Meditations on “The Big Picture” 6. Moses the Lawgiver
Ex 19:3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:
A number of these milestones or steps along the way in the history within the Bible, are in fact people. Yes, we have seen Abraham the father of faith and father of Israel, and we have seen Israel himself, a schemer turned man-of-God. We have also seen some of these steps as events – the Creation, the Fall, the Passover, but now we have to pause up and consider another man and a feature of Israel’s life that was fundamental in the Old Testament period. Moses’ name occurs 847 times in the Bible and so often it is linked the ‘the Law’. Now I know from experience when I used to teach ‘Law’ that many of us are fearful about ‘laws’ and think they are difficult to understand and so we shy away from the very thought of them. The word ‘law’ occurs 467 times in the Bible and ‘laws’ another 113 times. I simply mention that because it is quite a lot in a history book, especially when you consider the word ‘grace’ only appears 131 times.
Let’s try and summarise Moses’ early days. He had a fairly spectacular time as a baby (see Ex 1 & 2) being born into a slave nation within Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh (king) of the land had decreed that in order to cut down on the growth of this Hebrew people, every baby boy was to be killed at birth. However Moses survives and is brought up as a Prince of Egypt until, when he was forty, he intervenes in the affairs of the nation and has to flee the land (see Ex 2:11-15) and ends up in Midian where for the next forty years he is a shepherd (see Ex 2:16-22). At the end of that period Moses has an encounter with God (see Ex 3 & 4) in which the Lord calls him to lead Israel and deliver them from Egypt – hence the Exodus and the Passover that we have already considered. This is obviously Mount Sinai (see Ex 3:12) for the Lord promises that Moses will bring the people out and they will worship Him there.
Of course all this comes about and by Ex 19 we find Moses and Israel back at Mount Sinai where the Lord reveals Himself on the mountain and we see, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) This was a unique occasion where 74 people had a privileged encounter with the Lord and were not destroyed. If you read Ex 19 on you will see that Moses goes up and down the mountain to the Lord a number of times and it is on the mountain that he is first given the Ten Commandments (see Ex 20:1-17) and then a number of other laws for the ongoing life of Israel (see Ex 21:1 – 23:19)
As I wrote in an earlier series of meditations on The Law, God gave these Ten Commandments because the first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and the latter six bring peace, order and stability to society. They are, therefore, applicable to any society in the world. When it comes to the laws of Ex 21- these were clearly for Israel and only Israel. There have been those who have tried to apply them to other societies in history but the truth is that they were spoken expressly to Israel and were applied to their circumstances. This was a new nation but most importantly it was a nation under God, founded by God to be a light to the Gentiles. Now we may certainly observe the nature of these laws and learn from them but they are, first and foremost laws for Israel. As with the Ten Commandments, these remaining laws are designed to bring peace, order and stability to society.
It would appear that other laws, e.g. in Leviticus & Numbers, were spoken directly to Moses by God in the Tent of Meeting (see Lev 1:1, Num 1:1) in the early months after the main encounter at Sinai. The Laws of Deuteronomy are those thus received and reiterated by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land. In Lev 1-7 we find a completely different set of laws, all about offerings, and the easiest way to summarise these is to say they were given by God to Israel, recognising that from time to time they would get it wrong and there needed to be a way of coming back to God and these sacrificial laws allowed for that.
There are also additional laws in the Pentateuch, given by God to Moses. An example would be those in Lev 11, obviously given to help Israel constantly remember they are a special people. That may be a main reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat, reminding them as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This chapter covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.
Now when we come into the New Testament we find that Jesus taught, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17) That must apply to the Levitical laws first of all, where a sacrifice dealt with sins, but also if you live in the love of the Son, you will be bringing peace, order and stability to your life and into the world around you; thus Jesus fulfils the intent of those laws for society we have noted in Ex 21-23
A big distinction is made in the New Testament between Law and Grace because the legalistic Jews, e.g. the Pharisees especially, maintained that keeping the Law was the means of getting right with God. The apostle Paul, for example showed (e.g. Rom 7) that we are never able of ourselves to perfectly keep all the rules and it is only by the power of the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8) and the work of Christ on the Cross that enables us to have a real and meaningful relationship with God. The Law, teaches Paul, was to show the way but also show us that we need God’s grace for of ourselves we are incapable of keeping it perfectly (see Gal 3:24). Also, all of his teaching about faith being at the heart of salvation means that trying to keep the Law, following rules and subsequently failing, is not a faith act but a failure act. Some of his basic teaching: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” (Gal 3:10,11) We will deal with Grace more fully in a later study.