Covenant of Moses – Part 1 of 3

This post continues a series of reflections about O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants with a discussion about the Covenant of Moses, often referred to as the “old covenant.”

Robertson begins by stating that “God renews an ancient commitment to his people by the covenant of Moses. The law serves only as a single mode of administering the covenant of redemption.” (p. 172) By saying this he acknowledges that the Mosaic law administration still functions within the overarching “covenant of redemption.” As such, it is an important and necessary step along the way to God’s goal of redeeming humanity through Jesus Christ.

But how is it distinct from the previous covenant administrations? Robertson answers as follows:

The Mosaic covenant manifests its distinctiveness as an externalized summation of the will of God. The patriarchs certainly were aware of God’s will in general terms. On occasion, they received direct revelation concerning specific aspects of the will of God. Under Moses, however, a full summary of God’s will was made explicit through the physical inscripturation of the law. This external-to-man, formally ordered summation of God’s will constitutes the distinctiveness of the Mosaic covenant. (p. 172)

He also makes an important point that is missed by many Christian commentators about that covenant administration.  It is usually seen as some sort of means of getting right with God by keeping all the commands listed within it. He counters this traditional approach by commenting that

Not only did the covenant of law not disannul the covenant of promise; more specifically, it did not offer a temporary alternative to the covenant of promise. This particular perspective is often overlooked. It is sometimes assumed that the covenant of law temporarily replaced the covenant of promise, or somehow ran alongside it as an alternative method of man’s salvation. The covenant of law often has been considered as a self-contained unit which served as another basis for determining the relation of Israel to God in the period between the Abrahamic covenant and the coming of Christ. In this scheme, the covenant of promise is treated as thought it had been set aside or made secondary for a period, although not “disannulled…

However, the covenant of promise made with Abraham always has been in effect from the day of its inauguration until the present. The coming of law did not suspend the Abrahamic covenant. The principle enunciated in Genesis 15:7 concerning justification of Abraham by faith never has experienced interruption. Throughout the Mosaic period of law-covenant, God considered as righteous everyone who believed in him.      (p. 174)

He goes on to say, “Under both the Mosaic and the Abrahamic covenants man experienced redemption by grace through faith in the work of the Christ who was to live and die in the place of sinners.” (Footnote 7, p. 175)

He notes that this misunderstanding of the purpose of the law of Moses stems from Jesus’ critique of the religious leadership of his day. 1st Century Jewish understanding about the law does not reflect the original context or intent of that law. Modern Christian interpreters who adhere to that notion are making the same mistake as Jesus’ contemporaries.

The purpose of the law was to lead to Christ, not to lead away from Christ. The effect of the law on the current Judaizers was not in accord with God’s purpose in the giving of the law. By reading the law in terms of an alternative way of salvation, current Judaism blinded itself to the true intention of God in the giving of the law. (p. 181)

The next post will discuss what Robertson sees as the continuing significance of the Mosaic Law for the New Testament Christian.

About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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