The Law, Part I

The fifth dispensation, otherwise known as Law, covers more pages of Scripture than any other dispensation. Because it covers so much of biblical history, many people misunderstand some aspects of this dispensation.

The name Law comes from two different sources. The first, and most obvious, is the giving of the Law of Moses to the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai. When God made the covenant with Israel, he also gave to them a law. The purpose of the Law was to regulate all aspects of Israel’s life. It controlled the people’s worship of God, and it controlled the people’s relationships to one another in society. The Law, in this respect, was specific revelation from God to Israel, and it outlined the responsibilities for the people of Israel.

The Lawis often thought of as the first five books of the Old Testament. Of those five books, however, very little is actual law. None of Genesis is legal code. Exodus 20-23 is the first law given to Israel. It would govern the nation until they were settled in the promised land. Exodus 25-40 is regulations and the construction of the Tabernacle. Leviticus is the only book that is legal code. Numbers is a mixture of history and law code. Deuteronomy, literally the second law, also contains very little by way of law code. Historically, though, the books of Moses were the constitution and legal code of Israel.

What about the Gentiles? The second source that refers to this dispensation as legal is found in the book of Romans. In Romans 2:14-16, Paul states that in the previous dispensation, the Gentiles had God’s law written on their hearts: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” It appears, then, that God wrote a law upon the hearts of the Gentiles, even though they were not under obligation to keep the Law of Israel.

Even though the focus of the Old Testament is the nation of Israel, the title Law is the best appellation for the dispensation. The law understood in this manner pertains to all of mankind. Israel had a specific law given to them. The Gentiles (that is everyone else on the earth) had a law written on their hearts. This makes it clear that the manner in which God is managing the affairs of mankind on earth is by means of a legal code.

This dispensation begins with the creation of Israel as a nation in Exodus 19-24. A transition period exists as the people of Israel are rescued from Egypt and journey out into the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. The entire event takes just a few weeks from the time of the plagues to the setting up of camp. The giving of the law is part of the covenant-making process, though it is not the same as the covenant. The covenant is the relationship established between God and Israel: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Exod. 6:7).

The revelation given to Israel, as mentioned above, is contained in the writings of Moses. The second section of the Old Testament is history, or the stories of how the Israelites did or did not live according to the Law. The prophets preached from the Law, and they tried to turn the hearts of the Israelites back to the Law. Jesus also taught the Law. The legal code consisted of food laws, ceremonial laws, marriage laws,  and laws concerning the sabbath day, just to name a few. (to be continued…)