Chapter 21 (Laws of the Land) pages 337-349
North here deals with Lev 20:22-26, a passage that appears to provide a conclusion to the preceding verses recorded for us in chapter 20. For example, the word ‘therefore’ in the first of the verses would naturally point us to this conclusion, but North takes the passage devoid of its setting and chooses to comment mainly on verses 25 and 26.
North’s statement (page 337) that
‘The Creator God has separated His people from all other people’
should be a statement that we all agree with but it must be noted that, in the subsequent chapter, North will go on to state that the areas of separation applicable to the nation of Israel are now obsolete (and that they have been since 70AD), so what that separation must mean for both the Old and New Covenant believer will be somewhat different.
The statement, however, is correct. But his next sentence
‘This separation is not only historical; it is eternal’
needs some explanation. Although separation is a concept that runs throughout Scripture and which is, indeed, ‘eternal’, the type of separation is different according to covenant. North does hint at this point, though, shortly after the statement when he writes (page 338)
‘....this threatened negative sanction was an aspect of the land laws of Israel, confined geographically to the Promised Land, and annulled in AD 70 with the final annulment of the Old Covenant’
The eternality of separation of His people is therefore certain but also, at the same time, radically different depending on which age one lived in. Eternality only applies to the principle of separation not to the outworking of it.
North looks at the mark of inheritance and covenant faithfulness (page 340) and notes
‘The outward manifestation of this trust was circumcision. Without this outward act of obedience, the Israelite ceased to be an Israelite, and therefore he removed himself and his heirs from the promised inheritance...A refusal to place the mark of the covenant - a symbolic boundary - on the flesh of all one’s male heirs was an act of self-disinheritance. Excommunication became mandatory...’
His statement is problematical.
Firstly, he asserts that, without the mark, an Israelite ‘ceased to be an Israelite’. The nation of Israel, however, who’d wandered through the wilderness for forty or so years were still called Israelites even though they’d not received the mark of circumcision. Joshua 5:2 (my italics) records for us God saying
‘...Make flint knives and circumcise the people of Israel again the second time’
Even though the covenant with Abram had been (Gen 17:14) that
‘Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant’
God still referred to the nation as Israelites. There needs to be some clarification, therefore, as to what North means by the statement that the Israelite ceased to be an Israelite - it appears that he was always regarded as an Israelite but that he wasn’t in covenant relationship with God until the mark of circumcision had been received.
Secondly - and more importantly - North speaks of excommunication for all Israelites who refused to have their male children circumcised even though the verses previously quoted make no such mention of such a sanction. What it does say is that, if the marks of circumcision aren’t on that child then the child is to be cut off from the commonwealth of Israel along with any of their descendants. This last phrase indicates that we’re thinking about an adult Israelite, not circumcised after eight days and who continued in uncircumcision through adulthood.
Presumably, when the child became mature enough to be able to make his own decision, he was required to be circumcised to enter into the covenant relationship that the nation had with God. This is a projected scenario, however, but one that may be applied to the problem of the ‘Israelites’ who needed to be circumcised having crossed over the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
The father, however, who didn’t circumcise his child didn’t find himself punished according to either the law or the commands given to Abram. North’s statement that this was the outcome is therefore incorrect.
When North concludes his section (page 340) by stating
‘Covenant-keepers who broke this commandment were to be treated as foreskins [and so cut off]’
he’s seeing in the legislation something that’s not there.
The Dietary Laws previously found in chapter 11 of Leviticus are given quite a large space to be redealt with here. North opens the section on their discussion with the conclusion (page 340)
‘The prohibition against eating certain foods was part of the land laws of Israel’
That is to say, they weren’t binding upon any Israelite once he went across the outer limits of the national boundary and into foreign lands. North gives us examples from Scripture of Noah, Abram and Joseph, the most pressing surely being the latter when he says (page 341)
‘Joseph was under no dietary restrictions in Egypt. Clearly, the dietary laws were not cross-boundary laws’
What he’s arguing is that, if the dietary laws had been equally applicable upon all believers in all nations, then Joseph would have been commanded not to eat certain animals and been given permission to eat others. By the same logic, however, we might as well conclude that, had adultery been forbidden for all believers in all the nations, then Joseph would have been given such a law in Egypt. The Bible is silent with regards to Law until God enters into covenant with the nation and then, as a consequence, gives the nation specific rules and regulations that will effectually separate them from the nations that are round about them.
Besides, the Mosaic Law wasn’t an individual law but a national one. When one man sinned, the entire nation stood condemned (Joshua 7:1). When North observes (page 344)
‘Abraham had been instructed to circumcise those males under his household authority, but he received no instruction regarding his diet. Why not? Because he did not dwell in the land of Canaan as a permanent owner’
he’s failing to see that the dietary laws were for the nation to observe, given to them to mark them as distinct wherever they might find themselves living. Abraham wasn’t given the laws to observe because the covenant with the nation hadn’t yet been inaugurated.
While it can be agreed (page 340) that
‘This passage makes it clear that the reason why God imposed the food laws was to preserve the nation’s separation’
the assertion that the dietary laws were purely to be observed within the boundaries of the Promised Land is incorrect. Besides, had God intended the instructions to be taken this way, why didn’t he say as much? Why did God begin Leviticus chapter 25 with the words ‘When you come into the land which I give you’ and yet omit that phrase from a passage that wasn’t to be taken universally?
And why did God speak to the Israelites (Lev 11:2 - my italics) saying
‘...These are the living things which you may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth’
when the sentence should surely end with the phrase ‘within the land of Canaan’? Because the laws were equally applicable outside the land during the march and, therefore, outside the land when they travelled outside the national boundaries.
North also uses the example of the young Israelites in the court of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon (pages 342-3) saying that, because they didn’t specify levitically clean food, it demonstrates that the dietary laws didn’t apply outside the land. Of course, the passage does no such thing - the Scriptures actually state (Dan 1:8 - my italics) that
‘...Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself’
How is it possible to interpret the choice of the word ‘defile’ as anything other than a reference to the implication of eating something that was prohibited under the covenant? North asserts (page 342 - my italics) that
‘...It was the king’s choice food and wine that they refused to eat, not unclean or abominable animals’
but the Scripture doesn’t say that the food was ‘kosher’ anymore than the wine that was prepared didn’t use animal products forbidden to the Israelite (even today, Vegans don’t drink ‘normal’ wine because it’s filtered using animal products - how much more would a Jew rebel against wine that was fermented in pigskins?). His main error is in not accepting the natural interpretation and implication of the previously italicised words in the Daniel passage.
North’s question (page 342)
‘Why didn’t the four youths insist on a conventional Levitical diet?’
is a bit strange considering they did do just that. They asked to be given just those food substances that they knew to be ceremonially clean that they saw laid out before them. Had they insisted on clean animals that were cooked without both the fat and the blood then I agree with North (page 343) that it
‘...would have been an act of religious and political rebellion: the preservation of a defeated nation’s diet’
but, being wise as they were, they insisted on food that they knew to be acceptable to God but didn’t use religious grounds in their request so as to cause as little offence as possible.
North goes on later to consider Esther (page 343) and reasons
‘If the captive Israelites were required to honor the Mosaic dietary laws outside the Promised Land, how did Esther conceal her identity from her husband and Haman? Or was she in rebellion? Did God deliver His people from their enemies by means of a woman who openly defied God’s law? Or is there a theologically simpler answer, namely, that the Israelites lawfully ignored the dietary law’s requirements when they were in captivity outside the land, i.e., under the God-ordained authority of a rival civilization?’
His ‘theologically simple answer’ supports his own theory that the dietary laws were only enforceable within the Promised Land. We’re not actually told what Esther ate so it would be better not to base a theory upon the silence of a text. But North’s real problem here is that, if Esther did eat unclean food, he can’t believe that it was anything other than an act of rebellion (and the text obviously doesn’t comment on any rebellion on her part just as it’s silent on the type of food she ate). But, applying the same principle, we must conclude that David was also in rebellion to God when he ate of the bread of the Presence when it was forbidden him to eat of such (I Sam 21:6, Lev 24:9). How could David be used by God when he was rebelling against the direct commands of God contained within the Mosaic Law and that transgression took place within the Promised Land?!
North states (page 345) that
‘The dietary laws lost all covenantal relevance once the land of Canaan ceased to be an aspect of the Abrahamic promise: in AD 70’
but this is a difficult statement to accept. The dietary laws include the eating of blood which I’ve commented on in a previous chapter and suggested that the consumption of blood is still prohibited (incidentally, before I began these series of critiques on North’s book, I ate blood sausage just like others would - with great relish and delight. It was my study of the Scripture that persuaded me that it was a binding obligation upon all men and women throughout earth history not just a covenantal condition of the Old Covenant) so the all-inclusiveness of the statement I must disagree with.
His date of 70AD is also not accepted by myself. Upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), the relevancy to New Testament believers ceased (apart from the consumption of blood) not at the point of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.
But are these laws equally binding upon the Jew today? If a Jew considers that he’s still serving under the Old Covenant then the answer would be ‘yes’. But, as salvation is not through the Law (and never was) then the real answer is ‘no’.
As North points out (page 345) Jesus declared all foods clean (that is, unable to affect the overflow of the heart - not ceremonially clean) in his dialogue with the Pharisees (Mark chapter 7 is the better chapter, though) but his statement that Peter (page 346)
‘...was told repeatedly by God in a vision to eat unclean foods (Acts 10:15)’
misses the point that it was the Gentiles and his association with them that was being prefigured here - not participation in ceremonially unclean foods.
North notes in the conclusion (page 349)
‘Under the New Covenant, common grace and common curses have completely replaced special grace and special curses with respect to the climate: sunshine and rain, drought and flooding...Only to the extent that climate is directly influenced by man’s science and practices does it manifest covenantally predictable sanctions: blessings and cursings’
I think North is saying that God doesn’t send negative sanctions (or positive for that matter) in the form of climatic variations. While I would agree that such phenomena are not proof of God’s direct action either positively or negatively, I would certainly not limit God to impotency in influencing the world’s weather.
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