good pleasure. We have only to walk in awe and humility (Phl. 2:12-13).