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From Law to Grace in the Old Testament

      When I began my study of the law in scripture, I started with the Old Testament. I didn't really expect to find anything surprising here; I was just using it as a baseline for what the law used to be. I did, however, find some things that were not exactly what I expected.

      First, I discovered that the Hebrew word used for law, Torah, does not really mean "law" as much as it means "instruction" or "teaching". It comes from a root that means "to teach". The Greek word chosen to translate it in the New Testament has more of the implication of "law".

      I also learned that the Old Testament does not view the law as a burden or constraint, but as something to love and cherish. Psalm 119 is a good example of this. Every verse speaks of God's law, and it expresses thoughts like: "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (119:97) and "Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart." (119:111) This Psalm also associates the law with things that I thought were contrary to it, like grace and freedom. "Be gracious to me through your law." (119:29) "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. (119:32)

      It is also apparent that the law was intended to make other nations jealous of Israel. When Moses was speaking to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:5-8 he said:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

      Another interesting thing to me, and unexpected, was that the law as a whole, and some specifics of it were spoken of as being eternal. Psalm 119:160 says, "All your righteous laws are eternal." The same thoughts are echoed in verses 44, 89, 111, 142, and 152. Passover, the Day of Atonement, and many aspects of the ceremonies are spoken of as "a lasting ordinance for the generations to come." The Sabbath is called "a sign between me and the Israelites forever." (Exodus 31:17) The prophets also seem to look forward to a blessed future when "the law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2)

      When I turned to the passage in Jeremiah 31 that introduces the New Covenant, I expected it to say that God would make it with all the nations of the earth. Instead it says, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." (31:31) I expected it to say that the new covenant would nullify the law, make it obsolete. Instead it says, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." (31:33)

      I was a little confused by learning all of this, but I was eager to go on and see what the New Testament had to say about the law.


From Law to Grace in the Gospels
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I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them.
Psalm 119 :52