For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. — John 1:17, World English
We should not think that the above words mean that there was no divine law governing heaven and earth previous to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai through Moses; such would be as unreasonable as to suppose that neither grace nor truth were known throughout the universe until our Lord’s first advent.
On the contrary, we may say that, as surely as it is true that God himself had no beginning, so we can reasonably assume that truth had no beginning and that law itself had no beginning; for God’s righteous will has always been the law incumbent upon all his creation. There was a beginning to falsehood, and Satan is credited with being “the father of lies” (John 8:44); but since God is the Father of truth, we have reason to conclude it had no beginning even as he was never untrue. There was, however, a beginning to lawlessness or sin, and Satan is credited with being the first transgressor; but, since God’s will or law is the standard of righteousness, it follows that it, like him, has been from eternity past and will extend to eternity future.
We have no direct scripture that conclusively proves that God’s government has always existed; the nearest statement in the Bible we have found is that of Psalm 93:2; the World English reads: “Your throne is established from long ago. You are from everlasting.” While this does not literally state that God’s throne has been established from eternity past, it would seem to indicate that this is so by following up with the thought of God’s own eternal past existence. Since the government of God is universal and if assumed to be without beginning or end, it would follow that there never was a time or a place without law. On the other hand, since there was a time when there was no creation at all, then there would have been no created subjects for God’s law to be active upon. Thus, another assumption could be that God’s throne was established upon the first creative act of God. Nevertheless, even with this assumption, His Law, in principle, would have existed even without any creation, and therefore before the act of establishing his throne to enforce that Law.
Notwithstanding, God’s law was made known at Mt. Sinai, through Moses, in a different manner than it had previously been made known. Angels were created before mankind, and the scriptures relate that man was created “a little lower than the angels.” (Psalm 8:5,6; Hebrews 2:7) As man was created in the moral image of the Creator and the firstborn creature (Genesis 1:26; Colossians 1:15), and as the angels were created higher than man, we can reasonably assume that the angels were also created in God’s moral image. Thus, God had given them such intelligence on even a higher degree than man so that they could distinguish right from wrong. Their minds were so properly balanced that right always appeared as right, and wrong never could be mistaken for right. This capability of discernment, on the part of the creature, is said to be God’s “image,” which, when possessed, obviates the necessity of any written law. Adam, the first of the human race, was also created in God’s moral image, and had this law of God written in the construction of his being, or, as it is sometimes said, written upon his heart, of which mankind now falls short (Romans 3:23), but to which mankind is to be restored. — Jeremiah 31:33; Acts 3:23; Romans 2:15; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Timothy 2:5,6.
The Law Covenant given through Moses, however, was a restricted set of laws and ordinances given to a restricted people (the children of Israel — Deuteronomy 4:44), much of which pertained to a certain land of area of the earth, designed for men who were falling short of the full glory of due to sin. (Romans 3:23) This Law Covenant was not made with anyone before it was given through Moses. (Deuteronomy 5:3) As a sign to the children of Israel as respecting His covenant with them, God gave the children of Israel the seventh-day sabbath and seven-day festivals to keep. (Exodus 13:5,6,7,8,9,10; 31:13,14,15,16,17,18) Although the Law proved that man could not make himself straight, justify himself (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 3:11), the offer made under that covenant was that if one under the covenant arrangement could have obeyed that Law, he would be restored to life as Adam had it before Adam sinned. (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:5) Thus, had any man perfectly obeyed that Law, then, as Paul wrote, “if there had been a law given which could make alive, most assuredly righteousness would have been of the law.” (Galatians 3:21) The reason that the Law Covenant could make no man alive was because of man’s crooked condition, from which he could not make himself straight — justified. Nevertheless, that Law covenant was for unrighteous (crooked) man, it was not for a righteous (straight) man. — 1 Timothy 1:9.
The law given by Moses would have been entirely out of place in heaven, or in Eden before sin entered. With the law of God (briefly comprehended in one word, love — to God and all his creatures in fellowship with him — Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:10) written in their very beings, how strange it would have seemed to the angels if God had set up in heaven the Mosaic law tables or copies of them. Of what service could such a statement of the law of God be to such beings, who already had a much higher conception of it? And such a presentation to Adam in Eden before his fall would have been similarly useless; and it was not done.
But why was the Law given by Moses? Why about 2500 years after the fall of Adam into sin and death? Why at Mt. Sinai? Why to the nation of Israel, and not to all nations or any other nation? Why was it written upon stones? Why that departure from the previous method of expressing it?
The mere reading of these questions, and a reflection upon the facts upon which they rest, should relieve the mind of many inconsistencies and prepare it for the answer to them all.
The first man Adam was given one simple command that would demonstrate his obedience to law of God, that which was written in his being; his disobedience to the command was, in effect, a violation of the law that had been written in his being. The result was that he came under the condemnation for such disobedience, that is, death. However, along with this death sentence, in order that the matter of may demonstrated as to what it would mean to live without harmony with divine law, God subjected the whole creation of mankind to vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2,14; Romans 8:20), and God turned man’s mind over to reprobate condition. (Romans 1:28) Man was no longer straight and just; God made man crooked and in bondage to corruption, but with the hope that man would be freed from that bondage. (Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:21) Due to Adam’s disobedience, the original law written in his heart became marred, so that his mental and moral processes were no longer on the incorrupt level, but were operating on a corrupted level, for corruption came into the world through lust, a desire out of harmony with God’s eternal law, that that desire led to disobedience. (2 Peter 1:4; James 1:15; Romans 5:12-19) Thus began the effacement from his heart of that power of discerning or intuitively knowing right from wrong. The fallen conditions favored the cultivation of selfishness, and exalted selfishness to be the rule of life, instead of love, as in God’s original creation.
The more selfishness came in and gained control, the more the original law of love was erased from man’s heart. And the fall continued naturally from parent to child as years rolled on, until, in Moses’ day, it is safe to say that, with the majority of the race, the original law was almost gone. A general picture of the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, is given by the Apostle with an account of just what led to such a dreadful condition. –See Romans 1:21-2:1; 5:12-19.
When the first man sinned, however, God immediately gave a covenant of promise as recorded in Genesis 3:15, which in symbolic language foretold that there would an undoing of the condemnation upon man. Later, due to Abraham’s faith, God gave another covenant of promise to Abraham, that through his seed all families, all nations, of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) It was because of the faith of Abraham, that God made the promise that Abraham’s descendants would receive the land of Canaan, and thus the Law Covenant. (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:7; 17:8; Deuteronomy 9:5) But, as though to insure men that the Hebrews were not naturally superior to other men, God permitted them to go for centuries into slavery to the Egyptians (Numbers 20:15; Deuteronomy 6:21; 16:12; 24:18), then to be his chosen nation out of all the nations of the earth. — Exodus 19:5,6; Deuteronomy 7:6; 10:15; 26:18; 32:9; Amos 3:2.
From this we conclude that the Law given at Sinai was given because the original law, expressed in Adam’s nature twenty-five centuries previous, had become almost extinct and unintelligible. It was given to a chosen people, at the hands of a specially chosen leader. It could not have been re-written upon their hearts, because that would have implied the restoration of that nation to Edenic perfection; and that was impossible because the condemnation under which that perfection was lost was death, and that condemnation and the subjection to vanity still rested upon Israel and upon all men, and would continue until a ransom could be found, for Adam, — and hence for all who lost life in him.
The best way to express the law of love to those who do not possess the spirit of love, or mental likeness of God, is as God indicated it in the ten commandments written in stone, — Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not. This brings us to the question, Why did God give the law on tables of stone? Why did he not wait until the due time to send his Son to be our ransom-price, and then, after he had redeemed or purchased all from the sentence of death, begin the work of “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) –t he re-writing of the original law in the human heart?
The Apostle answers this important question. He tells us that when God told Abraham that he would bless all nations through his seed, he referred not to all of his offspring, but to Christ Jesus, who, according to the flesh, would be born of Abraham’s descendants; and that with Jesus he would select others who would be brought into the covenant through Jesus, all of whom would constitute the seed of Abraham, one seed made up of many members, but all of one spirit with him. This seed, once perfected, will share with Jesus in the work of blessing all the families of earth. (Galatians 3:16,29; 1 Peter 1:11; Romans 8:17,18) Paul tells that the righteous seed, Jesus, had to first come and provide the redemptive price, before the selection of the remainder seed of faith, because they would need to have the merit of redemption applied to them in order for them to join Jesus as members of the seed of Abraham by faith. But as a long interval lay between the promise to Abraham and the “due time” for God to send his Son to redeem men, God purposed a work with Abraham’s natural children, which would fill the interim between then and the coming of Christ Jesus, the real “seed of Abraham” according to the divine intention.
This law covenant which Yahweh proposed with Israel, Abraham’s natural children, would do them great good, even though they might thereby pass through some very severe experiences; it would not only keep them from sinking lower into degradation and losing the image of God as completely as some other nations; but in a few cases it might even make the original law more discernible. And not only so, but this Law given to Israel would be to some extent a standard before the world; and thus Abraham’s natural seed might lift up a standard to the people and to a slight extent bless all nations, by calling a halt in the downward course and by reviving in all to some degree the dying influence of the original law of conscience. Nevertheless, the Law was given to a sinful people, under the bondage of corruption, made crooked, etc., and thus most of the Law Covenant reflects this. Furthermore, much of the Law Covenant could only apply to this people in the land promised to them, since many of the commandments of the Law Covenant pertain only to that land.
Of this law covenant the Apostle declares, The Law “was added [to the Abrahamic covenant of promise] because of transgressions [because sin was spreading and men were degrading very rapidly], till the [promised] Seed should come [until Christ came (not only Christ Jesus, the Head, but also the Church his body) to do the real work, the time for which had come] to whom the [Abrahamic Covenant] promise was made.” “For the Law made nothing perfect:” and, moreover, “the Law which was [given] 430 years after [the Covenant made with Abraham] cannot disannul [or in any manner change the terms and conditions of that covenant], that it should make the promise of none effect.” — Galatians 3:19,17; Hebrews 7:19.
But this covenant which God made with Israel was something more than they could fulfill. Although the Law Covenant contained some promises for obedience to particular laws, and it also held the promise of life for those who obey all the laws of the covenant, it is not among the “covenants of promise” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:2. In Galatians 3 & 4, Paul separates the Abrahamic covenant of promise from the Law Covenant. Paul states: “If the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by promise.” (Galatians 3:18) Additionally, he stated: “For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13) And we should also note that the promise to Abraham is built upon the earlier promise of the seed of woman. (Genesis 3:15) Thus, there are at least two covenants of promise.
The Law Covenant given to Israel was fruitless as far as the promise of life, because the Law was weak for such purposes due the sinful flesh of mankind. (Romans 8:3) Thus, Paul wrote: “if there had been a law given which could make alive, most assuredly righteousness would have been of the law.” Therefore, it fails as being a covenant of promise as spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 2:2. The Law Covenant itself produced no living sons of God, for no one is justified by that covenant, thus it fails as a covenant of promise, whereas the earlier covenant of promise with Abraham, as well as the even earlier covenant of promise of the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), do not fail.
God’s dealings with Israel, however were typical of his dealings future from their day. Their Sin-offerings, for instance, typically took away their sins, and brought reconciliation to God for a year at a time to the nation; but, as the Apostle says, those sacrifices could not really cancel sin. — “The blood [death] of bulls and goats can never take away sin.” (Hebrews 10:4) It was man that had sinned, and man that had been sentenced to death, and the death of the animal could at most only typify the death of the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all. (1 Corinthians 15:21,22; Hebrews 10:1-10; 1 Timothy 2:5,6) And not only their sacrifices, but God’s every dealing with that nation, seems to have a typical lesson, the reality of which reaches down either to the Gospel age and even beyond into the age to come. (1 Corinthians 10:6; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) From what we have shown foregoing respecting the divine law, which establishes the lines of right and wrong upon every question, and which, like its Author, is eternally the same unalterable law, we trust that our readers see clearly that the giving of the Law at Sinai had a special, peculiar significance of its own, incidental to the people to whom it was given.
(The above was adapted from R1723)