With the defeat of Og of Bashan and Sihon of Heshbon, Israel was poised on the east bank of the Jordan to enter Canaan. Moses led a covenant renewal ceremony in which he explained the commandments, ordinances, and statutes of the Law. This included ordinances given at Mount Sinai and those given during the forty years that Israel wandered in the wilderness. These ordinances and statutes are the crown jewels of Israel. Israel's careful observance of them will reveal to the surrounding nations the chosen people's wisdom and understanding. No other nation has statutes and ordinances so righteous as those given by Yahweh to Israel ( Deut 4:5-8 ). These are words of life.
But life is not found in outward adherence to sacrificial, dietary, or social ordinances and statutes. Thus Yahweh demands of Israel, "Who asked you for this multitude of sacrifices, new moon, and Sabbath ceremonies" ( Isa 1:11-15 ). The answer, of course, is Yahweh himself. But God cannot tolerate iniquity and religious ritual. God is not fooled when the wicked recite the statutes of the covenant ( Psalm 50:16 ). When the wicked perform the required sacrificial ordinances of the Law they might as well be offering swine's blood or committing murder ( Isa 66:3-4 ). The apostle Paul states that the work of Christ has abolished the law of commandments and ordinances ( Eph 2:15 ). The author of Hebrews explains how the levitical priesthood and its ordinances were temporary and have been superseded by the work of Jesus. He also reveals that all of God's saints have been saved by faith. God repudiates any attempt to use the ordinances to manipulate Him (chaps. 9-11).
Yet the ordinances and statutes are still words of life. Isaiah and James give the same solution to the faithless observance of outward forms: cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow ( Isa 1:16-17 ; James 1:27 ). The ordinances and statutes reveal God's will and his understanding of what it means to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression. Psalm 119 beautifully illustrates the wisdom and joy of meditating on ordinances, statutes, commands, and judgments. They are a part of the canon and not to be neglected.
The Israelites made no distinction between ritual or procedural ordinances and legal or moral statutes. They are equally a part of Israel's covenant with God. To neglect one or the other was to court disaster. To observe them carefully was to court God's blessings on the individual and the community ( Deut 28 ). God's desire for his ordinances and statutes remains unchanged as is made clear in the quote of Jeremiah 31:33-34 in Hebrews 10:16-17: "I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds."
Mark D. McLean
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1. Old Testament Use:
This word generally represents chuqqah, something prescribed, enactment, usually with reference to matters of ritual. In the King James Version the same word is frequently translated by "statute" or "statutes," which is also the rendering of a similar Hebrew word, namely, choq. the Revised Version (British and American) generally retains "ordinance," but sometimes substitutes "statute" (e.g. Exodus 18:20; Psalms 99:7). In one instance the Revised Version (British and American) renders "set portion" (Ezekiel 45:14). The word generally has a religious or ceremonial significance. It is used for instance in connection with the Passover (Exodus 12:43; Numbers 9:14). According to Exodus 12:14, the Passover was "an ordinance for ever," i.e. a permanent institution. In the plural the word is often employed, along with such terms as commandments, laws, etc., with reference to the different prescriptions of the Deuteronomic and Priestly codes (Deuteronomy 6:1,2; Leviticus 18:4).
In 11 passages (Exodus 15:25; Joshua 24:25; 1 Samuel 30:25; 2 Kings 17:34,37; 2 Chronicles 33:8; 35:13; Psalms 119:91; Isaiah 58:2 twice; Ezekiel 11:20) "ordinance" is the rendering of mishpaT, judgment, decision or sentence by a judge or ruler. In the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33) the term "judgments" denotes civil, as contrasted with ritual, enactments. In 2 Kings 17:34 the King James Version employs "manners" and "ordinances" as renderings of this word. In 3 passages (Leviticus 18:30; 22:9; Malachi 3:14) "ordinance" is the translation of mishmereth, "charge," which the Revised Version (British and American) restores. In one instance (Nehemiah 10:32) ordinance renders mitswah, "commandment," while in Ezra 3:10 the King James Version the phrase "after the ordinance of David" represents a Hebrew phrase which literally means "upon the hands of David," i.e. under the guidance or direction of David.
2. New Testament Use:
In the New Testament, "ordinance" renders different Greek words, namely,
(3) paradosis, in 1 Corinthians 11:2 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) substitutes "traditions";
(4) ktisis, "setting up," "institution" in 1 Peter 2:13. The term is used exclusively of the action of God. Peter implies that institutions, apparently human, such as the family and the state, are of divine origin. The same doctrine is found in Romans 13:1.
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