David son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah wrote many psalms. One such psalm records the following words as translated from the original Hebrew text (Psalm 19:7–10; RSV):
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
This text is striking when we compare it to our own situation vis-à-vis the Federal Law code in the United States. The law of Israel was summarized in the Ten Commandments and expanded in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. The Ten Commandments contain 149 words in the Hebrew text. The whole Torah contains about 80,000 words in the original text. It is simple, understandable, even elegant.
The basis of the laws of the United States is the constitution and the most important principles contained in it are the first Ten Amendments. The US constitution (body) contains about 4500 words; the first Ten Amendments are 482 words. It is simple, understandable, even elegant.
The number of words in the Internal Revenue Code is a difficult thing to estimate. One blogger writes:
By the way, if you go to the US Government Printing Office (www.gpo.gov), you can order a complete set of Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations (that’s the part written by the IRS), all twenty volumes of it, at the bargain price of $974, shipping included.
According to the US Government Printing Office, it’s 13,458 pages in total. The full text of Title 26 of the United States Code (the part written by Congress–available for an additional $179) is a mere 3,387 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross page count to 16,845.
The number of words has been left as an exercise for the student.
The Internal Revenue code is difficult, obtuse, requiring experts to understand it. Can you imagine anyone extolling this Internal Revenue Code as sweeter than the honey? No? I can’t either. Yet David wrote many generations after Moses handed down the law. David wrote Psalm 19 not as a lawyer, a priest or a king, though he became king of Israel later; but as a poor shepherd boy who tended sheep and composed many of his great hymns as he worshipped God under an open sky. He was just an ordinary person who had great admiration for the law of his people.
He looked to the law to guide him in his everyday life, to show him wisdom and to understand what is right and wrong. He often fell short. He is a famous adulterer and murderer. He found himself in violation of the Law, and yet I would venture that even at the end of his life, after so many miserable failures, he could still sing the words of Psalm 19 to the God of the Torah.
By contrast, I have no praise for the Internal Revenue Code of the United States. Who does? Even those who enforce it find it so hopelessly complicated that they inadvertently violate its demands (Geithner) or require a professional in order to comply with it (Shulman). I only have loathing and resentment for this so-called law that instructs me neither in wisdom nor in the difference between right and wrong. It is only a burden put on my shoulders that I am unable to bear. This law is oppressive and destructive. It makes what should be a free people into slaves. It is more bitter than vomit in my mouth.
I propose in the next few days to discuss the IRS code in comparison to two other great law codes: (1) the Ten Commandments and the Torah; and (2) the Bill of Rights (Ten Amendments) and the United States Constitution. Over the course of these posts I will compare these law codes under the following categories:
- The purpose of man
- The purpose of the law
- The knowability of the law
Law is not supposed to be a thing that causes estrangement and hostility. Rather, it should guide our relationships with one another and help us to achieve harmony and prosperity, what the Hebrews called shalom. When law helps us achieve shalom, it is sweeter than honey. Our laws today do not lead to shalom; they have become instead an instrument of State control in our lives, and thus they have become more bitter than vomit.