The Story #2: The Law Of Moses Exposes SinSeries: The Story: A Big Picture View
Though God created mankind to glorify him by imaging his righteous character, Satan deceived people into pursuing sinful pleasures. Eternal life and fellowship with God was lost, but God promised to make childless Abraham into a great nation and bless the whole world in him and his offspring. Abraham put all his faith in God’s promise and faithfully followed God’s direction in all things. Despite Abraham’s imperfections, God counted him as righteous through his faith in Genesis 15:6. Even after Abraham died, God proved himself faithful when he grew Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, into 2-3 million people in 400 years. Egypt enslaved the Israelites as God had warned in Genesis 15:13-16, but God sent ten plagues against Egypt and parted the Red Sea by Moses’ hand to redeem Israel from slavery.
Before God led Israel into Canaan, he made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. God makes it clear what he desired to do with Israel in Exodus 19:4–6. “4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God set Israel free as a downpayment and sign of how he would bless Israel if they would keep his covenant. This covenant is also referred to as the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses (cf. Exodus 34:28 and Joshua 8:31). If Israel would keep the Law, they would be a kingdom of priests imaging and proclaiming righteousness to the world. To more fully understand the Law’s purpose, notice a portion of it in Exodus 20:1-11.
The Law of Moses is Given (Exodus 20:1-17)
Exodus 20:1–11, “1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Love the Lord Your God (20:1-11). The remaining commands focus on Israel's relationships with one another, but which relationship do these first four commandments focus on? These commands focus on Israel's relationship with God. Jesus later summarizes these four commands as "love the Lord your God" (Matthew 22:36-38, etc.). God gave Israel a huge reason to love him by delivering them from slavery. Now God commanded Israel to display their love for him multiple ways. They must have no other gods and not bow before images of created things. This is idolatry - loving and trusting creation instead of God the Creator. God also commanded Israel to not take his name in vain. God’s name should be holy to us, but we make God’s name common when we use his name in oaths and expletives. Even more, God’s name is vain to us when we wear God’s name, yet do not reflect his holiness in our living. God also commanded Israel to do no work on the Sabbath to remember how God delivered them (cf. Deuteronomy 5:12-15). For people who had been saved from slavery in Egypt, loving God in these ways would be a joy. Notice how God told them to love their fellow man in Exodus 20:12-17.
Exodus 20:12–17, “12 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself (20:12-17). The first four commands focused on Israel's relationship with God, but what relationships do these final six commands focus on? These commands focus on relationships with other people. Jesus later summarizes these six commands as "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-40, etc.). Because God faithfully loved Israel, Israel was to respond by loving one another. God commanded Israel to honor their parents. This is something children and adults do by respecting, obeying, and taking care of their parents. God also commanded Israel to not wrong one another by committing murder, adultery, theft, bearing false witness (lying), or by coveting anything of their neighbor’s. The command to not covet shows the Law was to be kept with love from the heart, not in a mere external way (also, Matthew 5-7). God is not okay with us trusting money as long as we do not bow to it. God is not okay with lust as long as we do not commit adultery. True obedience to the Law is both internal and external. Let’s fast-forward about 900 years to Daniel 9:11 to see if Israel succeeded.
The Law of Moses Is Broken (Daniel 9:11, etc.)
Daniel 9:11, “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.”
Rebellion (Daniel 9:11). How does Daniel assess Israel’s keeping of the Law of Moses? Daniel says Israel transgressed the Law and refused to obey God. In Leviticus 26 God promised to dwell among and bless Israel if they obeyed, but to forsake and curse Israel if they disobeyed. Though Israel was obedient at times so that God blessed Israel, the books from Joshua to 2 Chronicles give the account of how this never lasted. Solomon in 1 Kings 8-11 is a good example of this. Just when the blessings and knowledge of God began to spread across the world through Abraham’s offspring, they began to trust idols, trust their own strength, and rebel against the Law. Sin caused disunity and Israel split into two nations. The northern nation was called “Israel” and the southern nation was called “Judah.” Many prophets like Isaiah and Hosea warned Israel and Judah of their sin, but they refused to listen. God left his people and destroyed Israel with the Assyrians in 722 BC and Judah with the Babylonians from 606-586 BC. Only a remnant was spared and taken into bondage. God’s people were rebellious, so they received what they deserved. But notice in James 2:10-11 another reason why Israel failed to keep the Law.
James 2:10–11, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
Failure to Keep the Whole Law (James 2:10-11, etc.). According to James, how does a failure to keep the Law happen? One fails to keep the Law when one breaks just one command. Though this may seem unreasonable, we must recognize we are only righteous and innocent by any law system if we perfectly keep the entirety of that law. The same is true for the Law of Moses. Consider how Moses warned Israel of this in the Law. Deuteronomy 6:25, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” Israel failed and received the curses of the Law because they were not careful to obey all of it. But notice Romans 3:9-12 and consider how Israel’s unrighteousness is simply an example of every human’s unrighteousness.
Romans 3:9–12 (HCSB), “9 What then? Are we any better? Not at all! For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 10 as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.”
None Is Righteous (Romans 3:9-12). According to this passage, who is righteous? No one! Israel failed and all humans continue to fail to be righteous through law because we do not perfectly keep God’s law. Which one of us has never put something else before God? Which one of us has never disobeyed our parents, lied, or coveted something belonging to our neighbor? As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is key to understand because, as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” God told Adam this when he warned him about the forbidden tree. God gives life and he cannot live where sin is, so sin brings death. Since “the wages of sin is death”, God allowed Israel to offer animal sacrifices so their sins could be forgiven. But as Hebrews 10:1–4 says, the blood of bulls and goats cannot permanently purify the conscience of sin. God had promised to bless the world in Abraham’s offspring, but Abraham’s physical offspring obtained a curse. Would God be faithful? But God knew the Law would not bring life. In the Law itself God promised a new prophet and covenant would come (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15–19 and 30:1-10). The Law of Moses was always meant to be temporary.
Why Then the Law? But people often have a very natural question at this point. If God knew he would one day bring a new prophet, law, and covenant, what was the point of the Law of Moses? Consider how the apostle Paul later answers that same question in Galatians 3:19-22 and Romans 3:19–20.
The Law of Moses Exposes Sin (Galatians 3:19-22; Romans 3:19-20)
Galatians 3:19–22, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions… For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
Romans 3:19–20, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
The Law Exposes Sin (Galatians 3:19-22; Romans 3:19-20). What reason does Paul give for the Law in Galatians 3? He says it was added because of transgressions and to imprison everything (everyone) under sin. What does Paul say the Law accomplishes in Romans 3? He says it causes everyone’s mouths to be stopped and all to be held accountable to God because the Law gives people knowledge of their sin. Without the Law, we think our works are righteous and that we deserve eternal life and fellowship with God. The Law shows us we are sinful and that we deserve death and separation from God.
Knowledge of Sin Causes Faith in Jesus. Why did God give the Law to imprison us under sin and give us knowledge of our sin and condemnation to death? When the Law shows us we are imprisoned to sin and death, this helps us understand that we cannot trust our works to save us because our works are evil. Therefore, the Law actually moves us to find life by trusting in Jesus. Without seeing our unfaithfulness and inability to find salvation by law-keeping (the problem), we cannot appreciate the faithfulness of Jesus and salvation by faith in him (the solution). As Galatians 3:22 says, Scripture imprisoned us all under sin so those who believe could receive the promise by the faithfulness of Christ. This salvation from sin by faith would come in a new, future covenant that God would make with his people. In the next lesson we will turn to Isaiah and Jeremiah to discover prophecies of this new covenant and kingdom so we are prepared to understand salvation in Christ and its implications for us today.