Summary: This article was written and published Jan’ 15. So often today we can find Christian ministers attempting to instruct believers about the law of Moses and its application to either their relationship with God (salvation/redemption) or their walk before Him (discipleship). Unfortunately, the majority do so without comprehending God’s purpose for giving the law to Israel in the first place. God used the law to condemn the Jews and to place a curse upon all those who were associated with it. This was an integral part of God proving to fallen man that he was utterly depraved. And without this understanding of God’s purpose concerning the law, one will never have a proper apprehension of the Jewish dispensation, Judaism, or the Old Testament and gospels.
I Timothy 1:7 (DARBY)
“…desiring to be law-teachers, not understanding either what they say or concerning what they so strenuously affirm.”
I find so much of this today in Evangelical Christian teaching – people teaching the law or things about the law, without any idea of what they’re doing. It is not just done in Sunday school classes or sermons from the pulpit, but also, sadly, in the theological systems of Christendom. If one teaches anything concerning law – the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai – he must have a better than adequate grasp on certain understandings concerning it. For example, allow me at the first to make this point which is critical for our discussion – the law is commandments given to the Jews, ten specific ones. The law is a covenant between God and Israel, as we’ve already said above. The law, as a whole, includes sacrifices, fleshly commandments, and fleshly ordinances (Heb. 7:16, 9:10, 10:1). The law is Judaism – the religion of the Jews. Israel practiced the law as their religion.
With this understanding of the law – commandments, a covenant, and a religion – I will attempt to make my arguments by first listing a series of questions. Certainly every question must be given an adequate answer, otherwise you do not demonstrate enough understanding of the law to be a teacher of it or about it.
What is the purpose of the law as given by God?
Who did God give the law to?
What is the law’s founding principle?
Did the law ever go to anybody else?
Was it ever a law given to the whole world?
What does the law accomplish?
Is there redemption by the law or through the law?
What is the law the measure of?
What does it mean to be under the law?
What did the law do for Israel?
What does the law expose or reveal?
Why is the law a ministration of death and condemnation?
As a covenant, why did the law have a mediator, while Abraham’s did not?
Has the law passed away as a covenant?
Why is it the only covenant God ever gave to man that has ended?
Why is the law said to not be of faith?
Is the law a walk by faith or a walk by sight?
Why did Paul say, as a believer he was dead to the law?
Why does the writer of Hebrews say the law is fleshly commandments and fleshly ordinances?
Why is the law the strength of sin?
Does the law reveal God’s love for us?
This is the exam, these are the questions. In some cases one sentence answers is all that is needed, others a short essay will do. Sometimes a following question will answer a previous one, but a little explanation may be needed – as they say, show all your work. These are the understandings needed to be able to adequately teach things concerning the law, especially how it fits into any theological structure.
Now for the answers. What is the purpose of the law as given by God? The complete answer to this question, we will see, will spread over to many of the other questions. Scripture gives us two general purposes for the law being given at Mt. Sinai. First: The law represents worship of Jehovah, the one true living God. It establishes that there is one God alone, among all the gods man thought up and created on the earth and in the world (Rom. 1:22-25). After the flood Satan brings in idolatry, and it fills up the world with false worship (this was a new thing). In this sense, the law was the religion God gave to man by which he could properly worship the one true God.
But this quickly brings up another question. Who did God give the law to? He gave it to the nation of Israel. The Jews are the ones who had these commandments to govern them, this covenant to keep, and this religion to practice. Did the law ever go to anybody else? No, it did not. Israel had the law all to themselves for over 1500 years – the approximate time from Mt. Sinai to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. Was it ever a law given to the whole world? It was never given to the Gentiles, never to the whole world. This simply was not God’s intention. God gave the law to Israel, and they kept it and guarded it. We must realize this: God gives His law, but not to the entire human race. So then by default this would narrow its purpose, whatever that purpose may be. God never intended His law to go to the whole world, and in fact, it never did.
What did the law do for Israel? It was used by God to build up a wall of separation for the Jews from the Gentiles. The law separated Israel, as the people of God, from the Gentiles, who were not the people of God. You easily see this separation in the rituals and ordinances of the law – it made the Jews different and set apart. You also see this in the prophetic passages which speak of Israel restored in the land for the future millennium. In so many of them there is found this phrase – I will be there God, and they will be My people. This phrase is distinctive for both Israel and the millennium.
Did God intend for Israel to spread the law to the Gentile nations? No, He did not. Was there ever a missionary emphasis given by God to the Jews? Absolutely not. This runs contrary to the wall built up and God recognizing this wall being around them. It is called the middle wall of separation, and it is the law that builds it (Eph. 2:14-15). As long as God acknowledged Israel, this wall remained intact – it was not coming down.
There is no wall in Christ. Therefore there is no wall in the church. The body of Christ is one new man, in which the middle wall of division has been broken down (Eph. 2:11-21). The church is Christ, which is the one new man. But allow me to call your attention to this important point – the church is not Israel. The true church never has a wall. Israel, when acknowledged by God, always has a wall. When acknowledged by God, Israel is always a nation apart on the earth, separated from the Gentile nations – this is the true meaning of the phrase, “I will be their God, and they will be My people.” This will be true in the coming millennium.
Remember the original question? What was God’s purpose for giving Israel the law? First was to establish worship of the one true God in a world filled with idols. Second: By the law God was able to test man in Adam. By it God tested man in the flesh. Man was no longer in the garden and in innocence, but now was a sinner in the world. What was God looking for? Fruit. What kind of fruit? Obedience. God gave Adam one commandment to obey and he failed to do so. Driven from the garden man was now a sinner. “…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men…by the one man’s offence many died…the judgment which came from one offence resulted in condemnation…by one man’s offence death reigned through the one…through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:12-19) The consequences were profound. As I said, now man is a sinner, and God gives him ten commandments.
If God was testing man in Adam, then the question becomes, why just Israel? Because they were the test case; they were the test group; they were the sample of all men in the flesh that God chose to undergo the testing. Israel would represent all mankind. And look what God did for His test case – He privileged them above all others! Israel was given the promises and prophecies. They had the oracles of God as well as the covenants. The presence and glory of God lived in their tabernacle or temple (Rom. 3:1-2, 9:3-5). The Messiah was to come to them. What more could God have done? (Is. 5:1-4) So Israel is the chosen sampling for testing. God did not need to test the Gentiles. If this highly privileged people failed the testing, why would God need to test any others? His point would be proved.
What was being tested? Human responsibility, or we could say, creature responsibility. If the Creator gives the creature a commandment, then the Creator looks for obedience. This is the biblical principle: Responsibility attaches itself to every creature that can be conscious of a relationship with God, the Creator. Whenever there is awareness of this relationship, there is obligation in it to God. The Creator expects obedience in the creature, and therefore looks for the production of this fruit or result.
God tested it in the garden with Adam, when he was in innocence. Now man is a sinner and God is testing him again. Why? Because God has a point to prove to man. So then another question: What is the law the measure of ? The law is the perfect measure of what man in the flesh should be before a holy God. It was given to the Jews, but they simply represented man in Adam – yes, they were highly favored by God; yet still they were only sinners being given rules and requirements with the demand that they obey. The law would determine whether man in the flesh could have a relationship with a holy and righteous God. The law would perfectly measure the fruit of human righteousness – whether man could do “right” in his relationships. The law is summed up by its measurement of two areas of relationship – man with God, and man with his neighbor ((Matt. 22:36-40). This is the measure of responsibility of man in Adam.
What is the founding principle of the law? It is human responsibility. The principle of the law is do this and live. The doing is man’s obedience. And he had to do it perfectly, and for a long time – his entire life. The law is based on the performance of man (Rom. 10:5, Luke 10:26-28, Gal. 3:10-12). It is essentially human effort and achievement in human works. Now please remember that the law is the covenant Israel was given, and the religion they were to practice. The basis of Judaism is human attainment by works.
Another point of importance here – Israel wasn’t forced into this against their will. No, they agreed to the covenant. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Ex. 19:8) They agreed to keep the covenant and do the law. By this, human responsibility was now put to the test.
What does the law accomplish? When the law came in, sin abounded more and more (Rom. 5:20). The reason for this? The law identifies specific transgressions and offences against what are now known commandments. If you tell a child he is not permitted to do such and such, it will not be long after you leave his presence and he will be doing exactly that. In fallen man the commandment awakens the desire (lust) to do what is forbidden (Rom. 7:5, 8-13).
What does the law expose or reveal? This is a good question. The law exposes the presence of sin in man. This does not refer to the acts of sin, but the ever presence of the sin nature in man in Adam. By the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). The law reveals the presence of the sin nature in man by it being activated and its fruits (sins) being multiplied. This is clearly taught in the following passage:
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
So the sin nature is dwelling in man. It is what Adam brought into the world and passed on to every man (Rom. 5:12). It is not the man, but it is a nature existing in him, and the law exposes the presence of it. This also sufficiently answers the question: Why is the law said to be the strength of sin? The law effectively enables sin by waking it up with all its passions and desires.
Now here is the realization of greatest importance in our entire discussion. It is the understanding and emphasis that is greatly missing from law-teaching and theological systems. And it is divine knowledge you need to have in order to rightly divide the word of truth. As we have said, by the law God tested man in Adam by Israel being the test case. God was testing man in the flesh in the principle of human responsibility. He was looking for the fruit of obedience, but more specifically, by the perfection of the law looking for the fruit of human righteousness (Phil. 3:9). Israel, the most privileged nation of all on the earth, miserably failed the testing. No man could do the law, and certainly the nation, as the planted vineyard of God, couldn’t collectively bring forth fruit pleasing to Him (Is. 5:1-7).
What did God prove by giving the law to Israel? The utter depravity of man in Adam. God tested and God proved the miserable condition of man in the flesh. This is the great realization and lesson to be learned. By the law being given to the Jews, God goes to great lengths to make His point known – 1500 years of Israeli history. Has man learned the lesson? The Jews as a whole never did, as this passage shows: “…but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.” (Rom. 9:31-32) Has Christendom learned the lesson? Not when you consider all her Judaizing and Arminian teachings – the religion of humanism; human effort, human intelligence, human attainment – all about what we are for God. The confidences of the flesh certainly can have a religious flavor (Phil. 3:1-9).
Beyond the law there was one more test for the Jews in their responsibility. It was man’s final exam so to speak. God would present the Messiah of promise and prophecy to Israel and see what they would do. We all know what the results were – they would not have Him as their King (John 19:14-15). Man’s state of utter depravity was then fully proven. Previously to this, while man was being tested, he was on probation. Now that the testing was finished, man is declared to be lost (Luke 19:10), and God condemns the entire world (John 12:31).
The law was primary in God’s testing man in the principle of human responsibility. The fact that God tested man, to fully reveal what man was in his state as fallen and departed from God, is a critical point to see. Fully comprehending the results of the testing, with all related consequences and outcomes associated with human depravity, is essential to any sound doctrine and teaching. And this is where the ball is dropped, and man returns to his humanistic thoughts and ways. These points are so critical for Christian understanding, that the following post after this one will address God’s testing of responsibility in greater detail.
What does it mean to be under the law? This is a relatively easy one. Being under the law means Judaism is your religion. You endeavor to keep the law as best you can, and practice Judaism. All those under the law are also all those of the works of the law (Gal. 3:10). Therefore, all those of Judaism are under a curse. This is the simple teaching of the Scriptures.
Allow me to speak frankly about the “practice” of the law. Starting at Mt. Sinai Israel practiced their religion. They did so in the wilderness and then in the land. Eventually the practice transitioned from a tabernacle to Solomon’s temple. But this all changed when the city and temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. Important to realize is that at this time the glory and presence of Jehovah departs the temple and the earth, returning to heaven. The ark of the covenant, the throne of God, is lost forever. Effectively the practice of the law ends with Israel’s captivity. The glory and presence of Jehovah, in its outward manifested expression, has never returned to Israel or the earth. It never returned behind the veil, nor did the throne. We can talk of the Jews “practicing” their law and religion all we want, but the biblical reality is that the true practice was ended at the time of their captivity. It was no longer possible for Israel to practice the law.
I’m sure there will be many that would love to argue with me about this point. Yet it simply is a fact and biblical truth found in Scripture and in the history of Israel. There was never any glory or presence of Jehovah in Nehemiah’s rebuilt temple. If God’s manifested presence and throne returned to heaven, how would you argue that their worship and practice was essentially the same? At this time were they closer to God? No, God was farther away from them. Was Jehovah dwelling in the midst of Israel any longer? No, His manifested presence was back in heaven. In truth, at the time of their captivity Israel was set aside by God concerning the principle of government of the earth. He says to them, “…you are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hos. 1:9) (Please remember that law is the basis of God’s government of the earth)
Why is the law a ministration of death and condemnation? If there is a curse for all those of the works of the law, then such judgment results in condemnation and death. If a man stands before God based on his own responsibility, based on his own works, it cannot result in anything other than condemnation and death (II Cor. 3:7, 9). The law is the business of human responsibility. The principle of the law, its basis of operation, is human responsibility. The only end can be condemnation and death, and to complete the results add to this the wrath of God.
Why is the law said to not be of faith? Because it has nothing to do with the things of faith. Faith is always coupled with the principle of grace (Rom. 4:16). The principle of the law is human responsibility – human effort and attainment. How far is this from grace? It is the polar opposite principle (Gal. 3:12). Faith is believing God’s word and promises (Rom. 4:20-21). Faith is the substance of the hopes that the promises create, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Faith is trusting in God to be faithful to fulfill His promises. Faith is not trusting in human will or effort.
Is the law a walk by faith or a walk by sight? The law is a walk by sight and fleshly senses. And here Judaism is in contrast with Christianity. The believer has a walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7). The true Christian sees the unseen with the eye of faith (II Cor. 4:18). But the law is following a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. It is having a beautiful ornate temple that is pleasing to the eye, with all its particular furnishings. It is external washings of feet and hands, fleshly ordinances and rituals, the spilling of blood and the offering of animal sacrifices. It is the lighting of candles and burning of incense, the blowing of horns and waving of flags. It is the religion adapted for man in the flesh. It is God’s religion for man in the world. “For Jews request a sign” – it couldn’t be any more descriptive of a walk by sight than this (I Cor. 1:22, John 2:18, 4:38, 6:30).
Is there redemption by the law or through the law? Redemption is not possible by the law. Israel was passed over by the avenging angel, the lamb’s blood being on the lintel and doorposts (Ex. 12:23). They were delivered through the Red Sea on dry ground. They were redeemed out of Egypt by the sovereign power and work of God (Deut. 7:8, 9:6, I Chron. 17:21). They were brought by Jehovah to Mt. Sinai on eagle wings – He bore them and brought them to Himself (Ex.19:4). It is only then that Israel agreed to the covenant of law (Ex. 19:5-8). Israel’s redemption, all in the flesh and external, was not through any law. Their redemption was by the sovereign power of God.
The truth is the law has no power to redeem. The law demands and requires of man many things. It is the perfect measure of what man should be before a holy God. But it is feeble and weak – as commandments, a covenant, and religion – because it has no power to solve man’s condition (Rom. 8:3, Heb. 8:7, John 5:7 -in type). The law demands, but never gives anything. “For if there had been a law given which could had given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” (Gal. 3:21) “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “The just shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3:11) These two verses should be able to satisfy anybody’s thoughts about redemption through the law. To be crystal clear – there isn’t salvation, or justification, or life, or righteousness by any way you may apply the law. Only the curse comes through the law – condemnation, death, and wrath.
Is there forgiveness of sins through the law? A goat has no actual ability to carry away sins. Nor does the blood of any animal give forgiveness. The law was the strength of sin, awakening the sin nature to its full production of fruit – sins. The law allows sin to abound more and more. This is the opposite from forgiveness. During the time of the law God was overlooking and forbearing the sins of the Old Testament saints: “…to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.”
We should know that under the law there wasn’t forgiveness of sins – it is the reason why the priests, doing the service of the earthly tabernacle, never sat down. They couldn’t sit down because sins were never dealt with. Sins were always present. There was always another sacrifice to be made. Because sins were constantly present, guilt was ever present. There was always a consciousness of sins. Under the law there never was a perfected conscience:
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”
Has the law passed away as a covenant? The covenant of law is the first covenant Jehovah made with Israel.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…..13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The first covenant , being obsolete, has ended. This took place in an official manner when the Romans destroyed the city and temple in 70 AD. The book of Hebrews served to be a warning to Judaen believers of this impending judgment. They were encouraged by strong warnings to come to Christ outside the camp of Judaism (Heb. 13:13).
Why is this the only covenant God ever gave to man that has ended? Of all the covenants God ever made, only one was the basis for God’s testing of man in the flesh in the principle of responsibility – that was the covenant of law at Sinai. It was made with Israel. It is the essence of Judaism. It is referred to above as Israel’s “first covenant.” It is a covenant that has ended. When God came to the fig tree looking for fruit, He found none. He cursed the tree saying, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” The testing came to an end (Matt. 21:18-19). Human responsibility could not justify or give life. God had thoroughly proved man’s utter depravity. Then He brings in the solution for man’s condition by the cross. What is the solution? Sovereign grace. When grace through faith showed up in Jesus Christ, the schoolmaster was no longer needed (Gal. 3:22-25). “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.” (Gal. 3:19) When the Seed showed up, the law lost its purpose as a covenant.
It is significant that this particular covenant has passed away. It is the only covenant that God makes that will ever do this. You must see the connection between God completing His testing of man in human responsibility, looking for fruit and finding none, and this covenant becoming obsolete and passing away (Heb. 8:7, 13). This is the great teaching point: Of all the covenants God made, this one alone has ended. This clearly shows that human responsibility, on its own, can never sustain anything. Israel, though highly favored, produced no fruit – only failure.
As a covenant, why did the law have a mediator, while Abraham’s did not? The law was a covenant that involved human responsibility, while Abraham’s covenant was unconditional. Whenever man’s side of a covenant is responsibility, there will always be a mediator, because there will always be failure by man in Adam, man in the flesh. Moses was the mediator of Israel’s first covenant with Jehovah (Gal. 3:19). Jesus is the mediator of Israel’s second and new covenant (Heb. 8:6-10). When the remnant of Israel is planted in the land during the coming millennium, Jehovah will put His laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. This is not the finger of God writing on external tablets of stone. And while Moses was faithful in his mediation, Israel will have a far better and more excellent Mediator than him.
Also note: the law, which is the religion of Judaism, is the basis for God’s government of the millennial earth. It will be written on the hearts and minds of the chosen Jewish remnant and all their children (Jer. 31:31-34). This will be the new covenant Jehovah will make with Israel for the millennium. Jesus Christ will rule over a restored Israel as their Prince and Messiah, issuing judgments in righteousness from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem (Jer. 33:15, Ps. 9:1-20, 45:6-7, 67:4-7, 72:1-11, 97:1-6, 99:1-5). You see, the law is God’s religion of the earth and for man in Adam, man in the flesh. The law was always the standard and requirement of human righteousness before a holy God, and therefore always the basis of God’s government of man on the earth. This is human righteousness and man in Adam; it is not the righteousness of God, nor is it the believer in Christ, the second Adam. But the law, as opposed to grace, will be the basis of God’s direct government of the world and earth during the coming millennium, when Jesus, the Son of Man rules from His own earthly throne in Jerusalem.
The millennium is not a perfect state, nor is it an eternal state. Speaking of Jesus the scriptures say concerning this period of time, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” (I Cor. 15:25) And again, “You will break them with a rod of iron; You will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Ps. 2:9, 110:5-6) It is Israel that has the new covenant; it is not the Gentile nations that have it. Israel will have a new temple. Their Prince and Messiah will be in that temple (Ez. 44:1-3). The glory of Jehovah will return to the earth and to this temple, entering in by the east gate (Ez. 43:1-5). Yet this gate will always remain shut and no man will be permitted to enter by it. The animal sacrifices they will offer will not be mere memorials. They will have a Levitical priesthood – the purpose of priesthood is always because others cannot approach God; the people of Israel, who are not of the priesthood, do not have access. They will need a priest to stand between Jehovah and themselves, while they remain a certain distance away. What Israel will keep as a covenant is the law written on their hearts and minds. What they will practice is Judaism.
Does the law give life? “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” (Gal. 3:21) There are three things in general that the law could not do. It could not give eternal life. It could not give any power or strength for anything. And finally, of great importance to our souls, the law does not give an object for faith – the law is not of faith, remember? “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) In Christianity, Jesus Christ the Son of God is the object of faith. During the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven in mystery, for those of faith, Jesus is our life and object hidden at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-4). So what the law could not do, and this was many things in its weaknesses, God would come in through the cross and do it all (please read Rom. 8:3)
Does the law reveal the love of God for us? The law requires of man what his love for God should be, and then, how he should love his neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). The founding principle of the law is human responsibility – what man can do and what man can be for God. The law never reveals God’s love for us. The law never had any strength or power to change man out of the miserable state he fell into in Adam. All the law could do was condemn, because no man could keep the law. By the law we know God as a Judge. Remember this: God’s love is revealed to us in the cross; it is not revealed in the law.
Therefore having said all the above concerning the law, we have the following passage to fully consider:
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”