I’m often asked how many commandments there are in the Torah (Hebrew Scripture). The traditional answer is 613.
When I recently gave that answer to a young lady, she winced, and I could see she thought there were too many commandments to make obedience to G-d a possibility.
Admittedly, 613 commandments are a lot to learn if one had to learn them all at once. But keep three things in mind when we discuss the commandments.
First, they are not a means to salvation in Christ. The commandments were given to an already redeemed community of faith. They were given to a “mixed multitude” that came out of Egypt (salvation) but needed guidance for living in a new land (sanctification through the commands).
Second, we serve a G-d who is gracious and knows that we will fail. G-d’s grace doesn’t excuse us from the commandments but propels and motivates us to move forward in obedience.
Third, we have the Holy Spirit’s help in keeping the commands. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Torah, and it’s through the Spirit’s indwelling that all believers are capable of being obedient to G-d’s commands.
In thinking about the number of commandments, let me offer an analogy of Torah laws with driving a car. There are many laws that any motorist is commanded to obey in order to have the privilege of driving. You must have insurance, a driver’s license, a license plate, emissions test, registration and tabs — all you even get in a car.
The car itself must have working brakes, a working seatbelt, working turn signals, headlights and tail lights that work, along with a muffler that keeps the car quiet, and there are laws that regulate those things as well.
Look how many laws there are to obey, and we’re not even on the road yet. Simply put, there are hundreds that one must obey in order to operate and maintain a safe vehicle.
Now that we’re on the road, we encounter hundreds of laws that most motorists know but don’t concern themselves with on a moment-by-moment basis. If an ambulance, police car, or fire truck is behind you with its lights and siren on, you are required to pull over to the right to let them pass.
If you come to a red stop light, you hav eto put on your brakes.
If you come to a railroad crossing and the lights are flashing, you have to stop behind the barrier.
If you’re traveling in a school zone, you have to slow down to 20 mph.
Every law tells you what to do.
Now let’s look at some things you’re not legally supposed to do while you drive.
Don’t text others. You need both hands available and your eyes on the road. Don’t drink alcohol and drive. Don’t talk on a handheld phone. Don’t follow other drivers too close. Don’t pass other cars if you see double yellow lines. Don’t use the HOV lane if you don’t have two people in the car.
There are hundreds of laws that regulate the “don’ts” while you drive. Most make common sense, but they had to be put into law because too many people didn’t use good judgment.
Just like the Torah, there are positive commandments and negative commandments.
Why do we have numerous laws that govern driving a car? The primary reason is practical: So you and I can get from point A to point B without destroying ourselves or others.
The laws of the road are designed to bring grace, kindness and good manners to the arena of driving so we all get where we want to go safely.
I have never heard anyone say they aren’t going to drive because the laws are too numerous to learn or obey. I have heard fellow believers say there are too many laws in the Torah and that they can’t possibly learn them all.
I agree, but not all the laws apply to every one at every given moment.
We have the Torah commands of G-d for the same reason we have the laws of the road — so we all move through this life and give grace, kindness and good manners to others.
Just as there is a reason for every law of the road, there is a reason for the laws given to us by G-d. We may not understand the reason for every law, but time and experience has proven the necessity for each one.
We have the free will to ignore the laws of the road, but selfish driving eventually will lead to premature death, either for driver or someone else.
We have the free will to ignore G-d’s laws, but selfish behavior will lead to multiple problems as well.On Faith columnist Brent Emery can be reached by email at email@example.com.