Most of us can wrap our minds around the Ten Commandments (as found in Exodus 20), but the other 611 commands are not always so meaningful. (By Jewish count, there are 613 commands. The people heard God speak the first two of the Ten, so those are traditionally added to the 611. That means the total, including all the Ten, is 621 commands.)
In verse 19, we read, as an example:
“’Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. NIV
You may notice that we Americans have violated all three of these commands, so what was God trying to say? Basically, God is saying that there are some natural boundaries in the world and I want you to stick to them. I want you to show respect for my creation and thus, respect for me.
Later, God commanded that the priests of the Tabernacle and Temple wear robes woven of linen and wool, violating verse 19. He also commanded that every man wear a prayer shawl with four zit-zits (tassels) made of two materials. Here, God is saying that the commands are different when they deal with what is Holy.
While I’m on the subject of God’s commands, let’s look at the word some people love: abomination. It is sprinkled throughout the King James translation but is not so common in more modern translations.
There are actually seven Hebrew words that have been translated as abomination. They each have a somewhat different meaning: a moral stench, unclean, disgusting idol, to pollute, a filthy idolatrous object, something disgusting, and detestable. Apparently, the KJV translators preferred to use one (Elizabethan) English word for most of the meanings.
The first use was in Genesis 43:32 stating that it was an abomination (disgusting) to the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews. The first use in Leviticus is 7:18 regarding the eating of meat sacrificed. The second use is in 11:10 saying that the eating of any animal from the waters that does not have both fins and scales is an abomination; so, no more catfish, shrimp, crabs, and crawdads.
Many Christians like to pick and choose from the 621 commands of God, arguing that they were important 4,000 years ago, but are no longer necessary. The problem is: which ones are no longer necessary? Has God said, “Throw out these, but keep those?”
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question: “Master, what are we to consider the Law’s greatest commandment?” Phillips
Notice that the question came from an expert, a supreme court justice. Also, notice that the question assumes that some of the 621 rules are more important than others. The Pharisees were about the only people who tried to follow all of them. Most people avoided killing people and eating catfish.
Jesus may have been thinking, “This test is too easy.”
Jesus answered him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the first and great commandment. And there is a second like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” Phillips
The first quote comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18b. Do not make the mistake of assuming he surprised the Pharisees with this answer. The two verses were linked together and quoted daily by most devout Jews of the day, and still today.
That is the Gospel of God.
How does it work in practice? If you invite 20 people to dinner, be sure to ask each if they like shrimp before you serve it. If in doubt, serve chicken.
Read my comments on these NT readings here.
Be righteous and do good.