Old Covenant; Dispensations in the Old Testament
Understanding the Old Testament Lesson #009
February 27, 2000
Father, we do thank you that we have the privilege and opportunity to gather together this morning to worship You through the study of Your Word. Your Word is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path. Father it is Your Word that guides and directs us. We pray that You will help us understand it and see its significance for our lives that we may renovate our thinking that we might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We pray this in His Name. Amen.
We have been studying last time and the last couple of weeks, the formation of the nation. How God has through Abraham called into existence a new nation through whom God is going to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. We saw that this was necessitated after the flood by the rebellion of man and their refusal to obey God to scatter throughout the earth and multiply and fill the earth. Instead they gathered themselves together at Babel, the Tower of Babel, where they were going to make a name for themselves in rebellion against God. So God called out Abraham and exercised a new initiative in human history to call out a unique people to Himself. Then we studied the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the approximately 480 years that the Hebrews spent in Egypt as slaves; and then the Exodus event last time.
Now we said last time that there are three prerequisites to having a nation:
1. A people
2. A law or constitution
Last time with the Exodus we saw the origination of the people as God acquired for Himself a people. That is the Passover, which is a portrayal, as we will see, of our redemption, where God purchases us with the precious blood of a lamb, the blood of Jesus Christ, which is what this relates to. This morning what I want to do is cover the first part or introduction to the Law and how that is set up. But first we need to see how this whole event works out typologically to see its relationship to our own Christian lives.
1 Corinthians 10:6 says, “Now these things.” Now in that passage it is talking about and refers to many of these events in the early history of Israel and surrounding the Exodus and the Exodus generation. And Paul says, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” The word that is translated “example” is the Greek word TUPOS. TUPOS has to do with a mark, a stamp, a mold, a model. We develop from that is a technical theological terminology of a “type.” A “type” is an Old Testament illustration that or visual aid that pictures something to do with a person or the work of Jesus Chris and visualizes a theological or doctrinal principle that becomes evident in the New Testament. So it is a foreshadowing technique; for example, the Lamb of God. John the Baptist when he saw Jesus said, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world." The sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament is a picture of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross where He died as a substitute for our sins.
So that is the essence of typology. Now this has been carried to extremes and you always have to be careful and let the Scriptures define what is typological and what is not typological. In the entire workings of God in the history of the nation Israel you see different elements in there development, which portray the order of salvation and how God has worked in our lives. For example:
1. Election, this is His choice of Abraham. God called out Abraham in Genesis 12 and selected him. The essential meaning of election is “selection.” God called out Abraham and promised that through him He would bless all the nations. This was an unconditional work on the part of God. There was nothing in Abraham that necessitated that; it does not have to do with his salvation. It is not a violation of freewill. As a matter of fact, if you will look at the overall context, I touched briefly on it when we looked at Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant is in shape or form of what we call the royal land grant in the ancient world. And a royal land grant was the secondary sort of gift that was bestowed by the king upon a loyal subject. It did not have to do with that subject’s entering into a relationship with the king to begin with, but that the king would come along to this subject and out of his own goodness and graciousness, for his own purposes would freely grant some land to the subject. So that is the model of the Abrahamic Covenant, the ancient royal land grant. So God chooses Abraham; so we have the picture of election and the choice of Abraham.
2. Adoption, the believer’s adoption into the family of God with the Abrahamic Covenant itself. It is upon the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant that the nation, the descendents of Abraham, is adopted as God’s sons. The Abrahamic Covenant pictures the adoption of the nation. In all of this the nation as a whole is viewed as redeemed. This is a difficult concept to handle because there is no such thing as a Christian nation because nations aren’t saved. But the nation of Israel is pictured as being “redeemed” because they are brought out of slavery. It is merely a picture it is not a statement necessarily that every individual is saved. But that Israel is a unique nation in all of human history because God has chosen them to be the mediating priest nation from whom God will bless all other nations. So in that sense, these events in Israel’s history portray for us certain elements in salvation and the spiritual.
3. Redemption and regeneration is portrayed through the Passover. Scripture says that we were not redeemed with corruptible things from our empty manner of life, such as silver and gold, but from the precious blood of a lamb without spot or blemish. This is what takes place at the Exodus event. They are in slavery. They whole world is under condemnation of death. The eldest son in each household and each family would be taken that night when the angel of death passed over unless the blood of the spotless lamb was applied to the doorpost of the house. When this blood of the lamb is applied then the angel passed over and because of the blood payment the sacrificial death of the lamb, which portrays the death of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary atonement when He died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. Then we are redeemed or the death penalty for sin is removed from us. It is the Passover that is a picture of our redemption and regeneration.
Then there is the passing through the Red Sea, which is a portrayal of according to 1 Corinthians 10 a picture of the baptism into Moses, they are identified with Moses through passing through the Red Sea; and that is a portrayal of the believer of our baptism in to Christ, our identification with Christ. That is the essential meaning of baptism. It is not getting wet; it is not being immersed in water; it is identification. If you think about the Exodus event, the children of Israel were baptized, the Hebrews are baptized into Moses; they are identified with Moses in deliverance. They passed through the Red Sea on dry land. The only ones to get wet were the Egyptians and they drowned. So don’t think that baptism automatically means getting wet. Baptism primarily has the denotation of identification.
So it is at this point with the Exodus event and the deliverance of Passover and the nation becomes the people of God. But it is not until they are given the Mosaic Law that they get the principles for living as the people of God. So salvation takes place first, before the giving of the Law. The last point, I want to reemphasize it, that people who think that the Mosaic Law was the basis for salvation in the Old Testament have things completely backwards. According to the typological order, salvation takes place first, and then God gives His requirements for living. Salvation is always based on grace, never based on obedience. The Mosaic Law prescribes not only the principle of civil law for believer and unbeliever alike in the nation; but also ceremonial law related to the believers in the nation. So, in a sense, typologically the Mosaic Law is a type of sanctification mandates for the believer in the Church Age. There are always mandates; there are always commands and prohibitions for believers in every generation.
Just think, the Mosaic Covenant was given specifically to the nation Israel and throughout the Old Testament whenever God presents an indictment against a Gentile nations, it is never on the basis of violating anything in the Mosaic Law. If you go through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Minor Prophets whenever there are condemnations and judgments brought against the Gentile nations it is always on the basis of violating something either in relation to the Noahic Covenant, they have erected idols, they are violating God’s standard in that arena, or they are hostile to Israel, anti-Semitic. God promised Abraham that the nations who curse you I will in turn curse. If they treat you lightly, I will judge. So that is the basis for all judgments of Gentile nations. You cannot demonstrate anywhere that they are in violation of the Mosaic Law. There are certain principles that we will see, such as, the prohibition to murder did not begin with the Mosaic Law. Since the origination of history, murder has always been wrong; not because it is in the Ten Commandments but because it violates God’s purpose since the beginning of time. This was exemplified in the episode with Cain and Abel.
Up to this point in history, up to the Exodus event, the common denominator in the nation Israel was simply the acceptance of Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their God. Circumcision was the sign of that covenant. Circumcision is not specifically related to the Mosaic Covenant, but it is specifically the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant; that is the totality of the spiritual life. They don’t have much more revelation than that. It is not until they come to Sinai that they are given a complete constitution that entails civil law, criminal law, and ceremonial law; that is basically the outline of the Mosaic Covenant.
When we use the word Old Testament it comes from the word berit and berit means a contract, a covenant, or a constitution. I think if we think of the Mosaic Covenant as analogous to our constitution we can have a greater understanding of its significance. God is setting up a nation, a nation of priest, as we will see from Exodus 19:5-6, and this is to be their law code. Just as the US Constitution and body of law is not applicable to someone in some other nations neither was the Mosaic Law applicable to anyone else in any other nation. It is God’s outline of civil, criminal, and ceremonial law for the nation Israel. So when we speak about the Old Testament we are talking about the old constitution. The New Testament is the new constitution. Just those very terms indicate and demonstrate that God has shifted the way in which He relates to mankind or administers human history; that is what is also called dispensationalism.
Not everyone holds to dispensationalism, but the essence of dispensationalism is that there is a distinction in history between the way God works with Israel and the way God works with the church. God has two distinct peoples in history, Israel and the church. We take all of God’s promises to Israel to be literal and that if they have not been literally been fulfilled yet they will be literally fulfilled in the future. I have specifically avoided, intentionally avoided putting questions in your mind as to why we haven’t mentioned dispensations up to this point; that is because I wanted to bring them in as the text unfolded. I will come back and say some things about dispensations next time.
But what we see is that through these covenants God redefines or reestablishes how He works in human history. The essential meaning or root meaning of the word dispensation is an economy. The Greek word from which we have translated the English word for dispensation is the Greek word OIKONOMOS or OIKONOMIA. It is an adjective. If you will think about it, economy or OIKONOMIA; you can see how the English word economy has originated from the Greek word OIKONOMOS. OIKONOMOS is a compound word OIKOS meaning ‘house’ and NOMOS meaning ‘law.’ It simply relates to the fact of rules for administering the house has changed with different periods in human history.
This just says, if you were parents, and most of you were at one time or you were children. As you grew up, as you matured, the rules governing your relationship to the house changed. When you were eighteen you were treated differently than when you were eight, and there was a different set of rules for when you were six. If your parents were consistent the principles underlying those rules were the same. For example, God has always operated on the principle of faith alone as the basis of salvation. In the Old Testament there was a faith that anticipated the fulfillment of the promise. In the New Testament it is a faith that looks back to the completion of the promise. God has always worked on the principle of faith alone in Christ alone either in anticipation or in looking back. But God has modified the way in which He governs or administers human history from age to age and He does that through giving the new revelation.
We saw how He defined how Adam was to operate in the perfect environment of the garden of Eden. He was to cultivate and keep the garden. The key word there, to keep or to guard, the garden, shamar, has the idea of worship and we will see that in a passage in Exodus 20. This is a key word in covenant. There was a violation by man of God’s prohibition in the garden and what happened? God had to modify that original Creation covenant, Adamic Covenant, and the curse in Genesis 3. Then there is a further disobedience of man with the Noahic Flood and God had to come in and redefined or modifies the covenant again in the Noahic Covenant and that changes the stipulations; before Genesis 9 man is a vegetarian and I believe that between the Fall and the Flood God was still mediating justice directly on the earth, whereas, after the Flood He now delegates justice to the human race. But there are these modifications and now because of man’s rebellion and failure to obey God. God is calling out a special nations and this is the thrust of the key passage in Exodus 19:6.
In Exodus 19:5-6, which I think is the core passage for understanding all of the Old Testament. Everything from Genesis and early Exodus up to this point leads to this statement and everything from the rest of the Old Testament flows out from this statement. In Exodus 19:5 we read, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant,” that word we will see again shamar, means to keep or to guard, it is the same word that God used in the mandates to Adam to guard or keep the garden. “… if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation these are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” So the key phrase is that God is calling them out to be a kingdom of priests. The role and function of a priest is to be a mediator, an intermediate between God and man and this is the role of the nation now in regards to all of the other nations on the earth that all of the nations would come through Israel to have direct access to God. They are the priest nation.
So there are three things that we can say developed from this particular verse, Exodus 19:5-6: First of all, God is saying that He is going to “create a nation that will be a precious or unique treasure;” this is the idea, “You will be My Own possession.” But it is a much stronger word than that in the original Hebrew, “create a nation that will be a precious or unique treasure for Almighty God.” Secondly, they are to be “a kingdom of priests;” that is access to God will be through the nation Israel. Third, that the nation will be holy and the root meaning of ‘holy’ is to be set apart to God for the service of God.
1. Let’s look at the first point, “to create a nation that will be a precious or unique treasure for Almighty God.” When God calls them forth He says, “you will obey My voice and keep My covenant.” So they are called forth for the specific purpose of obeying God and serving God. This is a key word here, the word translated ‘keep,’ shamar, is the key word used in covenant to describe the responsibility of the covenant partner to the overlord. Remember we are going to get into this a little more today that the model for this covenant is what was called in the ancient world the Suzerain-Vassal treaty form. Suzerain is a term that refers to a great king or despot in the ancient world and he was the great lord and sometimes one empire would have various smaller kingdoms and nations that they had conquered and these had a relationship to the overlord as a vassal nation. They were servants of the overlord. This is the model for man’s relationship to God. God is pictured as the Great King and man is created to serve God. So the purpose of the vassal is to serve the Great King, which is the purpose of mankind. Now when God set this forth and makes this statement in Exodus 19:5, he says, “If you obey My voice and keep My covenant.” This should remind us of the fact that man has continuously disobeyed God’s covenant.
“If you obey My voice and keep My covenant then you shall be My Own possession.” This is the Hebrew word cédula, which means a precious treasure, a unique treasure; it describes something that is you delight in, like a precious stone. It is something of extreme value, the highest value to you. So when God days that you will be My Own possession; it is not simply talking about ownership, it is talking about the value and the significance of the nation Israel to Him above all the other peoples on the earth. God says all the earth is Mine, all the people are Mine, but you will be special for you are unique to Me; I will specifically delight in you over and above all the other peoples.
Now this same passage is taken later in 1 Peter by Peter and it applies to the Church as well. It does not mean that the Church has supplanted or replaced Israel. This is the problem with many theological systems. They portray human history in such a way that Israel fails God so they are taken out and replaced by the Church. Roman Catholics, Lutheran, Reform, Methodist theology all interpret the Church as the replacement of Israel. This causes them to have to spiritualize the promises that God made in the Old Testament when God promises a land to Israel, that they will have certain borders and have a certain amount of land. That never was fulfilled in the Old Testament and the only way to get around that in these other systems is to say well God had to change His plan and it is no longer literal now it is spiritual and so the land refers to heaven. But that means that God will never fulfill promises He made to Israel and that has a serious problem.
So we have to believe in a literal and consistent interpretation of the Scripture and that God will eventually completely and literally fulfill His promises to the nation Israel. He has a second plan, a second group of people that He has called forth and that is the Church in the present age and we are as well a unique and precious people to the LORD. So He has called the nation out so that they will be a precious and unique treasure and possession to Him. This tells us that the primary purpose for the existence of Israel as a nation is theocentric. It is God-centric. It is not man centered. This is in contrast to the way that human history and human historians interpret this. Israel finds this as a way to justify their existence and what this shows is that their existence is based solely and exclusively on God and as many people have pointed out, in fact many people who have a bias against Christianity and the Bible have pointed out, it is the existence of Israel, the continued existence of Israel and the Jew throughout history that is one of the greatest evidences for the veracity of the Bible in all of history.
2. Now the second reason God calls them forth “is to be a kingdom of priests.” It is through them that the other nations will have access to God. So it is through the priesthood of Israel and the sacrificial system of Israel that God will bring other nations into a relationship with Him. Of course that is ultimately fulfilled in the first advent in Jesus Christ Who is the seed, Galatians 3 says He is the seed of Abraham and 1 Timothy 2:4 says that there is only one mediator between God and man and this is the man Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:16 “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” and 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” So, ultimate fulfillment of this is in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
3. Third, the nation is to be “holy.” We saw that them word holy does not imply necessarily purity. That is a secondary concept that we bring to the word in certain context. But the root meaning of he’dash is to be set apart for the service of God; to be set apart exclusively. That something was called common or profane because it was used for many different purposes; but if something, for example the furniture in the tabernacle, the dishes and all the other utensils, were set apart to God. They were called he’dash because they were set apart to be exclusively used for the purpose of God. They were not to be used for everyday purposes. So that is the root meaning of profane and common.
Now the Mosaic Covenant is really laid out according to the pattern of a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty. Now this was a treaty form that was commonly used and it is found in political documents all over the ancient Middle East in the 2nd millennium BC. That is from 2000 BC to 1000 BC this is the treaty form that predominated. So this in itself is a witness to the fact that the Mosaic Covenant was given at this time in history. You can’t late date it; you can’t say that this was put together after the Babylonian captivity by some priesthood because by 500 BC no one knew this existed. And of course that is the typical liberal theological position is that it was after the Babylonian captivity that the priest got together and basically wrote the oral tradition of Israel and put it together and came up with the Old Testament. They would not have known about these ancient treaty forms and things like that. So this clearly puts the origination of the Mosaic Covenant in the historical context of the 2nd millennium BC. We have a very similar document, which was found in the new kingdom Hittite capital city of Hitachi, which is the same fundamental pattern and this is what most Old Testament scholars go to to help elucidate the background of the Old Covenant.
It begins with a preamble, which is found in Exodus 20:2. Why don’t we open our Bibles to the Exodus 20 and we will spend the rest of the morning in this chapter. It was typical in the ancient documents that when the king began to introduce himself he would go on and on and on and very verbose hyperbolic language explaining how great he was and how powerful he was. In contrast to that you just have a very short concise powerful statement in the Preamble. God says, “I Am the LORD your God.” He does not expand on it. He does not defend Himself. He doesn’t prove His existence. He simply presupposes Who He is and states it to the Hebrews. “I Am the LORD your God.” He then goes on in the next section, which is called the Historical Prologue to identify the parties involved in the contract and their historical relationship.
This is the second part of Exodus 20:2, “I Am the LORD your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Now we said when I started this introduction, in fact the entire Pentateuch is laid out on this same pattern. You have the historical preamble in the first couple of chapters of Genesis and then the remainder of Genesis and into the first eighteen chapters of Exodus is a historical prologue for the whole Pentateuch. It is in Genesis and early Exodus that God rehearses all He has done in bringing the nation, bringing the people into existence. So there are these two elements:
1. Preamble, which identifies the Suzerain.
2. Historical Prologue, which identifies or rehearses what the Suzerain has done as a protector and gracious and benevolent king in favor of the vassal. Often times in the ancient treaty the vassal was pictured as someone who had violated the law or violated previous contracts and so the suzerain sets himself up as being gracious and kind and always beneficial to the vassal.
3. The next section in these treaties was the stipulation section. These would set out all the requirements for the relationship between the suzerain and the vassal. What we have here is two sections in the Mosaic Covenant. You have the General Requirements, which are what we call the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-17 outlines the General Requirements. And then, Specific Requirements are stated beginning in Exodus 20:22-23:13 and this section is also referred to as the Book of the Covenant. The Ten Commandments represent in some sense you could say that the Ten Commandments are almost like the Preamble to the US Constitution. It is just a very general summary of basic principles that undergird everything else in the Mosaic Covenant. When you get into the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 20:22 you will find case law, which is the forerunner and the model on which US law is based. We have a legal system that is based on case law and has its historical precedence established in the Mosaic Law. This is a nation where the founding fathers were influenced by a Judeo-Christian heritage. It is that concept of law as something that is absolute that is the foundation of the nation. Law comes from a higher source; it comes from God; it is not something that has its ultimate origination point in the Creation. This is what we find in the beginning point of the Ten Commandments when God said, “I Am the LORD your God.”
These are not ten suggestions, these are the Ten Commandments. This is not something that people vote on this is I Am the foundation because I Am absolute, I am the ultimate foundation for law for absolute right and wrong in the universe. So the first section deals with the preamble and the second with the historical prologue the third covers the stipulations general and specific.
4. The fourth division or element in the Suzerain-Vassal Treaty would be the provision to remember to reading, to store the covenant so that it would be read from generation to generation. This of course is further developed in Deuteronomy, but in Exodus as well you have this laid out in Exodus 23:2-7, that the covenant is to be read to all of the people to remind them of what God has done for them and what the stipulations are.
5. Then there were witnesses. The witnesses here would be all of the tribes on the one hand, because they witnessed God, they heard God speak from the mountain when God speaks to Israel. Look at the end of Exodus 19:23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.” 25 “So Moses went down to the people and told them.” Then Moses warned them not to come up on the mountain and then God spoke all these words. God is speaking. When God gives the Ten Commandments He is speaking audibly from the mountain of Sinai to the entire assembly of people at the base of the mountain.
If you had been there with your recorder you could have recorded the actual voice of God delivering the Ten Commandments to the nation. It is at the end of that that the people are afraid and they say go get the rest of it because we can’t stand to hear the voice of God anymore. It is too convicting. So then Moses went up into the mountain and spent 40 days on the mountain where he is given the tablets and the law and when he came back that is during the whole episode with the golden calf. So this is the framework. There is a provision for reading this and the witnesses are all the tribes that are gathered at the foot of the mountain. They put up piles of stones as markers, historical memorials that later generations could go back and see those rock cairn. It would be a reminder that this was the reason those cairns were there was something that happened in history where God had spoken to the people. So on the one hand for witnesses to the contract you had the tribes and the altar on the other hand represent God. These are the two witnesses. The altar for Got and tribes for the people are the two witnesses to the contract.
6. Then there would be a blessing and cursing section in the treaty. The Suzerain would say that if you follow the treaty, if you obey me, and if you do everything that I tell you to do then I will bless you and provide these benefits for you. If you disobey me and violate the contract, violate the treaty, then this is what will happen to you. So there a various blessings and curses and these are laid out in Exodus 23:20-23. There are also further developed in Leviticus and also in Deuteronomy.
Now the Mosaic Covenant is normally referred to by the phrase “conditional covenant.” Now in some sense I don’t like that term. Because there are in some sense a conditional element even in the Abrahamic Covenant and the other covenants, “If you obey Me then I will do this….” There is this element of blessing for obedience in all of the covenants and in that sense there is an element of conditionality, but that has become in the accepted terminology that all of the covenants, the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, the New Covenant, all these are unconditional covenants, God promises unilaterally to do certain things for the people, for the human race and the nation Israel, and it is not conditioned upon their obedience.
The term I really like best is “temporary vs. permanent.” All of those covenants are “permanent” in a sense in human history; whereas the Mosaic Covenant was never designed to be permanent. It was designed to be “temporary.” It was designed to be solely for the nation Israel and only to be in effect until Jesus Christ came in the first advent at the crucifixion. It was at the crucifixion that Jesus ended the Law according to Romans. He is the end of the Law. So in one sense I really prefer the terminology ‘temporary vs. permanent’ as opposed to “conditional vs. unconditional” but that has become pretty much the accepted terminology and I know if I made a radical shift there somebody would start getting very upset with me.
So, I just want to make that clarification that the Mosaic Covenant was never designed to be a everlasting covenant; whereas the other covenants were designed to be everlasting. The Abrahamic Covenant is an everlasting covenant. The real estate or land grant covenant, which is covered in Deuteronomy, the promise to the land is sometimes called the Palestinian Covenant. It is an everlasting and eternal covenant with Israel. The Davidic Covenant is an everlasting or eternal, non-ending covenant. The New Covenant is an everlasting covenant. God does not intend to replace those. They are not temporary. This is the argument in Hebrews 6. The reason it is called the old covenant is because it was expected to pass away and be replaced by the New Covenant. That is the very terminology, “New” indicates that there was envisioned in the plan of God that the Mosaic covenant itself was temporary in nature. It was designed only for the nation Israel and in order to preserve the nation, protect the nation, and to keep them separate from the pagan influences and idolatry of all of the other nations in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
Now when we look at the organization of the Mosaic Covenant itself, the Mosaic Constitution, there are three parts:
1. The first part is the introduction, the Ten Commandments literally in the Hebrews it is the Ten Words in Exodus 20:3-14 is the Ten Commandments. This is the first section and it is sometimes called the Decalogue or the Ten Words and this presents the eternal moral righteous will of God for the people. This is the foundation for freedom in a nation.
The ultimate foundation is found in the first four commandments and that is the recognition of the sovereignty of God. The next six commandments recognize the importance of privacy and private ownership of property in a nation and personal individual liberty. It is upon this basis in the understanding of that that in the history of English law you have, for example, Blackstone who was a very famous jurist in the 18th century that was foundational in understanding of the understanding of law in forming the US Constitution and legal system. Blackstone was virtually memorized by everyone in the 18th century. If you read Blackstone he goes through and bases many of his arguments for the nature of law on the Ten Commandments and the extrapolating of the root meaning in understanding legal principles that underlie each one of these commandments. They seem to be very short commandments but embodied in those commandments is a tremendous amount of presupposition that is the basis for understanding personal liberty and privacy.
For example, when we get down to the command for murder, the prohibition of murder, which means you have the right to your own life and that is the foundation for many other laws and concepts. Then the commandment ‘you shall not steal’ is a recognition that there is a legitimate basis for private ownership of property and it does not derive from a federal government neither does it derive from a social contract, but it is derived from the very nature that God built into Creation. So that violates both socialism and communism. Whenever you start getting into any arena of government that starts to restrict property and private ownership and privacy we are in very grave danger.
Today we are in grave danger of losing many freedoms because of the internet. The more you get out on the internet the more personal information is available to anybody who can pull anything down. Any information that you have out there is just fair game. People can find credit card information and can trace all your history, everything you have bought or sold for your whole life. Somebody gets a hold of your social security number and everybody knows everything there is to know about you. You’ve lost that privacy and to that degree we are losing freedom. There is tremendous problems now that we have to deal with as a culture and legally because of the way we are losing privacy.
One thing that goes along with the lost of privacy is always a loss of freedom. There is a relationship between private ownership of property and freedom and the whole concept of security. I ran into this when I was over in Belarus five years ago; that after the tremendous revolution they had to shift away from communism at the beginning of the 90s in Russia and in the former Soviet Block; that the people now had freedom. But they did not capacity for freedom. They did not have any training in responsibility. What happened because of the depraved elements in that society, the old KGB power lords just shifted and became what is now the Russian Mafia and that is the origination of the Russian Mafia.
I heard stories of how these guys would pull up in the gas station, there weren’t very many gas stations in Belarus, and there were maybe two or three in town. They would have maybe two or three hours to get two or three gallons of gas. The missionaries would usually hire somebody of trust to drive all the way to Moscow for ten hours and fill-up cans full of gasoline and then haul it back and they kept it stored in the garage. But they would have these gas lines and these Russian Mafia guys would just pull up, cut in line, drive right up to the pump, and five or six guys with Ooze would pop out of the car and hold everybody back. They would fill-up and drive off. That happened because they had no concept of private ownership that had never been taught them under a communist regime; they had no concept of private ownership and true freedom.
When they were given freedom it became anarchy because they had no concept of freedom. What you have seen over in Russia and in the Soviet Block is expansion of inflation, high triple digit inflation over there. Now people who under communism could afford a decent car, could afford good food, could go on a vacation any where in the Soviet Block; they could go down to the Crimea for the summer; they had a pretty good standard of living under communism. Now they have lost all of that and now they have two or three families living in what we would call a three bedroom apartment. The amount of money one family makes to live one month pays the rent; another family, usually the children, two or three generations all living together, will make enough money to pay for the food for everybody, and then the other family might have enough money to help out with spending money.
So it takes that many people just to survive now. So there is no security, no economic security. So when there is no economic security what people do is to look to government to provide the security. So they want to go back to communism. So you see that there is this relationship and the absence…. The same thing took place with the Exodus generation. They came out of a slavery situation. When they got into the wilderness they had no concept of freedom and what did they want to do? Take us back to Egypt; we want the leeks and the garlic of Egypt as opposed to milk and honey in the land of Canaan. We really do not want to trust God. It is too hard to be personally responsible and accountable for our actions. In true freedom you do not only have the freedom to succeed, but to the degree that you have the freedom to succeed you should also have the freedom to fail.
When you have a government come along and provide a safety net so that people can’t fail in order to provide that safety net they have cut away a certain amount of freedom at the top. So the more you limit your freedom to fail at the bottom the more you are going to limit your freedom to succeed at the top. This ultimately develops into communism and socialism. Now under the precepts of the Mosaic Covenant you have true freedom. That freedom is based upon responsibility. There is within the structure of the Mosaic Covenant the provision to take care of the destitute. But it is not on the basis of a welfare state or a dole as they have in England; it is on the basis of private charity and the basis of graciousness. All of this is part of this document and the study of it has profound implications for understanding the nature of government, the nature of economics, the nature of law and criminal justice as well as the nature of freedom and liberty, and we don’t have time to go into all that, but I just want to say those things by way of introduction.
Review 1. The first of the Law is the Ten Commandments or the Ten Words, which establishes the basis for freedom in the nation; the basis for the rule of Law in the nation, and it is all grounded in the recognition that God is the One True God and the Creator and that He in His Character is the source of Absolute Law.
2. The second division is the torah this literally means ‘instruction for’ and sometimes it is translated simply as ‘law’ and refers to the combination of the judgments, mishpat ivri, and the regulations. This is case law designed for believer and unbeliever alike. It governs all of the social and economic and political life of the nation Israel. It provided for penalties for criminal action and also it is based upon the judicious use of the death penalty.
Now there has been a lot of discussion lately because in this country, apparently in places, they get very upset, and rightly so, that there are people who are executed who it turns out did not commit the crime. Well God in His Omniscience knows that man is not infallible, man is going to make mistakes, and that there are going to be innocent people executed under the death penalty. Nevertheless, in both the Noahic Covenant and in the Mosaic Covenant, God stipulated that there would be a death penalty.
One of the interesting things to observe though is in terms of criminal law and the penal code in the Mosaic Covenant it is not based upon incarceration. I think if you are going to really follow a Biblical pattern for a judicial system or for a penal code, there is retribution here; there is repayment. It would be along the lines of a certain number of crimes committed against life means you are just removed from society through execution. If you commit other types of crimes against property, then you have to repay fivefold and tenfold. So that is the basis; there is no incarceration. You do not reduce men to treat them something like animals. I think it is very interesting. I think we would have a better judicial system if we would go back and pattern it on the Mosaic Law; not make the Mosaic Law the law of the land; I am not saying that. That would be wrong because that is not the basis, but it is a pattern to look at how they handled things.
The basis for the whole penal system is man, to rehabilitate man, but you look at the underlying philosophy of the Mosaic Code; it is not designed to rehabilitate man but to repay. It is based upon the victim; it is not based upon the rights of the criminal. The victim has been acted against and he needs to be remunerated and the person who commits the crime needs to be punished. It is a penalty system; it is not a rehabilitation system. We have been so influenced by the liberal ideas that have developed over the last 200 years that we have lost sight of the purpose of a criminal justice system. All of this is derived from a study of the Mosaic Covenant. So the second portion is the torah or judgments.
3. The third division is religion or the torat regulations addressed to the priesthood, the sacrificial system, all of the furniture in the tabernacle, later the temple, all of these are laid out. This is covered in Exodus 25, Leviticus, Numbers 12.
Now let's just go through briefly; we will just get started in the Ten Commandments before we go on.
1. First is begins in Exodus 20:1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
So the basis of law, all law, is the existence of God. The Ten Commandments are divided into two sections. The first four commandments regulate Israel’s relationship to God. This explains why the nation exist and governs their relationship to God and how they should worship God, their exclusive relationship to God. In Exodus 20:5 we read, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
2. Now the next six commandments, the second division, covers the last six commandments, which covers man’s relationships to man.
In the first four commandments there explanations related to each commandment. For example, when God says, “You shall not worship them or serve them.” He then gives the reason, because “I the Lord your God Am a jealous God.” But in the last six commandments there is no explanation. There is simply the mandate to honor your father and your mother; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not covet your neighbor’s house; all of these are given without explanation. Probably the reason for that is that these had been accepted; they had been in operation; you have similar mandates in the Code of Hammurabi and other ancient law codes. This goes all the way back to Creation, so they needed no explanation. There was a clear understanding that these were absolutes that went back to the original creative mandate. Man was created in the image of God and it was socially understood. It is the first four commandments that relate to their relationship to God that sets them apart as a unique nation.
The first commandment is found in Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Now two questions arise as we think about this. First of all, does this teach or imply polytheism? The way it is structured in the English, “have no other gods before Me.” Does that imply that you can have other gods, just don’t place them before Me. That would imply polytheism, the worship of many gods.
Now the way that is normally expressed or presented in college classrooms presupposes an evolution of religion framework. If you have ever taken a sociology course or any world history course, then you were taught that just as man evolved religious concepts evolve from the more primitive forms, which would be polytheism to the more advanced forms, which is monotheism. The first time I ran into this was my first year in college in Western Civilization and I was taught by the professor that monotheism really originated with one of the last Pharaohs in Egyptian 18th Dynasty, Akhenaton, he was called the sun worshiper and he elevated one of the many gods in the Egyptian pantheon to the position of the ‘one’ god. But he did not come until a couple of generations after Moses allegedly; so therefore, the argument goes, Moses could not have been teaching strict monotheism because it did not exist yet. Monotheism wasn’t invented until Akhenaton came along.
You see there this continual adjust a position and antagonism between what is taught on the basic of evolutionary concepts in our classroom and what the Scripture says. There is the contention of liberal theology, which buys into a evolutionary presupposition is that Moses at best was a Henotheist. Henotheism says there are many gods, but we are going to promote one to a position of the highest or exclusive worship. But this is completely foreign to this concept and it is really clear from this passage and from other passages that Moses’ monotheism pre-existed any other rendition. And I mentioned earlier a work by a Jesuit priest named Schmidt*, who was a sociologist, he went through every single culture that is known, all of the Asian cultures, all of the Polynesian cultures, all the African cultures, and did this work back in the early part of the 20th century. He traced back their religious history and discovered that every religious system in the history of the human race originated with ‘one god.’ The were originally monotheistic.
So, there is nothing that is historically contradictory or problematical with Moses promoting a pure monotheism in the Ten Commandments. Monotheism clearly pre-existed any of these other cultures as the Bible clearly affirms. Now in this statement what God is saying is that there would be no other god at all. Because whenever you come along you would at any given point perhaps go to one god or another god in order to gain favor for crops or fertility or whatever it might be at that particular point you would be giving priority to some other god than God. That is what this is saying, you at no point in your life give priority to anything other than Me. It is a statement of exclusivity. That there is no other god than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is confirmed by what Moses says later in Deuteronomy 32:17 in relation to the idols and all the other gods.
So what really underlies polytheism is demonism. In Deuteronomy 32:17 we read, “They (Egyptians and their sacrifice to their idols) sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread.” The point is in the first phrase that demons underlie idolatry. The Apostle Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians; that all idolatry, all false gods ultimately represent some form of demon worship and demon activity, demonism.
So the first commandment prescribes monotheism and the second commandment prescribes idolatry. Beginning in Exodus 20:4-5 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me….”
Well we are about out of time and there is a lot to cover here, especially on that concept of the third and fourth generations curse, as well as God being jealous and what exactly does that mean? So we’ll have to wait and conclude our coverage of the Ten Commandments next time. With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
Father, we do thank Thee for the opportunity to study Your Word today to see how many principles, so many vital principles related to freedom, related to security, related to government, related to law, and are ultimately grounded in Your revelation. Father, we pray too that if there is anyone here this morning that is unsure of their salvation, uncertain of their eternal destiny, that they would realize that You have indeed worked in human history and in Your grace You have initiated a salvation plan that is focused on the person and the work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. Scripture says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” The way to make that salvation real in our life is to trust Christ as Savior. Scripture says the only condition is to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Now Father, we pray that You will help us to clearly think through the things that we have studied today, to remember them, and that we might be challenged by them. We pray this in Jesus' Name, Amen.
*The Origin and Growth of Religion, Wilhelm Schmidt.