November 1, 2001, Vol.1,
Two new articles every two weeks.
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THIS ISSUE: "Understanding
the Law" (see below)
and "The Ten Commandments,
by Keith Sharp
The Jewish scribes
divided the Law of Moses into 613 commandments, 248 positive
and 365 negative (Hendriksen. 809). This included the Ten Commandments,
the heart of the Law (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-22). All
of these laws are contained in the four books, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers and Deuteronomy. Thus, although Jews referred to all
five books of Moses as "the Law," technically the Law
was limited to these books. In fact, the Law proper is confined
to Exodus chapters 20-31; 35-39; the book of Leviticus; Numbers
chapters 5-6; 8:1 - 9:14; chapters 26 - 30; and Deuteronomy 4:44
The Law was a covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 19:5-6;
24:3-8; Deuteronomy 5:1-3). "A covenant is a binding contract
between two parties, both of whom have obligations specified
in the covenant." (Fee and Stuart. 150) Ancient covenants
were characteristically made between an all powerful ruler and
his servants. The servants were guaranteed protection and benefits
from the ruler. In return, the servants owed complete service
and loyalty to the ruler. They demonstrated their loyalty by
keeping the covenant rules. If a servant violated the rules,
he had demonstrated disloyalty, and the ruler was to punish him
according to the penalties set out in the contract. This is the
way the Law of Moses is constructed.
The covenant format had six parts to it: preamble, prologue,
stipulations, witnesses, sanctions, and document clause. The
preamble identified the parties to the agreement ..., and the
prologue gave a brief history of how the parties became connected
to one another.... The stipulations ... are the individual laws
themselves. The witnesses are those who will enforce the covenant....
The sanctions are the blessings and curses that function as incentives
for keeping the covenant (e.g., Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 - 33). The
document clause is the provision for regular review of the covenant
so that it will not be forgotten (e.g., Deut. 17:18-19; 31:9-13).
Both the first statement of the Law (at Sinai, Exodus 20 - Leviticus
27, with supplementation in Numbers) and the second statement
of the Law (... as found in Deuteronomy) reflect this six-part
format. (Ibid. 151)
Theologians divide the Law into two parts: moral and ceremonial.
Most denominations teach that the moral law is still binding
on us but that the ceremonial law is not. By "moral law"
they primarily mean the Ten Commandments. The Bible itself makes
no such distinction. Why should the Sabbath law, a part of the
Ten Commandments, be considered moral rather than ceremonial?
In fact, the Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the Law,
has been abolished as a binding standard of conduct (Romans 7:1-7).
The Sabbath is specifically said to have been taken away as a
law (Colossians 2:13-17).
Jesus Himself, in agreement with Jewish thinking, distinguished
between those laws regulating our relationship to God and those
regulating our relationship to man (Mark 12:28-33). The first
four of the Ten Commandments directed Israel to love God; the
latter six directed them to love their neighbor.
To understand the laws themselves, we must understand the
nature of this covenant. The New Testament (as well as the United
States Constitution) provides for the separation of church and
state (civil government) (Matthew 22:15-22; John 18:33-36). But
Old Testament Israel was a theocracy; church and state were combined.
The Law told them how to worship God (e.g., Leviticus chapters
1 - 7), but it also organized their armies for war (e.g., Numbers
Old Testament law was very different from our civil law today.
Most modern nations have a huge body of law intended to regulate
every conceivable civil issue. Thus, as society changes, new
laws are enacted yearly. The Old Testament "do's" and
"don'ts" (e.g., Leviticus 19:9-14) were laws by example.
They were intended to teach principles that could be applied
to parallel situations. Thus, the Law once given from God to
Israel did not have to be amended as society changed.
The Law also contained what is called "case law."
These were regulations that applied in certain situations (cases)
(e.g., Deuteronomy 15:12-17).
It is very difficult for us to see why God gave Israel some
of its laws. For example, Moses commanded, "You shall not
boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Deuteronomy 14:21)
Why? you might ask. Historians tell us this was a heathen magical
practice intended to increase the production of flocks. This
was apparently a "for example" law prohibiting Israel
from practicing magic as the superstitious pagans around them
did (cf. Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
How the Law Applies to Us
The ultimate purpose of the Law for ancient Israel was to
teach them how to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 19:1-2).
Since God's essential nature and will are unchanging and unchangeable
(Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), there are principles behind these
laws which will help us understand God and how to please Him.
But, since God's law is adapted to man's needs (see, e.g., Mark
2:27), the specific laws have changed from the Old Testament
to the New Testament. Thus, because Israel was not prepared for
the return to God's original intent for marriage (Matthew 19:8),
Moses permitted polygamy (e.g., Exodus 21:7-11), but the New
Testament teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman
(Matthew 19:4-5; 1 Corinthians 7:2).
Often, the Law of Christ forbids the attitude that leads to
an act forbidden by the law of Moses, but leaves the definition
of the outward act unchanged. For example, Moses commanded, "Thou
shalt not kill." (Exodus 20:13, KJV) Jesus forbids
the unbridled anger and hatred that lead to the outward act (Matthew
5:21-22, 43-48). In such a case, the definition of the outward
act (forbidden killing, i.e., murder) remains unchanged.
If we are to understand the application of the Law to ourselves,
we must understand its purpose. The law was never intended to
be a permanent and full revelation of God's mind to man but was
given for the express purpose of preparing the way for Christ
(Galatians 3:23-25). Furthermore, the law given through Moses
was never intended for any people except the nation of Israel
(Deuteronomy 5:1-3; 6:6-7). Thus, with the death of Christ upon
the cross, this impermanent law, the Old Testament, was taken
away (Colossians 2:13-17). Now, instead, God "has in these
last days spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:2; cf. Matthew
17:1-5) One who goes back to the Old Testament and tries to be
justified by it has " become estranged from Christ."
However, the Law has use for us today, and we should study
it. As He called Israel to be holy, God also calls us to holiness
(1 Peter 1:15-16). The Law helps us see the holy nature of God.
The regulations of the Law were immeasurably higher than the
laws of ancient pagan nations. In fact, the Ten Commandments
are still universally recognized as the highest religious and
ethical code of man, other than the Law of Christ.
As is true of all the Old Testament, the Law ultimately points
to Christ (John 5:39), and we should use it to increase our faith
in Him. He is the Prophet like Moses whom we must obey (Deuteronomy
18:15-19; Acts 3:22-26).
The Law vividly illustrates for us the seriousness of obeying
God. Nadab and Abihu acted without divine authority and were
consumed with fire from God (Leviticus 10:1-3). Korah and his
followers sought an office that did not belong to them and were
swallowed by the earth itself (Numbers chapter 16). The whole
generation of Israelites who were above twenty when they left
Egypt except Joshua and Caleb perished in the wilderness due
to their rebellion (Numbers 26:63-65). These examples could be
multiplied. Israelites were required to know and obey God's Law
(Deuteronomy 6:6-9; 27:9-10), and so are we.
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things
we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through
angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience
received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so
great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the
Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also
bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles,
and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will. (Hebrews
The Law provides a dim foreshadowing intended to help us understand
the spiritual things that come through Christ (Hebrews 8:1-5).
For example, when you study the plan for the tabernacle in Exodus,
you will be struck by the minute detail God demanded (cf. Exodus
25:8-9,40). Israel followed it precisely (Exodus 39:42-43), and
God's holy Presence dwelt among them in the tabernacle as the
result (Exodus 40:34-35). God also has given us a pattern to
follow (2 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 8:5), and when we follow it precisely
He dwells with us (2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1).
It is often and truly said, "The Old Testament is the
New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament
revealed." The Law was "the copy and shadow of the
heavenly things." (Hebrews 8:5) One cannot understand the
New Testament fully without studying the Law. This is especially
true of Matthew, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. These books assume
a knowledge of the Law on the part of their readers, and without
such a knowledge many of their truths are incomprehensible.
The Law was given to Israel for their good. If they kept it,
God would abundantly bless them (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). It was
not, as most people think, an impossible standard to follow (Deuteronomy
30:11-14). The Law of Christ is for our good and possible for
us to obey (1 John 5:3).
We can receive much good by a study of the Law. I hope that
you will diligently study Exodus through Deuteronomy and that
this workbook will assist you as a guide to that study.
Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible
for All It's Worth (2nd ed.).
~ ~ ~
Hendriksen, William, The New Testament Commentary (Exposition
of the Gospel According to Matthew).