Question: "What should Christians learn from the Mosaic Law?"
Answer: The Mosaic Law takes up a large portion of the Old Testament and was of vital importance to the Hebrews of old. Even though we who are in Christ are no longer under the Law (Galatians 5:18), there is much we can learn from this part of God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Mosaic Law reveals God’s holiness. “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psalm 19:7) because it is given by a perfect God. The stone tablets Moses received were “inscribed by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10). The Law clearly reveals God’s standard for His people living in a fallen world. The behavior it demands is righteousness in action. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12; cf. Nehemiah 9:13). God’s desire is for that holiness to be reflected in His people (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16).
The Mosaic Law defines sin and exposes its heinous nature. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20). With the giving of the Ten Commandments, God once and for all codified morality. Ever since Sinai, there can be no question of God’s opinion of adultery, murder, theft, etc.—they are wrong. And the severe penalties that befell transgressors underscore the serious nature of sin as rebellion against God. In defining sin and setting a divine standard, the Law indirectly discloses our need for a Savior.
The Mosaic Law confirms our need to be separate from sin. Many of the Law’s regulations were aimed at making Israel distinct from the surrounding nations. Not only was their worship different, but they had different farming practices, a different diet, different clothing—they even had a different way of growing their beards (Leviticus 19:27). Truly, the Hebrews were set apart from the rest of the world. God’s people today are still to be set apart—not in the same ways as the children of Israel—but morally, ethically, and spiritually. We are in the world but not of it (John 15:19; 17:14, 16). We are to let our light shine (Matthew 5:14–16).
The Mosaic Law shows how God’s plan unfolds gradually and progressively. The progressive nature of God’s revelation is alluded to in passages such as Acts 14:16 and Acts 17:30. As has been noted, the Law brought clarity and definiteness to the meaning of sin, and the precision of the commandments allowed us to easily identify infractions. But the Law itself was meant to be temporary. It was, in fact, “our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Christ is the One who fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17). In taking the Law’s curse upon Himself, Christ brought an end to the curse and instituted the New Covenant (Galatians 3:13; Luke 22:20).
The Mosaic Law expounds on God’s two most basic commands. Everything in the Law can be boiled down to two commands. The primary one is found in Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The secondary, related command is in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus ranked these commandments as number one and number two and said they were the quintessence of the entirety of God’s Law (Matthew 22:36–40).
The Mosaic Law predicts that God will not forsake His children. There were blessings promised to Israel for keeping the Law and curses for breaking it (Deuteronomy 30). God predicted, through His prophet Moses, that Israel would be disobedient and spurn the Law (Deuteronomy 32:21–22). Yet, in His great mercy, God promised to “vindicate his people” (Deuteronomy 32:36) and “make atonement for his land and people” (verse 43).
The Mosaic Law establishes the principle of sowing and reaping. The Old Covenant was conditional; God promised to bless Israel in the Promised Land only if they adhered to the Law. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 11:26–28). The underlying principle of reaping what one sows is a natural law and one repeated in the New Testament (Galatians 6:7).
The Mosaic Law demonstrates the value of an intercessor between God and man. The whole concept of the Levitical priesthood was based on the need for an intercessor between man and God. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies—and that only once a year with the blood of a sacrifice. Even then, there were special requirements placed on the priests concerning their behavior, physical appearance, clothing, and ceremonial cleansing. The point was that God is holy, and we are not. We need a go-between, and God is the One who chooses the mediator. Under the Mosaic system, the intercessor was a son of Aaron (Numbers 3:3); under the New Covenant, the Intercessor is the Son of God (1 Timothy 2:5).
The Mosaic Law shows the efficacy of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Law graphically depicts God’s requirement of the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty. As the author of Hebrews says, “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The burning carcass on the altar was a vivid reminder that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). Without such a substitute, the wrath of God would fall on the transgressor. The Law allowed for an animal sacrifice to be a propitiation for sin, and the Law called the sacrifice “a pleasing aroma” to the Lord (Numbers 28:6).
The Mosaic Law provides many pictures of Christ and His redemption. Every lamb that was offered under the Old Testament Law was a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God and His sacrifice on the cross (see John 1:29; Hebrews 7:27). Every priestly duty heralded the work of Christ on our behalf. The lampstand in the temple prefigured the Light of the World (John 9:5). The table of showbread was a picture of the Bread of Life (John 6:35). The veil separating the two compartments of the tabernacle was a symbol of Christ’s body, destined to be torn to provide access to the very presence of God (Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:20). In fact, the entire sanctuary built under Moses’ superintendence was filled with “copies of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 9:23).
Christians today can benefit much from a study of the Mosaic Law. We understand that the Law was not meant for the church, and we are responsible to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But, properly understood, the Law remains “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24, NAS). Once we come to Christ, we find He “is the culmination of the law . . . for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).