The Law - God's Covenant for God's People.


Purpose: To show the relationship of the OT law to the believer in the NT era. 

Objectives: To identify the different types of Law in the OT and to justify their use for us in the New Covenant. 

Video content

Some of the laws in the Old Testament seem ridiculous. Don’t sit where a menstruating woman has sat (Leviticus 15:19-21), you can’t kill a burglar during the day (Exodus 22:2-3), you can’t eat any animals that have completely split hooves and chews their cud (Leviticus 11:3). Why in the world were there so many laws to begin with? Aren’t the 10 Commandments enough? If we begin to understand why all of these laws were given and the enormous undertaking that was going on with the new Israelite nation, we can begin to understand how and why these laws were beneficial to the nation of Israel. Some of them are even beneficial to us today.

Remember the audience and the context. The laws for the people of Israel were given to them at the beginning of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. What God needed to do at this point was to begin to educate and redevelop a new nation that had been in slavery for over 300 years. This required moral, ceremonial, and ethical laws that would distinguish them from the other people. All of this was intended to bring God’s presence back into the lives of his people and these laws were intended to set boundaries for how they were to behave and interact with the nations around them. The people of Israel were to be formed into an army of warriors and a community that would be able to live together both during the time in the desert and then in the promised land. They needed education on what foods to eat, how to be sanitary, how to remain holy considering all of the corrupt nations and practices around them, they needed to understand that some practices of the nations were symbols of there idol worship. They had been instructed on how to live, what to eat and what rules to follow by the Egyptians. Now they were left to themselves, and they needed God to help them. Throughout all of this they were going to need direction on how to be God’s people both in their relationship with one another and in their relationship with God. God wanted to make sure that they didn’t keep the ways of Egypt or adopt the new ways of the Canaanites.

The role of Law in Israel and in the Bible.

1.      Apodictic Law: This kind of Law sets a standard by an example. The statements were meant as a reliable guide with generic applicability. Not every situation needed to be named but rather these were examples of a standard that should be applied broadly. For example, the 10 Commandments. Another example of this would be from Lev. 19 these are examples of some of the Apodictic Laws. We have examples of these kinds of laws today in the broad sweeping statements in the Canadian Charter of Rights.

2.      Casuistic (ca-shew-istic) Law: These laws are conditional laws that were used on a case-by-case basis. Most of the laws in the Old Testament are Casuistic Laws of which there are over 600. An example from Deuteronomy 15:12-17 is about owning a slave who doesn’t wish to remain as your slave voluntarily. In this case, the law is describing what you should do. None of these laws were renewed in the New Testament. 

The Benefits of The Law To Israel

The law was never intended to provide eternal life in true righteousness before God. But then again, the law was not designed for that purpose. The purpose of those laws was to help Israel understand that they were beneficial to Israel, and a great example of God’s mercy and grace to his people.

Outline the benefits of:

1.      The Food Laws - (Leviticus 11:7) the food laws and the kosher laws (not to eat pork) are intended by God to have a positive purpose. They’re not just arbitrary and fickle restrictions. Most of the food laws were there to protect God’s people from animals that carry disease in the dry arid climate of the Sinai Desert and in the land of Canaan. It was also uneconomical to raise food in a particular agrarian context of the Sinai Desert and/or the land of Canaan. The foods that were favoured by other religious groups whose practices the Israelites were not to copy or are part of these food restrictions. It’s interesting to note that medical research has shown that food allergies vary according to ethnic populations, the food laws undoubtedly kept Israel away from certain allergies. Lamb, which was the main source of Israel’s meat is the least allergenic of all major meats according to specialists and food allergies.

2.      Laws About Shedding Of Blood - (Exodus 29:10-12) God revealed to his people that a substitutes blood could be shed. This also set a precedent for the work of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. (Hebrews 9:22) Christ’s death provides a fulfilment of the law’s demand for death and is the basis for our acceptance with God.

3.      The Unusual Prohibitions - “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21). “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask. There are other unusual Prohibitions like, “do not mate different kinds of animals,” or, “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed,” "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19). These prohibitions were designed to forbid Israel to engage in the fertility cult practices of the Canaanites. They believed in something called “sympathetic magic”, which shows up in many science fiction and fantasy books today, which is the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods in nature. Boiling a kid in its mother’s milk would magically ensure the continuing fertility of the flock. Mixing animal breeds, seeds, or materials was thought to marry them so as magically to produce offspring.

4.      The Laws Giving Blessing To Those Who Keep Them - (Leviticus 26:3-13) some laws specifically mention a blessing for keeping them. The law provides a benefit for the needy, and a benefit for those who benefit the needy. Such a law is neither restrictive nor punitive. It is instead a vehicle for good practice and as such it’s instructive to us.

There are 3 kinds of law in the Old Testament:

1.      Civil Laws - those laws that specify penalties for various crimes for which one might be arrested and tried in Israel. These laws only apply to citizens of Israel and no one living today is a citizen of Israel.

2.      Ritual Laws - this is the largest block of Old Testament laws and is found throughout Leviticus as well as Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These told the people of Israel how to carry on the practice of worship, detailing everything from the design of the implements of worship, to the priests’ responsibilities, to what sorts of animals should be sacrificed and how. The sacrificing of animals in the Old Testament was one of the principal ways of worshiping God. Without the shedding of blood, no forgiveness of sin was possible (see Hebrews 9:22). When Jesus once and for all sacrifice was accomplished, however, this old covenant approach was immediately made obsolete. It no longer figures in Christian practice, although worship-in the new covenant manner-continues.

3.      Ethical Laws - these are the laws that are actually restated in the New Testament as applicable to Christians. The application of these laws comes from the 2 basic laws of the new covenant on which all the law and the prophets depend (Matthew 22:40) “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The sermon on the Mount is the most exceptional description of the ethical laws that are redefined in terms of love for neighbour rather than simply as do’s and don’ts.

How should Christians view the OT Law?

1.      The OT Law as a covenant. A covenant was a solemn and binding agreement between 2 parties, typically between a powerful king or ruler over a weak or dependent servant. This agreement outlined the protections and sanctions of following the laws of the covenant. God used this well-known covenant motif to outline the benefits and protection that Israel was to receive from God. Most of the laws that we find between Exodus 20-Deuteronomy 33 were parts of the stipulations and the sanctions for following or breaking the covenant laws. We need to remember that these were a binding agreement with Israel and God. This also helps us understand why the books of the prophets were written.

2.      The OT is not our Testament. We are not bound to keep the requirements of the OT unless they are repeated in the NT.

3.      Some stipulations of the OT have clearly not been renewed in the NT. These are the Civil laws (for crimes) and the ritual laws (Sacrifices Heb 9:22), worship rituals, and temple construction (Rev 21:22). All these have been fulfilled in Christ.

4.      Part of the Old Covenant is renewed in the New Covenant. These are the 10 commandments and the two great commandments. 

5.      All of the OT Law is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us.  God wants us to know about the laws, but they are not always directed toward us personally.  

Small-group content

What are some of the strange Old Testament laws that you have been asked about or that you have wondered about? Did you ever wonder if you had to obey those laws?

Some examples:

1.      Am I allowed to get a tattoo as a Christian (Leviticus 19:28)?

2.      Am I supposed to put a railing around the roof of my house (Deuteronomy 22:8)?

3.      Why am I not allowed to boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19)?

4.      Why am I not allowed to wear clothes made of both linen and wool (Leviticus 19:19)?

From the video content please answer the following questions:

1.      If someone came across the book of Leviticus in their daily Bible reading, what literary or historical context would be helpful for them before they begin reading the book of Leviticus?

2.      What Old Testament laws were not renewed in the New Testament? These are the Civil laws (for crimes) and the ritual laws (Sacrifices Heb 9:22), worship rituals, temple construction (Rev 21:22) All these have been fulfilled in Christ.

3.      What do you believe this all says about God and the way God treated the OT people and what does this show us about God’s character? 

4.      What would you tell someone who said that you didn’t have to follow laws in the Old Testament anymore?

The New Testament perspective of the Old Testament

1.      Read Romans 3:19-26. What is the purpose of the law? How did Jesus fulfil that law

2.      How did Paul refer to these laws? Look up Gal 3: 19-25. (We cannot meet up to God’s high standards)

3.      Are we still required to keep the laws that have been repeated in the NT? Where would you find scriptural evidence for the laws that are repeated in the New Testament?

4.      How does the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) differ from the Old Testament laws? How are they the same?

5.      Read Exodus 20:13-14; Matthew 5:21-22 and Matthew 5:27-30. How are the New Testament commandments different?

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