Law, Old Testament

The word for law, Torah, has several meanings.  In the OT it usually refers to the whole divine revelation, with special emphasis on the first five books of Moses.  It is also used of the OT codes which guided Hebrew life.  By the time of Jesus, to most “law” included the mass of human traditions that had grown up to “explain” the OT.  To us today, law usually is thought of as the Ten Commandments.

The word itself means “instructions.”  It is used of a parent’s instruction of a child (cf. Prov. 1:8, 6:20) as well as of God’s instruction of his people.

OT law is codified in several major passages.  These are (a) The Ten Commandments, Exodus, (b) The Covenant Code.  Exodus 21-23, (c) The Deuteronomic Code, Deuteronomy 12-26; (d) The Code of Holiness, Leviticus 17-27; (e) The Priestly Code, Leviticus 27.

The OT law regulates every aspect of Israel’s life.  The moral law of the decalogue  (the Ten Commandments) states enduring principles.  Covenant and Deutoronomic codes give instruction about a broad range of daily social relationships, from administration of justice, to training children, to care of the poor.  The Code of Holiness and Priestly Code deal primarily with religious matters.  Thus many have divided the law’s content into three divisions:  moral, civil, and ceremonial.

The law has several functions.  The first is to reveal the Lawgiver.  The kind of person God is is shown in the values embodied in the law.  The second is to reveal sin, by clearly expressing the standards that God establishes for his people.  The third is to guide the choice of individuals and the believing community toward holiness.  Only God’s present blessing or punishment are governed by law.

However, the OT is clear that a person who lives by faith in covenant relationships with God will, from love, choose to obey the law.  To the true believer, the way of Law will be a joy and not a burden.

Yet law, for all its benefits and beauty, was never able to produce in men the holiness to which it points (Rom. 7:7-13, Gal. 2:19-22).  God will never change his commitment to righteousness.  But the OT law will pass away, for it is not his final solution to creation of a righteous community.  For that solution, history must wait for a New Covenant, instituted in Christ’s death, and a new community formed of those in whom the Spirit of God will dwell.

Q.  How did the true believer feel about God’s instructions for living conveyed in the Law?  You can see in Psalm 19:7-14, 33-56.