Not all Old Testament laws are equal…and that tells us what matters to God
“If we read the Old Testament with our eyes open, then we’ll see that some things are priorities and some things are not,” says Bywater. As evidence of this, he points once more to the fact that Jesus specifies two commandments as being the most important. Jesus could have said, “There is no greatest commandment–they all matter equally.” But he doesn’t. He assumes the question is valid and then names the most important, as well as the second most important.
As further evidence that not all commands are equal, Bywater points out that different laws had different levels of punishment. The penalties for some sexual sins could be as serious as death while no such penalties applied to those who ate unclean food. This is probably the first relevant point to bring up to our friend Maury and those who have the same concerns.
Second, Bywater believes it is extremely illuminating to ask this question: When the prophets rebuke Israel and the foreign nations, what sorts of actions do they say God is upset about?
Think about that for a second. When the prophets come in God’s name, with God’s words, and rebuke Israel and the Gentile nations, what is it they rebuke them for?
Is for it eating pork or wearing two different types of fabric? Did God send his messengers to Assyria, Babylon and Egypt and say the people living there were sinning because they had not been circumcised?
Over and over again, what angers God are three primary offenses: Idolatry, immorality, and injustice.
For example, in Obadiah 1, the nation of Edom is rebuked for its pride. In Jonah 3, when the king of Ninevah repents at Jonah’s message, he issues a decree calling for the people turn from their evil and their violence. In Judges 2, the author describes how God disciplines the Israelites for following the gods of the nations around them.
Even with His own people, when God sent the prophets to call the Israelites back to Himself, the rituals of the Law were not what concerned Him. What concerned Him were idolatry, immorality, and injustice. Here is another example from Isaiah 1:12-17:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
So it is not a new teaching when in Mark 7, Jesus says that what defiles people is what comes out of their hearts, not what they put in their mouths. God has always been concerned with our hearts more than with anything else. Consider also the instance when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for meticulously tithing mint, dill, and cumin, while neglecting what He terms “the more important matters of the law”—again validating the importance of the Old Testament Law and implying that some parts of it are more important than others (Matt. 23:23).