Category: What is the Torah?


Torah is a Hebrew word meaning “to instruct.” The Torah refers to the five books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Torah was written approximately 1400 BC. Traditionally, the Torah is handwritten on a scroll by a “sofer” (scribe). This type of document is called a “Sefer Torah.” A modern printing of the Torah in book form is called a “Chumash” (related to the Hebrew word for the number 5).

Here is a brief description of the five books of the Torah:

Genesis: This first book of the Torah includes 50 chapters and covers the time period from the creation of all things to the time of Joseph’s death and burial. It includes the account of creation (chapters 1—2), the beginning of human sin (chapter 3), Noah and the ark (chapters 6—9), the tower of Babel (chapters 10—11), the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and an extended narrative of the life of Joseph.

Exodus: This second book of the Torah includes 40 chapters and covers the period from Jewish slavery in Egypt until the glory of the Lord descended upon the completed tabernacle in the wilderness. It includes the birth of Moses, the plagues of Egypt, the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law to Moses upon Mount Sinai.

Leviticus: This third book of the Torah includes 27 chapters and consists largely of the laws regarding sacrifices, offerings, and festivals among the people of Israel.

Numbers: This fourth book of the Torah includes 36 chapters and covers a span of about 40 years as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Numbers provides a census of the people of Israel and some details about their journey toward the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy: This fifth book of the Torah includes 34 chapters and is called “Deuteronomy” based on a Greek word meaning “second law.” In the book, Moses repeats the Law for the new generation who would enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy describes the transition of leadership sacerdotally (from Aaron to his sons) and nationally (from Moses to Joshua).

The Torah’s five books have formed the basis of Judaism’s teachings from the time of Moses. Later biblical writers, including Samuel, David, Isaiah, and Daniel, would frequently refer back to the Law’s teachings. The teachings of the Torah are frequently summarized by citing Deuteronomy 6:4–5, called the Shema (or “saying”): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus called this the “first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:38).

The Torah is considered the inspired Word of God by both Jews and Christians alike. Christians, however, see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and believe the Law was fulfilled in Christ. Jesus taught, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

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God required animal sacrifices to provide a temporary covering of sins and to foreshadow the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10). Animal sacrifice is an important theme found throughout Scripture because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). When Adam and Eve sinned, animals were killed by God to provide clothing for them (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain’s was unacceptable because he brought fruit, while Abel’s was acceptable because it was the “firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4-5). After the flood receded, Noah sacrificed animals to God (Genesis 8:20-21).

God commanded the nation of Israel to perform numerous sacrifices according to certain procedures prescribed by God. First, the animal had to be spotless. Second, the person offering the sacrifice had to identify with the animal. Third, the person offering the animal had to inflict death upon it. When done in faith, this sacrifice provided a temporary covering of sins. Another sacrifice called for on the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16, demonstrates forgiveness and the removal of sin. The high priest was to take two male goats for a sin offering. One of the goats was sacrificed as a sin offering for the people of Israel (Leviticus 16:15), while the other goat was released into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20-22). The sin offering provided forgiveness, while the other goat provided the removal of sin.

Why, then, do we no longer offer animal sacrifices today? Animal sacrifices have ended because Jesus Christ was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. John the Baptist recognized this when he saw Jesus coming to be baptized and said, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). You may be asking yourself, why animals? What did they do wrong? That is the point—since the animals did no wrong, they died in place of the one performing the sacrifice. Jesus Christ also did no wrong but willingly gave Himself to die for the sins of mankind (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus Christ took our sin upon Himself and died in our place. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Through faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, we can receive forgiveness.

In summation, animal sacrifices were commanded by God so that the individual could experience forgiveness of sin. The animal served as a substitute—that is, the animal died in place of the sinner, but only temporarily, which is why the sacrifices needed to be offered over and over. Animal sacrifices have stopped with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrificial substitute once for all time (Hebrews 7:27) and is now the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5). Animal sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. The only basis on which an animal sacrifice could provide forgiveness of sins is Christ who would sacrifice Himself for our sins, providing the forgiveness that animal sacrifices could only illustrate and foreshadow.