Old Testament Survey
Three weeks felt like three months; time took on a whole new meaning. The walls were an impenetrable fortress. Tick tock, tick tock. When will it end? Juvenile Detention was a nightmare. He hated it. Freedom was the only solution. And, eventually, that freedom did arrive. But guess what this young man does? The same thing as before: he breaks the law. Tick tock… the consequences were the same too. The law was a revolving door into hell. I know this, because the young man was me.
Exodus 24:12: “The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”
The white bricks are engraved on my mind. “What I did” to deserve punishment is crystal clear. What the law says, how I am to obey, and the consequences if I don’t, are understood. To the degree that the law examined me, I examined it. The more I understood the law, the heavier it’s obligation. I hope to pass on the prescription of God’s Law, minus the painful punishments.
What Is The Law? Definition and Types
The Law: heb. Torah (feminine noun) Instruction; Teaching. Etymology: “Yarah,” verb; various tenses; to throw, shoot, cast, pour. To put in place.
The Commandment (mitsvah): various commandments; of men, God, priests
Foreign Policy Law: (Ex.24:39)
Sacrificial Law: (Lev. 1-7)
Dietary Law: (Lev. 11:46)
Medical Law: (Lev. 14:2; Lev. 13:58, 15:32)
Domestic Dispute Law: (Num. 5:29)
Atonement Law: (Num. 19:2)
Executive Law: (Deut. 17:18-19)
Marriage Law: Lev. 18:15
(Civil, Criminal, Etc.)
Classifications of the Law
You must… Do not… (No exceptions).
Example: “Thou shall not steal” (Ex. 20). The command is simple, but certain; it is personal, yet universal. Like a large pillar that supports a structure, this law is big, heavy, and impossible to break down. No one in their right mind would say that a pillar is flexible.
The applications of the Apodictic Law. The but; the so then; the if; the however of God’s Law.
Applications of the apodictic commands. They’re kind of like the fine print: Thou shall not steal bags of fruit from your neighbors orchard, but it’s okay to eat a few pieces while you’re passing through. Thou shall not steal, so then, if your neighbor is hungry, share with him. Circumstances create applications of the apodictic law. These applications, form case law. God’s moral law extended beyond the Ten Commandments, giving Israel civil and judicial codes of conduct for every circumstance in every day life.
Israel’s government was a theocracy. And God governed them through The Law. Moses was His ambassador. Nevertheless, it was a tangible system of government and worship. People had jobs. Children went to school. Your neighbor was a foreign policy officer, or a home inspections worker for diseases, and so on.
We will examine the purpose of the Old Testament law for Jew and its application for the New Testament Christian today.
The Law reveals God’s holiness and his will for us to be holy
Deuteronomy 4:6-7: Keep them and do them (the laws), for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Turn off every light in your house. Now, switch just one of them on. Can you see what happened? Now, imagine a cave. A climber dangles from a rope two hundred feet below. His lights go out. Suddenly, its pitch black. In his bag there’s a box off matches. He reaches for them, soon striking a match. In a moment, there’s light. Not much, but this small match overcomes a whole lot of darkness.
After four hundred years in slavery, God delivered Israel. He remembered the covenant that He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 2:24). Israel was engulfed in the darkness of the nations long enough. It was time to light a candle. So He gave them His law: “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 105:15). Problem is, the way was narrow.
This is the point: as God is perfect, so is His law (Ps. 19:7-9). King David would agree, and so he says, “I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Ps. 119:96). He couldn’t find a limit to the law’s perfection. Though, in life, he had discovered many: Goliath, the Philistine’s fiercest warrior was dead. Saul could have won a People’s Choice Award for his handsomeness, but his subjects sang higher praises to a short shepherd boy with red hair and freckles. Asahel was faster than Mighty Mouse, but he could dodge a spear even with ample warning. Abner, Israel’s military commander, was killed by one man in his own backyard. David witnessed all of these reach their maximum potential. But never God’s law. It’s perfection is infinite. It made David wiser than his enemies and gave him more understanding than his teachers (Ps. 119:98-99). So was the law unto Israel.
Sadly, though, the nations only saw God’s people, not God. Recognize again what the nations say when they observe Israel. (The only thing the nations are saying is the portion in parentheses), ‘surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ (Deut. 4:6 ESV). In verse seven, Moses is referring to what Israel would see and say. The nations observed a great gulf that separated Israel from them, yes. The moral, civil, and ceremonial laws of Israel were complex, detailed, precise, absolute, and pure in the most intriguing way. But Israel saw God’s holiness; that He is separate. The law distinguished Israel, but the Lord is The Distinguished One. Therefore, reverence was due to God from a grateful heart. Just as God drew near to Abraham in the promise. He drew near unto Israel the same: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6-8).
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). The same command that was given to Israel is given to us, be holy, for I am Holy (1 Pet. 1:16). However, the law was insufficient. It could not accomplish an actual sanctification. For this reason, God gave us Jesus: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). As we look at the life of Jesus, we see The Holy One of God (Jn. 6:69).
We too “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). God’s purposes haven’t changed. We were separated from our mothers womb by God, separated from the world by Christ, separated for Christ by God, and are seated with Him in heavenly places (Rom. 1:6; Gal. 1:15, 5:24; Eph. 1:3-5, 2:1-22; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 13:12-13).
Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11). On the cross, His righteousness is displayed for the world to see. For how could a gracious and merciful God not atone for the sins of his loved ones, yet remain righteous? He didn’t owe us anything; He remained true to His character. He is just, and the justifier of all who come to Him through faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31).
The Law manifests the nature of sin and increases the sinfulness of it
Romans 7:13: “Did that which is good (the law), then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”
The law intensifies the accountability of the one who knows it. The ESV says, [that it is] sinful beyond measure. There’s no scale big enough to weigh our sin, nor a ruler long enough to measure its evil. The law made a horror show of sin. The beauty of the law revealed how monstrous sin actually is. Not only did the law condemn the world, it super-condemned the Jew. Speaking to the them, Paul said, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Rom. 2:23).
But not only does the knowledge of God’s law intensify the wrongfulness of sin, the sinful appetites war against it, craving more sin. “Do not touch, do not taste.” These commands were a test. The Jew was God’s first test case. When He said no, they said, I don’t care. What were the test results? You are a nation of Rebels (Eze. 2:3). Your judges love the darkness (Ps. 82:5). They turned sin into a game of hide and go seek with the lights out. It seemed fun and harmless. But as history shows us, it’s not a game. We cannot hide from God (Heb. 4:13); and our sin will find us out (Num. 32:23).
The Old Testament commands revealed our true nature: we are totally depraved. As with the dietary laws, Jesus rightly interpreted their function: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt. 15:11). Nothing, in its original state, is unclean (Rom. 14:14a; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). When God created the world, He saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). These dietary laws were childlike lessons (Gal. 4:1-3; Col. 2:20-22). God was teaching them that there is such a thing as uncleanliness. And what the law reveals, as we break it, is that we are unclean.
Because we are defiled from within, everything we touch gets dirty (Tit. 1:15). We take God’s good creation and invent all kinds of evil uses for it (Rom. 1:30). We defecate disobedience on God’s good earth. God’s law says, honor the sabbath and keep it holy.” We crap on the sabbath as we pursue a love for money on His holy day. His law says, “do not bear false witness.” We spit feces on our neighbor when we speak evil of them behind their back. The law says, “have no idols.” We lust for them over fires burning with dung. God’s laws manifests this truth: “our righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Why? Because we are unrighteousness. And listen closely now! “Do not be deceived, the unrighteousness will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9).
It may surprise you too, God wanted it this way. But why? (Rom. 9:17-26, 11:30-32)
• To manifest His glory in the execution of His justice to those who breaks the law
• To manifest His glory in the super-abundance of His mercy and grace to those who belong to Jesus
“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32).
If only to condemn us, why would God tell us that we will be His people. How could this God of justice who condemns sin, be so loving as to call us His people. It had to do with a promise. From one great promise, flows many others. And the law only makes sense in light of this.
Q. What was the promise to Abraham?
A. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. (Gen. 12:3b)
Q. What is the blessing?
A. “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!” (Gen. 65:4)
Q. To whom is the promise given?
A. “The seed of Abraham” (Gen. 12:7, 13:15-6, 15:8, 17:7-8, 21:12, 22:17-18)
Q.. Who is the seed of Abraham?
A. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ’” (Gal. 3:16)
God made a promise to Jesus: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession”(Ps.2:8). The world is the inheritance of Christ. He is the seed of Abraham. The promise was to Him. And Him alone. Therefore, in Him, we share in the same. He is our inheritance, and we are His.
These promises are found even with the Law of Moses. That He will be our God, and we His people. Yes, there were added stipulations. But even those, God promised to fulfill. He commanded obedience, yet promised to cause our hearts to obey (Eze.11:19; Heb.8:7-12). The law was put in place because of transgression, but it didn’t take the place of transgression. The law was weak in the flesh (Rom. 8). It had no power to overrule the governing desires of our heart. But Jesus does.
So, the law functioned to set apart the people of God. But how did dietary laws and civil codes manifest the holiness of God? Let me use this example: If you wear shoes, but I always wear sandals, the difference will stand out. It distinguishes us from one another. To this end, God forbid the consumption of things like pork or shrimp; and put strict orders in place when handling things like poop or a corpse. Just as there is nothing sinful in always wearing sandals –though it may be odd –there is no sin found within these objects, but the act of doing that which God forbids is. This goes all the way back to the garden and the forbidden fruit. Therefore, lets not complicate things. God is Simplistic. And He desired to teach us subjective lessons, using objective means: that, just as the law which came from Him is unlike any other, He is unlike any other. There is no other God than the God of Israel.
These laws were for Israel’s protection and blessing too: Dietary and hygiene laws minimized illness. Civil codes established peace and fairness. His warnings were to keep them on the “straight and narrow”. His promises were to stir faith and prosper them. These laws were not as much of a burden as we would like to think. They were a blessing.
What about the Ceremonial Law?
The priestly and sacrificial ordinances foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ. As the priests were required to wear beautiful apparel when entering the tabernacle of God, Christ entered into the throne room of God Himself. His sinless life is attractive to God; the perfection of beauty. The apple of His eye.
Animal sacrifices were oblations and offerings as the Lord required. These sacrifices foreshadowed Christ. God’s eternal plan was to redeem His people. The Son of God cast the shadow of the cross on the law. He was hidden with God, but His work of atonement was revealed in the law. He offered up Himself, endured the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. On this basis, He reconciled sinners to God. He gained access for us who have trusted in Him alone to approach the throne of grace. His is the propitiation for our sins. He redeemed us from the curse of the law. He justified us before a holy God. And He sanctified us through the blood of the covenant.
To Foreshadow Jesus
Below is an overview of the Old Testament offerings…
Burnt Offering (Propitiation): Just as the burnt offering was wholly consumed in the fire on the altar, Jesus became the propitiation for our sins, appeasing the wrath of God against us (Lev. 1; 1 Jn. 2:3).
Sin Offering (Justification): Just as the sin offering’s fat and kidneys were burned on the altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle, Jesus offered up His spirit to God in death. As the carcass of the sin offering was burned outside the camp of Israel, Jesus was crucified outside the gate of the city (Lev. 4; Lk. 23:46; Heb. 13:11-12).
Peace Offering: (Reconciliation): As the shoulder and breast of the peace offering were given to the offerer, Jesus gave us a new heart and spirit, and through Him we have fellowship with God (Lev. 3; Heb. 9:14-15).
Trespass Offering (Redemption): As the offerer of the trespass offering had to restore debts and add a fifth to it, Jesus paid our sin debt, in full. He even added a positive credit to our account. He reckoned His righteousness unto us, making peace with God (Lev. 7; Rom. 3:22, 5:1, 19). Jesus is our High Priest. He entered into the throne room of God with His own blood, obtaining for us an eternal redemption.
Grain Offering (Sanctification): His life is the only example of what it means to keep the law without error. He is our unleavened food offering, made with the finest of flour and olive oil, covered in frankincense (Lev. 2). He never sinned (1 Pet. 2:22); is purely righteous (Acts 3:14); conceived by, anointed by, and full of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18; Lk. 3:22, 4:1). The voluntary offering of Himself is a pleasing aroma before the Lord (Heb. 10:5, 10).
How does The Law apply to a New Testament Christian?
Gal.3:24: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”
In the New Testament, the word “Law” is the Greek word nomos. The Old Testament uses a variety of words to distinguish key features of the law, but the New Testament does no such thing. It could be, that the Lord did this intentionally. That in hindsight, the laws of Moses are still The Law (singular). God made certain that the contrast is clear. The law served a purpose, and still does. But Jesus is the real thing. He is the Word of God. The Lord told us what to do, but only Jesus has the power to show us how. So, both Christ and Law remain beneficial. The Law warns when we are getting off the path; then Jesus calls to us and tells us how to get back on. So, the law is still good and useful as a tool in your belt.
Though the same Greek word is used for law throughout the New Testament, there still remains obvious distinctions in the kinds of law. It is clear, that the sacrificial system was fulfilled by Christ. As well, the dietary restrictions are no longer enforced. The dietary law is dead. The purpose of those laws were completed with Christ’ teaching on them. And, the Law of Liberty promotes the thankful enjoyment of all things in the sight of God.
Also, we are not a theocracy. Nor are we “national” Israel. The civil codes were for their society. However, they are not dead. And, we too have become members of God’s family through faith. We are Spiritual Israel. These laws are bright with examples of what to in a variety of situations. How to handle lost property, how to care for animals, ownership rights, property protection rights, etc. These laws still carry over in principle. They are casuistic laws that have literal applications for today.
Most of all, the law taught us that we need a Savior. That we need someone to live a sinless life, and die an atoning death. Jesus did this for us. In life, He defeated the power of sin. In death, He took the penalty of it. In His resurrection, He conquered the grave. Descending from heaven to earth, He is God with us; ascending to heaven, He gained access to God. Through Him, we’ve gained access too.
Every father wants an obedient son; but every disobedient son wants a forgiving father. Is it possible to have both? If not, the implications are devastating. What if God demanded obedience to the His law, but didn’t really have good thoughts towards us? What if, when God told us to obey, His chief end was our punishment –knowing in advance that we will not obey?
Do you ever think this way of God? No!? I know I have. Maybe not along those same lines. But I’ve certainly had clouded perspectives of God’s nature, and the purpose of His Law. I’ve even used scripture to justify it… It looks like this: I commit the same sin that I’ve tried to stop sinning. Now, how do I approach God when this occur’s? Like this: instead of fleeing for refuge in Christ, at my Father’s throne of grace, I crawl on my hands and knees to a throne of Judgement. I fear God’s destruction.
When doing this, my thinking proceeds as follows… God hates sin. Yes. God even hates my sin. True. And, He will eventually destroy it. What’s comforting, is that I agree with these thoughts and welcome them. I hope in the glory of God. However, if I do not fill my mind with truth concerning Christ, and His promise, I fall victim to a fear: when God gets rid of my sin, will He cast me out too? I fear he will not accept me because I keep breaking the law. Nine times out of ten, this patten of thinking occurs after I sin the same sin.
But I love God. And I want my Father’s forgiveness. So, I don’t hide from Him. But, as I stated above: “instead of fleeing for refuge in Christ, at my Father’s throne of grace, I crawl on my hands and knees to a throne of Judgement.” I plead with Him, “God, don’t destroy me! Will the dead praise Thee?”
But, when all of this is said and done, I know this to be true: that the love of God has been shed abroad in my heart. He did this. His love for me, and in me, is the surest evidence of my inheritance in Christ. He wills for me to behold His face, forever. I will look into the eyes of One who’s love towards me is perfect. He sees all of me. And I long to see more of Him. At times, it’s as if my soul could implode from the immensity of His love for me. Me? Forever? Here come the doubts again…
God’s not “out to get you”. Christ paid for your sin, in full, before you were born. Before your first breath, His grace provided for your every need, leading Him to that tree. He did this because of His love. He loves you today; He loved you on the cross; and He loved you before time began.
Coming full circle now, as to our question: how does the Old Testament Law apply to Christians today? A good answer: it opens our eyes to the depravity within us. Only then, could we see the immensity of His love, which is found in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, God loves you with an everlasting, perfect, and unfailing love. He gave me His Word: “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s a promise!
Jonathan Michael Dean
Old Testament Survey
1. Bible quotes from ESV
2. Greek and Hebrew Lexicon
3. BLB Interlinear/Concordance
4. Strong’s Concordance
5. Cr. Wikipedia Dict.
6. Cr. Legal Dict.