3. Understanding the Law and Covenants

The law is often referred to by some Sabbatarian Christians as the ceremonial law excluding the Ten Commandments. They maintain that this law has been fulfilled and done away with at the cross, but not the Ten Commandments, defined as the moral law. But the law really appears to be the Ten Commandments including what they call the ceremonial law. This seems to be apparent in Exodus 19-31 and John 1:17, where the law was given by God through Moses as a covenant between Himself and the people of Israel, and such distinctions were not made. The Ten Commandments seem to be an introduction and summation for the rest of the law, much like the Constitution of the United States of America is the introduction and summation for all United States law, but yet is a part of it. It is also similar to an abstract that precedes the full body of a research paper, yet is still part of the paper. The following are a couple of good questions to ask. Are there ceremonial as well as moral aspects in the Ten Commandments? The answer seems to be yes. Are there moral aspects within what is called by Sabbatarian Christians the ceremonial law? Again the answer seems to be yes. There is no clear-cut dividing line between what is ceremonial and what is moral when examining the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Covenant. Often Sabbatarian Christians cite the fourth commandment of the Decalogue as their basis for Sabbath observance, yet selectively make use of what is in that which they describe as the ceremonial law (everything after the Ten Commandments) to determine how it should be observed. Many Sabbatarian Christians often base their observance of the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday on Leviticus 23:32. Let's take a closer look at more of Leviticus 23.

This passage refers to the Day of Atonement. Is this ceremonial or moral? Do most Sabbatarian Christians observe the Day of Atonement? Do they not consider this day ceremonial? Is it consistent to insist on Sabbath observance making selective use of ceremonial aspects of the law to determine how the Sabbath is to be kept? For after all, as was pointed out earlier in Exodus 31:15, Sabbath-breaking was considered a capital offense. How many Sabbatarian Christians believe that this part of the law must be enforced? Also, there is no call within the Ten Commandments to assemble for worship on the Sabbath day, only to work six days and rest one. Again, one would have to look outside the Decalogue to determine that Christians should assemble for worship on the Sabbath. If what is described as ceremonial law can be used to define moral law, how can one set limits on such a method of definition? There is no definite distinction between what is called the moral law and what is called the ceremonial law; yet there are moral, ceremonial, and even civil aspects in all of the law. So terms such as moral law and ceremonial law as defined by many Sabbatarian Christians are artificial distinctions that have no real validity in a careful examination of Scripture.

Another reason given in favor of required Sabbath observance is that since God made the seventh day holy before the giving of the Ten Commandments, it is necessary for us, if we are to follow the will of God, to also keep this day holy. Yet it is interesting to note that there is no record anywhere in Scripture of anyone keeping the Sabbath before Exodus 16, where it was given as a command to the Israelites. There is no Biblical evidence to show that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of the other patriarchs kept the Sabbath. Job, which is generally acknowledged by Biblical scholars to be the oldest book in the Bible, makes no mention of Job keeping the Sabbath. The first eight verses of this book describe the blamelessness and uprightness of Job before God, yet no mention is made of Sabbath-keeping as part of the reason why God considered him such a righteous person. One might think that if Sabbath-keeping was such an important thing, this would have been mentioned. Another point to remember is that Moses wrote the creation account found in Genesis during the time of the Exodus, during the time of the reception of the law from God. Exodus 20:11 shows that the Sabbath day, first given as a command to the Israelites four chapters earlier, was made holy because God rested from His work of creation on the seventh day. In other words, the Sabbath day appears to have been made holy at Sinai, not at creation. It was given to the Israelites to make known to them the true God who created all things, and break them away from over four centuries of idolatrous worship of the gods of Egypt (Joshua 24:14). Later in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, once the Israelites had become more familiar with the true God, the Sabbath was declared holy because God liberated the Israelites with a "mighty hand and by an outstretched arm" from slavery in Egypt. So the Sabbath can be considered a memorial to creation, but also a memorial to the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It pointed forward to the rest they would receive once they reached the promised land in Canaan, and much farther in history to the time when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would arrive to bring about true rest for all humanity through His life, death, and resurrection. At any rate, the Sabbath day was given as a sign between God and Israel, not the Christian Church to come thousands of years later, which would be comprised of Gentiles as well as Jews.

A further study of related Biblical passages such as the following illustrate that the law is a single large entity consisting of moral, ceremonial, civil, judicial, and prophetic precepts. These were completely fulfilled in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44).

Deuteronomy 5:6-21 goes on to recite the Decalogue, which of course includes the sign of the covenant: the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). These laws were for the people of Israel alone. The laws were only valid for a distinct period of time. The law came 430 years after the covenant made with Abraham, and it was to continue to be in effect until Christ came. This covenant was subordinate to the one made with Abraham. A look at Galatians 3 illustrates this point and will be examined later.

The covenants God made with people generally had three common parts. First, it contained a promise; second, there was a condition; and lastly, there was a sign or signs. Let's take a look at the important covenants God made with people in the Old Testament.

Noahic Covenant
Promise Never will the earth be destroyed by a flood (Genesis 9:9-17).
Condition None in this case, since God said He would not do it again (Genesis 9:15).
Sign The rainbow (Genesis 9:14-15). Note that Noah gave thanks to God by making a burnt sacrifice after exiting the Ark with his family and all the creatures that were with them (Genesis 8:20).
Abrahamic Covenant
Promise God will make Abraham the father of many nations (Genesis 15:1-5, 17:5) and his descendants will inherit all the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:8).
Condition Believe (Genesis 15:6).
Signs Circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14). Offering lambs as a burnt sacrifice continued to be practiced (Genesis 22:1-13).
Mosaic Covenant (or the Old Covenant)
Promise Freedom for the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to inherit the land promised to them, as Abraham's descendants (Exodus 3:8, 3:17, 13:5); also to be God's special people (Exodus 19:5).
Condition Obey the all the laws God will give to them through Moses (Exodus 19:5).
Signs Sabbath days, including the weekly Sabbath day (Exodus 31:12-18). The practice of making burnt offerings continued and became more systematic (Exodus-Deuteronomy).
New Covenant (or the Gospel of Jesus Christ)
Promise Salvation from our sins (Matthew 1:20-21), the sealing of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14), and eternal life with God (Mark 16:16; John 3:16-17).
Condition Faith in Jesus Christ and loving one another as Christ loves us (John 3:18, 13:34; 1 John 3:21-24).
Signs Baptism (Acts 19:3-4; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:11-12; 1 Peter 3:18-22), living according to the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:30), and the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). The practice of making burnt offerings and sacrifices ceased because Christ became the sacrifice to save us from sin once and for all (Hebrews 9:26, 10:8-18).

It was customary among the peoples of the ancient Near East that when an overlord made a covenant or contract with those he conquered, a copy of the written agreement was kept in the sanctuary of the ruling party and another in the sanctuary of the ruled party. A typical feature of such covenants was that the seal, or sign, was placed at or near the center of the treaty document. This is similar to contracts of today. If one acquires a loan from a bank or makes some kind of other financial deal with another, it is common that the parties involved receive a copy of the agreement stipulating the benefits, obligations, and penalties if the contract is broken. These contracts, or agreements, come into effect once the appropriate signatures are in place. But in the case of the covenant made between God and Israel, both copies (the two tablets) were placed in one sanctuary, since God was both the ruling party and Israel's God. And the signature of this contract was observance of the Sabbath command, which was placed near the center of tablets of the covenant. (5)

The Ten Commandments are the first part of what is known as the Book of the Law, or the Book of the Covenant, or the Book of the Law of Moses. These were spoken by God from Mount Sinai to the Israelites below. The people became very frightened and wanted nothing to do with this, so they asked Moses to hear what God had to say and come back to them with His words (Exodus 20:18-19). Please remember that when the Ten Commandments were written on the stone tablets, they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant where they could not be seen. The Ark was not to be touched (2 Samuel 6:7; 1 Chronicles 13:10). The Israelites would have had no access to the words of God if there had not been a complete copy of the laws outside the Ark. All 613 laws, including the Ten Commandments. God told Moses to write all of His words down and put them in a book because these words were a covenant between God and Israel. These words of God included the Ten Commandments and all of the other laws given in the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy). So, not only were the Ten Commandments written in stone and kept in the Ark, but the same Ten Commandments along with all of the information concerning them (i.e. the other 603 regulations, or the rest of the Law) made up the Book of the Law which was placed in the side of the Ark (Deuteronomy 31:26). The first ten were not kept separate from the rest. God told Moses that all of His words (moral, ceremonial, civil, etc.) were to be given as commandments to Israel, as a covenant between God and Israel.

This is also similar to the case of the Constitution of the United States. The original document is kept in a glass case in Washington, D.C. where people from around the country or other parts of the world can come to view it, though not everyone can travel to Washington, D.C. to see it. But the words written in this document are available to all because just about anyone anywhere can obtain a copy of the Constitution. One does not need to travel to Washington, D.C. to know what the Constitution says. And it is a part of United States law just as the Ten Commandments were part of the Mosaic Law. The main variation in this analogy is that the original document can still be seen, while the stone tablets and the Ark of the Covenant have disappeared.

This Book of the Law would become very important to Israel, especially when the Ark of the Covenant was not with them, or when it had vanished altogether. The Israelites still needed to hear His words and the only way they could do that is if someone read them from the Book. Let's take a look at Nehemiah 8.

It is apparent from this passage that the Lord's word had not been kept since the days of Joshua because the people had not heard the word.

The Book of the Law is also mentioned in the following passages. Note that the terms book of the covenant, book of the law, book of the law of Moses, book of the law of God, and book of the law of the LORD are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.

Exodus 24:7
"Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, 'All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!'"

Deuteronomy 28:58-61

Deuteronomy 29:21
"Then the LORD will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law."

Joshua 1:8
"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

2 Kings 14:6
"But the sons of the slayers he [Amaziah of Judah] did not put to death, according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses, as the LORD commanded, saying, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the sons, nor the sons be put to death for the fathers; but each will shall be put to death for his own sin."

2 Kings 22:8-11

2 Kings 23:2
"And the king [Josiah of Judah] went up to the house of the Lord and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant, which was found in the house of the LORD."

2 Kings 23:21
"Then the king [Josiah of Judah] commanded all the people saying, 'Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.'"

2 Chronicles 17:9
"And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; and they went about throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people."

2 Chronicles 34:14-15

2 Chronicles 34:30
"And the king [Josiah of Judah] went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, the Levites, and all the people, from the greatest to the least; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD."

Nehemiah 9:3
"While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God."

Galatians 3:10
"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'CURSED IS EVERY ONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.'"

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