Most Christians readily acknowledge the importance of the Sermon on the Mount. This message is the heart and core of Christianity-the very essence of Christian living. What many fail to realize, however, is that the Sermon on the Mount is based on the Law of Moses. No less than six times Jesus quoted from the Law of Moses, but with one important difference. He expanded it to a spiritual level. As Isaiah prophesied : “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable [glorious]” (Isa. 42:21).
The nation of Israel-the Old Testament Church-was physical in nature. It was a carnal nation organized as a church. God gave Israel laws that were intended to secure peace and security in the land. Because the Israelites were a physical church, they did not have the Spirit of God in their minds and hearts. Therefore God did not require them to live up to the spiritual intent of this law. They were expected to observe the physical requirements only. While they were given a civil law, they could not adequately live up to even its physical requirements.
Knowledgeable Bible students know that the Ten Commandments were in effect long before the time of Moses. For a complete explanation, please refer to our website under “General Articles,” entitled: “Sin-What Is It?” The original intent of the Ten Commandments was spiritual in nature. This is why, when referring to Moses’ command to give a writing of divorcement, Jesus said: “In the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). The Law of Moses gave allowances for the defects of human nature. The Sermon on the Mount changed all that. In all six examples that Jesus gave, He elevated the Law of Moses to a spiritual level and restored the Law of God to its original intent. Man is now judged by the spiritual intent of the Law, not the physical letter of the law, as was Israel of Old. In effect, Jesus did not do away with the Law of Moses but magnified it and made it glorious. He restored it to its original spiritual perfection.
Israel of Old needed penalties in order to force compliance. The difference today is that no civil law is in effect, and judgment comes from God alone. Many of the injunctions given in the Law of Moses are of benefit today. Others are not applicable, simply because they were intended to fit within the context of a physical civil government, not a spiritual church. But the spiritual principle behind these laws is ever applicable. For example, Israel of Old wore fringes on their garments (Num. 15:37-39). These fringes were to remind them of the commandments of God. Today, these commandments are to be written in our hearts and minds.
Binding at Creation
Much is stated in the Bible regarding the irrevocable nature and permanency of the Ten Commandments. The very first commandment recorded is found in Genesis two. It was originally given to man, not to Moses. “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:2-3). Jesus Himself said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). The word “fulfill” does not mean to complete or do away with. It means to “fill,” “make full,” “complement,” “bring to full expression.” It would have been a contradiction if Jesus had said He did not come to destroy the law, and then to state it was done away. Furthermore, He said that until heaven and earth passed away, not even the slightest jot or tittle would pass from the law. In brief, He underscored the fact that the Law of Moses would retain its force down to the minutest detail until God’s purpose for the law would be fully realized.
The Ten Commandments are a basic spiritual law. “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good . . . . For we know that the law is spiritual . . . ” (Rom. 7:12, 14). David said: “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps.111:7-8). By the time Israel was delivered from the land of Egypt, the people had lost sight of God’s Law. God had to reveal His law anew to the Israelites. This is why they are listed in order in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. As noted earlier, all these commandments were broken before they were given to Israel on Mount Sinai. The Old Covenant did not establish these spiritual laws. These were laws that were already in force. They were in existence from the beginning. Here is what God said about the Israelites: “And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Ex. 16:28). God stated this to Moses before Mount Sinai and the establishment of the Old Covenant.
Other Laws Based on
the Ten Commandments
Not surprisingly, we find statutes and judgments implemented by Moses before the establishment of the Old Covenant. Moses told his father-in-law: “When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws” (Ex. 18:16). Notice, these statutes and laws were in existence before Israel came to Mount Sinai and before the Old Covenant was ratified! What the Old Covenant did not create cannot not be annulled when it was made obsolete.
What many have failed to understand is that the Old Covenant was merely the agreement between God and the nation of Israel-an agreement to keep laws that were already in force. These laws and statutes magnified the Ten Commandments. For example, the Tenth Commandment forbids lusting. Lusting mean the same as coveting. Consider, for example: God forbids the eating of what the Bible labels as unclean meats. Compare Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. To eat unclean meats is a violation of the Tenth Commandment because it is lusting. As the need arose, provisions were also made to include various judgments. See Numbers 27:1-11. Here we see that judgments were binding decisions based on laws that had previously been revealed.
Sacrificial laws were also given to Israel. Why are they not kept today? At Mount Sinai God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, as well as statutes and judgments that elaborated on the application of the Ten Commandments. See Exodus 20-24. Notice carefully, only one sacrifice is mentioned in the chapters before the Old Covenant was ratified. This was the Passover sacrifice (Ex. 12:27), which God calls “my sacrifice” (Ex. 23:18). The Passover is preserved for us today by different symbols. This is because it was instituted before the Old Covenant was ratified. God did not give Israel a sacrificial system originally. Here is what Jeremiah was inspired to write: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jer. 7:22-23). But Israel did not obey. They transgressed. Paul tells us that a law was added because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19). This added law-the sacrificial law-served as a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:3). It foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ which was to be made as the supreme sacrifice. The sacrificial law impressed upon the people of Israel that only a Messiah could pay the penalty for human transgressions. Such a penalty could not be accomplished by the blood of bulls and goats (vv. 4, 10-12). The sacrificial law was temporary, did not define sin, and served instead as a reminder of sin.
What Is the Law of Moses?
Many have been led to believe that the Ten Commandments are the Law of Moses. This is because Luke states: “And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24). This statement merely tells us that the ceremonies of the Law of Moses are part of the Law of the Lord. Why? Because all law comes from God. He alone is the lawmaker, not Moses or any other man. The Law of Moses is never called the Ten Commandments! The Law of Moses consisted only of statutes and judgments. God spoke the Ten Commandments, but Moses delivered the statutes and judgments (Ex. 20:1, 22). The Law of Moses was a civil law based on the principles of the Ten Commandments-a law which the Bible states is true and righteous (Ps. 19:8-9). And the Law of Moses had no sacrifices originally.
Following the establishment of the Levitical Priesthood (Ex. 28-30), laws regarding offerings were instituted. Prior to this time, when offerings were made, young men served as priests (Ex 24:5). With the establishment of a priestly organization, sacrifices were used in the consecration and ordination of priests. Sin offerings were required for this consecration, but were mandated for the priesthood only. We find no mention of sin offerings for the people until after the Tabernacle was completed. The tabernacle was raised up in the first month of the second year (Ex. 40:2, 17), nine months after the Old Covenant was ratified on Mount Sinai! What does this tell us? It tells us that sacrifices for sin were not instituted until almost a year after Israel became a nation. This is in complete agreement with what the prophet Jeremiah stated. The sacrificial law was given because the people had failed to live up to their agreement with God, and because they had to have the seriousness of sin impressed upon them. Jeremiah states the reason why the sacrificial law was later added: “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day . . . “(Jer. 7: 24-25). The first mention of mandatory sin offerings for the people is found in Leviticus 4:2, 13-14.
What is the significance of this? The significance is that the Law of Moses was comprised of two parts. The original Law of Moses was a civil code consisting of statutes and judgments. Later, other statutes were included which regulated rituals, such as sacrifices, lighting candles, burning incense, and washings for the unclean. The Law of Moses, therefore, was comprised of two parts-a civil law and a ritualistic law.
When Jesus said that the Two Great Commandments were love for God and love for one’s neighbor, what was He quoting? Answer: The Law of Moses! “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Jesus did not even remotely imply that this law was done away. Rather, He expanded it and demonstrated the spiritual application of it in His life for all true believers to see. The civil law of Moses expounds the Ten Commandments and shows how its basic principles should be applied. Today, true Christians keep this part of the law, not in the strictness of the letter within the framework of a civil government, but according to its spirit and intent.
Ritualistic Law No Longer in Force
In the book of Hebrews the Apostle Paul explains what law was done away. Here is what he explained:
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy [Spirit] this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. (Heb. 9:1-10)
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)
Because of the sacrifice that Christ made, animal sacrifices are no longer necessary or required.
Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb. 10:9-14)
We find in Acts 15 that Gentile converts were required to observe four things commanded in the “Law of Moses.” What was taking place here? Notice carefully the issue at hand. Certain Jewish brethren, who still adhered to the Law of Moses, taught that one must be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul knew that circumcision was a physical sign for physical Israel, had no spiritual application for the New Testament Church, and was not a requirement for salvation. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). He knew that circumcision was of the heart, not of the flesh. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). Paul was accused by the Jews of teaching the Gentiles not to observe circumcision or the customs-requirements under the Law of Moses (Acts 21:21).
What were these customs? See Acts 6:14 and 28:17. In the New Testament, the sense of the word “customs” is to be understood as formal-that is, customs that were binding (See ethos in The Complete Biblical Library). The word “manner” in Acts 15:1 is from the same word-ethos. After a complete discussion by the Apostles and elders, James, the presiding Apostle, made this decision: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood ” (Acts 15:19-20).
These requirements were ceremonial additions to the Law of Moses. They were given in order to regulate the typical sacrifices. “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations . . . . And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 17: 7, 10). “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods” (Num. 25:1-2). Since these issues were related to offering sacrifices, it was important that the Gentile converts adhere to the customs that forbade this kind of conduct. Why? “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 15:21). Gentiles ate sacrifices with the blood, often strangled their animals, presented them to idols in worship, and committed fornication in their religious ceremonies-conduct that was highly offensive to Jewish converts of the Dispersion. Since the scattered congregations in the Gentile world were comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, it was paramount that such conduct be proscribed. These four requirements remained after the ceremonial laws of Moses were abrogated. As Paul points out so clearly in Hebrews 9, only the ceremonial customs of the Law of Moses have passed away,. The many civil laws which regulate tithing, clean and unclean meats, and annual Sabbaths explain what sin is and were not a part of the “added” law of rituals.
It should be called to the reader’s attention that Paul’s statement in Hebrews 9:10 included “only meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances imposed upon them until the time of reformation.” These temporary laws did not include murder, theft, Sabbath-breaking, etc., but involved only those ordinances (or regulations for the body) having to do with ablutions of the unclean. These ablutions or external washings were a type of the Holy Spirit that today cleanses us spiritually, so they are no longer necessary.
Because the Israelites were unable to render spiritual obedience to God, they were required to perform animal sacrifices, ritualistic washings, and other regulations for the body. From the time of Moses to Christ, the matter of service to God was limited to a physical plane. The people simply could not live up to the spiritual intent of the law. “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29). By these requirements-the physical types-they were constantly reminded of the coming sacrifice that alone could pay the penalty for sin. All the rituals that God instructed Moses to give them were temporary in nature. The true spiritual sacrifices are to be offered up by us today.
This is why we read: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ . . . . But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice that is holy, and well pleasing to God. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your [spiritual] service” (Rom. 12:1). The spiritual intent of the sacrificial system is the antitype that is fulfilled in Christians today. Only God is worthy to receive this service.
But the question is asked: Were not the Levitical sacrifices ordained forever? After all, is this not what the Bible says. (See Lev. 6-7). What needs to be understood about the word “forever” is that in the Bible it means “continuous as long as the factors involved exist.” Consider these texts: If a servant desired to remain with his master rather than be emancipated, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever” (Ex. 21:6). When would the factors cease to exist? They ceased when either the servant or the master died. The same principle applies to Leviticus 25:46 and Deuteronomy 15:17.
What factors may limit the offering of sacrifices? The answer: (1) The need for a physical priesthood, and (2) The need for sacrifices. Do these factors still exist? The answer is no. Offerings as a reminder of sin are no longer necessary. Why? “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made . . . ” (Gal. 3:19). Remember, the law that was added was the sacrificial law (Jer. 7:22-23). Only Christ could pay for the sins of mankind. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18). It is needless, therefore, to offer sacrifices as reminders of sin since Christ gave His life in payment for all sins. Since the Holy Spirit has been made available, physical oblations and various washings, which were types of the Holy Spirit, are no longer mandatory. Therefore, the priesthood is no longer necessary, and those factors involved in the Law of Moses ceased to exist.
The Value of the Law of Moses
As we have seen, the Law of Moses was an integral part of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the heart and core of Christianity. Love toward God and toward one’s fellow man is the essence of both the Sermon on the Mount and the Law of Moses. Jesus quoted from the Law of Moses no less than six times in the Sermon on the Mount. When asked what was the great commandment, Jesus quoted the Law of Moses (Matt. 22:36-40, Lev. 19:18, Deut. 6:4). The prophet Malachi prophesied of the end times, and admonished the people not to forget the Law of Moses with the statutes and judgments (Mal. 4:4-5). The civil law of Moses expounds the Ten Commandments and reveals how its ten basic principles should be applied. The Ten Commandments were given long before the time of Moses, and therefore are not done away. Only the ritual portion of the Law of Moses has been abrogated. The civil laws still apply in principle.
What is the meaning of “apply in principle?” Many of the civil laws given to the nation of Israel were intended for a theocratic civil government. They cannot be implemented or enforced in this present world, nor should they be in a spiritual church. While there are living descendants of the tribes of Israel extant today, the true Israel of God is spiritual in nature-the Church. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new [creation]. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16).
Many of the laws found in the civil code were given for the benefit of man. While circumcision was given as an identifying sign of God’s people long before the time of Moses, and required of the Israelites, it is of no spiritual value. However, it is a good health measure. Many other laws of the civil code are beneficial if individually applied. For example, it is an agricultural advantage to allow one’s land to rest every seventh year. Many who practice this see the results in better and more abundant crops in the years following. It is to one’s advantage not to mingle seed of diverse kinds. To do so usually results in something inferior to the original plant. The same can be said about mixing cloth that is not compatible. One may examine the Pentateuch to find other examples.
What is important is to realize that the value of the Law of Moses is a guide to what is taught in the New Testament but also to realize that many of its laws cannot be implemented today. Some can be individually applied, not in the strictness of the letter, but according to the spirit and intent. This is an individual choice one can make, realizing the benefits that can be accrued. Putting them to practice should not include judging those who do not do the same.