The utmost importance and significance of an exegetical study of the purpose of the Laws of the Old Testament in relation to the Laws of the New Testament cannot be overstressed or simply overlapped, rather it calls for a plumbing study of the subject and a disciplined application of the mind to the truth of the scripture. Here I try to make an analysis of the subject and interpret it in the New Testament context.
1. Introduction to the Law of Moses:
The Law of Moses may be grouped in three specific distinctions---
(1) The Moral Law—The Ten Commandment or the Decalogue : Ex 20:1-17
(i)This law was given on Mt. Sinai written on stone tablets by the finger of God Himself. This part of the law was the foundation of Israel’s theocracy. The law includes the duties towards God and the duties towards men.
(ii)This law alone was put in the ark of the covenant because it represented the basic covenant of God and Israel.
(iii)This part of the law is the Saint’s delight in God’s law. Ps 1:119
(iv)This part of the law was probably in the minds of the prophets and Jesus spoken of God and later written in the heart in the New Covenant. Jer. 31:31-34; Ex. 11:17-20; Lk. 18:18; Mtt. 5:21-48 cf Rom. 13:9-10
(v) Paul described this part of the law as ‘holy’, just, good(Rom. 7:12) and spiritual (7:14) which reveals sin to man (7:7)
(2)The Civil Law or the Social Ordinances :
This law comprises the rights of persons (Ex 21:1-36), the rights of property (22:1-15), the requirements of personal integrity (22:16-23; 19), the promise and prospect (23:20-33) and acceptance of the legal covenant.
(2) The Ceremonial Law:
This law includes the levitical priesthood and the sacrifices of animals, feasts and observance of days and festivals.
(1)The Purpose of the Law in the O.T.
The purpose of the law was to bridge the covenant relationship between God and the Israelite. The establishing of the covenant is declared in Ex.19:3-6, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then
(i) Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people…….(v5). The truth of God’s divine selection underlies this.
(ii) Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests…(v6). A kingdom whose citizens are all priests, each having the right of access, worship and devotion of God.
(iii) A holy nation (v6). ‘HOLY’ (Hagios) in Greek means to set apart. The Israelite is a nation separated from other nations and devoted to God.
This covenant of God was conditional, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be……(v5)”. Thus, the covenant demands obligation to the law uttered by the voice of God Himself and twice written by God on the stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; 32:15; 16:34,1, 28 cf Dt. 10:4). The children of Israel took an oath of allegiance and submission to the law and the Lord’s purpose in it as their sovereign ruler. Thus they said, “All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do.” Ex.19:8 see 24:3,7.The purpose of the law for Israel is very clearly stated in Ps. 73:5-8,
“For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers……
(i) That they should make them known to their children v5.
(ii) That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born ; who should arise and declare them to their children. V6
(iii) That they might set their hope in God, and not forgot the works of God, but keep His commandments; and might not be as their fathers a stubborn and rebellious generation…….v7, 8a. However, the law was not a means of Israelite’s salvation. The Israelites were not saved by keeping of the law. The law itself was a manifestation of their failure to obey it. Every time they failed to keep it, it was God’s amazing grace that upheld them.” “The law of God, therefore”, says Hywel R. Jones, “ is not a ladder whereby the unsaved gain heaven, but a pattern of life whereby the saved display their son-ship and their status as the redeemed.” ##1
(iv) The law was a pointer to the triumph of God’s grace towards the children of Israel. God Himself gave the law to them that they should keep it. However, Joshua 7:11 says,
(v) “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded the…….”
Below we will make an observation of Israel’s failure to the commandment of God and the grace of God that worked with them.
• Keep all the law Ex.19:3-6. And the Israel answered, ‘we will do’.Ex.19:8
*Broke the law……..Jos. 7:11
*Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Ex20:3-3
*Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them. V5
*Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. V7
*Making of molten calf-gods of Israel. Ex. 32:1-6 cf Num. 25:2,3
*Remember the Sabbath day , to keep it holy Ex. 20:8-11
*Polluted the Sabbath Ez. 20:24
*Thou shalt not kill. Ex. 20:13
• Jerusalem the bloody city. Ez 22:1,4, 5-13, 36:18
*Honor thy father and thy mother. Ex 20:12
*Thou shalt not commit adultery. Ex 20:14-17
*Thou shalt not steal
*Thou shalt not bear false witness
*Thou shalt not covet.
• “By swearing and lying and killing and stealing and committing adultery, they broke out and blood touched blood.” Hos. 4:2,12
• “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. “ Malachi 3:7-9 also see Jer. 2:13; Ez 16:1, 32, 34
• “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all my commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever,” Deut.5:29. But
• “They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.” Ps 78:10-11
• “…..And may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its hearts aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Ps 78:8
The sins and corruptions of Israel have been described all throughout the Bible. The Israelite as a nation succumbed to apostasy and idolatry despite the law. The ugliest stories of the Bible are recorded in the book of the Judges . It is full of the tales of homosexual, assault, idolatry, civil wars, thievery, rape, murder and all the worst things that could come around them. God had delivered the Israel from the bondage in Egypt. He had given them a rich land and made a covenant with them. But the Israelites did not continue in His way. These Judges as the heroes of the Old Testament fought for freedom and to defend their homeland from foreigners and invaders. But most of the Judges were corrupt and terribly sinful. When we look at them, we see them run downhill, from bad to worse. They lived a life that always grieved the Lord. They worshiped the idol Baal alongside the Lord through sex orgies and child sacrifice. The last verse of Judges seems to be the saddest and that what sums up about the Israel: “Everyone did as he saw fit.”
But in spite of Israel’s disobedience , God was true to His words and always compassionate to them. He rescued them as they repented in times of troubles by sending another judge. The secret of Israel’s survival, therefore, was not, the military power or the keeping of the law either. It was the persistent and amazing unwearied love of God.
Thus, Israel failed in keeping of the law. For God also said, “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. “ Ez 20:25. God had to say it, “ Neither will I be with you any more.” Jos 7:12
But amazingly, it is the same God who also said it through Balaam,
“He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel, the Lord his God is with him and the shout of a King is among them.” Num 23:21
How can a righteous God say this ? How can it be possible in the part of God ? It is possible because, our God is a God full of compassion and gracious, longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and truth. Ps 86:15
Law meant either life or death for an Israelite. But at the same time, it was God’s grace that upheld them. Therefore, Rom. 5:20 says, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound, but where sin abounded grace did much more abound.”
Grace is the unmerited favor of God to the sinful man. The Israelites could not fully grasped the real meaning of ‘Grace’ despite God’s intention to teach them through many historical events in times of troubles and needs, wars and failures. Grace took its fullest meaning only when Christ came and sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world. The death of Christ Himself is a grace because He died on our behalf. And only because of Christ’s death, God has counted us righteous . Paul has conveyed the fullest meaning of Grace in Christ in the book of Galatians and also in Romans.
“Grace in its fullest definition is God’s unmerited favor in the gift of His Son, who offers salvation to all and who gives to those who receive Him as their personal Savior added grace for this life and hope for the future.”##3 Says Ryrie.
Paul has used the word, “Hupereperisseusen” in Rom 5:21 to speak about the bounty of grace which is a superlative, superlative degree---abounded over and above.
The Purpose of the Law in the NT context.
The purpose of the Law set in the NT is very clean----
(1) “It was added because of transgression , till the seed should come to whom the promise was made……..because of transgression “ Gal 3:19. This points what follows the giving of the law. The law served as an intermediary between God and men till the promised seed come. The ‘seed’ is the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) “ the law was a school master to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith .” Gal 3:24
“After the faith is come we are no longer under a school master” Gal. 3:24
The Greek word is ‘Paidagogos’ which means simply ‘a child custodian’ or ‘ a child attendant’.
“The Pedagogos was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. By these verses, Paul had simply meant ‘until we come of age at the time of the revelation of our full son-ship through Christ’s coming the law served as pedagogos”. ##2 Frank E Gaebelein
We can thus summarize the purpose of the law of Moses and its relations to a Christian in the NT as in the following--
1. The law was given to magnify human sin against the background of God’s grace (Rom 7:7-11; Gal 3:19-25)
2. The law was given to lead the sinners to Christ. The law served as “Paidagogue” Gal 3:19-25. In the law of sacrifices, the lamb in the Sanctuary represented the real lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). Therefore, when Christ came, we are complete in Him (Col. 2:9,10) through the newness of nature.
The law of Moses ( The Ten Commandments) was written on the tables of stone (Ex 24:12; 34:1,4,28) but the NT law, ie, the New Covenant promised is written in the hearts of the believers (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:10; 10:16). The law ie., man’s obligation to God and fellowmen can be summed up in one word-“LOVE”. For the man who has love in his heart for God and neighbor will not trespass against either of them. (Mtt. 22:36-40; cf Jn 13:34-35). Paul develops the concept of love in Rom. 13:8-10,
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Gal. 5:14 says, “ “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
We should not misinterpret it that the principles of right and wrong in the law are not valid in the NT; they are valid eternally but it is not the highest summation of a Christian’s duty, because , NT is the fuller revelation of the old. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are in the higher monarchy of spiritual status which is seen in Gal. 5:22,23,
“………The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
##1 Hywel R. Jones, “Exodus”
The New Bible Commentary, P 131 , Third Edition.
Inter-Versity Press, England.
##2 Frank E Gaebelein
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p 467,v24
Zendervan Publishing House,
Grand Rapids, Michigan
##3 Charles C. Ryrie
Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (p726)