In his book “When Jesus Became Christian,” Barrie Wilson reports that he moved from being Episcopalian to Judaism. This gave him great appreciation for the Torah which he identifies as the first five books of anyone’s Bible.
Barrie gives special status to the Torah. It reveals a God who mixed justice with mercy, and who rewarded faithful practitioners of the Torah with righteousness and blessings. Other gods and goddesses demanded little of their followers and tempted Jews away from the strict God of the Torah.
According to Barrie, the fundamental premise of the Hebrew Bible is that God has made a deal with his people, Israel. This agreement is expressed in terms of contract law governing two parties. God and the people of Israel had obligations to the other. In this bargain, God bound himself to Israel so long as they kept their side of the agreement. The details of the contract, the laws and rules, were given to Jewish people and were ratified by the whole nation as perpetual.
The covenant gave Israel a choice. They could choose to obey the rules and regulations set by God and live in the land God gave them, and they and their children would enjoy a long life of health and happiness. Or the people could disobey the Torah, and thus choose the way of death and adversity. If Israel followed the way of death, it would lose the land and the blessings. Moses gave the law and its regulations and made the terms of the deal explicit.
The power to choose is the basic message of many biblical books. Greek religion and philosophy stressed fate and determinism, the Torah described human freedom. It seems significant to Barrie that the reward for following the Torah was real estate, not eternal life.
As we read Barrie, we must remember that his observations are biased by a Torah that gives some 613 commandments, laws, and rules covering all aspects of life. He accurately notes that in Psalm 1, Psalm 119 and in other scriptures The Torah is portrayed as a source of happiness.