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When did the Law of Moses begin to be?

Law of Moses, the Law, Jews law, Sinai, Law of God, Exodus God's Law

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Shortly after the episode of the golden calf Moses went back up Mount Sinai.  His first order of business was to continue his plea for Israel.

Then he said, "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance." (Ex 34:9)

The Creators response is interesting.

"'And He said: "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. "'


'Make' in this verse is Hebrew 'karath'. It is the verb often used to describe the cutting of a covenant. It is in the Qal, participle active tense, which translates to the English active present tense. God was making a covenant. The Sinai covenant had already been made. It was done. God was making a covenant again.

The conversation that was recorded in Exodus 34:10-27 would probably not take more than five minutes to complete. Yet Moses was on the mountain for 40 days. (vs 28). What happened?

"Observe what I command you this day" (Vs 11a)

The creator then reiterates many of the fundamental aspects of the original covenant. He is obviously interested in Israel living in accord with that covenant. "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." (vs 27b). That was history. It was not to be forgotten.  We also have record of other communication that took place later on that stay on Mount Sinai.

"This is the law of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the consecrations, and the sacrifice of the peace offering,  which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day when He commanded the children of Israel to offer their offerings to the LORD in the Wilderness of Sinai" (Lev 7:37-38).

"For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices" (Jer 7:22).

Although some of the instruction on sacrifice and offerings was given as early as Moses set up his tent outside the camp (Ex 33:7, Lev 1:1) some was evidently also given on this second forty day stay on Mount Sinai. Jeremiah records that God wanted Israel to obey not sacrifice.  It became obvious they wouldn't obey as evidenced by the episode of the golden calf. Instead of destroying them though, God directed animal sacrifice. This was given during this second stay " on Mount Sinai".  There is no basis for this in the Sinai covenant. It couldn't be added to that covenant. (Gal 3:15)

" Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai" (Ex 34:32).

"These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses." (Lev 26:46)

"These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai" (Lev 27:34).

So upon descending the mountain after the second forty-day stay, the trip immediately after the episode of the golden calf, Moses passed along an additional set of regulations to Israel. Besides direction on sacrifices and offerings they must have included at least the statutes, judgments and commandments listed toward the end of Leviticus. Most of this is new instruction, even though one sincerely desiring to follow the spirit of the Sinai covenant might have assumed it. Technically, it can't be added to the Sinai covenant.

There was also the historical record of Genesis and part of Exodus that had to be written. Some have speculated that Genesis was made up of various documents that the Children of Israel carried with them out of Egypt. God claims to have given it to Moses. One can't be sure exactly how this was done, although the Jews claim it was dictated word for word. Forty days would fly by when undertaking an effort like that. Likely Israel stayed around Sinai an extended time so the tabernacle could be built, but another part of the reason may have been to write Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, the early chapters in Numbers and probably even the bulk of Deuteronomy.

"Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. " (Mal 4:4)

The great bulk of the Law of Moses was given in the area around Sinai while Israel was camped there. This doesn't mean it was given with the Sinai covenant. God gave instruction to Moses in the tent outside the camp (Ex 33:7-11), on his second 40-day stay on Mount Sinai, from the main tabernacle once it was built (Num 7:89) and possibly other unspecified places (Num 3:14, 9:1).

The organizing of the tribes around the Tabernacle also points to a shift in God's relationship with the nation (Num 1:52-53). The tribe of Levi was to camp all around the Tabernacle. The other tribes were allocated space beyond Levi. When the Sinai covenant was given God wanted everyone to represent Him.

"And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel" (Ex 19:6)

By placing Levi between the Tabernacle and the rest of the tribes God was implementing a separation. Levi was to represent Him to Israel. Israel couldn't be trusted to represent Him to anyone.

The blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 are another new aspect of the Creators renewing relationship with Israel. The relationship was not renewed immediately, but the blessings and curses were a significant factor underlying the new relationship the Creator was proposing to Israel. The default penalty for breaking a blood covenant is typically death. That was the understanding with the Sinai covenant. That is why the Creators initial reaction to the golden calf was to destroy the people and start over with Moses.

Leviticus 26 makes it clear that God will have other options in this renewed relationship. Because covenants are not to be changed (Gal 3:15) the option of curses could not be added to the Sinai Covenant. However, this option was explained "on Mount Sinai" after the golden calf (Lev 26:46). It came into force when the Moab covenant was confirmed (Deu 26:16-32:47).  On that day the Creator renewed His relationship with Israel (Deu 27:9).

So this new Law was given while Israel was still at Sinai.  This has caused a great deal of confusion among Christians.  They assume the Ten Commandments are intended whenever a 'Sinai law' is under discussion.  Why was this law not implemented until about 39 years later in Moab with Deuteronomy?

"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth" (Deu 12:1)

"You shall not at all do as we are doing here today––every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes–– 9 for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. 10 But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD" (Deu 12:8-11)

The law of Moses was written especially to ancient Israel looking forward to their occupying the Promised Land. The Law of God can be kept anywhere. The Law of Moses specifies a specific geographical location where offerings, sacrifices and tithes are to be brought and where the pilgrimage festivals are to be kept.

The original intent was that Israel would occupy the Promised Land almost immediately. Unfortunately the spies report discouraged them and they again offended their creator (Deu 1:19-36).  As a result they did not start into the Promised Land again until just before Moses died. That is when the Law and Deuteronomy were given to the Levites and confirmed as a covenant (Deu 31:24-26, 29:1,9,14-15). It was written specifically for their stay in the Promised Land and it was confirmed in preparation for entering the Promised Land.  Since Israel did not immediately go into the Promised Land, this second covenant was not immediately confirmed.

We should note what Paul had to say about Moses as he came down from his second 40-day stay on Mount Sinai.

"and if the ministration of the death, in letters, engraved in stones, came in glory, so that the sons of Israel were not able to look stedfastly to the face of Moses, because of the glory of his face—which was being made useless," (II Cor 3:7 YLT)

The 'ministration of death' is actually referring to the office of Moses. It 'came in glory' at this time. Often this is just translated 'was glorious', but the original Greek literally means 'was engendered'. The sense is that Moses office or 'seat' was established when his face was made to shine. That was the time of Exodus 34:28-34, at the completion of the forty-day stay after the golden calf.

The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat (Mt 23:2)

Moses was not given the office of judge, interpreter or teacher of the Law over Israel as part of the Sinai covenant.  He was in that capacity by default, but it was not built into the Sinai covenant.  That happened after the golden calf. In fact, it was evident Moses had received a special anointing as soon as he descended the mountain after this second 40-day stay on the mountain.

The priests and Levites ultimately assumed this office of Moses after the confirming of this covenant in Moab. After failing to properly perform the function, it was passed on to others including the Pharisees. The scribes were probably made up largely of descendants of Levi and Aaron.

So after the golden calf there was a change in focus in the law that was given. It revolved around sacrifices, the family of Aaron, the tribe of Levi and the tabernacle. Moses received a special anointing which would have been apparent to all the people. It became his job to teach the way of God.  God separated Himself from most of the tribes. This was not His intention. He wanted everyone to obey the law given with the covenant of Sinai. That's what He wants with the New Covenant too.