THE MOSAIC LAW, Its Significance
Law is defined as “a rule of conduct, recognized by custom or decreed by formal enactment, considered by a community, nation, or other authoritatively constituted group as binding upon its members.”
Law is fundamental to any society. Even the most primitive tribes made rules or laws to govern the actions of their members.
Law is meant to protect the rights and property of individuals. Man is naturally selfish, more protective of his own property than that of others, hence the need for law. Men cannot successfully live in groups without some rule of conduct, thus we have moral laws, laws of etiquette, civil laws and criminal laws.
No kingdom could long exist without laws. God could not have a kingdom without law, and after choosing His people the next logical step was to provide them with laws. The result was the Mosaic law. We will trace briefly the history of the Jewish people, the children of Israel, and the law which governed their lives.
Introducing the Law of Moses
To us mortals, it seems often that the hand of God moves ever so slowly. But we are restricted by time while God is bound only by eternity. The two millenniums of time that intervened between God’s call to Adam in the garden and the call to Abraham to be the father of the faithful represent many lifetimes to us, but are only a tick of the clock of eternity. Though mortal eyes might not have perceived, God was working toward fulfilling His plan.
Another century passed before Isaac, the promised seed, was born. His son Jacob was given the name Israel and from his sons the children of Israel derived. Another four centuries slipped into the past, and the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.
God’s chosen people-slaves to a foreign king! Unthinkable! But it was true. They were not only an enslaved people, but they were being oppressed, unbearably ill-treated. And it seemed that God was asleep, that He had forgotten His covenant with their father Abraham.
The Years in Egypt
“And Israel [Jacob] took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beer-sheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac” (Gen. 46:1). This was the beginning of the children of Israel in Egypt-Jacob and his sons and their families, numbering 70 persons. They had gone there to escape the famine in Canaan and after being reunited with Joseph had been given land in Goshen, a fertile plain east of the Nile River. Having been herdsmen in Canaan, thy settled here with their flocks and herds.
God had not forgotten; He was with them still. “So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen. 47:27). “But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied, and grew exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7).
How exceedingly Israel multiplied seems incredible at first thought. At the time of the Exodus there were more than 600,000 men over 20 years of age besides women and children (Num. 1:46). Bible students estimate that the total would have been about three million.
God prospered the Israelites and the Egyptians were jealous. “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8). Joseph had died and the generation that knew him had likewise died, and what he had done for Egypt during the famine had been forgotten. The new king. believed to have been Ramses 2, dealt harshly, making the Hebrews slaves. “So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field” (vs. 13-14).
The hard work Israel did for the Egyptians has been verified by history The ruins of great buildings constructed during that period still stand. Thebes was a great city in 2000 B.C. and was at its height at the time of Israel’s stay in Egypt. Its magnificent monuments still standing represent the hard labor of the Israelite slaves. In this area is the site of the ruins of one of the largest buildings ever erected, built by the Israelites. The building contains 1 2 columns each 78 feet high and 11-1/2 feet in diameter. Over the entrance is one stone 40 feet long, weighing 150 tons. This huge stone cap must have been hoisted to its position by hand labor. The huge blocks of stone used in these buildings were removed from the quarry by means of ropes, inclines and men.
In Exodus 5 we read that Pharaoh commanded, “You shall no more give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it.” (vs. 7-8). They were to gather the straw and make as many bricks as before.
Archaeology has proven the Bible account true. The ruins of Pithom, an Egyptian city in Goshen, show “the lower courses of brick filled with good chopped straw; the middle courses, with less straw, and that was stubble plucked up by the root (Ex. 5:12); and the upper courses of brick were of pure clay, having no straw whatever” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 120). The Egyptians left drawings depicting slave labor making bricks and erecting large buildings. The slaves worked under taskmasters armed with whips. Men were harnessed like animals to pull heavy loads. Often they were treated as beasts by their masters.
During the sojourn in Egypt some Jews remembered the true God and worshiped Him. The Egyptians were animal worshipers and their religion had its influence on the Hebrew slaves. Images of their gods and goddesses adorned their homes and public buildings. Most of their deities were animal forms combined with human forms, including cats, cows, crocodiles and calves. Because the Egyptians worshiped animals, they forbade the Israelites’ using them for sacrifice, hence the plea of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh: “Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Ex. 5:3).
The Exodus from Egypt
Realizing the Israelites were a potential threat to his power, Egypt’s king took steps to curb their growth. He reasoned that the hard labor he ordered would serve the purpose; and when it did not, he ordered that all male children should be killed. It was during this time that Israel’s deliverer Moses was born and reared as the son of an Egyptian princess.
Moses was a Hebrew, and as he grew to manhood he took note of the plight of his people, but the time was not yet right to deliver them from slavery. Another forty years slid into the past before God called to Moses as he kept the sheep in the Midian desert. God remembered His promise; He had not forgotten His words to Abraham: “Know this for certain, that your descendants will be aliens living in a land that is not theirs; they will be slaves, and will be held in oppression there for four hundred years ... and after that they shall come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:13-14, NEB). The time had come for the fulfillment of this prophecy; they were to leave the land of Egypt.
“And God spoke to Moses, and said to him.... I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant....I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage....And I will bring you into the land which I did swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;...I am the Lord” (Ex. 6:2-8).
Ten mighty miracles were needed to convince Pharaoh that God meant what He said, but after the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh not only consented but ordered them to leave at once.
The exact date of the Exodus was not recorded, but scholars today set the date at about 1290 B.C., during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses 2. It was in the spring, the first month of the New Year, Abib, when Israel kept the Passover and prepared to leave Egypt (Ex. 12:30-33).
The departure of this great horde of people represents the greatest mass migration in history. That it was God’s doing is certain. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way; and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Ex. 13:21). God’s angel, not God Himself directed their journey.
Emerging from more than 400 years as slaves, the children of Israel were a largely illiterate, uncouth and barbaric people. In Egypt they had been governed by Egyptian law, but only as slaves; and many taskmasters thought of slaves as beasts. Now they were faced with the problems of independence and self-government; if they were to become a nation in their own right, they needed law, stern law that could not be broken with impunity; law that would educate, civilize and organize; law that would lift them above the surrounding nations and set them apart from the nations, for God Himself had chosen them.
The law given on Sinai, the Mosaic law, filled all these needs. It was first and last a national law, given by God to meet the practical everyday needs of the Israelite nation.
THE LAW FROM SINAI
Mount Sinai, also called Horeb, is a jagged mass of granite rock rising 2800 feet above the plain. It is a picture of desolation, like the desert surrounding it. Only an occasional spring supplies water to nourish a few date palms in the area; outside the oases, nothing grows except a little scrub brush. Upon this mountain, located near the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula, God delivered His law to the people.
“In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai ... and there Israel camped before the mount” (Ex. 19:1-2). they had now been three months on their journey-and they were farther from the Promised Land than when they started, camped in a desert wasteland.
God gave strict instructions concerning the Mount and the giving of the law. The people must first cleanse themselves, sanctify themselves and wash their clothes to be ready, “because on the third day the Lord will descend upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Barriers were put up that no one approach the mount too closely-under penalty of death.
“Moses brought the people out from the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was all smoking because the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln; all the people were terrified, and the sound of the trumpet grew ever louder. Whenever Moses spoke, God answered him in a peal of thunder. The Lord came down upon the top of Mount Sinai and summoned Moses to the mountain-top, and Moses went up” (Ex. 19:11-21, NEB).
God Himself did not come down upon the mountain; He sent His angel. Angels are part of God’s family and bear His name (Ex. 23:21). God used the fire, the thunder and the smoke to call attention to the magnitude of the event. Giving the law was a momentous event and He must have their undivided attention. The lightning, thunder, fire and smoke were symbols of God’s power, proof of His omnipotence. God meant the people to understand that this law was from God and not from man.
The law from Sinai did not nullify the covenant God had made with Abraham centuries before. His command was still “walk before me, and be thou perfect.” God demanded obedience of Abraham and He was demanding obedience from the children of Israel. But the obedience required of the Israelites was obedience to a civil law to make of them a civil nation. This is not to be confused with the what we call the “royal” law, which had existed from the time God put His plan in operation on the earth.
Moses received what is commonly known as the Ten Commandments on the Mount. Actually the Ten Commandments formed a very small part of the law. In addition there were the “judgments,” governing their social life, and the “ordinances,” governing their religious life. These three elements of the law covered every aspect of an Israelite’s life from birth till death.
Obedience to all parts of the law was demanded if they would share in God’s promises. “And the Lord called to him [Moses] from the mountain, saying, ...Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people;...And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:3-6). They had the opportunity of becoming a special people, a people God would prize highly, but in between was the big “IF”. “If you will obey,” that was the question.
Moses called the elders of the people together and delivered God’s message, all that God had told him. “And all the people answered together and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought their answer back to God’s angel in the mountain.
The law from Sinai was accompanied by a spectacular show of God’s power. Three days’ preparation was required for the sanctification of the people before they were ready to receive the law. On the third day they stood in awe at the thunder and lightning, the thick cloud that covered the mountain and the sound of the trumpet that grew louder and louder (Ex. 19:16-19). Following this spectacle, the Ten Commandments were delivered, directly from God by His angelic messenger (Acts 7:38). The law was holy, for it came from God. God not only laid down the laws; He also set the penalties, often severe.
The Scriptures contain three separate instances of Moses’ meeting with God (His angel) in the mountain to receive the law. At the first meeting he received the Ten Commandment law and a reminder to the children of Israel that they must obey the limits at the foot of the mountain. Later, Moses was called up into the mountain to receive the tables of stone “written with the finger of God.” Moses broke these tablets, making necessary a third meeting for their replacement.
The Mosaic law was an elaborate system of legislation given to Israel for their education and government. In its complexity it provided for every situation that might arise between man and God, man and man, and man and animals. Its main purpose was to improve the lot of the people. God set up the law and set the penalties for law-breaking. He was building Israel into a nation, developing a kingdom from a multitude of slaves. God had chosen Israel for Himself, but they were as yet a far cry from a -people to be described as His “special treasure,” or “above all people upon the face of the earth.” Before they could qualify as His people they had first of all to be civilized and educated. The Mosaic law was God’s means of teaching them; it was a law fitted to their capacity for understanding.
The Ten Commandment Law
Probably the best known part of the Mosaic law is that which is known as the Ten Commandments. These commandments were the first given and remain at the heart of Judaism today. In addition, they form the basis for many civil laws in nations of the world today.
The Ten Commandments covered man’s basic relationships toward God, his family, and his society. We will briefly review these commandments.
1: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
God was to be their King, and He alone was to be worshiped. The Israelites had grown up in a land where gods were multiple. They must forget the gods of the Egyptians and worship Jehovah alone. The penalty for violation of this command was death.
2: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Ex. 20:4).
Israelites had become acquainted with images of these animal-gods in the homes and temples of Egypt. All images and idols were forbidden, again under penalty of death.
3: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). God demanded reverence and respect for Himself; He was holy and His holy name was not to be used lightly. Again the penalty for violation was death.
4: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8).
Six days were to be set aside for work and one for the Lord each week. Laws governing Sabbath observance were strict-and strictly enforced. The law benefited the working class by giving them one day of rest from their labors. The penalty for Sabbath-breaking (even for gathering sticks) was also death.
5: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12).
The basis of any civilized nation is the family. God recognized the value of family life and decreed that parents should be honored and obeyed, again under penalty of death (Deut. 21:18-21).
6: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13).
Human life was sacred under God’s law in sharp contrast to pagan nations who offered human sacrifices. God had long before forbade murder; the penalty was decreed in Gen. 9:6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.” Under the Mosaic law the penalty was the same, but mercy was provided for inadvertant killing.
7: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14).
This command was also for keeping family-life pure. Under the Mosaic arrangement, the penalty was death for both parties involved.
8: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
This law was directed toward the protection of property rights. As slaves the Israelites had but little they could call their own. Now, on their own, protection was necessary. The penalty for theft of animals was restoration-four and five fold. For kidnapping, it was death.
9: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). Lying can do irreparable harm. This law was to promote honesty. The penalty for false witnessing was severe: “If the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother....Your eye shall not pity; life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:16-21).
10: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;… wife, . . . male servant,…female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17).
The Mosaic law did not govern the thought or intent unless it was expressed openly. Covetousness had to lead to the sinful act before it was punishable. The law was directed to the protection of personal property.
The Ten Commandments formed only a small part of the Mosaic law. Like the rest of the law, it was civil law to civilize. It was a simple introduction to the more detailed laws to be given later, a code that was to shape these crude and largely illiterate people into citizens from which holy men and women could be made. An individual must be first civil before he can attain to God’s standards of holiness, hence the necessity for a stern law, rigidly enforced, a law fitted to the Israelites’ capacity for understanding.
When Jesus said to the young man, “Keep the commandments,” the young man assumed that He referred only to the Ten Commandment part of the Mosaic law. The same is true today. The majority assume that the Ten Commandments are the whole law of God.
In reality, the Ten Commandments formed only a very small part of the Mosaic law. Moses’ law contained provisions for every conceivable situation that might arise and the commands written on the tables of stone were only a preface to the more detailed “judgments” and “ordinances.”
In this part of the law we find laws dealing with morals, with the food they ate, with personal cleanliness. Nothing was omitted; everything from the use of borrowed tools to ownership of property was covered. Always the law was for their betterment. God never required anything of them that would not be for their good. Many of the provisions of the law are as good for humanity today as they were for the Israelites. God’s standard of morality has not changed since the law was given to Moses; He still demands purity.
Much of the law is found in the third book of Moses, Leviticus. Here we find both religious and secular laws. Holiness is the key-word throughout the Book of the law, as Leviticus is known. God was giving these laws that Israel might become a holy people, a people worthy of His name. To become holy, they were to walk in His ways. They had much forgetting to do: “According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; ... You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them:…which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Lev. 18:3-5). God was establishing a belief in one God through His constant reminders of their duty to Him.
Various Laws concerning:
Distinction was made between “clean” and “unclean” animals. The division was based partly on religious considerations and partly on health reasons. The main benefit to be derived was good health, with the lesson of obedience to the command. It further served as a mark of separation between Israel and the other nations around them.
Much of the washings concerned sacrifices, but they were mostly for the purpose of promoting personal cleanliness. It has been said that “Cleanliness is next to godlines,” and it would seem that that was also God’s viewpoint. A person that would be clean spiritually must first be clean physically.
Consideration for the Poor
Under the Mosaic system of law, great consideration was given to the poor of the people. Gleanings of both field and vineyard were to be left for their use. Kindness was to be shown to strangers, widows and orphans. Any wages due a poor man were to be paid daily; loans were to be made to the needy without interest.
Laws concerning the land they were to possess were given many years in advance of the inheritance. When they came into the Promised Land, the land was divided evenly among the tribes. This equitable division prevented one person from having too much and another from having too little, because it was divided according to families. Land could not be sold outright; the original inheritor had the right to redeem it at any time. Land sales were actually leases of 50 years or less, for in the Year of Jubilee all land previously sold reverted to the original owner.
The Sabbatic Year
The law provided rest for the land-one year out of every seven. For six years they could plant and harvest, but in the seventh all sowing of fields and pruning of vineyards was forbidden. They had to store enough during the sixth year to eat during the seventh.
The Year of Jubilee
Every 50 years was another year of rest for the fields and vineyards. Since it followed the 49th year which would have been a sabbatic year, it made two consecutive years of rest for the land. Of necessity, they must store enough food for two years previous to the Year of Jubilee. In this year, the debts of Israelites were cancelled, Hebrew slaves were set free and land that had been sold was returned. The law provided for equality in property ownership and served to relieve the poor from debt. The Year of Jubilee began with the Day of Atonement and was to be a holy year. It was in connection with the law of the Year of Jubilee that God said, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10).
Laws of Responsibility
The law of Moses was constructed to teach individual responsibility for individual action. Many of these laws seem elementary to us, but we must remember that the children of Israel were an uneducated, undisciplined people when they left Egypt.
Responsibility for Injury
If a man’s ox injured a person, the owner of the ox was held liable for the injury and the ox was to be killed. If the ox killed a man, then the owner was to be put to death also.
Responsibility for Theft
Stolen oxen or sheep had to be restored four- and fivefold. If the thief had nothing with which to make restitution, then he was himself to be sold. Oxen were used for working the land and were valuable.
Responsibility for Words
Talebearing, or gossip, was forbidden. Slander was looked upon as a heinous sin. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people,” is rendered in an ancient version as “Thou shalt not go after the slanderous tongue,” with the explanation that slanderous means literally “triple tongued.” This implies that slander affects three persons: the slanderer, the slandered one, and anyone who repeats the tale. The Israelite was to have respect for his brother.
Responsibility for Actions
If a man struck another, whether it be his slave or his brother, he was held responsible for the injury. There was justice for the slave as well as for the landowner. In case of injury, it was “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:24-25).
Worshiping of idols or sacrificing to other gods was forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but further emphasized later. Heathen nations by whom they were surrounded worshiped idols and many gods, and God foresaw the danger of Israel’s adopting the practice.
Kindness and Consideration
Gleanings were to be left for the poor. Neighbors were not to be defrauded, but loved. Due wages were to be paid. Strangers were to be treated as brethren “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The elderly were to be treated with respect. They were to help with the ox of their enemy as though it were their friend’s.
The laws we have reviewed thus far in this study actually comprise a very small part of the laws given to govern the Israelites’ everyday life. Among them were many more concerning their food, detailed instructions concerning leprosy (a term used to cover all diseases of the skin-which were common), and family relationships.
In the laws concerning the relationship between men and women, morality was stressed. God’s people must have moral standards above those of the surrounding nations, hence He set strict guidelines for their behavior and He would tolerate no deviation from His law. The heathen nations who occupied their borders and through whose territory they would pass recognized no moral standards and they should not do as did these nations.
God’s people must be separate from the nations, a people recognized as superior. To develop such a people from a previously uneducated mass of slaves required laws, strictly enforced. God never left any question as to the source of the law. Always the laws were prefixed with “And the Lord spake,” or a similar phrase, and often suffixed with the words, “I am the Lord.” It was “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not.” There was no rationalizing of the law. It was to be strictly enforced and the penalties meted out according to His word.
God demanded a holy people, and by way of emphasis the Hebrew word qodesh rendered “holines” or “holy,” appears more than 150 times in the book of Leviticus, and the command “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy” is repeated five times.
God’s standard of holiness has not changed. The apostle Peter repeated the words of the Lawgiver when he wrote, “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, Be holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
The Mosaic Tabernacle
The tabernacle served as the center of worship for the children of Israel for about 500 years. It was constructed of materials offered by the people, some of which they had received from the Egyptians when they left the Land of Goshen. It was fabricated according to exact specifications given to Moses in the Mount. The angel gave Moses directions for every board, every curtain, every hook, ring, clasp and loop for every cord. The whole structure was designed by the divine Architect and built by craftsmen “filled...with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Ex. 31:3).
The tabernacle was unique. It was assembled in such a fashion that it could be taken down and moved on short notice, for “whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys,” and “Even when the cloud continued long, many days above the tabernacle, the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey” (Ex. 40:36; Num. 9:19).
Moses received the instructions for the tabernacle from God, and more than once he was exhorted to “And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain [which you was caused to see]” (Ex. 25:40). The importance of fashioning it according to the pattern was emphasized by the writer to the Hebrews many centuries later: “Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5). The lesson was one of obedience; first, God must have a leader that would follow His instructions.
“And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up....Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:17, 34-35). In this way God was setting His seal of approval on their work. The tabernacle was the meeting place of God and man; it symbolized the presence of God in their midst.
The tabernacle consisted of three main parts: the holy place, the most holy place and the court that surrounded it. A veil separated the holy place from the most holy place. According to the pattern given Moses, the court was about 75’ x 150’ and the tabernacle proper 15’ x 45’, with a cubicle 15’ x 15’ in one end known as the most holy place.
The completed tabernacle became to the children of Israel the focal point of their religious life as well as the seat of justice. By way of the tabernacle God provided spiritual guidance; by it He directed their travels in the wilderness, and when they followed its direction, He protected them from their enemies. Its furnishings were God-designed and engineered; all had a specific purpose and were symbolic of future things, “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5), “a shadow of things to come,” as Paul stated it (Col. 2:17). We will briefly review the furnishings and what they represent.
The Ark of the Covenant
The ark, built according to God-ordained specifications, was a chest of wood about three and one half feet by two and one half feet, overlaid with gold. It contained the original copy of the law as received by Moses (Ex. 31:18), the two tables of stone given to Moses on the Mount, a pot of the manna with which they were fed in the Wilderness and Aaron’s rod.
The ark itself was sacred and it was kept in the most sacred place, the Most Holy Place; hence it was seen only by the High Priest, and by him only once a year when he entered there. The ark symbolized the presence of God. Other ancient nations took images of their gods to battle; Israel took the ark. The cover of the ark was known as the “Mercy Seat,” symbolizing God’s righteous law. The ark was placed directly underneath the wide-spreading wings of the cherubims, which were symbolic of God’s power and protection.
The articles contained in the ark were likewise significant. The two tables of stone represented God’s law, indelibly engraved in stone, signifying its unchangeableness. The pot of manna was emblematic of God’s unfailing provision for His people, while Aaron’s rod bore testimony that God had chosen Aaron and his sons for the service of the priesthood.
The Table of Shewbread
This was an important appurtenance to the tabernacle. It’s size, shape, location, and use were God-decreed. It was kept in the Holy Place, the larger part of the tabernacle. It contained twelve loaves, one for each of the twelve tribes. The bread was to be renewed each week so that it would be always fresh. It was eaten by the priests.
The table is a symbol of the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 10:21) of which we must eat if we would become a part of the twelve spiritual tribes of His people, called spiritual Israel. The bread, the Word of God, is always fresh, never stale, and must be freely eaten that we may grow.
The Seven-branched Lampstand
This ornamental lamp occupied a place opposite the table of shewbread. It symbolizes the knowledge of God that shines in the lives of God’s people in all ages. “Ye are the light of the world,” said Jesus of His disciples.
The Altar of Incense
This was the only other furnishing inside the tabernacle. The priests burned incense here twice daily, typifying the prayers of the righteous that ascend to God (Rev. 8:3).
Outside in the court were located the laver and the brazen altar, or the altar of burnt offering. At this laver the priests washed themselves before their sacrificial rites, demonstrating that all sin must be washed away, thoroughly cleansed. The sacrifices offered upon the altar of burnt offering represented the “living sacrifice” which each faithful one must make. The fires that burned continually on this altar represent the continual sacrifice that must be made. The altar and the burnt offering were visual aids to illustrate how we must offer continual spiritual sacrifice that is acceptable to God.
The Levitical Priesthood, ordained by God, served the Jewish nation both in civil and spiritual matters. The priests had to measure up to exacting qualifications specified in the law. The priests were all Levites, but not all Levites were priests. The priests had to be descendants of Aaron, the first priest chosen by God.
At their consecration, the priests followed a prescribed pattern, which included washing, change of clothing and anointing. The ceremony concluded with a sacrifice on the altar. During the ceremony, the blood of one of the rams was to be applied to the persons of Aaron and his sons, upon the ear, hand and foot. A Talmudic writing says that having the organs of hearing, handling and walking touched by the sacrifice implies that “the priest is to have hallowed ears to listen to God’s commands, hallowed hands to perform his sacred offices, and hallowed feet to tread rightly the sacred places, as also to walk in holy ways.”
The Levitical Priesthood symbolized the Royal Priesthood, the body of “kings and priests” that will one day guide the nations of earth after the second coming of Christ. Just as the members of the Levitical Priesthood had to meet specified qualifications, so must the members of the future Royal Priesthood conform their lives to the standard set forth in God’s Word. Another important office of the Priesthood was the High Priest. The High Priest was the spiritual head of the nation, the chief mediator between God and men. Aaron was never designated as “high priest,” but his office foreshadowed the position. The high priest was looked upon as the holiest man in the nation of Israel. He was looked up to as an example of all that God expected of men. The office was of such importance that epochs of time are dated by the death of the high priest.
It was the duty of the high priest to go into the most holy place once a year to make reconciliation for the sins of the people and to return with a blessing for them. (God was represented as speaking from above the mercy seat of the ark in the Most Holy Place. Ex. 25:22.)
The office of high priest foreshadowed the position Christ will hold in the new order. The writer of Hebrews draws this parallel: “We have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” For “Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands....but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;...To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 4:14; 9:24, 28). As surely as the high priest under the Levitical order returned to bless the people, so will our High Priest return to bring the blessing of salvation unto those who look for Him.
The principle of sacrifice has ever been a part of God’s plan. God made men free moral agents-free to choose the good or the evil, life or death. Always there is sacrifice involved. A person must sacrifice the one to enjoy the other.
The Israelites’ law prescribed many different types of sacrifices and offerings. We will discuss a few of them, according to the various purposes they served.
When a person violated the law, some form of expiation, or else a definite penalty-depending upon the nature of the offence-was required. The Mosaic law was a law designed to be obeyed. One might sin in total ignorance of the law, but ignorance was no excuse. When he learned of his sin, he had to make reparation. It was each person’s duty to know and keep the law.
This offering was required when a person sins “unintentionally...in anything which ought not to be done” (Lev. 4:2). The person making the offering had to bring his own animal to the tabernacle. In the presence of the priest and the people he had to lay his hands upon the animal, thus acknowledging publicly that this was his offering for his sin. Whether ruler or common citizen, the requirement was the same. The offerer then had to slay his animal himself (Lev. 4:24-29), and the priest performed the rest of the ritual. The animal went to the priest as food.
A guilt offering was a specific kind of sin offering, required when a man had deprived another of his rightful due. This offering applied to such acts as cheating in matters of deposit or security, robbery, failing to report the finding of lost property, etc. In addition to making the sin offering, the offender had to pay the full amount that had been defrauded, plus a fine of twenty percent (Lev. 5:16; 6:5).
Sin and guilt offerings could atone for ritual and ethical sins committed without forethought and plan; but other offenses, committed consciously and with real intent, sins of the “up-raised hand,” “highhanded sins” (Num. 15:30-31), required the payment of a penalty, often death. This was because such offenses were counted as outright rejection of God’s covenant. Included in this category were idolatry, witchcraft and false prophesying, blasphemy, violation of the Sabbath, striking or reviling a parent, murder, adultery, unchastity, and false witness in capital cases. Rebellion such as that of Korah was a “highhanded sin” too great for any sacrifice to cover (Numbers 16). Violation of the ritual calendar and sacred institutions was also serious: nonobservance of the Passover; eating of blood, eating sacrifices while in an unclean state; eating the remainder of a peace offering too late; touching holy things illegally;
defiling the sanctuary by personal uncleanness-such infractions were punished as evidence of one’s rejection of God.
These were offerings by which the people renewed their commitment to God.
Burnt offerings were by far the most frequent sacrifices at the Israelite sanctuary. The continual burnt offering was made twice each day, a male lamb morning and evening (Ex. 29:38-42). The climax of each of the annual festivals was marked by a series of elaborate burnt offerings, signifying Israel’s complete surrender to God.
A regular part of most animal sacrifice rituals was the cereal or “meat” offering (Lev. 6:14-23). It was a concoction of fine flour, olive oil, and frankincense baked in loaves or wafers or morsels. The offerer was responsible for bringing the prepared loaves or wafers to the sanctuary. The priest burned one handful on the altar and the rest was his portion to eat.
These were offerings entirely voluntary. These were not required but were a special privilege permitted those who had met all the requirements of sin and consecration offerings.
All voluntary offerings were some form of peace offering-the freewill offering, the thank offering, the votive offering, the wave offering, the heave offering, the consecration offering. All were offered in thanksgiving to God, an expression of gratitude for mercies received. They were offered at every harvest festival and every occasion of rejoicing. In each case the offering had to be perfect, as in all other sacrifices.
Following every peace offering was a joyous occasion-a communal meal. Except for those parts which were burned upon the altar or assigned to the priest, the body of the sacrificed animal was given to the offerer; and he, with his family and the Levite from his community, could enjoy a feast, if they complied strictly with the rules governing such occasions (Deut. 12:6, 11; Lev. 7:19-21). This was God’s way of telling Israel that if they gave God their best, in the end the best would be theirs.
The lesson in sacrifice was obedience. That which was offered upon the altar meant nothing to the Almighty. The animals, the incense, the meal and the oil in themselves were valueless. It was the principle of willingly giving up something for God, sacrificing something of value in obedience to His command that counted. The price was high; always the best belonged to God.
The Mosaic Feasts
“Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai....And he would come out and speak to the children of Israel what-ever he had been commanded” (Ex. 34:32-34). Included in these final instructions were the feasts Israel was to keep each year. There was a feast for each New Moon. A feast marked the New Year. There were several other special feast days. Of these, three were considered very important and attendance at them was compulsory.
Unlike present-day religious observances, Israel’s feasts were truly holy days. While they brought all Israel together they were not celebrated with riotous living. Rather, they were to be “holy convocations,” assemblies to remind them of God and His goodness to them, meetings devoted to services of worship and praise of Jehovah. They were to be joyful occasions, but also a solemn reminder of the gratitude Israel owed to God, the Giver and Sustainer of all. Every feast of the year brought God before the nation and served to arouse the nation spiritually.
The Feast of Passover
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,…These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover” (Lev. 23:1, 4-5).
Passover was the first of the three principal feasts. It was to be held on the fourteenth day of the first month of the year. Israel’s year began in the spring with the month Abib, the first new moon after the spring equinox, corresponding with our March or April.
The Passover was a memorial service. It commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and also marked the beginning of grain harvest. At this time they brought the firstfruits of the harvest and presented them to the Lord. It was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The feast lasted seven days. It was mandatory for all able male Jews to attend.
The Feast of Pentecost
This was the second of the principal feasts, occurring at the end of the spring harvest season, fifty days after Passover. “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven sabbaths shall be completed: count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering [meal-offering] to the Lord” (Lev. 23:15-16).
Israel was largely an agricultural nation, hence the feasts were centered around agricultural seasons. Pentecost celebrated the end of the harvest season. Both a meat offering and a cereal offering were made, acknowledging God as the giver of flocks and crops. Pentecost was also a “holy convocation,” a service without hilarity, a feast seasoned with song and prayer. It was a one-day feast.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Also known as the Feast of Ingathering, this feast began on the 15th day of the seventh month and lasted seven days. It was preceded by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the month, a day of fasting intended to remind Israel of their sins.
The end of grain harvest was marked by Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles marked the end of fruit harvest. It was the most joyous of all feasts and lasted seven days. During this time Israel dwelt in booths made from tree branches, a reminder of the years they lived in tents in the wilderness.
Every seventh year (the Sabbatic year) this feast had a special feature: the reading of the law. “And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God...you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (Deut. 31:10-11). Israel’s festivals were times when the Israelites were to show liberality toward the stranger and the Levite. Those who had not shared in producing the harvest were nevertheless partakers of the fruits, symbolic of the time when the nations of earth that have had no part in preparing for the great harvest of the earth at Christ’s coming will share in the blessings to be reaped.
The Mosaic Law in Action
When Israel camped in Moab beside the Jordan, their journey was all but complete. They were in sight of the land they had been promised when they left Egypt 40 years before. The complete law had been given, and Moses tirelessly reviewed the provisions of the law before the people, reminding them of their duty and of the penalty for disobedience.
Obedience to the law was for Israel a life-or-death matter. Obey and live; disobey and die was literally true under the law. The penalty of the law followed conviction for the offense. The law was not to be taken lightly.
“ Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel: And he said to them: Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life,”…”Then the Lord spoke to Moses that very same day, saying, Go up this mountain...and die on the mountain which you ascend,…you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there,” (Deut. 32:45-52).
Moses obeyed the command of the Lord and went up the mount not to return. All Israel mourned his passing thirty days. The great Lawgiver was gone, but the law remained. Israel would yet possess the land, but under the hand of Moses’ able successor, Joshua.
The Law Under Joshua
Joshua assumed command of the children of Israel at the Lord’s direction. “Moses my servant is dead, Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:2, 8). The law was in reality God’s law. It did not pass away with Moses. God was reminding Joshua that they were still under the law.
Israel obeyed the command and crossed the Jordan after the priests bearing the ark had stepped into the water. Four days later they “kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho” according to the command they had received from Moses (Joshua 5;10).
The conquest of the land was a series of victories and defeats, contingent upon their obedience to the commands of the Lord. At mount Ebal, Joshua built an altar to the Lord and “read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel,” (Josh. 8:30-35). The law was being kept uppermost in their minds, for as the Lord had said, “It is not a futile thing for you; because it is your life” (Deut. 32:47).
Joshua gave the people a final charge before his death. Like Moses, he reminded them of all that God had done for them since they left Egypt, exhorting them to choose the good way and serve the Lord: “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth,...And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Josh. 24:14-15). To “serve the Lord” was to keep the statutes of the law inviolate. Joshua was reminding them of their obligations; the law had not changed.
“Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which he had done for Israel” (Josh. 24:31). Israel was still under the law.
After the Days of Joshua
A study of the history of Israel under the kings proves them to be still under the law. Throughout this period, their prosperity was dependent upon the faithful discharge of the obligations of the law. Whenever they fell away from God and served the gods of the nations around them, they came to grief. When they served the Lord and kept His laws, they lived in peace and prospered.
During the period of the Captivity of Judah and Israel, the law of Moses was still in force, though often disregarded. Evidence of its observance is found throughout the books of the Bible which discuss the Return from Captivity (Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Malachi). The law was still observed even in the time of Jesus, though its influence was limited.
The Mosaic Law in the Time of Christ
When Jesus began His ministry, many of His listeners were from the various sects of the Jewish people, and all of these felt some degree of obligation to some form of the Mosaic law. The majority were Pharisees, but there were even degrees of Pharisees. They ranged from the God-fearing who truly loved the ancient law to the hypocrites who bickered over the fine points of the law and against whom Jesus directed His stern rebukes. These degrees are evident in the Gospels, where we read of Jairus, “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (Mark 5:22) who came to Jesus to request that his daughter be healed; of Nicodemus, “a man of the Pharisees,…a ruler of the Jews” who came to Jesus by night (John 3:1); of Caiaphas the high priest who was willing to witness falsely against Jesus and to condemn Him to death (Matt. 26:57-65); and the self-righteous Pharisee who went into the temple to pray (Luke 18:10).
In general, the Pharisees had reduced Moses’ law to a legalism of petty rules and regulations, the majority of which were entirely foreign to the law as given by Moses. To keep the law as they saw it was a burden.
Though the majority of people in Jesus’ time were unaware of it, the law of Moses was a temporary institution, and its end had come. All things have an end. The law that had been in effect some fifteen centuries was destined to cease. It had been given for a specific purpose, and it had fulfilled that purpose.
Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Law
The Pharisees (and many of their contemporaries) attempted to prove that Jesus was just another Rabbi, a Pharisee Himself, a ruler or teacher of the synagogue. But Jesus’ words and actions disprove their claim. Jesus did not teach the law of Moses; He taught a better law. He was both the end of the old system and the personification of the new. Of Himself He said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.…Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one title will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Jesus fulfilled or finished the law; He did nothing to perpetuate it. He testified to its fulfillment after His resurrection: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
Jesus spoke with undisputed authority in regard to the law. He was superseding the law. His concern was not with a law to govern a temporal nation but with a law that would serve to prepare one for the acceptance of God and eternal life. Hence His teaching of a law to govern not only the overt act but the evil thought that precedes the action. ?? He came teaching not a head religion but a heart religion; not an outward form but an inner cleansing.
Jesus’ attitude toward the law is most evident in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders, will be in danger of the judgment: But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother... shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22). Under the old law, a man must kill another to be guilty; under Jesus’ law, it is a sin to be angry.
Again He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery: But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). More than open adultery was sin-“whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus was setting a high standard of strict morality, demanding total fidelity of wedded partners.
Following the same pattern, Jesus made His teaching plain on a wide variety of subjects, showing Himself superior to the old law. He sought to stem the evil at its source—the thought. It is what comes from within, not without, that defiles men. In listing the thirteen evils in Mark 7:21-23 He began. with “evil thoughts.” An evil thought is the beginning of every evil. Moses’ law was not concerned with the thoughts and intents of the heart or mind, only with the outward sin; but Jesus’ teaching took both into account.
The Pharisees professed to obey Moses’ law and the scribes supposedly taught it in the temple. But the law had degenerated until more weight was being given to tradition than to the original law and Jesus condemned the practice, saying, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men....You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
Jesus’ scathing denunciation of the hypocritical Pharisees pointed out the inconsistencies in their religion: “Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! For you won’t let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and won’t go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes.…Blind guides! Woe upon you!...For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things justice and mercy and faith....You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed....First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean....You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin” (Matthew 23, TLB).
Such contradictions had come about through the oral tradition that had been added to the law by various rabbis over the centuries. Originally, in the time of Moses, there had been one law for both strangers and citizens and all were treated alike under its provisions. Jesus refused to recognize a law that showed preference for class. His teachings were based on the provisions of the royal law, the law of God which had existed before the Mosaic law and to which it had been added.
Jesus, the End of the law
The Mosaic law was given for a specific purpose and for a limited time. It was not intended to be a law for all people in all times. It was a civil law, a national law for the nation of Israel; and as long as that nation existed, it was in force. When God concluded His working with Israel as a nation, their law having served its purpose, passed away.
From the time of Adam, those people who were seeking God’s eternal rewards were under what we often call the “royal law,” the eternal law of faith and obedience. When God called Israel and made them a nation, He added to the eternal law a temporal law for the civilizing and disciplining of the nation. This law is called the law of Moses (Gal. 3:19). When that law was taken away at the time of Christ, the law of faith still remained.
Paul explains the limitations of the law of Moses: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made;...Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your Seed, who is Christ” (Gal. 3:19, 16).
Jesus Christ was the promised seed; He was “the end of the law...to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). “There is an annulling of the former commandment....For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God” (Heb. 7:18-19). The law “was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24-25).
The Law Today
Because the law of Moses was only a national law, a law for the people of Israel, it is no longer binding today. It ceased by limitation, that limitation being explained by the apostle Paul in Gal. 3:24-25: The law was “our tutor to bring us unto Christ,…but after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” Again according to Paul, “It was added” for a specific period of time, “until.” “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19). Christ was the promised seed and He was “the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4).
Christ fulfilled or finished the law, “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Christ’s death marked the final end of the law. This end was dramatically enacted by God Himself with the rending of the veil of the temple at the hour of Christ’s death. The veil had kept hidden the sacred precincts of the most holy place. Only the high priest could enter behind the veil, and that only once each year. Rending the veil signified the end of the Levitical priesthood and the whole Mosaic system.
The Mosaic law remains today only as a part of historical Scripture, not as a rule of life.
The Two Laws Contrasted
Both the apostle Paul and the writer to the Hebrews made frequent contrasts between Moses’ law and the law of faith. A careful study of these writings leaves no doubt that the Mosaic law was terminated in favor of the better law, the law of faith. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the law as a “ministration of death, written and engraven on stones,” a glory which “was to be done away.” He then says, “For if what is passing away [Moses’ law] was glorious, what remains [the law of faith] is much more glorious” (2 Cor. 3:7, 11). Only the Ten Commandment law was “written and engraven in stones.” It was termed a “ministration of death” because death was the penalty for breaking many of the commandments.
“He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9). Here the two laws are contrasted as first and second. The “first” was the old law, the law given to Israel. Christ is the “mediator of the new testament” which superseded the old order that had been given on Mount Sinai. Christ is our High Priest, our intercessor through whom we come to God.
Let us consider a few points concerning the old law, comparing them with God’s superior law, the “law of faith,” or the “royal law” (see below).
The Mosaic Law
The Law of Faith
The law was given only to Israel. Speaking of the law, Moses said: “The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today” (Deut. 5:3). God made this covenant with and delivered the law to the nation of Israel, and after that nation passed out of existence, the law was obsolete.
The law of faith applies to all who voluntarily place themselves under it. Where Moses’ law was limited to natural Israel, the law of faith applies to all covenant-makers, regardless of nationality. God is this no respecter of persons; whosoever will may come.
The law was limited to temporal benefits. It was first and foremost a civil law to civilize. Obedience to it guaranteed temporal prosperity only. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21). The law could not give life.
The law of faith offers eternal reward. The
old law guaranteed only temporal prosperity at best, but the law of faith obeyed, promises “an hundredfold now in this time,…and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
The law was for a limited time. It was given “until the seed [Christ] should come.” It was both ceremonial and moral, but nowhere do we find the two parts separated. The whole law expired at once. Its laws were but “external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Heb. 9:10, NIV). The law ended with Christ.
The law of faith has no time limit. God’s law, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect,” has been in effect from the beginning of His plan for the earth. The law of faith will remain throughout the day of salvation.
The law covered only outward acts. Under the law, a man must commit the act to be guilty. It made no provision for cleansing the thoughts or the heart, a necessary part of perfection for character.
The law of faith reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart.
An evil thought must precede the evil act, hence evil thoughts defile. Jesus in Mark 7:21-23 revealed that the new law covers these. Perfection is not only outward, but inward. “The word of God is living and powerful,…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
The law could not take away sin. Being a national law, a civil law, Moses’ law could never “make those who approach perfect,” but was “a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). The old law could not give salvation because it was only for Israel.
The law of faith can cleanse from sin. God’s higher law, when applied, is able to make “pure in heart,” (Matt. 5:8); it cleanses “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1), and through “patient continuance in doing good” it prepares the doer “for glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7).
Point-by-point comparison shows the superiority of the law of faith. Moses’ law was good for its time and served its purpose well, but it was only : shadow of good things to come.” “The law [Mosaic] made nothing perfect,…there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb.7:19). Its sacrifices, altars, sin-offerings and tabernacle all pointed forward to the “better hope,” the new and living way” in Christ.
The Commandments Today
Many today are horrified at the thought that the Ten Commandments as such are no longer in force. But the fact that the old law and its Ten Commandments has been nullified by no means leaves the Christian today without a law of life. Today we have the law of faith, the royal law, the law which existed from the beginning and to which Moses’ law was added. Included in it are nine of the original Ten Commandments, the fourth commandment concerning the sabbath being the only one that is not reiterated in the New Testament.
Although the actual Ten Commandments are no longer in force, their counterpart is to be found in other parts of the Scripture, hence there is no need for the original.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Jesus upheld the validity of the first commandment: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt. 4:10).
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
This second commandment is repeated in 1John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” An idol can be anything that comes between the Christian and God. Again, Jesus’ words are plain: “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
This command is made stronger by Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:33-35, as rendered in the New English Bible, “do not swear at all—…Let your `Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No, `No’.”
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
This is the only one of the ten not repeated in some form in the New Testament.
“Honour thy father and thy mother.”
This commandment is not only repeated, it is amplified: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;…and, you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath” (Eph. 6:1-2, 4).
“Thou shalt not kill.”
This commandment is not only repeated (see Gal. 5:21 and Rev. 21:8), but extended. As the apostle John stated, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
This commandment is also expanded by Jesus: “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
“Thou shalt not steal.”
This command is made equally forceful by Paul in Eph. 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer.” Thieves are also listed as among those that shall not inherit the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:10). Jesus applied the command beyond the taking of temporal goods in John 10: “I am the door.... He who does no enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (vs. 9, 1).
“Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
This command is made equally strong by John the Baptist: “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely” (Luke 3:14). Lying, which is but another form of bearing false witness, is forbidden by many texts of Scripture.
“Thou shalt not covet.”
The essence of this command is given in many passages of Scripture. The opposite of covetousness is contentment, and the Christian is admonished to be content, “for godliness with contentment is great gain.” “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” was the advice of the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 13:5, NIV).
What need have we for the old Ten Commandment law? None, for we have a complete guide for life without it. The commandments given above from the New Testament are but a very small sampling of those to be found outside the law. Commands are to be found throughout the New Testament-in addition to many in the Old Testament. For a comprehensive list of the requirements for Christian living, read the Sermon on the Mount which encompasses Matthew 5 through 7. Read also Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5 and 6, Ephesians 4-6, Colossians 3, Titus 2 and 2 Peter 1. No, in the absence of the Mosaic law we do not lack for rules to live by!
Christians today are not under the law. Neither are they governed by the Aaronic priesthood. We are under the priesthood of Melchisedec (Heb. 7:14–19), with Christ as our High Priest. “The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs [the Aaronic priesthood] as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises” (Heb. 7:28; 8:1-2, 6, NIV).
Can You Answer These?
1. Define law. What is its purpose?
2. What points made Israel’s law superior to the law of other nations of that time?
3. How did the Israelites become slaves in Egypt?
4. By what course of action were the Israelites able to leave Egypt?
5. What was the purpose of the law of Moses?
6. Was the Mosaic law the first law to exist?
7. What did God promise Israel in return for obedience to His law?
8. What were the Ten Commandments, and what was the penalty for violation of any of these commandments?
9. To whom was the law of Moses given? For the benefit of what people?
10.Name and describe 8 pieces of furniture that occupied the tabernacle.
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