The Law of the Lord

"Old Testament Law"
The Law Given for Israel's Good

Daniel R. Vess


While the Israelites were assembled at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1) God delivered through Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1f). Moses was the Lawgiver. He received the Law from God and delivered it to the children of Israel. Even before the words of the Law had been put down in writing the Jews promised Moses, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." (Ex. 24:3). In the second giving of the Law, Moses clearly states that the covenant was not made with the Gentiles or even with the Israelites' forefathers, but only with the nation of Israel whom God had led out of Egyptian bondage.

"And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: 'Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive" (Deut. 5:1-3).

The Old Testament law was given to a specific group of people, the Jews and was never said to have been given to anyone else. The Law was never designed for Gentiles or even Christians. Where is the Scripture that shows this covenant was made with anyone else?

The Law was intended to be a great blessing of good to the nation.

"And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? ... And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us" (Deut. 4:8; 6:24,25).

The Law Was Not Good for Saving from Sin

Notice in Deuteronomy 6:25 that the Law was good for them conditioned upon their willingness to carefully observe "All these commandments". If one sinned and violated the covenant he could not be justified by the Law. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith'" (Gal. 3:10,11). Those who seek justification via law are under a curse, the curse of demanded perfection.

It was for this very reason Jeremiah prophesied that the law would come to an end being replaced by a better covenant. The Hebrew writer quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 as being fulfilled. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 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--'" (Heb. 8:7,8). If the Jews had kept the Law of Moses perfectly there would not have been a need for a better covenant. This fault was not with God or the Law itself, but with those to whom the Law was given. They did not keep the commandments of the covenant. This fault could only find correction in Christ's sacrifice and leadership.

The Law Was a Good Schoolmaster for the Jews

Since the Law of Moses is to be replaced by a better covenant and that it could not save from sin "What purpose then does the law serve?" (Gal. 3:19). In verse 24 Paul answers his own question, "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith".

The term for "tutor" is also translated "schoolmaster" from the Greek word "paedagogus". This term does not have an exact equivalent in the English language. The pedagogue, an old trusted slave was selected to accompany minor children of noble families in Rome and Greece. These competent custodians were highly esteemed by parents, and children were required to respect them. A "schoolmaster" was not the teacher, but one who saw to it that the child was escorted to the teacher. He was a guardian who was responsible for the well-being of the student. Having been given the general care and duty of looking after the child in his play hours. He was responsible for teaching the fundamentals.

Certain legal limitations applied to immature heirs, thus the need for a pedagogue. While a child, the tutor is useful and necessary, but when the child becomes a grown man the pedagogue will be a hindrance. Likewise, the Law's purpose was important, but preparatory, to prepare for faith in Christ. So to return to the Law was to regress to childhood and relinquishing all rights, freedom and privileges found in adulthood. The Law is here represented, not so much as one who conducts one to the Teacher, but to the Savior of their sin. The purpose of the Law was to bring men to Christ. When the purpose had been accomplished, this relationship with the Law had no reason for existence (Gal. 3:25).

Five times in the Galatian letter Paul used the phrase "under the law" (Gal. 3:23; 4:4; 5; 4:21; 5:18) showing the idea of the Jews being in subjection and under a limitation with the Law, their schoolmaster. Now we are "under law to Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21).

As a schoolmaster the Law did several good things for the Jews:

The Law identified the sinfulness of sin. Although sin existed before the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses showed the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. ... What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'... 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" (Rom. 3:20; 7:7; 12,13).

The law was devised to make them cognizant of sin, what was sin, and to keep them from sin.

The Law provided a perfect moral code. God is Holy. His children, the Israelites were to be holy (Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2,3; 20:7,8). The law was the way of righteousness (Ps. 119). Holiness was maintained by being in harmony with God's Will. It is when men break Hislaws that they are defiled.

The Law fulfilled the seed promise to Abraham. Again Paul asks, "Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not!..." (Gal. 3:21). God had promised Abraham that of his descendants one would come to bless the whole world (Gen. 12:3). Christ is the promised seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). The Old Covenant served the purpose of keeping Abraham's seed a separate and distinct race until Christ, the promised seed, came.

The Law pointed to the coming Messiah. In Deuteronomy 18:17-18 Moses prophesied of a prophet to come who would be like him. Peter proclaimed that Jesus was that prophet (Ac. 3:22,23). Jesus quoted often from the Old Testament to prove His deity (Lk. 4:17-21; Jn. 5:39).

Considering the mass of detailed prophecies about Christ the Jews were without excuses for not accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the Promised One.

The Law foreshadowed the better things to come (Heb. 10:1f). Both the tabernacle and the temple are types of the church. The sacrificial lamb is typical of the Christ, the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29). Moses, as already noted, was a type of Christ.

The Law Is Not Good This Side of the Cross

Many well-meaning people find themselves struggling today trying to live under two different laws (the Old and New Testaments). Just about every denomination will run to the Law of Moses to justify a particular religious practice, such as, keeping the Ten Commandments,

Sabbath day observance, refusal to eat pork, the burning of incense, tithing (Lev. 27:30-32), use of instrumental music in worship (2 Ch. 29:25), a separate priesthood, etc.

The Law of Moses ceased to be valid for even the Jews when Christ died nailing it to the cross. No man can now judge us in regard to the keeping of the requirements of the Law which were "a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:14-17).

When false teachers were trying to force Gentile Christians to keep the Law of Moses, Paul warned those who may be tempted to return to the Law: "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). If the Law could not justify the Jews, why would any one desire to seek to live under it today? Only the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation both for Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). The middle wall of partition separating both Jews and Gentiles has been torn down making both one in Christ (Eph. 2:14f).

The Law is Good for Our Learning

Two extreme views exist with regard to the Law. Some contend that the Old Testament is valid for all people today. On the other side of this extreme are those to claim that the Old Testament is of no value to us today. While preaching in Florida a brother criticized my preaching because of several references to the Old Testament scriptures. He actually contended that all New Testament Christians must use Bibles which only contained the 27 books of the New Testament. However, to say that the Old Law is no longer valid is not the same as saying it is of no value. The following passages declare the value of the Old Testament for New Testament Christians. (Note, all emphasis mine, DRV).

"For whatever things were written before were written or our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have HOPE" (Rom.15:4).

"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come." (1 Cor. 10:11).

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," (2 Tim. 3:16).

"For the law, having a shadow of good things to come,..." (Heb. 10:1).

It is hard to imagine trying to teach the lost without making reference to the old Law. Philip began with Isaiah 53 to teach the Ethiopian Eunuch about Christ (Acts 8:26f). The Apostle Paul made constant reference to the Law of Moses while teaching and preaching. This he did even while under house arrest in Rome. "So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening" (Acts 28:23). Today, while Christians strive to teach the Gospel to those in denominations or those who are atheists the Old Testament scriptures prove indispensable.

The Law of Moses was and is good. All things given by God are good (Js. 1:17). He did not make an evil covenant full of flaws and imperfections. Christ Himself did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill the Messianic prophecies and to fulfill it by keeping the Law perfectly (Mt. 5:17,18). True, the Old Testament is not valid for Christians today, but that does not mean it is of no value to New Testament Christians. Thank God for all of the inspired scriptures!


e-mail this author at drvess@juno.com

Return to Watchman Front Page

return to March 1999 index