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Law in the Old Testament
LAW IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (תּוֹרָה, H9368, Aram. דָּת, H10186, LXX νόμος, G3795).
Meaning of the word Torah
Etymology of the word.
This is not an easy subject to discuss for many reasons. First, the legal terminology of Sem. is very different from that of the familiar Indo-European languages. This in itself raises problems of interpretation and communication; but more serious is the fact that this difference in terminology corresponds to a basic difference in concept. Even Lat. “lex” is not the same as Gr. nomos (though perhaps Lat. ius or fas would come closer): but both words are totally different from Heb. tōrāh. There are several other words used for “law” in the OT, some of which will be discussed; but whether used of part or of the whole, torah is the most frequent and the most characteristic.
Etymology is always a dangerous guide to the meaning of a word, esp. if used as the only method (as James Barr has most recently pointed out). Ultimately the meaning of a word is not determined by its etymology (of which most of its users are unaware) nor by the meaning in cognate languages, but by contemporary usage. Nevertheless, it may be significant that most scholars are now agreed that torah originally meant “direction” or “guidance” from the verb יָרָה, H3723, which does not itself occur in the Qal form. A cognate root yārā' exists and in its various forms means to “throw,” “to shoot” (arrows). Whether this once had reference to shooting of arrows, or “shaking” them out of a quiver, or the “casting” of lots as methods of obtaining divine guidance, is quite uncertain: the Babylonians certainly used all these methods (
Usage in the OT.
Here Ludwig Koehler’s divisions (in his Lexicon) seem sound. He sees Torah as initially being direction or advice in a given situation, asked from God and mediated through the priests or perhaps also “prophets.”
Second, torah may be advice or instruction given by one human to another (e.g.
The proper name, qualifying torah and thus making it both definite and collective, is either Yahweh (
Other terms for law.
There are several other words used in the OT to describe individual laws, rather than a complete corpus; nevertheless, when such a word is used in the pl., often with a second word also in the pl. as parallel, it does approach the collective meaning of תוֹרֹ֣ות, “laws” meaning the totality of God’s revelation in this field. Unfortunately there is no agreement among scholars as to the exact correspondence of these other terms to Eng. words. This may be simply because of the different Sem. understanding of the nature of the law; or, as many have suggested, particularly because of the frequent use of different terms in close parallelism in the Psalter, it may be that old distinctions of meaning had been blurred, and that the varied terms are really synonyms in many cases.
Nevertheless, there is at least one which is both clear and theologically important, in that the דְּבָרִ֑ים,
For this meaning of dābār, cf. the common OT usage דְבַר־יְהוָ֤ה (“Yahweh, Yahweh’s word”), to describe an oracle or a revelation (
מִצְוָה, H5184. “command,” may, like hōq, correspond to the categoric framework of Israel’s law, rather than its largely “casuistic” content. To put it in another way, miṩwāh would be a definite order issued by Yahweh, rather than the case-law based upon, and interpretation of such principles. The etymology of the word would support this interpretation. It corresponds in association most to the Eng. “command,” though not, perhaps, to “law.” However, like all the other terms, it frequently is used in the pl. in a collective sense to describe Yahweh’s law as a whole; in such cases, all distinctiveness of meaning has long since disappeared. In modern Heb. usage, בַּר מִצְוָה, “son of law,” means “under obligation to keep the law,” and is used of the Jewish boy when, at puberty, he accepts the “yoke of the law” as his own responsibility. Here miṩwāh has become, even in the sing., a full equivalent of tōrāh “law.”
Two forms of Israel’s law.
Whatever the reason, there are two distinct forms clearly discernible in Israel’s law, even when broken into the smallest possible units. The two are not always as clearly marked now as they may have been initially, partly because of explanatory editorial additions, which blur the original clarity of the outline, and partly owing to the existence of “mixed forms” combining in one whole, features drawn from both forms.
The first form is that usually called categoric or apodictic, and is best illustrated in the format of the first part of each of the Ten Commandments. It is characterized by its terseness and abruptness, and is an absolute command, apparently admitting no exceptions, usually making use of the second person sing. of the future (either in the positive or negative form). Sometimes the second person pl. is used, and sometimes the imperative is substituted for the future. The style is heavy and impressive; the structure is rhythmic, assonant, parallel and poetic. Presumably this was for ease of memory (cf. the NT beatitudes) and perhaps for ease of recitation, if laws, or collections of laws, were indeed liturgical texts, read at the great religious folk-meetings of Israel, as many modern scholars believe, and as the law itself enjoins “When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (
Both of these, from their rhythmic nature, have been associated by some scholars with the concept of the divine oracle or Torah, given originally by a prophet or priest of Yahweh. Whether this is so or not, it is quite clear that in Israel, like all law, they are regarded as a divine revelation. Moses by tradition was both prophet and priest as well as law-giver.
This apodictic law used to be described as “desert law,” somber and authoritarian, with no concessions to the complexities of urban or even agrarian life in highly developed Canaan. Its Puritan austerity was therefore held to be typically Israelite, and it was considered to be the only original law of Israel. By contrast, all law belonging to the second or “casuistic” type was held to be a borrowing from the Canaanites after the Israelite entry into the land. Neither of these theses can now be sustained at least as far as the argument is based on the format of the laws. In the second instance, as far as the “casuistic” law is concerned, direct borrowing from Canaan is not now held to be nearly as likely as inheritance from the “common law” of Western Sem. folk, in which Israel shared as much as did the Canaanites, and which Moses must have known. Regarding the uniqueness of the apodictic form, de Vaux has shown that, while it is not characteristic of Sem. law as known largely from heavily settled Mesopotamia (naturally, no written laws from the desert survive), it is characteristic of some Hitt. treaties (R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel , p. 147). In view of the known fact that the Israelite theory and practice of covenant has many similarities with Hitt. “suzerainty treaties” made by an imperial overlord with subject peoples, this is interesting as perhaps showing further Hitt. links. It can, therefore, no longer be claimed that this form is either “desert” or “pure Israelite”; thus, any judgments as to the originality of the material, if based only on the form, would be erroneous. A safer position to take is to regard all Israel’s laws, whether categoric or apodictic, as permeated with the light of the new revelation of Yahweh.
The second type of law to be found in the Torah is casuistic, or case-law. This normally introduces an instance, ending with a “then...,” as in the Mesopotamian case-law codes. Such laws should not be regarded as hypothetical instances, but as actual precedents or case judgments, whether earlier or Sinaitic or later. It is in these areas that Israel’s case-law approaches most closely that of her immediate Sem. neighbors. This is natural enough, since, given roughly similar levels of civilization and circumstances of life similar problems were liable to arise, and broadly similar solutions to be found (although Israel’s law is always more humane). Semitic law is most familiar to modern scholars in its later codifications, like that of Hammurabi of Babylon, or the Middle Assyrian law code, or the neo-Babylonian laws. None of these were in any sense innovations. They were merely codifications and systematizations of far earlier laws, as can be seen from comparison with the Lipit-Ishtar Code and the Eshnunna Code. How many of these precedents rested ultimately on early Sem. “common law” and how many on Sumer. codes, it would be hard to say; perhaps it would be wrong to consider these as ultimately distinct. In view of the proven widespread knowledge of these later codifications among the W Sem. peoples (annotated copies of Hammurabi’s laws have been found in Egypt) one may safely assume a widespread knowledge of the earlier “customary law” that underlay them. There is no need to assume any direct or conscious borrowing by Israel of Canaanite case law at a comparatively late date (the Conquest), the more so as there is no reason to assume that Canaanite law was any different from the general Sem. pattern. Naturally, where it is a matter of the content, Israel’s laws throughout are dominated by the revelation of God received at. There is a humaneness, an avoidance of mutilations and other sava ge punishments, and an awareness of the value of human personality and the individual, for which we would search in vain in other codes. This, and not any outward form, is the distinctiveness of Israel’s law. One example will suffice: the small space given in Israel’s code to property laws, and the large space to personal relations between man and man. Even in the case of the land laws, the motivation for every law is strongly personal and religious.
Contents of the law.
It comes as a surprise that, in the so-called law of Moses, strictly legal matter takes quite a minor place. Even if the area is enlarged to cover all matter of religious or ceremonial interest, it is still not dominant. If the basic meaning of Torah as “instruction” is kept in mind, this will no longer surprise. Israel’s ancestral traditions—the salvation story of Exodus—the bittersweet experiences of the desert wandering—teach about God and His ways as surely as the Ten Commandments, or as the distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” which occupy esp. Leviticus
At first sight, this looks like a coherent whole; and it is, in point of fact, a coherent historical arrangement of much diverse material. Even a cursory glance at the analysis above will show that of “law” in the narrower sense, only half of Exodus and all of Leviticus are constituted. Both Numbers and Deuteronomy contain sections of laws, but in the first, legal matter is subordinate to narrative, and in the second, to exhortation. Therefore the Torah has at least as good a claim to be called a history book as a lawbook; and considered from either angle, it is still uniquely God’s “instruction.”
Codes of the law.
has brought a new freshness to Biblical studies, by its isolation and study of the different “forms” within the books of the Bible instead of the endless documentary analysis. Where form criticism restricts itself to descriptive study, it can be a valuable analysis of Biblical matter along entirely new lines; when some of its advocates push it further and base unwarranted value-judgments on its conclusions there is no need to follow them. Therefore, in isolating various “codes of law” within the Pentateuch for study, there is no necessity for postulating different sources or different dates. Indeed, all might well have originated in the Mosaic age, for all we know. Many of the codes cannot in any case have had an independent existence at any time in Israel’s history. With this proviso, some seven or more separate codes may be cataloged as follows. They are mainly taken from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, with small sections from other books.
(to the Jews, the “ten words”) stand at the very heart of the law and are fundamental to the whole. They appear twice, with minor differences in the explanatory additions (which may well themselves be early) in the second half of each verse. (See
The Ten Commandments can be seen only, like the rest of the law, against the background of the Covenant; this in turn rests on the salvation-history of the Exodus. Other codes within the law are basically an expansion and application of these principles to various facets of life, rather as the NT epistles apply the truth of the Gospel. Thus the Commandments became the root of all subsequent Israelite morality as well as of religion.
It is possible that much of this Code (as no doubt parts of the Ten Commandments, cf.
The Deuteronomic Code,
The Code of Holiness
is contained in
Further, the Code of Holiness contains the same sort of motivation as the Ten Commandments, by which ethics are deduced directly from theology (in the proper sense of that word, as being the known and revealed nature and will of God). A keynote of the
The Priestly Code
may be a useful name to apply to the material of the rest of Leviticus, which has no such one compelling motive as the Code of Holiness, and perhaps to certain other parts of the Pentateuch. To describe it as a code, as though it had existed in isolation, seems a misnomer; it is only a convenient term for the vast body of traditional material which every sacrificing priest in Israel must know. As he was not only priest, but also doctor, and health inspector, as well as custodian of public and private morals, the Priestly Code covers a wide area of life.
The archeological discoveries at
f. So far, the codes isolated have had at least some claim to individual identity. Whether the so-called Ritual Decalogue (
In the Biblical account, these laws are prefixed by a revelation of Yahweh’s name and nature, accompanied by the re-carving of the tablets of the law, and introduced by the words, “Behold, I make a covenant” (
Blessings and curses
(cf. the NT “Beatitudes” and “Woes”). The modern fashion is to see these as liturgical forms, pronounced solemnly and in public at great religious ceremonies, and believed to be effective in themselves as producing the result described. While many will dissent from the latter part of such a definition, there is evidence in Scripture that the first part is true, at least on certain historic occasions, if not as part of the regular worship of Israel.
Moses and the law codes.
Apart from these seven codes, others have been isolated from time to time with varying degrees of plausibility by different scholars, but none has commanded general acceptance. Even these seven are mainly of interest as showing the possible raw material that underlay the law of Moses.
Surely the background, training, and education of Moses was God’s preparation for the writing of his great lifework. By birth an Israelite, and also a member of the wider Heb. group, and thus an inheritor of the common law of all Sem. people; by training an Egyp. noble, and thus familiar with Hammurabis law and Egyp. juristic comment on it; by force of circumstance, a great man in Midian, and both a spectator and participant in the legal processes of the semi-desert. Who was better trained and equipped than he to become under God the great lawgiver of Israel, and codifier of his people’s law? No doubt in the Torah of Moses’ day, there was much that was new, in the shape of the fresh and deeper revelation of Yahweh. No doubt, since Yahweh was also expressly the “God of the Fathers,” even if His name was not known to them (
Land laws in the OT.
As Israel was basically an agricultural people from the conquest of Canaan until the Babylonian captivity (with a brief essay to the world of commerce and manufacturing, under Solomon) a study of their land laws may be of some interest. First, it is well to notice that no complete system of land laws can be built up from the Pentateuch alone; and yet no other codification of early Israelite laws is known, except for the Mishnah, which seems to preserve additional laws in force at the time of the destruction of Herod’s Temple. Obviously, Israel had more land laws than these two works contain; therefore it is only reasonable to assume that in this area (as doubtless in that of commerce and elsewhere) she simply used the common Sem. law, supplementing it by specifically Israelite regulations where such were necessitated by Israel’s revelation of Yahweh. Only some such practice can account for the otherwise inexplicable “gaps” in the Torah, here and elsewhere.
In pursuance of the same principle, land might not be permanently alienated by its owner.
Attitude to law in the OT
In early days.
The prophetic period.
The pendulum has swung completely to the other extreme. With the view that prophets in Israel were “cultic prophets,” usually organized in bands at Israelite sanctuaries, and possibly identified with the Levites, and that they had a definite place in the liturgical life and worship of Israel, such opposition to the priesthood as that postulated above becomes unreal. While this is certainly over-emphasized, it is a useful corrective to the older view. It is true that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests, and that Isaiah received his call in the Temple (
In later days.
The great change in Israel’s attitude to the Torah is marked not so much by a date as by an event, the Babylonian Exile. In a foreign land, the law took on a new importance, by which Israel was distinguished from the countless other small racial groups of a polyglot empire. The Exile was realized as the final result of failure to keep and obey the law, a lesson brought home by all the pre-exilic prophets. The law was certainly read in the returned community at Jerusalem (
It must have seemed to many as if the great promise of the
H. Danby, The Mishnah (1933); R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the OT (1941); M. Buber, Moses (1946); C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (1949); H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1950); E. Robertson, The OT Problem (1950); M. Noth, Exodus (1951); L. Koehler, Lexicon in VT Libros (1953); W. F. Albright, Archeology and the(1953); J. B. Pritchard, ANET (1955); W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957); A. Bentzen, Introduction to the OT, 5th ed. (1959); J. A. Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name (1959); J. Bright, (1960); A. Weiser, Introduction to the OT (1961); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961); W. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis (1961); Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel (1961); J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (1962); C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (1963); H. H. Rowley, Men of God (1963); M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King (1963); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the (1964); G. A. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (1964); O. Eissfeldt, The OT (1965); W. F. Albright, New Horizons in Biblical Research (1966); K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966); J. L’Hour, Die Ethik der Bundestradition im AT (1967).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
|| I. TERMS USED
1. Torah ("Law")
2. Synonyms of Torah
(1) Mitswah ("Command")
(2) `Edhah ("Witness," "Testimony")
(3) MishpaTim ("Judgments")
(4) Chuqqim ("Statutes")
(5) Piqqudhim ("Precepts")
II. THE WRITTEN RECORD OF THE LAW
1. The Critical Dating of the Laws
2. Groups of Laws in P (the Priestly Code)
(1) Judgments. Compared with
(2) Basis of Law of Covenant. Earlier Customs
4. The Book of the Law of Deuteronomy 31
5. The Law of Holiness
6. The Final Compilation
III. THE GENERAL CHARACTER AND DESIGN OF THE LAW
1. The Civil Law
(1) Servants and the Poor
(4) Sabbaths and Feasts
(1) Origin of Sacrifice
(2) The Levitical Ritual
(3) The Law Truly a Torah
IV. THE PASSING AWAY OF THE LAW
Law, at least as custom, certainly existed among the Hebrews in the times before Moses, as appears from numerous allusions to it, both in matters civil and ceremonial, in the earlier Scriptures. But we have no distinct account of such law, either as to its full contents or its enactment.practically means the Law promulgated by Moses (having its roots no doubt in this earlier law or custom), with sundry later modifications or additions, rules as to which have been inserted in the record of the Mosaic law.
I. Terms Used.
The Hebrew word rendered "law" in our Bibles is torah. Other synonymous words either denote (as indeed does torah itself) aspects under which the Law may be regarded, or different classes of law.
1. Torah ("Law"):
Torah is from horah, the Hiphil of yarah. The root meaning is "to throw"; hence, in Hiphil the word means "to point out" (as by throwing out the hand), and so "to direct"; and torah is "direction." Torah may be simply "human direction," as the "law of thy mother" in
In the completed
2. Synonyms of Torah:
(1) Mitswah ("Command")
Mitswah, "command" (or, in the plural, "commands"), is a term applied to the Law as indicating that it is a charge laid upon men as the expression of God’s will, and therefore that it must be obeyed.
(2) `Edhah ("Witness," "Testimony")
`Edhah, "witness" or "testimony" (in plural "testimonies"), is a designation of God’s law as testifying the principles of His dealings with His people. So the ark of the covenant is called the "ark of the testimony" (
(3) MishpaTim ("Judgments")
MishpaTim, "judgments": MishpaT in the singular sometimes means judgment in an abstract sense, as in
(4) Chuqqim ("Statutes")
Chuqqim, "statutes" (literally, "laws engraven"), are laws immediately enacted by a lawgiver. "Judgments and statutes" together comprise the whole law (
(5) Piqqudhim ("Precepts")
Piqqudhim, "precepts": This term is found only in the Psalms. It seems to mean rules or counsels provided to suit the various circumstances in which men may be placed. The term may perhaps be meant to apply both to the rules of the actual torah, and to others found, e.g. in the writings of prophets and "wise men."
II. The Written Record of the Law.
The enactment of the Law and its committal to writing must be distinguished. With regard to the former, it is distinctly stated (
It is not necessary here to discuss the large question of the literary history of the Pentateuch, but it must briefly be touched upon.
1. The Critical Dating of the Laws:
We are distinctly told in Ex that the law contained in Ex 20-23 was given through Moses. Rejecting this statement, critics of the school of Wellhausen affirm that its true date must be placed considerably later than the time of Joshua. They maintain that previous to their conquest of Canaan the Israelites were mere nomads, ignorant of agriculture, the practice of which, as well as their culture in general, they first learned from the conquered Canaanites. Therefore (so they argue), as the law of Ex 20-23 presupposes the practice of agriculture, it cannot have been promulgated until some time in the period of the Judges at the earliest; they place it indeed in the early period of the monarchy. All this, however, is mere assumption, support for which is claimed in some passages in which a shepherd life is spoken of, but with utter disregard of others which show that both in the patriarchal period and in Egypt the Israelites also cultivated land. See B.D. Eerdmans, "Have the Hebrews Been Nomads?" The Expositor, August and October, 1908. It can indeed be shown that this law was throughout in harmony with what must have been the customs and conceptions of the Israelites at the age of the exodus (Rule, Old Testament Institutions). Professor Eerdmans in his Alttestamentliche Studien, Part III (1910), vigorously defends the Mosaic origin of the.
The same critics bring down the date of the legislation of De to the time of Josiah, or at most a few years earlier. They affirm (wrongly) that the chief object of Josiah’s reformation narrated in
Equally unsound, however plausible, are the arguments which would make the framing of the Levitical ritual the work of the age of Ezra. The difficulties created by this theory are far greater than those which it is intended to remove. On this also see Moller, Are the Critics Right?
Rejecting these theories, it will be assumed in the present article that the various laws are of the dates ascribed to them in the Pentateuch; that whatever may be said as to the date of some "of the laws," all which are therein ascribed to Moses are truly so ascribed.
2. Groups of Laws in P (the Priestly Code):
The laws in P are arranged for the most part in groups, with which narrative is sometimes intermingled. These e.g. are some of the groups: Ex 25-31; Le 1-7; 11-15; Nu 1-4, etc. The structure and probable history of these groups are very interesting. That many of them must have undergone interpolation appears certain from the following considerations. Each of the groups, and often one or more paragraphs within a group, is headed by a recurring formula, "Yahweh spake unto Moses (or unto Aaron, or unto Moses and Aaron), saying." We might at first expect that the contents of each group or paragraph so headed would consist solely of what Yahweh had said unto Moses or Aaron, but this is not always so. Not infrequently some direction is found within such a paragraph which cannot have been spoken to Moses, but must have come into force at some later date. Unless then we reject the statement of the formula, unless we are prepared to say that Yahweh did not speak unto Moses, we can only conclude that these later directions were at some time inserted by an editor into paragraphs which originally contained Mosaic laws only. That this should have been done would be perfectly natural, when we consider that the purpose of such an editor would be not only to preserve (as has been done) the record of the original Law, but to present a manual of law complete for the use of his age, a manual (to use a modern phrase) made complete to date.
That the passages in question were indeed interpolations appears not only from the fact that their removal rids the text of what otherwise would be grave discrepancies, but because the passages in question sometimes disturb the sequence of the context. Moreover, by thus distinguishing between laws promulgated (as stated) by Moses, and laws to which the formula of statement was not intended to apply, we arrive at the following important result. It is that the former laws can all be shown to be in harmony one with another and with the historical data of the Mosaic age; while the introduction of the later rules is also seen to be what would naturally follow by way of adaptation to the circumstances of later times, and the gradual unfolding of Divine purpose.
It would be much too long a task here to work this out in detail: it has been attempted by the writer of this article in Old Testament Institutions, Their Origin and Development. Two instances, however, may be mentioned.
Instances of interpolation--In
Premising then the existence in writing from an early age of numerous groups of Mosaic laws and their subsequent interpolation, the ultimate compilation of these groups together with other matter and their arrangement in the order in which we now find them must have been the work, perhaps indeed of the interpolator, but in any case of some late editor. These numerous groups do not, however, make up the whole legislative contents of the Pentateuch; for a very large portion of these contents consists of three distinct books of law, which we must now examine. These were the "Book of the Covenant," the "Book of the Law" of
3. The Book of the Covenant:
This book, expressly so named (
It consisted of "words of Yahweh" and "Judgments" (
(1) Judgments. Compared with Code of Hammurabi.
The "judgments" appear to be taken from older consuetudinary law; not necessarily comprising the whole of that law, but so much of it as it pleased God now to stamp with His express sanction and to embody in this Covenant Law. They may well be compared with those contained in the so-called Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, who is thought to have been the Amraphel of
(2) Basis of Law of Covenant. Earlier Customs.
It is remarkable that, alike in matters of right between man and man, and in matters relating directly to the service of God, the Law of the Covenant did little (if anything) more than give a new and Divinely attested sanction to requirements which, being already familiar, appealed to the general conscience of the community. If, indeed, in the "words of Yahweh" there was any tightening of accustomed moral or (more particularly) religious requirements, e.g. in the first and second commandments of the Decalogue, it would seem to have been by way of enforcing convictions which must have been already gaining hold upon the minds of at least the more thoughtful of the people, and that in large measure through the lessons impressed upon them by the events of their recent history. In no other Way could the Law of the Covenant have appealed to their conscience, and so formed a foundation on which the covenant could be securely based.
This absence of ritual directions is indeed very noticeable. It was in the counsel of God that He would in the near future establish a reconstituted ritual, based upon what was already traditional, but containing certain new elements, and so framed as more and more to foster spiritual conceptions of God and a higher ideal of holiness. This however was as yet a thing of the future. No mention therefore was made of it in the Law of the Covenant; that law was so restricted as that it should at once appeal to the general conscience of the people, and so be a true test of their desire to do what was right. This would be the firm basis on which to build yet higher things. It is impossible to estimate the true character of the subsequent legislation, i.e. of what in bulk is by far the larger part of the torah--except by first grasping the true character and motive of the Covenant, and the Covenant Law.
See also COVENANT, BOOK OF THE; PENTATEUCH.
4. The Book of the Law of Deuteronomy 31:
Immediately after the making of the Covenant, Moses was called up into the mount, and there received instructions for the erection of the tabernacle, these being followed in due course by the rules of the reconstituted ceremonial of which the tabernacle was to be the home. All these for the present we must pass over.
Having arrived on the East of the Jordan, Moses, now at the close of his career, addressed discourses to the people, in which he earnestly exhorted them to live up to the high calling with which God had called them, in the land of which they were about to take possession. To this end he embodied in his discourse a statement of the Law by which they were to live. And then, as almost his last public act, he wrote "the words of this law in a book," and directed that the book should be placed "by the side of the ark of the covenant" (
Characteristics of Deuteronomy.
It is quite possible that some interpolations may have been made in the text of Deuteronomy 5-26, but not on any sufficient scale to affect the general character of the original book. This "Book of the Law" then was an expansion of the Law of the Covenant, enforcing its principles, giving directions in greater detail for carrying them out, and setting them in a framework of exhortation, warning and encouragement. Thus, its relation to the covenant is indicated by
5. The Law of Holiness:
In marked contrast to the numerous rules, sometimes intermingled with narrative, which we find in Ex 25-40; Le 1-16, and throughout Numbers, we have in Le 17-26 a collection of laws which evidently was once a book by itself. This, from its constant insistence upon holiness as a motive of conduct, has been called "the Law of Holiness." Though it contains many laws stated to have been spoken by Yahweh to Moses, we are not told by whom it was written, and therefore its authorship and date are a fair subject of inquiry. In its general design it bears much resemblance to the Law of the Covenant, and the Book of the Law contained in Deuteronomy. As in them, and especially in the latter, the laws are set up in a parenetic framework, the whole closing with promise of reward for obedience and a threat of punishment for disobedience (compare
A Clue as to Date
A clue to its date is to be found in its conception of cleanness. The idea found in the Prophets and the
6. The Final Compilation:
The remaining groups of Mosaic laws would appear to have been extant in their original form (i.e. without interpolation), no doubt in the custody of the priesthood for probably a very considerable time, it may have been for centuries, before their final compilation in their present form. The arrangement of these groups as they now stand, before and after H and with narrative intermingled, is by no means haphazard, as it might at first appear.
As the directions for the erection of the tabernacle with the purpose of its several parts were given to Moses immediately after the making of the covenant, they follow the account of it immediately. Thus Exodus contains the history of the covenant-making, of what led up to it, and of what immediately followed it, namely, the provision of the home for the covenant-worship.
This book follows with the rules of that worship; not indeed with all its details, but with an account of all that was essential to it. First (in
The purpose of Numbers is supplementary.
As a separate work and based upon sayings and doings at the very close of the 40 years, Deuteronomy naturally follows last.
III. The General Character and Design of the Law. Both in civil matters and in ceremonial the Law had to deal with men who lived in a comparatively early age of human history. Its rules were necessarily adapted in both departments to the standards of the age. At the same time they inculcated principles, the working out of which would by degrees bring about a great advance in men’s conceptions both of what is true and of what is right.
1. The Civil Law:
As J.B. Mozley says (Lectures on the Old Testament), "The morality of a progressive revelation is not the morality with which it starts but that with which it concludes"; yet the excellence of the Old Testament Law is evident, not only in its great underlying principles, but in the suitability of its individual rules to promote moral advance.
(1) Servants and the Poor.
The rule of
(4) Sabbaths and Feasts.
2. The Ceremonial Law:
We have already noted that the conception of sin as uncleanness, rendering the sinner therefore unfit for the presence of God, must have been an outgrowth from the earlier conception of purely ritual (physical) uncleanness. This development, and an accompanying sense of the heinousness of sin and of its need of atonement by sacrifice, were undoubtedly brought about by the gradual working of the law of the sin offering (
(1) Origin of Sacrifice.
We read of the offering of sacrifice all through the patriarchal history, and farther back even than Noah in the story of Cain and Abel; and there can be no doubt that the Levitical scheme of sacrifice was based upon, and a development (under Divine ordering) of, the sacrificial system already traditional among the Hebrews. Sacrifice was undoubtedly of Divine origin; yet we have no account, or even hint, of any formal institution of sacrifice. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel are spoken of in a way that leaves the impression that they were offered spontaneously, and the most probable assumption would seem to be that the very first offering of sacrifice was the outcome of a spontaneous desire (Divinely implanted, we may be sure) in early men to render service to the higher Being of whose relation to themselves they were, if ever so dimly, conscious.
Prehistoric research has not yet been able to present to us a distinct picture of primitive men; and even if the results of anthropology were more certain than they can yet claim to be, what in this connection we are concerned in is the conceptions, not of early men everywhere, but of the early ancestors of the Hob race. However infantile their ideas may have been and probably were, there may well have been far more of elementary truth in them--in simple ideas Divinely implanted--than students of anthropology have any knowledge of. Sooner or later early men did make offerings to God; and as the Mosaic sacrificial system was certainly based upon the patriarchal, so we may fairly assume that the ideas underlying the latter were an outgrowth from those which underlay the sacrifice of the patriarch’s own still earlier ancestors.
It is well observed by Dr. A.B. Davidson (Old Testament Theology, p. 315) that the sacrifices of Cain and Abel are called a minchah or present; and this idea of sacrifice as a gift to God most easily accounts for the facts with which we have to deal in the history of Old Testament sacrifice. When early men first made offerings to God, they probably did so in the spirit of young children who give gifts to older persons without knowing whether, or in what way, the gifts will be of any use to them. They simply give in affection what is of value in their own eyes. The one only thing of prime value to the earliest men must have been food; hence, offerings to God were everywhere in the first place offerings of food. But here a difficulty must soon have arisen, for men must have become convinced very soon that the Divine Being did not feed upon the food offered, at least in men’s way of feeding. Ultimately, among the Israelites, the idea of His actual feeding became eliminated altogether (
Coming, however, to animal as distinguished from vegetable sacrifice, we do not find that its origin can be accounted for as at the first being an offering of food. We learn from
In the very first blood offerings it is probable that the blood offered was the blood of the offerer, and that there was no infliction of death--only in this way the dedication of life. The dedicatory rite of circumcision may have been a survival of sacrifice in this its earliest form; so also what is narrated in
(2) The Levitical Ritual.
(3) The Law Truly a Torah.
In every one of its departments the Law proved itself to be indeed a torah directing God’s people in the upward way; leading them on from the state of advancement, such as it was, to which they had already attained by Moses’ time, to higher and higher standards, both of faith and of duty, till they were prepared for the gospel of Christ, who Himself said of the old Law, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" (
IV. The Passing Away of the Law.
The great general principles of the Law were not transitory but abiding, and reappear under the gospel dispensation. Otherwise, however, i.e. in those particulars, whether ceremonial or civil, in which it was adapted to merely passing needs, the Law passed away when Christ came. It is not always realized that already before Christ came it had begun to pass away. The following are illustrations:
(1) The whole rationale of the Levitical worship consisted in its being based upon the covenant made at Sinai, and the symbol of the Covenant was the ark containing the tables of the Law and surmounted by the mercy-seat. Therefore one of its most significant acts was the sprinkling of the blood of sin offering within the veil upon the mercy-seat, or without the veil, but yet before the mercy-seat. But this most significant act could no longer be performed when, after the Babylonian captivity, there was no longer either ark or mercy-seat.
(3) That the Mosaic law as to divorce was to give place to one more stringent appears not only from our Lord’s words in
(4) It is probable that some of the supplementary rules in Nu may have been designed for temporary use only, and may have passed away before the close of the Old Testament. It may have been so, e.g., with the law of
Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, with which should be read Moller, Are the Critics Right? and Orr, Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament; A.B. Davidson, Theology of the Old Testament; J.B. Mozley, Ruling Ideas in Early Ages; Rule, Old Testament Institutions, Their Origin and Development; Kurtz, Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament; Hoonacker, Le sacerdoce levitique; Edouard Naville,
La decouverte de la loi sous le roi Josias; H. Clay Trumbull, The Blood Covenant; Milligan, Resurrection of our Lord (274 ff, on "blood-offering").
Ulric Z. Rule