The Message of the Law: Christians and the Mosaic Law Part 3

In our first post, we examined problems Christians face when trying to understand the Law found in the first five books of the Bible. In our second post, we unearthed some unfounded assumptions we have about the Law. In this post, we’ll look at the message of Genesis-Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch.

The Pentateuch is not a law code. Law codes do not begin with seventy chapters of stories. Law codes are not punctuated with poetic outbursts. Law codes do not look forward to the day when they will be no more. The Pentateuch does all of this.

The Pentateuch is a series of biographies; the most important of which are Abraham and Moses. Genesis begins with a sweeping vision of the creation of the earth, the fall of man, the flood, and the confusion of the languages at Babel. The story then narrows on one man through whom God continues his plan of blessing humanity (Gen.12:1-3); the plan He began at creation (Gen.1:28). God promised to bless Abraham and to bless all the families of the earth through him. In Genesis 15 God entered into a covenant with Abraham and promised him offspring. Abraham had faith in the promises of God. As a result, he was credited with perfectly keeping the law even though he lived hundreds of years before it was given. The Lord says in Genesis 26:5, “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Abraham had faith in God and died inside the Promised Land (Gen. 25:9).

Moses and Israel begin with faith in God, like Abraham (Ex. 4:31). They come out of Egypt in faith (Ex. 14:31) and approach Mt. Sinai in faith (Ex. 19:9). But upon receiving the Law, their faith is weakened and they fail to believe in God. In Numbers 20:12, the Lord forbids Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land not because they failed to obey the Law, but because they failed to have faith in God: “Because you did not believe in me… therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Moses, Aaron, and the whole generation of Israelites lacked faith under the Law and died in the wilderness outside of the Promised Land.

Thus, Moses – the author of the Pentateuch – compares a life of faith and a life under the Law. His message? Live a life of faith in God. John Sailhamer puts it this way:

The author uses the life of Abraham, not Moses, to illustrate that one can fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. In choosing Abraham and not Moses, the author shows that “keeping the Law” means “believing in God,” just as Abraham believed God and was counted righteous (Gen. 15:6). In effect the author says, “Be like Abraham. Live a life of faith, and it can be said that you are keeping the Law.”

This is also Paul’s argument in Romans 4:13-14, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the Law but through the righteousness of faith.”

Second, throughout the book are various poems. Like the songs in a musical, they summarize what has happened so far and communicate the message of the author. In these poems, the Pentateuch looks forward to a future King from the tribe of Judah who shall rule the nations in justice and righteousness.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. – Genesis 3:15

Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:9-10

The Lord will reign forever and ever – Exodus 15:18

His King shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted…I see him but not now, I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. – Numbers 24:7, 17

Hear O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries. – Deuteronomy 33:7

In these poems, the Pentateuch looks forward to one who will crush the head of the serpent; who will be a king from the tribe of Judah that will rule the nations. This king is identified with the Lord and is the fulfillment of God’s plan of blessing the nations through the offspring of Abraham (Gen. 18:18-19).

Finally, Moses anticipates a day when the covenant of Law will be no more. In Deuteronomy 30:1-3 he says:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.

What’s fascinating about this passage is that Moses assumes the Israelites will not keep the Law. He assumes the failure of the Covenant at Sinai. He doesn’t say “if” the curses come upon you or “if” you are driven into exile, he says “when all these things come upon you”. The Pentateuch doesn’t teach obedience to the Law, it looks forward to the day when it will be no more and God’s people will return to a covenant like Abraham had – a covenant of faith. Moses goes on to say in verse 6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

The Pentateuch leaves the reader in anticipation of a better covenant (Jer.31:31-34). This will be a covenant founded on faith which fulfills the requirement of the Law (Rom. 3:31, 8:4) – like Abraham fulfilled the law by living a life of faith. It will come with a king from the tribe of Judah who will rule the nations and crush the serpent in the last days.

The Pentateuch is not the Law given at Mt. Sinai, but a commentary on that Law that anticipates something and someone better. Reading the Pentateuch leaves Philip saying about Jesus, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

-Brian

(image credit)

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