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Law of Moses vs. The Law of God

Moses, Law of God, Law of Moses, Pentateuch, Books of Moses, Jewish Law, Biblical, Bible, Ancient Israel, Aaron, Levi

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What is the LAW?


It is generally agreed by Christian theologians, that ‘the law’ refers to the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy.  I’ve not heard anyone dispute this.  Generally in the New Testament when it speaks of ‘the law’ it is referring to these books or something within these books.  It is used interchangably with the ‘Law of Moses’.  That is, the law that Moses wrote.  This could easily be in distinction to the Law of God, i.e. the law God wrote.  When one understands what ‘the Covenant of the Lord’ is, this is an easy way to identify the two.  


In fact, Joshua did not look at the Law of Moses as we do.  He wrote what he called the Law of Moses on large stones as Israel entered the Promised Land (Josh 8:30-32).  It seems self evident that he did not write the complete text of the five books of Moses on those stones.  In fact, Moses instructed Joshua to write the law of the covenant made in Moab as recorded in Deuteronomy.  


Deu 27:2-3 "And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. 3 You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ just as the LORD God of your fathers promised you. 


This law Moses referred to was the law he was setting before Israel that day when they confirmed the covenant of Deuteronomy in Moab.  


Deu 32:46 ‘and He said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe--all the words of this law.'  


Moses talked of many things that day besides rules and regulations.  The Law of Moses was technically only the regulations that were given that day as part of the covenant that Moses set before Israel.  The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy are an explanation of why they needed the covenant.  It was standard with a covenant that the need for it was explained.  Although part of the covenant, it was not really part of the terms or law of the covenant.  


The promises of the covenant were also separate from the regulations.  The tribes were divided on mount Ebal and Gerizim to pronounce the blessings and curses of the covenant.  It is also unlikely those words were written on the stones.  


So Joshua’s version of the Law of Moses probably consisted of the regulations contained in Deuteronomy 12-26.  Certainly this makes more sense than that he rewrote the entire text of the five books of Moses.  However, this is not how ‘The Law of Moses’ is understood now.  What changed?  


Particularly after Israel returned from the Babylonian captivity at least some of them tried to be very careful to live to the standard of the Law of Moses.  That was their duty before their Creator.  The Law of Moses in Deuteronomy assumes certain understanding.  


Deu 18:1 "The priests, the Levites--all the tribe of Levi--shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion. 


Moses instruction above assumes someone knows who the Levites are, what the offerings made by fire are and what His portion is.  This information is available in the other books of Moses.  Consequently, all Moses books began to be considered the Law of Moses.  The third verse of Deuteronomy tells us that Moses presented the major points of all that he had received, i.e. ‘according to all that the LORD had given him as commandments to them’. It didn’t include all the detail. One needs the other books for some details.  


Consider what Moses did with this new covenant and law agreed to in Deuteronomy.  His written document was not placed in the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, but outside it.  It was not the Covenant of the Lord, but another covenant.  


So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel…..24So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, 25that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: 26"Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you.” (Deuteronomy 31:9, 24-26)


The name ‘Deuteronomy’, comes from the name given the book when it was translated into Greek, ‘Deuteronomion’.  It is a composite of ‘deutero’ meaning second and ‘nomos’ meaning custom or law (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature Arndt & Gringich).  So ‘deuteronomionwould typically mean ‘second law’.  Some think this became the name of the book because ‘deuteronomionis used in Deuteronomy 17:18 in the Septuagint text.  However, this is hardly a pivotal scripture in the book, deserving of the entire book being named in its honor.  It is far more likely that the translators simply translated another common Hebrew reference to this book, ‘mishneh torah’, or second law. 


Mishneh torah’can also designate a repetition or copy of the Torah as in Deuteronomy 17:18.  To make a 'second' of a particular document (this Torah) would certainly imply a copy.  However, if you make a 'second law' this implies an additional law.  Why make the same law again?  It is evident that Deuteronomy is not a repeating of the Sinai Torah, but another set of instructions that add a number of things nowhere indicated by the Sinai covenant and sometimes runs contrary to the intent of the Sinai covenant.  Hence ‘mishneh torah’ and the Greek translation Deuteronomion, ‘second law’.


It is indeed a second law.  It contained additional details and new regulations given after the episode of the golden calf.  It was confirmed 39+ years after the Sinai covenant (Deu 1:3, 5).  They ended up calling it simply 'the Law' or the Law of Moses (Neh 8:14).  In some cases it seems to simply clarify pieces of the Sinai covenant, i.e. Sabbaths.  In other cases it recommends actions nowhere indicated by the Sinai covenant, i.e. sin offerings.  In still other cases it runs against the intent of the Sinai covenant, i.e. the designation of a particular tribe as the priestly tribe.  The terms of the Sinai covenant were fixed and could not be changed (Ex 24:1-8, Gal 3:15).   If God is going to propose a new plan with new regulations for Israel and options for God, it cannot simply be tacked on to the previous agreement.  A second covenant is the only option.


The Hebrew name for Deuteronomy is 'davarim' or 'words'.  It is the ‘words’ or terms of the Moab covenant just as the Ten Commandments are the ‘words’ of His covenant (Ex 34:28), which is one with the Sinai covenant (Deu 4:12-13, 23).  Deuteronomy assumed the existence of the rest of Moses books, Genesis though Numbers, for some of the details.  Genesis through Numbers had already been written.  This Book of the Law’ referred to in vs. 24, was the final book of Moses, Deuteronomy.  It contained, “the words of the covenant” (Deut 29:1).  There would be no additional regulations since even covenants of fallible men do not permit that.


Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” (Gal 3:15)


The New Testament agrees with this understanding of ‘the Law’ as well.  ‘The law’ came through Moses (John 1:17).  Did not Moses give you the law (John 7:19).  "…the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law" (Heb 7:11).    Also “So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi ..” (Deut. 31:9).  Along with the Prophets, the Law made up the great bulk of what we now know of as the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.   "And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them..." (Acts 13:15ab, see also Mat 5:17, Luke 16:31, 24:44). 


'The Law' did not exist as law before Moses received it, wrote it and it was confirmed in Deuteronomy 26:16-18 and 30:19.  The accounts of Deuteronomy 1, 29, 30 and 31 indicate that the Law was completed and confirmed at the time Moses spoke Deuteronomy, i.e. about two months before Israel entered the Promised Land. 


"These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness... Now it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him as commandments to them. … On this side of the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this law,"(Deu 1:1a, 3, 5).


Deuteronomy contains the official “words of the covenant”.  This was a new covenant to them.  It was not the Sinai covenant, the Covenant of the Lord.  


"These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb"(Deu 29:1). 


One thing, besides another thing is not one thing, but two things jointly applicable.  Deuteronomy is the binding legal document of this, the Moab covenant.  The rest of The Law, Genesis through Numbers, also detailed some areas of this covenant.  Deuteronomy contained the general precepts of the Law and assumed the existence of Genesis though Numbers. (Deu 1:3)


The Law of God existed from a much earlier time. 

"And the Lord said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? " (Ex 16:28)


"because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." (Gen 26:5)


"He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Mat 19:8)


The Law of God had been in place for a long time before this Law of Moses was delivered to the Levites.  The Sinai covenant was confirmed more than 39 years before.  What Moses did with the new law is telling.


The Law was placed next to the ark containing the Covenant of the Lord that had been in place for about 39 years.  It did not replace the covenant of the Lord, but was added as an additional witness against the children of Israel.  It was not the covenant of the Lord since it was not placed in the ark that contained the covenant of the Lord.  The Law included additional detail about the Law of God.  This witness is intertwined throughout the Law of Moses.  These are things they should have already known.  The Law also set up Levi as the priestly tribe and established regular sacrifices for them to offer for the nation. It also established sin offerings.  What is our relationship to the Law now?  Understanding the distinction between the Law of God and the Law of Moses is significant?


Earlier as part of the Sinai covenant, God gave additional instruction besides the Ten Commandments that was included in a 'book of the covenant' (Ex 24:7).  This book contained the instruction we have available in Exodus 20:22-23:33  (Ex 24:3-4).  This was the complete covenant that God established at Sinai.  It was based entirely on His Covenant, the Ten Commandments.  There is nothing in that covenant that required the Levites, a tabernacle or temple, sacrifices or even circumcision.  Those were not from the beginning and are not essential to the Law of God.  However, everything given at Sinai with the Ten Commandments added detail to the Ten Commandments.  Those judgments are essential to the Law of God.


It is worthwhile to understand why a second law was necessary.