The Law of Moses - Purpose

Volume 5, No. 12
"Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." (Galatians 3:19)

When we study the Word of God we cannot help but be taken back by the elaborate and extensive detail in what is known as the "Law of Moses."

The Old Testament world is centered around these ordinances that were given to the Nation of Israel through Moses.

Initially, they received the "Ten Commandments" at Mount Sinai. As they proceeded on their journey through the wilderness, on the way to the promised land, they were provided with much additional detail to guide their worship, their economy, their very lives.

Many people see no need to concern themselves with the Law of Moses and the entire Old Testament has been largely ignored by a "Christian" world. While it is true that the letter of the Law is no longer in effect for the servants of God, who are justified by faith, we must not ignore the teachings of the Holy Scriptures that have brought us to salvation through Christ.

The third chapter of Galatians, including verse 19 which is quoted above, presents a powerful message about the importance of the Law. An understanding of these Old Testament teachings is essential to a full appreciation of the grace and truth that is now available in Christ.

Wise unto Salvation

When we consider that the New Testament writers made liberal use of the Old Testament teachings and promises in their presentation of the gospel, how can we ignore these important teachings?

The Apostle Paul told Timothy just how important the Old Testament was: "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)

The Law of Moses-A Schoolmaster

The Law of Moses was a "schoolmaster' to teach the people and lead them to Christ. The word "schoolmaster is from the Greek "paidagogos." It signifies a servant or an instructor, whose job it was to take the children to school and teach them.

As we study the Law we find that many of the its elements were types of Christ. The high priest was a mediator between God and the people pointing forward to Christ who is now the "one mediator between God and men." Every element in the Law, the tabernacle, the altar, the rituals, the cleansings, the feast days, were all part of the lesson to teach about God's future purpose through His son. The sacrifices that were offered under the Law were also typical. They pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ.

Voluntary Offerings

The sacrifices were brought to the door of the tabernacle and were offered voluntarily. Each Israelite was provided an opportunity to place his hand on the head of the sacrificial lamb, and those who understood knew they were worthy of death. They needed an atonement for their inherited nature and for their own sins. They looked forward to the coming of their Messiah, who would also come voluntarily, to do the will of God, as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

"But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God." (Hebrews 10:3-7)

"Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." (Romans 7:12-13)

The Need for repentance

The Law of Moses provided another lesson for those who were attending that school. The Law was good, but it was not easy for a man to keep. In fact, it was next to impossible for a man to remain faithful to every "jot and tittle" of the Law. They were cursed if they did not keep all things that were written in this law of ordinances. We read:

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." (James 2:10-11)

"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Gal. 3:10)

The Law made sin "exceeding sinful." as we read in the passage from Romans 7 shown above. The lesson was clear; men were exceedingly sinful and they needed help from God. No man was worthy to be rewarded with life, no matter how faithful they were in doing the works of the Law. They could not "earn" salvation. The Law taught them about their need for grace which would only be possible through the ministry and offering of Christ.

Forgiveness of Sin

The Law made it impossible to avoid sin and provided only a conditional means for forgiveness. They must first recognize that they were sinners and in need of mercy from God. Then the typical services were to teach them that a way would be provided for their sins to be permanently forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ.

Jesus was the only man who was ever able to keep the Law without sinning. Obedient unto the death of the cross, he was hung on a tree and through no fault of his own he was cursed by the Law (See Gal. 3:13, Hebrews 4:15-16 ) Having fulfilled the requirements and types of the Law, he blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and opened the way for the provision of grace through faith in his name.

We are thankful that we can now approach the throne of grace through Christ our mediator. The smoke of the incense offered by the priests under the law, prefigured the prayers of God's saints ascending as a sweet savor unto the God of our salvation.

"But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:6)

Written in Stone

The Ten Commandments, the foundation principles of the Law, were written in stone. Along with the rest of the Law of Moses, these were "holy ...just and good." (Rom 7:12) It was very difficult for any man to keep these laws, Christ being the only man who lived under the Law without sin.

Today, we need to remove the justice and goodness from these letters that were written on stone, and transfer them into our hearts. Not that we should simply memorize the letters, but rather that we should learn and apply the lessons taught in the Spirit of the Law.

"Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." (2 Cor. 3:3)

The Spirit of the Law

The commandments were holy and the principles behind those commandments are good. Many of the teachings of the Law are reinstated in the New Testament teachings by Jesus and the Apostles. It is the Spirit of the Law that is enduring. It is the Spirit that gives life.

"Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." (2 Cor 3:6)

The Spirit (influence) of the Law provides us with guidance for our life of service to God. We are told for example: "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Gal 5:14, James 2:8)

The Spirit of the Law is centered on the two great commandments, love for God, and loving your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 22:37-40) The Law was not simply about judgment and condemnation for sin, it was about forgiveness and mercy through Christ. ( Matt 9:13; Matt 12:7; James 2:8-13)