Let’s return to the contemplation of law and faith.
What we call the Law Covenants in the Old Testament always aimed at a covenant of faith. The Law Covenants addressed communities, and helped people focus on the necessities of life after the Fall. We are obliged to live together in a certain fashion in order to optimize life as fallen creatures. They were not law in the sense of legislation, nor even divine fiat. They were law in the sense of explaining the fundamental nature of reality.
Law presumed that faith was not ubiquitous, but that it should be so. Law expects people to travel some distance to the Gate of Eden. Law is the path to redemption; it is not actually synonymous with the Flaming Sword, but could take you there to discover that sword. Rather, the Sword represents self-death, the moment of moral birth. It’s the point at which you realize that you are not your own, but property of the Creator. Not as a slave or servant, but you are property in the sense of family — you were the living treasure of the Lord.
And His treasure was all of His family, not just each individual. So Law is offered in terms of how to get along with fallen people and reunite them with Creation. It’s a two-edged sword in its own right, because it’s all about people communing with each other and communing with reality. It’s supposed to create an atmosphere in which one becomes more conscious of how things actually work, not merely how they seem to work. It cultivates an awareness of dependency on the Creator for things you could not possibly figure out for yourself. And all of this requires getting other folks involved to reinforce that awareness.
So this was meant to lead the whole community to self-death as the point of moral birth, but in that moment, you stand alone before God. You couldn’t approach Him without His Word of revelation — His Law — so in that sense you weren’t really alone. The Law made you recognizable as family, and faith was born. So the primary meaning of Jesus’ life was He became the Law far better within reach of a world that had drifted farther and farther from the Gate of Eden. His Cross became the Flaming Sword, the demand that we die to self. And it still means calling a community together, but with Christ, it’s a community that forms afterward.
So it’s still a requirement to embrace Law as the explanation of the grace we received at the Cross. But now we are told quite literally that Law was never meant to be binding in the literal sense. It was always meant to be a mystical and symbolic statement of truth. The Hebrew people had drifted so very far away from their mystical roots that it was no longer possible to absorb the Law as a moral structure. Law became a prison, the same as it would have been for Gentiles who came to it without the mystical background. The Hebrew people had thrown away their distinction from the rest of the world, their unique brand of mystical awareness.
So Paul tells us we should be diligent to rightly divide the Law, to learn how to slice it and dice it to make it digestible (2 Timothy 2:15). When he wrote that, the Old Testament was the only Scripture one could address in that manner. And he was specifically arguing against the literalist nonsense pursued by Pharisees and scribes, the root nature of Talmudic religion (read the verses before and after). You are supposed to read the Old Testament with the same mystical approach in which it was written. You are supposed to see the way the rules linked back to something deeper, more personal and organic to the nature of human existence in faith. It’s not possible to come up with all the same answers in detail within a community of faith, but there should be a recognizable trend in how each individual works through the process. It should still put us close enough to live together in communion as a community of faith.
Let me cite an example: The Covenant of Moses adhered to a lunar calendar. Why? Because the cycles of the moon have distinct effects on our human existence, stronger than the effects of the sun. A solar calendar means missing out on all the subtleties of effects. It means being insensitive to how we are designed to interact with Creation. Granted, learning how to think in lunar cycles is a tall order today. However, it’s a critical element in learning what to expect from God in our pursuit of shalom. Sure, you can get by without it, but that attitude is part of the real problem we face in Western Christianity in the first place. Without an awareness of the lunar cycle, we miss out on some of the rich treasure the Lord gave us.
The effects of the lunar cycle on humanity are discounted by those who despise living by faith. If you stop and push aside mere reason, and trust your heart to reveal the truth of God, you know the moon affects us. At the mere mention of the idea, your heart will seize upon this truth and push it into your conscious awareness. We realize that things are pretty peaceful during a new moon, and people go nuts during a full moon. It’s not the whole story; we don’t turn it into an all encompassing idolatry. But we recognize it’s an influence that we have to consider. Granted, there is no passage in the Law telling Israel to celebrate the new moon, simply because it was built into their culture already. Everyone in that day and region reckoned time by the moon, with an intercalary month every few years to make up for the drift between lunar and solar cycles. The new moon was a moment in the cycle of living to push that mental and social reset button and cultivate a fresh love for the Lord.
See how that works? It calls on you as an individual to help guide the community back to shalom. I’ll leave it to you readers to notice such details in reading the Law of Moses so you can rightly divide it for yourself. Then you can contribute your share of shalom back to the community of faith.
By the way: You need not rely on precise astronomical observations of the moon phases. The whole point was that you went outside and observed the face of the moon for yourself. If it appears to you that the last thin slice of light is gone, then it’s the new moon for you.