We begin the second of three posts about the Covenant of Moses with an important question asked by O. Palmer Robertson.
Are we to conclude that all the various covenantal administrations of the Old Testament find continuing significance for believers today with the single exception of the Mosaic covenant? Are we to presume that the covenant of law alone among the divinely-initiated covenants has lost its binding significance? (p. 183)
Christians are told repeatedly that their fullest state of blessedness derives from keeping God’s law. Numerous exhortations in the letters of Paul presuppose the necessity of keeping God’s commandments. Even the promise of long life associated with the fifth commandment is held out as a promise of God to the children of the new covenant [Eph. 6:1-3]… No reader can misunderstand the exhortation of James: ‘Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. (James 1:22) (p. 184)
Other New Testament writings imply a standard of law because they deal with judgment:
Christians shall be judged according to the deeds they have done. Scripture is quite consistent on this point. While salvation comes by faith in the work of Christ alone, judgment will be dispensed according to a man’s own deeds, whether they be good or evil. Since the “ten words” of the Mosaic covenant provide a basic summation of the will of God, their abiding significance in the life of the believer is assured. (p.185)
The theological idea of progressive revelation implies a continually improving revelation of God. He develops this argument with an interesting analogy drawn from real life:
Most serious consequences will develop inevitably from a denial that God’s revelation consistently progresses throughout redemptive history. It may be admitted quite readily that the arrival of the full delineation of God’s will brought with it problems which had not previously existed. Ask any distraught parent of a modern teenager if he regards the state of teenage as an advancement over infancy. The parent may hesitate to respond immediately as he recalls the multiplication of problems involved in the abrupt arrival of teenaged years. But in the end it cannot be denied that the gangly youth stands much closer to the full realization of manhood than does the infant.
In just such a manner, the childlike trust of Abraham may appear to have definite advantages over the sometimes rowdy adventures of Israel under law. Yet the patient student of Scripture will detect a definite progress toward the goal of Christ.
Is that not basically the substance of the example employed by Paul in Galatians 3:23-26? The law is a schoolmaster, an externalized disciplinarian, to bring us to Christ. As teenagers under a tutor, so was Israel under the law. Yet their condition under law was a vital step of advancement over the infancy that had preceded. (p. 188-189)
For these reasons he concludes that the Law of Moses has continuing significance, as well as being an important step in God’s plan of salvation.
On the other hand, the covenant of Moses is less than the covenants that follow – the Davidic and new covenants. The latter two reveal more about God’s will than the Mosaic covenant.
God’s covenant with David clearly embodies an advancement over Moses in the revelation of the law. Particularly, the permanent establishment of a representative king over Israel indicates an advancement in law-administration… Not until God’s covenanting word concerning the house of David was there established some assurance of a maintained stability within the theocracy. With the anointing of David, law began to be administered in Israel by the “man after God’s own heart.” (p. 189)
While the law of God as revealed to Moses has continuing significance, it administration is improved under the new covenant:
The distinctiveness of the ministry of law under the new covenant resides in its inward character. Rather than being administered externally, the law shall be administered from within the heart. The consequence, according to Jeremiah, will be that no need will remain for an externalized propounding of God’s law. All shall know him and all shall conform naturally to his will. Quite obviously, the Mosaic covenant, writing on tables of stone cannot compare with the glories of this new covenant.
This does not answer all of the difficulties of the relationship of the law of Moses with the new covenant, however. He notices some difficulties with the interpretation of the Old Testament’s prophecies about the new covenant and current Christian life and practice.
Several problems arise with respect to the apprehension of the full significance of this prophetic word of Jeremiah. How is this statement to be related to other passages associating the inward writing of the law with the ministry of the Mosaic covenant itself? How does Jeremiah’s assertion concerning the absence of the need of a teaching ministry relate to the actual state of believers today under the new covenant?
Such questions emphasize the need for maintaining a balance between the harmonizing unity of the single covenant of redemption and its historical diversity. (p. 190-191)
The believer under the old covenant may have experienced in essence the same realities of redemption experienced by believers under the new covenant. But heightened revelation also involves a deeper and richer experience of deliverance from sin and its consequences… The new covenant Scriptures now make available to the church in permanent form a God-inspired interpretation of the magnificent benefits made available by the coming of Christ. (p. 191)
We still need to hold some tensions in our minds and our theology between the “already” and the “not yet” of the new covenant. We will return to this subject in the third and final installment about the Covenant of Moses.