Friday, June 3, 2011

I Am the Law

God gave His Law, recognized as 613 laws, decrees, commands, rules, precepts, instructions, regulations, statutes, and stipulations, to the Israelites after their Exodus from Egyptian slavery, before they entered the Promised Land.

That is worth repeating. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God gave them His Law, and He expected it to be obeyed to the letter. It would seem that the Promise was tied to obedience, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. In this very detailed study, we will review God's opinion of His Law.

I Am the Law
The Old Testament authors also had a lot to say about God and His Law. While most Christians are at least somewhat familiar with the New Testament teachings on the Law, scarcely few have examined God's foundational perspective of the Law found in the Old Testament. A good place to start such a study is Psalm 119, but let us go deeper into God's word in the Old Testament, asking some very important questions:

What is the purpose of the Law?
Does the Law reflect God?
Will the Law ever change?
How long will the Law be in effect?
Does the entire Law need to be obeyed?
Is it possible to obey the Law?
What if you do not obey the Law perfectly?
If you obey God's Law, will you live?
What worldly influence does God expect the Law to have?
What is the connection between the Law and the covenant of an eternal Kingdom?
Can you summarize all of this information concisely?

Exodus 18:20
Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. NIV
What is the purpose of the Law?
We do not have to guess the purpose of the Law. God has two reasons spelled out for us.

First, Deuteronomy 4:5-8 states that this Law will show other nations the wisdom of God, thereby demonstrating that the Israelites worship the one true God.

Second, Deuteronomy 6:20-25 explicitly states that the meaning of the Law is for the Israelites to obey it in order to prosper in the Promised Land. Such obedience will be righteousness.

As Psalm 105:42-45 renders it, the whole point of the Egyptian Exodus and inheritance of the Promised Land was “that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.”

Deuteronomy 32:4
He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He. NIV
Does the Law reflect God?
The Law is a work of God, which, by the verse above, is perfect, but is the Law a valid representation of God's character? Deuteronomy 12:28 makes it pretty clear:
Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God. NIV
In case there is still some doubt, consider that the Law has been described as just, right, good, perfect, trustworthy, wise, radiant, firm, righteous, great, glorious, and eternal (Nehemiah 9:13-14, Psalm 19:7-9, Isaiah 42:21, Psalm 119:160). These attributes all reflect God's Biblically labeled character. Furthermore, as we see in Deuteronomy 28:9:
The LORD will establish you as His holy people, as He promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him. NIV
obedience to the Law will permit the people to be holy.

Psalm 119:96
To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless. NIV
Will the Law ever change?
If the Law is perfect, we would never expect it to change. Indeed, Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and Deuteronomy 12:32 both say that nothing should be added to the Law, and nothing should be taken away from it either.

Psalm 119:160
All Your words are true; all Your righteous laws are eternal. NIV
How long will the Law be in effect?
God intends for His Law to be in effect forever (Psalm 119:152). It should be obeyed always (Deuteronomy 11:1). It is everlasting (Psalm 103:17-18), part of an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5).

Numbers 15:39-40
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all My commands and will be consecrated to your God. NIV
Does the entire Law need to be obeyed?
There are well over a hundred references to the call to obey God's Law. A subset of at least thirty-two of those commands specifically says to follow all of the Law; Exodus 15:26, Leviticus 19:37, Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 26:14-15, Numbers 15:39-40, Deuteronomy 5:29, Deuteronomy 5:31, Deuteronomy 6:20-25, Deuteronomy 11:8, Deuteronomy 11:22, Deuteronomy 11:32, Deuteronomy 12:28, Deuteronomy 13:18, Deuteronomy 15:5, Deuteronomy 17:18-20, Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 27:1, Deuteronomy 28:1, Deuteronomy 28:13-15, Deuteronomy 28:58, Deuteronomy 29:29, Deuteronomy 32:46, Joshua 1:7-8, Joshua 22:5-6, 1 Kings 6:12, 2 Kings 21:8, 2 Kings 23:24-25, 2 Chronicles 33:8, Nehemiah 10:28-29, Psalm 18:21-22, Ezekiel 18:19, and Ezekiel 18:21.

Take note that this is not simply obeying all of the Law in spirit. With the phase “all the words of this Law” found in Deuteronomy 17:18-20, Deuteronomy 28:58, Deuteronomy 29:29, and Deuteronomy 32:46, it is crystal clear that God is referring to obeying each and every meticulous detail in the Law. As we see in Deuteronomy 32:46:
[Moses] said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this Law.” NIV

Psalm 103:17-18
But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. NIV
Is it possible to obey the Law?
When you see how often God pleads for His people to obey the Law, there should be no doubt. Why would God tell His people to do something which they could not do? In fact, this opinion is explicitly given. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says this in respect to obeying the Law:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. NIV
God had given the Law to them, instructed that it be spoken about continuously (Deuteronomy 6:7-9), and placed the Law in their hearts so that it would not be too difficult to obey.

There is an entire book of the Bible devoted to a man who perfectly upheld the Law. His name is Joshua. Of course, there are several other references to such complete obedience too, such as Job 23:12 (Note: Some scholars suggest that Job lived prior to when the Law was given), Psalm 18:21-22, Psalm 99:7, and Psalm 119:44. As we see from 1 Kings 8:61 (and 1 Chronicles 28:7), it is not just individuals which could have complete obedience, but also the entire nation:
“And may your hearts be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by His decrees and obey His commands, as at this time.” NIV

Psalm 81:13-15
“If my people would only listen to Me, if Israel would only follow My ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes! Those who hate the LORD would cringe before Him, and their punishment would last forever.” NIV
What if you do not obey the Law perfectly?
Per the Bible, you did not have to obey the Law perfectly to be considered righteous. This is obvious both from the facts that not every transgression of the Law held the death penalty, and that there were several different atonement ceremonies which could be performed based on different transgressions. In a sense, in adhering to the punishment schedule and atonement rituals, the people were keeping the Law despite transgressions of the Law itself.

There are also shining examples of people who broke the Law, and yet were still considered righteous by God. In Numbers 20, Moses transgressed Leviticus 22:32, but God still thought Moses was righteous enough to speak with him face-to-face (Deuteronomy 34:10). In 2 Samuel 11-12, King David had committed adultery Bathsheba and then had her husband, Uriah, killed, yet 1 Kings 15:5 says this of him:
For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. NIV
and David's lineage was given the Kingdom as an inheritance (1 Kings 11:38).

It seems that God is willing to forgive past transgressions for those who are truly repentant. As Ezekiel 18:21 renders it:
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.” NIV
This repentant turn to God is allowed for individuals and nations, as we see from the example set by King Josiah in 2 Kings 23:24-25:
Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the Law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. NIV

Leviticus 18:5
Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. NIV
If you obey God's Law, will you live?
Leviticus 18:5, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, Deuteronomy 6:20-25, Nehemiah 9:29, Ezekiel 18:9, Ezekiel 18:17, Ezekiel 18:19, Ezekiel 18:21, Ezekiel 20:11, Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:21, and Ezekiel 33:15 all say that if you obey the Law you will live. Ezekiel 18:21 and Ezekiel 33:15 even go so far as to add that a person who obeys the Law will “not die.”

Live, and not die? Is eternal life granted by obeying God's Law? Not at all. You have to look at other verses within the Bible to get the entire perspective. Consider Deuteronomy 4:40
Keep His decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time. NIV
Speaking of “your children after you” means that you will die even while obeying the Law. So you will not live forever, but take a look at 1 Kings 3:14:
“and if you walk in obedience to Me and keep My decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” NIV
Obedience will grant you a long (not eternal) life. If you obey God's Law, you will live long, and you will not die prematurely. This is what it means to live by the Law, and not die, but that is not all.

Living a long time would not necessarily be a good thing, which is why God also promises blessings for you, your posterity, and your nation; habitation of the Promised Land, a peaceful life, and great prosperity were all gifts for obedience (Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 25:18, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, Deuteronomy 5:29, Deuteronomy 6:20-25, Deuteronomy 11:13-15, Deuteronomy 30:16, Joshua 1:7-8, 2 Chronicles 31:21, Isaiah 48:18-19).

According to Deuteronomy 17:18-20, kings who obeyed God's Law would be granted a ruling dynasty.

Deuteronomy 28:1
If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.
What worldly influence does God expect the Law to have?
Deuteronomy 4:5-6 gives us a hint at the influence God expected His Law to have:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” NIV
God's Law would show the surrounding nations how wise the Israelites were. From Deuteronomy 28:1-13, we can also see that obedience would not just grant the Israelites prosperity, but that God's blessing in return for obedience would make their nation the most prosperous nation in the entire world. It is from this perspective which we find Psalm 67:1-2 written:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine on us— so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. NIV
The blessings the Israelites had received would make all other nations envious and curious. These other nations would try to figure out what makes the Israelites so prosperous. They would discover that the Israelites worship God and follow His wise ways (obey His Law). Naturally, they would try to emulate this success, obeying God's Law, and being led to the one true God in the process. That is precisely why we see the prophesy in Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2 that:
Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.” The Law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. NIV

Psalm 132:12
If your sons keep My covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.” NIV
What is the connection between the Law and the covenant of an eternal Kingdom?
In Deuteronomy 4:40, we find some rather interesting text:
Keep His decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time. NIV
God has given the Promised Land to the Israelites for all time, forever. This eternal gift is seen in Genesis 13:15 and Exodus 32:13 as well. However, whether or not the Israelites get to live in the Promised Land is determined by their obedience to God's Law. If they rebel, they will be expelled, but they will always be welcomed back to the Promised Land when they will obey God. This theme of prophesy can be seen in verses such as Ezekiel 11:17-21.

The same kind of situation exists for the Kingdom itself. The Promised Land must be ruled, and that ruling will be by that of a king. The dynasty of kingship for this eternal Kingdom belongs to those who will obey God completely. That is why we see in 1 Samuel 13:13 that Samuel told King Saul:
“You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, He would have established your Kingdom over Israel for all time.” NIV
That is why we see God's message to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:7 as:
I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out My commands and laws, as is being done at this time. NIV
and why we see Solomon plead in 2 Chronicles 6:16 to God:
“Now, LORD, the God of Israel, keep for Your servant David my father the promises You made to him when You said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before Me according to My Law, as you have done.’” NIV
By these verses, we can quite clearly see that ruling the Kingdom eternally meant having an unbroken dynasty of successors, and that such a dynasty was dependent on each descendant obeying God's Law.

When Solomon ultimately ended up drifting from obedience to God, God tore the Kingdom from his successor, giving it instead to Jeroboam and offering him the same kind of enduring dynasty which was given to David (1 Kings 11:29-39).

Isaiah 63:17
Why, LORD, do you make us wander from Your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes that are Your inheritance. NIV
Can you summarize all of this information concisely?
God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites for eternity, but they can only stay there, and kings can only rule there, while they obey the entirety of God's Law. God established the Law forever, perfect, and unchanging, just like Him. It is possible to obey the Law, and obedience does not need to be perfect in order to please God as long as you are truly repentant for your sins. Such obedience will be rewarded with long life and abundant prosperity, which will in turn lead others around you to seek God.


  1. Very interesting work.

    Where does that repentance come from? We also know that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked, to the point we cannot even know them. Jeremiah 17:9

    How can I repent, truly repent, if God will just forgive me? How many times will that work? Is there forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood?

    It is clear that, as Paul says, knowing something is forbidden makes the desire for it more powerful. Truly then the power of sin is the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56)

    So how can I keep the Law? I keep the Law through faith in Christ. The inside of the cup is cleansed, and I am freed from the Law of sin and death. I am not freed from Righteousness, on the contrary the freedom of Christ works Righteousness in me so that it flows out, it is not something I put on. That is how I circumcise my heart (Deuteronomy 10:16). Not by outward appearance, not by the flesh (which profits nothing).

    Which is the greatest of the 613 commandments? Are they not summed up in the words of Christ that you love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself? How will you keep the Law?

  2. Hi David, welcome back. Thanks for the comments.

    Where does that repentance come from? Well, now, the way you present Jeremiah 17:9 is not entirely true now, is it? I mean, you are certain in your heart that you love your wife, right? Read the context of Jeremiah 17, and you will get a better understanding of the meaning of that verse. Ask again if you have questions.

    How can I repent, truly repent, if God will just forgive me? Easy. When your own offense offends you as much or more than the transgressed party, then you have truly repented.

    Strictly speaking, forgiveness is irrelevant to repentance. I do not repent because I am forgiven. I repent because I have made an error, I have recognized that error, and I am disgusted by that error.

    How many times will that work? Seventy times seven? ;-)

    Is there forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood? You have really got to avoid using Paul as your source for Biblical knowledge. He may have been zealous, but he was not well versed in Scriptural matters. Check out Exodus 30:11-16 for monetary-based atonement, Numbers 31:48-50 for plunder-based atonement, and Proverbs 16:6 for (my favorite) love-and-faithfulness-based atonement.

    It is clear that Paul was wrong on so many levels. Answer me this: You know it is against the law to murder your wife. Does that really make you want to murder your wife? God, I hope not! :-)

    There is a reason why Deuteronomy 32:46 and other verses say "to obey carefully all the words of this Law." If you can tell me how loving thy neighbor fulfills Leviticus 19:19 for example, I would love to know. For your convenience, that verse reads:

    "Keep My decrees.
    Do not mate different kinds of animals.
    Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
    Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." NIV

    How will you keep this law "by faith?"

    If you are asking which law is the greatest, you have already failed. Every law was important to God, which is why He commanded that every law be obeyed. Right? I mean, "all the words" certainly seems to be a command to pay attention to the details.

    Paul has proven himself to be wrong time and time again. How can you put your faith into the words from someone with that kind of poor track record for accuracy?

    It does not seem like a prudent decision to me.

  3. Deut.21:18-21 States that a rebellious son must be stoned if he does not repent. How does that law apply to the present. It is clear the law is not to be changed. Yeshua came to fulfill the law not to do away with it so how do you explain this

  4. Hi Anonymous. I'm not sure what you want me to explain exactly. I think you've misunderstood my purpose here, which was to demonstrate that the God of the Bible considered the Law given in the Torah to be perfect and eternally valid. Meanwhile, thousands of years later, we can blatantly see that, while many of the laws still appear reasonable, there are a several laws which really stand out as being antiquated, or even being morally challenging to obey with our present day standards, such as the verse you reference.

    And yes, Jesus came to fulfill, not do away with, the Law. At least, that is what the verses in the New Testament say. So presumably Jesus would still want everyone to obey God's Law, even the stoning of disobedient children.

    Does that explain enough for you Anonymous or did you have some other question?