The Law Moses Brought
J. Dan Gill
A Great Stepping Stone—For a Chosen Few
There was an extraordinary drawback to Moses’ law: It was given to only a very tiny fraction of human beings. It was not given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph or the other early fathers. It was not even given to all of Abraham’s descendants. The nations which came from Abraham by Ishmael were not partakers of this law. Again, Moses in Deuteronomy 4:8 drew attention to the fact that other nations did not have such a wonderful law. What shall we say then of a law which did not include the vast majority of human beings?
In reality, the Law of Moses was a stepping stone to move a particular people towards a better time. Those people were the children of Israel who came out of slavery in Egypt: they and their descendants. The “better time” would be the day in which God’s Messiah would be born and bring to them God’s great and final arrangement with humanity.
This means that even with all of its advantages, the law that God gave to Moses was not for all people. And it was not for all time. God gave the law to Moses centuries after Abraham. When Moses read the law to the people in Deuteronomy, he himself said that it was not given to their ancestors:
The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our ancestors, but with us, all of us who are alive here today (Deut. 5:2, 3).
The Law of Moses was not the covenant that God had made with Abraham centuries before. Over and over again, provisions of the law would have made no sense with regard to their ancestors. Abraham, Sarah and others could not celebrate a Passover that had not yet taken place. They could not honor a priesthood of the sons of Aaron when Aaron himself had not even been born. There is not a single record in the Bible where Abraham or any of the fathers before Moses observed the Sabbath day. The Sabbath and other calendar observances of the law were uniquely given to those particular descendants of Abraham who came out of Egypt and to their children. There is no record in the Bible that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob observed the dietary restrictions of the Law of Moses.
Likewise, it was not God’s plan that once this law began, it would never end. When it was given, the people were to observe its provisions perpetually, not just at their whims or convenience. It was to be kept continually throughout their generations ad infinitum.¹ Nevertheless, it was God’s plan that in time this law would be superseded by the coming of Messiah and God’s ultimate covenant with human beings.
(1) The Hebrew word olam is used regarding provisions of the Law of Moses. It is sometimes translated “forever.” The word actually carries a range of meanings from “long-lasting” to “perpetual” (ongoing) to “eternal.” See Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 761. With regard to the Law of Moses, olam has the significance of “ongoing”—“long lasting.” The sense is “enduring” but not “eternal.” For example, olam indicates only the remainder of a human lifetime with regard to slaves serving their masters (Ex. 21:5, 6). If the word is taken to mean “eternal,” then it imposes provisions of slavery for all eternity (Lev. 25:45, 46). In Numbers 19:20–22 olam is translated “perpetual” (on-going) by the AV, NASB and NRSV. The NIV renders it “lasting.”