Chapter 1. Why Did the Lord Give the Law of Moses
The Jews regard Moses as a great prophet and legislator. Even in the New Testament, Moses was the most respected person. Moses not only preached the law of God, but also wrote the first five books of the Bible. We call the five books Pentateuch which was written by Moses. And the Pentateuch is the highlight of the Old Testament.
Even in the pre-Moses period, God chose many characters and worked with them to do God’s will. However, especially in Moses’ day, the Israelites were chosen and the law was given to them. Why did God have to give them the law? What was the reason for the Law to be given to the Israelites in the time of Moses?
From the point of view of God’s 6,000-year redemptive work, there will be a deep and mysterious providence. However, God has spoken directly about the inevitable reason to do so. God’s giving of the law was closely related to Canaan, the promised land to the Israelites.
【Deut. 8:1-2】 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
God was afraid that the Israelites would make mistakes if they went into Canaan and lived there. This is because in Canaan there was an environment in which the Israelites could go wrong.
【Lev. 18:3-5】 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
【Exod. 23:23-25, 32-33, 24:3】 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God…… Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” …… When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.”
What was the reason that the Lord gave Moses’ law? The Bible said that it was to keep His people from dying in the customs of the heathen. When the Israelites escaped Egypt, many tribes lived in Canaan. They enjoyed more advanced culture and technology than the Israelites. They served their gods in front of the magnificent altars and held the very colorful religious ceremony.
As Israelites were going to enter Canaan, God warned Israelites not to imitate the religious practices of the Gentiles. God was concerned that Israelites would envy and follow the gentile customs. Therefore an unique law to worship the Lord alone was needed. It was the law of Moses which was consist of the regulations for the sanctuary, many kinds of offerings, and the feasts.
What would have happened if the Israelites entered Canaan without being given the Mosaic Law? They would imitate some of the gentile customs to serve God well. If any of the Gentile stone statues, temples, or sacrifices were considered good, they would have accepted them. So God gave the Mosaic Law so that he would not follow the rules of the Gentiles who serve other gods. It was the reason for the law of Moses that the Israelites were to serve only God.
Understanding the historical background and purpose of God’s giving of the Law to the Israelites, we can find great lessons applied to Christians today. Because you can see what God likes and dislikes. God hates the things of the world, no matter how colorful and grand. God wants the people of God to be pure, even small and unpretentious.