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Blurring of the Laws of Moses and God

Covenant, Luke 2:22, Mt. Sinai, Moses, forty days, Law of God, Law of Moses, words of the covenant

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Creatorscovenant sees a definite distinction between the Law of Moses and the Law of God.  We have written multiple documents highlighting the distinctions and differences between these two laws.  This includes changes in law that occurred while Israel was wandering in the wilderness, the effects of Israel’s failure at the golden calf, how the description of the Old Covenant doesn’t fit the Sinai Covenant, the catalyst for the construction of the tabernacle and also the description of the Law in Hebrews that ignores the instruction of the Sinai Covenant but focuses on the Deuteronomy covenant.  All of these and others show a clear distinction between two covenants and/or laws.  Yet, many are not convinced.

We think at least part of the problem is that this is a huge subject and traditional beliefs are firmly entrenched.  Once someone is exposed to the possibility that there were two distinct laws during Israel’s wanderings, if they reject the thought they will not consider additional evidence.  Also, traditional Christianity has maligned the Law so much that people are sure anything that diminishes it must be intent on throwing it away also.  Another problem is that we have been taught to read the scriptures a certain way.  After doing this for an extended period of time we think we understand what they mean.  What they actually say is easily glossed over.

This is yet another study of a different part of this story.  In this case we plan to focus specifically on various scriptures that are used to indicate no distinction between the Law of God and the Law of Moses.

In summary, we see each law as based on different national covenants made in the wilderness.  The records of the covenants actually serve as legal documents.  The Sinai covenant (Ex 20-23), summarized as His Covenant, records the initial agreement the Creator made with Israel fully in accord with His Law, i.e., the Law of God.  Unfortunately that covenant didn’t last long.  Israel broke it beyond repair with the worship of the golden calf.

The covenant of Moab/Deuteronomy (Deu 1:1-32:47) records a second (deutero) agreement made by Yahweh as a result of Moses pleading for Israel.  Joshua and Yah called it the Law of Moses.  Deuteronomy calls it ‘this covenant’.  Although generally it supports His Law it includes some provisions that are incompatible with it, but intended to help Israel remain in reasonable compliance with the Law of God.

One reason that Christianity has not understood the difference between the Law of God and the Law of Moses is because there is a fair amount of blurring of the two in Scripture.  For instance, Mark 7:10 says, "For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’".  On the other hand Mathew 15:4 says, "For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’."  These are obviously references to the fifth commandment as recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. One reference seems to indicate it is the Law of Moses, the other the Law of God.

This particular instruction can be considered both.  The legal Law of Moses (Deu 1:1-32:47) assumed the existence of Moses other books (Deu 1:3).  The detailed record of the Law of God is included in the other books of Moses.  Most things in the Law of God are applicable in the Law of Moses.  The laws were not against one another, but in some cases the Law of Moses gave additional slack or tightened, depending on circumstances.  It often gave more detail.  The purpose of the Law of Moses was to keep Israel in reasonable compliance with the Law of God (Gal 3:23). So the terms deal with many of the same issues.

The keeping of ‘His Law’ is required in the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses was given so that Israel would be in a better position to obey "His Law".

Deu 6:1 "Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” "

Deu 26:16 "This day the LORD your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 Today you have proclaimed the LORD to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice. "

Clouding the Distinction

There are places in the Hebrew Scriptures that cloud the distinction between the Law of God and the Law of Moses.  Unfortunately, but understandably, ancient Israel saw little reason to distinguish.  It was all applicable to them and it came from God.  They ultimately lost an appreciation for some being the original fundamental instruction and other aspects being attempts to deal with their regular failure.  One such example is II Chronicles 31:3.

"The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for the burnt offerings: for the morning and evening burnt offerings, the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD. "

All of these sacrifices are listed together in Numbers 28 and 29.  It is not actually specified in the Law from whose herd the animals were to come.  There is no burnt offering at all required in the Sinai Covenant, Exodus 20-23.  Jeremiah 7:22-24 indicates He did not require sacrifices or offerings when He brought Israel out of Egypt.  Israel’s failure was the catalyst for their implementation.   The Sinai covenant, His Law for Israel, was made about the time He brought Israel out of Egypt (Deu 29:25-26).  So, it is unlikely the offerings of Numbers 28-29 or II Chronicles 31:3, were part of His Law and less likely the King of Israel was required by His Law to supply them.  For hundreds of years when Israel was in the Promised Land there was no king. 

Specifically Numbers 28:6 indicates these required sacrifices were "ordained at Mount Sinai".  Leviticus 7:37-38 also indicates the offerings were commanded "on Mount Sinai".  This instruction, though, was not given in Exodus 20-23, but on the mountain during Exodus 34.  It was given to Moses "on Mount Sinai" and transmitted to Israel as soon as Moses came down the mountain.

"Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai". (Ex 34:32)  This new instruction could not be added to His Covenant (Gal 3:15) which was confirmed in Exodus 24.

The Hebrew text designating Mt. Sinai is identical in these cases.   This describes events that happened as Moses was returning to the camp with the replacement tablets after his second 40-day stay on Mt. Sinai.   There is no similar phrase applied to the instruction of the Sinai covenant.

A similar phrase is used in Exodus 31:18.   It is not associated with any particular new instruction.   It is also not connected with any failure on the part of Israel even though the making of the golden calf was probably underway at the base of the mountain.   Jeremiah 7 links the requirement of sacrifices to the egregious failure of Israel to obey His instruction.   Jeremiah 7:22-23 makes clear that animal sacrifices were a reaction to Israel’s failure.

Early Blur

The confusion over these covenants is not exclusive to Christianity.  The distinction between them probably started to fade with Judah's captivity in Babylon.  At that time Judah's leadership recognized the nation had ignored the instruction of their Creator.  They understood that they lost their nation and independence because they had not carefully followed the Creator’s instruction.  They did not distinguish what Yah spoke directly to ancient Israel and Moses at Sinai and what came to be because of Moses’ pleading for their father’s lives.  Even though they remembered the golden calf they didn’t understand how close their father’s came to being destroyed (Neh 9 especially vss.18-23).

One could say: ‘They didn’t recognize the distinction, so therefore there was none.’  That is not what the record of Moses shows.  It shows a second (deutero) covenant with different terms and a different relationship between Yah and Israel.  It was commanded for them so they could live and inherit the land (Deu 29:1, 4:1, 5:33 etc).  The expectation of the Sinai covenant was that they would be a nation of priests to their Creator (Ex 19:5-6).  They were incapable of living to that expectation.  A merciful Creator put together plan B.

It is generally believed that Ezra wrote or compiled Chronicles, Nehemiah and Ezra. (See NIV Study Bible Intro to Ezra and I Chronicles).  Ezra lived at the end of the Babylonian captivity about 1000 years after Moses.  It is in Chronicles and Nehemiah that the blurring of the Law of Moses and the Law of God is prominent.  The distinction began to be blurred in the books that were overseen by or attributed to Ezra; i.e., Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.

For Israel at the time of Ezra, one could understand that there was little reason to make a distinction between these instructions.  It all came from the Creator and it all applied directly to them.  It should be no surprise that a law from God would be called the Law of God.  The fact that they did not always distinguish should not color the plain record of Moses and the covenant documents themselves which hold many different terms.   The Creator commanded/required Israel to agree to the covenant of the Law of Moses (Deu 29:1).  It is no surprise that they considered it "the Law of the Lord".

Certainly all the instruction given to Moses for them needed to be respected.  Doing that was right and good.  However, losing the distinction of the original intention was probably a significant factor in the Jews not weighing correctly what was really important and what was not so much.   We can see in Nehemiah 9:2 what may be the beginnings of the people separating themselves from gentiles.  Part of their problem was that they intermarried and ended up worshiping foreign gods.  That needed to stop.  Of course, over time they determined that gentiles were inherently unclean.  That was never Yah’s intention.

As it turns out there is also an anomaly in Joshua 24:26.  “Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.”  Here, at the end of the book it appears that where we would logically expect a reference to the book of the Law of Moses there is a reference to the book of the Law of God.  Other references in Joshua call out the Law of Moses (Josh 1:7, 8:31-32, 22:5, 23:6).  Of course, we really don’t know what document is intended, but lacking some explanation, it seems unlikely that it was the book Moses wrote in Exodus 24:4.  However, if we consider that this was likely a sheepskin parchment scroll there may be reason to think that Joshua added his words to the end of the scroll of Exodus 24:4.

Once scrolls got to a certain size they became hard to handle, so their length was limited.  The books of Moses are all about the same length.  This may be because Moses wrote until he was toward the end of the scroll, then brought the subject to a graceful close.  Deuteronomy is a bit unique because it is a legal covenant document, but it is also about the same size as the other books and may have fit nicely onto its own scroll.  The scroll of Exodus 24:4 on the other hand may have had quite a bit of room left over since that covenant was not nearly so long.  It might have been a convenient place for Joshua to continue Israel’s story.

It also seems problematic for Joshua to add to the scroll that was beside the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy place.  Only the High Priest went in there and that only once a year.  Certainly at some point they made copies, but that isn’t explained either.

Alternatively, the reference to the Law of God could have been added by someone like Ezra who didn’t fully appreciate the importance of distinguishing.  It is unlikely Joshua wrote that verse himself, since it is in the context of the record of his death.  In any case, this lack of distinction does not nullify the record of Moses that plainly indicates many changes included in the terms of the Deuteronomy covenant, the Law of Moses.

Later Distinction

The Creator distinguishes when He is quoted.  He is clearly interested in His Law and His Covenant (II Chron 7:17,  Eze 11:12-20, Eze 20:11- 25, Isa 56:4-6).  There is typically a contextual connection mainly with instruction found in Exodus 20-23.  Note that when He specifically talks of the Law of Moses He does not connect it with His/My statutes or His/My judgments (Mal 4:4).

He does indicate the Law of Moses was given at Horeb (Sinai).  The great bulk of the Law of Moses was indeed given on Mt. Sinai.  This is affirmed in Exodus 34:32-34.  It was not codified and confirmed until Israel was about to enter the Promised Land.  It was specifically for Israel in the Promised Land (Deu 12:1).  The Levites, who administered the Law of Moses (Heb 7:11, see NASB, EGNT, NLT, CSB or NIV -especially pre 2011) had no God-given authority outside the Promised Land.

Sometimes the prophets also distinguish.  Daniel 9 is a case in point.  Daniel praises the Creator for "His covenant" and "His commandments".  His covenant is, of course, the Ten Commandments spoken in Exodus 20 (Deu 4:12-13, Ex 34:28).  He then bemoans Israel's failure to keep "Your precepts" and "Your judgments" in verses 4 & 5.  Then in verses 10-11 he does the same with "His Laws and "Your law".  However, when mentioning the curses, they are "in the Law of Moses" (vss. 11, 13).  Indeed this is the case (Deu 28).  They are not part of His law.  His Law assumes obedience.  The Law of Moses assumes disobedience and the curses. Therefore, the sacrifices were established.

All through the Psalms, David praises "Your law", not "the law".  There is always some direct connection made to indicate the Law of the Creator, never just 'the law', never the Law of Moses.

 Blur in Luke 2

 

There are also places in the New Testament where instruction is called the Law of the Lord, but the reference is not directly to Exodus 20-23. One such place is in Luke 2:22-24.

 "Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Moses is not generally considered to be "the Lord", so a reference to the Law of the Lord cannot be confused with the Law of Moses.  However, none of the quotes Luke uses from the Hebrew scriptures are from Exodus 20-23, although Exodus 13:2 & 12, being shortly before Exodus 20 would be assumed to be consistent with it.  One reference is apparently to Exodus 13:2 & 12, the other to Leviticus 12:8.  In this case, Luke associates Leviticus 12:8, which creatorscovenant considers to be the Law of Moses, with the Law of God.  So, is the Law of the Lord and the Law of Moses one and the same, making the Law of God the same too?

The first thing we should notice is that the first reference to ‘the law of the Lord, is out of place considering the context.  It seems to claim Mary brought Jesus/Yeshua to Jerusalem because He was firstborn (‘Every male who opens the womb’).  However, the rest of the context is talking about purification after childbirth.  Yeshua’s status as firstborn of Mary really has little to do with Leviticus instruction regarding purification.  The purification required in Leviticus 12:8 is required whether or not the male child is firstborn.  The purification offering was offered about 41 days after the birth (Lev 12:3-4). 

The offering to redeem the firstborn was done at the age of one month.  The redemption fee was 5 shekels (Num 18:15-16).  There is no specific requirement to present the firstborn at the temple.  Hannah didn’t take the prophet Samuel to the tabernacle until he was weaned (I Sam 1:24).  So, this account in Luke 2 seems to be confused.  Although, the vast majority of reputable texts include this account, one could question whether this reference to the firstborn was included by the original author. Certainly, he would have known better. In spite of that, it is true that the Law of the Lord/God claims the firstborn (Ex 22:29). So, the connection made in Luke 2:23 does reflect reality and the perspective of creatorscovenant.

Luke 2:22 also accurately calls the time period of purification a function of the Law of Moses. This is described in Leviticus 12:2-6. There is no command in Exodus 20-23 even hinting at a period of purification as part of childbirth.

That doesn’t completely eliminate the problem.  This account still refers to the turtledove offering required at Mary’s purification as the law of the Lord, i.e. God.  This is reinforced in verse 39.  So, what creatorscovenant sees as the Law of Moses is again being called the Law of God.  Does that invalidate a distinction between the Law of God and the Law of Moses?

Did Luke, when he wrote this gospel, understand better than Ezra the need to distinguish between the two covenants of the Wilderness?  We have no record that Yeshua directly addressed the matter.  Yeshua clearly indicated Moses allowance for divorce was not ‘from the beginning’.  He connected that allowance more with Moses than with the Father (Mat 19:8, Mark 10:4-5).

Yeshua also indicated the need to come to the temple for the three joyous festivals would not continue (John 4:20-24, see also Mat 23:38).  He also indicated the priests were really profaning the Sabbath with their duties that day (Mat 12:5).  These all indicate changes from the original intention of the Creator.  The disciples simply did not grasp the significance of these new (really renewed) teachings and atypical actions which cast a shadow over the Law of Moses.

All the disciples seemed to be surprised that Yeshua would talk to a woman (John 4:27).  Doing this was contrary to tradition.  He didn’t actually condemn this tradition although He did condemn some traditions.  His focus was to instruct people the full intention of the Law not tell them what was redundant.  Before He began teaching, the covenant of Deuteronomy/Moab was still the governing law.  It acknowledged that His instruction was superior (Deu 18:18-19).  That society had grown up with no distinction between these covenants.  Since Yeshua didn’t directly address the matter they had little reason to change their thinking.

Consider as well that years later, Peter did not distinguish between tradition and the Law.  ‘Then he said to them, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”’(Acts 10:28).

There is nothing in the Law to prevent a Jew from keeping company with a gentile.  This practice likely came from the Pharisees who imposed many traditions over what was required by the Law.  Peter had to be convinced by a vision that shunning gentiles was not in accord with the mind of the Creator.   So even at this time many years after the resurrection of Messiah, Peter did not distinguish between traditions of the national leaders and the expectation of His Creator.  Is it a surprise that Luke would not distinguish perfectly between one law from God and another?

Consider also Peter’s conduct in Galatians 2:11-17.  Here Peter withdraws from Gentiles, evidently because he was worried that other Jews might be offended that he was associating with gentiles.  He was esteeming lightly the Gentile children of God in favor of Jewish traditions.  If he could not distinguish tradition over the instruction of God, is it a surprise that he and Luke might not have fully understood the distinction between the pure Law of God and the Law God added for Israel in an attempt to keep them within a reasonable degree of compliance with His original intention?

The Law of Moses came from God. Is it a surprise that it would be considered to be the Law of God? This would certainly be easy to do hundreds of years later after the leadership lost the distinction and Yeshua chose not to focus on it.

So, while there is a blurring in the later books of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, this should not cloud the authoritative historical record of the law as written by Moses and other witnesses in the Prophets and Writings.  Covenants are not changed after the fact.  His covenant is His Law (Ps 78:10).  The law He made at the pleading of Moses is of great value to us.  It adds detail, but was written specifically to ancient Israel in the Promised Land establishing a Levitical priesthood (Deu 12:1, 18:1-5). 

The Creator doesn't claim the Law of Moses as His own.  It must be evaluated carefully based on His law.  In some cases it is not reasonable that we follow Moses instruction specifically for ancient Israel under the Levitical priests.  However, when the basis for Moses instruction is not hard heartedness or as a reminder to do what they ought to do, it needs to be considered very carefully.  Those who wish to participate in the New Covenant need to consider the examples of both laws.  The Law of Moses should be consulted to understand how His Law was implemented for Israel, so we can better apply His Law to our own situation.

Yeshua indicated that one would come in the position of Elijah to restore all things (Mat 17:11).  He evidently didn’t see Himself in that position even though He taught in accord with and filled up His Fathers’ original intention.  This would indicate that He left some things unrestored.  A full understanding of circumcision was one of those things.  Believers need to seek in all the corners and crannies for those things.  In the case of the Law of Moses, the writings of Moses and Joshua contain the historically authoritative accounts.  In their writings the evidence for a distinction is overwhelming.  It is also evident in other places in the New and Old Testaments.  The blurring of that distinction many hundreds of years after Moses even by prophets of God is not reason to dismiss the distinction in Moses record and elsewhere in Scripture.

For the Record

There are a few other places in Scripture that can confuse people.

Gal 3:17 "And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. "

This verse is certainly referring to the law of the covenant of Exodus 20.  It calls it 'the law'.  Does that mean there is only one law and it was confirmed in the Sinai covenant?

Actually, this verse is using the 430 year reference to distinguish the Law from this law, which was confirmed 430 years after the promises.  This law was certainly considered to be part of the Law.   Particularly the Jews didn’t typically distinguish the two.  However, Paul wanted to distinguish and the time from the promises in Genesis 15 was well known because of Exodus 12:41.   The timeframe there was within two months of the confirming of the Sinai covenant.  What was generally known as the law was confirmed 470 years after the promises (Deu 31:24-26, 1:3-5).  This 430 year connection does not apply to what was generally known as ‘the Law’, which was confirmed 40 years later.  Paul deals with what was generally known as ‘The Law’ in verse 19 and 21.

The Law established the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11).  The firstborn were the priests of the Law established 430 years after the promises (Ex 13:2, Num 3:45)  A change in the priesthood necessitated a change in Law (Heb 7:12).  So while relations between neighbors were the same, the relationship with the Creator was different with the Levitical priesthood.

Verse 18 helps understand that there is a difference between these two laws.  It uses ‘law’ intending yet another meaning.  In this verse it is talking of law in general, not any particular codified law.  So we have three verses in a row that use the word ‘law’ and are each intending a different law.

The Law was added because of transgressions (vs. 19).  The law which was 430 years after the promises was not added to anything.  It stood as the total agreement between Yahweh and Israel when confirmed.  It was given intending Israel would be a nation of priests representing Yah to other nations (Ex 19:5-6).  The specific connection with the 430 years was made to focus on this specific law that was generally included as part of the Law, but is actually separate.  

Galatians is not claiming that what they generally called ‘the Law’ was instituted 430 years after the promises.  What was generally called The Law, the one added because of transgressions, was confirmed 470 years after the promises (Deu 1:1-5, 29:1, 31:24-26, 9:16-24).  It was indeed added to His Law, the Sinai Law/covenant (Deu 29:1, 31:24-26, 26:16-17, 4:1-2).

In Galatians 3:21 Paul asks “Is the law then against the promises of God…?”  He’s not asking a question for which he gave the answer in verse 17.  He’s bringing up the same general matter, but for the law that was generally understood to be ‘the law’.

Mat 5:18

"For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

First let’s understand, the law remains as written.  The Law is a covenant.  One could not add to a covenant.  Therefore they could not be amended and not changed (Gal 3:15).  So if one wants to receive the benefits of a covenant one must abide by all its precepts as originally agreed.  This includes pilgrimages to Yah’s dwelling for the Feasts and animal sacrifice in order to receive forgiveness for sins.

Consider as well that Yeshua diminished some aspects of the Law.  He condemned its allowance of divorce (Mat 19:3-11) and saw a problem with the Levites working on the Sabbath (Mat 12:5).  He also diminished the importance of the festival pilgrimages (John 4:20-24).  The Creator also withdrew His support by vacating the temple (Luke 13:35) and later had it destroyed.  So He abandoned the dwelling He promised to maintain in Israel which was part of the covenant that was the Law of Moses (Deu 12:5).

So Yeshua himself allowed that one could weigh the instruction of the Law lightly and be more pleasing to the Creator than if they kept it.  In fact, in allowing the destruction of the temple, the Father made it impossible for any male, anyway, to keep the Law as written (Deu 12:5-11, Deu 16:16).  So in Mathew 5:19 Yeshua seems to say that one must keep the whole Law, but later he diminishes the Law and the Father makes it impossible to keep.  What is going on?

The problem is we don’t read carefully or appreciate the rigor of the underlying Greek text.  Yeshua did not say “… least of the commandments in the law…”.  He said “… least of these commandments…”  This implies certain specific commandments, not every commandment of the Law.

In the Greek language it is essential to match gender and number when speaking of a thing(s). ‘Law’ in verse 18 is singular.  Of course, ‘these’ and ‘commandments’ are plural.  ‘These commandments’ is not referring to ‘the [singular] Law’, but to some other plural thing.  'These’ indicates something more specific.  It is not just indicating everything in the Law.  In accord with Greek grammar it is most likely referring to the many directions that Yeshua is about to fill full beginning verse 21.

The law remains as written, but the common interpretation and wisdom of the day from the Scribes and Pharisees was deficient.  In order to fully qualify for and advance in the Kingdom, one needed to live according to Messiah’s standard laid out in His instructions that follow beginning verse 21.

The contents of the Sinai covenant and Deuteronomy covenant are clearly not the same.  They both came from Yahweh, but they were intended to accomplish different things with and for Israel.  His expectation of them was different and their relationship with Him was different in each covenant.  This is apparent with a careful examination of the terms of each covenant.  The Law of Moses was intended to keep Israel in tolerable compliance with the Law of God.  We should not be confused because those who needed to carefully follow the Law of Moses did not carefully distinguish the Law of God from it.