“The Bible is a collection of God’s Covenant history with Mankind.” – Jonathan Welton
Much of my teaching ministry, is focused on exposing traditions that we teach in the Church, but may not actually be scriptural truths. As my understanding of the New Covenant has grown, so too has my understanding of the Old Covenant. Many of the things we say and think about the Old Covenant are actually traditions that we teach, but are not scripturally accurate. I wanted to draw attention to SIX such traditions that seem to be causing much confusion.
1. The Old Testament is Not the Old Covenant.
In my teachings on the subject of Grace, I speak about the Dividing Lines of Scripture between the Old the and the New Covenants. Some people have interpreted this to say, that because the New Covenant starts at the Death of Jesus, and as such, I’m suggesting that we tear out the Old Testament because it has no relevance. Of course that’s not what I’m saying at all.
The Old Testament has a Collection of Covenants, not just the Law of Moses. God made a Covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:11), just as he did with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and David (2 Samuel 7:2-17), etc. While these and other covenants are recorded in the Old Testament, they are not synonymous with the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant, as contrasted throughout the New Testament, is a title given to the Covenant of Moses, also called the Law of Moses.
2. Israel Asked for the Law of Moses.
It’s an interesting thing that the Law of Moses was not what God wanted at all. When God delivered the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and brought them to Mount Sinai, His original intent was that the Nation of Israel would be a Kingdom of Priests, where everyone would have direct access to Himself (Exodus 19:5-6). In Deuteronomy 5, with the retelling of the story, Israel, responded by rejected the offer from God to be a Nation of Priests, and instead asked for the rules to obey (Deuteronomy 5:23-27), and the Lord accommodated their lesser request.
Jeremiah 7:21 – 24 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.
3. It is not Impossible to keep the Law.
Many well-meaning preachers, teach that the Law of Moses was impossible for people to keep. If you really think about this statement, it is basically painting God in a terrible light. What kind of God gives Laws that no one can keep, and then punishes them for not keeping those same laws? This of course causes much confusion about our understanding of God in the Old Testament. Moses himself attested to Israel’s ability to keep the Law;
Deuteronomy 11 – 14 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Paul later boasted of his Law-keeping by saying that he had done it to so as good as a Pharisees (Philippians 3:4 – 5). Now that is not to say that the Law was not a high standard, or that there were not other problems with the law in it’s ability to stir up sinfulness, i’m simply stating that the Law was not impossible to keep.
4. The Penalty for breaking the Law was Physical Death.
I heard a well meaning preacher, talk about how the Law was a picture of God’s Holiness (also unscriptural) and how breaking in it, we deserve to burn in hell forever. Again, this is a tradition that we like to teach but it is no where found in Scripture. The law was never about salvation from hell, it was all about blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28), life and death while they were alive on the earth. The penalty for breaking the Law was physical death (Leviticus 20), not eternal torment, just as obedience to the law did not mean salvation but instead blessings.
5. The Law Bound God as well as Israel
The contents of the Law, came with stipulations for Israel, but also bound God to be the enforcer. As described in Deuteronomy 28, there were curses attached to their disobedience, and God as the Covenant Partner of Israel was bound to uphold his end of the covenant and punish them when they disobeyed. It was not that God wanted to punish them, but it was part of the Covenant.
Similarly, part of the covenant, was that God would be an Enemy to the Enemies of Israel, and back them up militarily. It was not that God hated or wanted to destroy the enemies of Israel, rather it was the Covenant agreement between Israel and God, that bound God to destroy nations that opposed Israel. In God’s defense of Israel against her enemies, He would protect them from even future threats, which resulted in entire bloodlines being wiped out.
Exodus 23:22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
It was that same covenant that bound God to destroy Israel later on, as Jesus described (Matthew 24), for their disobedience. Luke 11:50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
6. There was Forgiveness of Sins in the Law of Moses.
Under the Law of Moses, there was forgiveness of sins and punishment. We think that forgiveness of sins, is a New Covenant idea, when we see it illustrated in the Old Covenant. King David, after sleeping with Bathsheba, and killing her husband, did in fact receive forgiveness for his sins (2 Samuel 12:13 -14 ), but there were consequences for his sin, in that the child he fathered with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:18).
Psalms 78:38 But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
In closing, the truths about the Law of Moses are bad enough to veil the hearts of the Jews, so they were not able to recognize their own Messiah (2 Corinthians 3:15) in his time of visitation. How much more distorted a view of God do we perpetuate, and blind people from the truth of Jesus Christ, when we exaggerate out of our own imaginations things about the Law that scripture has not attested to. I do not claim to have all the answers about the Old Testament, but the traditions we teach about the Law, do more to keep people away from God, than to draw them near.
I hope in some small way, these facts may clear up some of the confusion, and keep us from misunderstanding what the Law was about, and how it impacted God’s Relationship with Mankind.
Andrew Farley talking about the Ten Commandments.