Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 4

booksThe Carolina Way. It used to mean something special for students and fans of UNC Chapel Hill basketball. Some are questioning whether it does anymore. The very fact that it can be questioned, however, shows that there’s something to it. You can tell when it’s there. You can recognize it when it’s not. It’s a certain philosophy, a way of life, handed down from player to player, from coach to coach that defines what it means to do things the right way.

The roots of The Carolina Way can be traced back to Frank McGuire, who coached UNC to its first (real) national championship, put the program on the map, and hired Dean Smith. It was Dean, of course, who fully embodied (and still does) The Carolina Way. When Dean retired in 1997, his assistant Bill Guthridge took the helm. Though everyone assumed his tenure would be short given his age, no one doubted that the most important thing – The Carolina Way – would survive under his leadership. He lived and breathed it just like Dean.

But a funny thing happened in 2000. The coach who was to be the rider on the white stallion, the up-and-coming coaching phenom who, in fact, played on the UNC national championship team with Michael Jordan, the coach of the future – Matt Doherty – arrived on the scene. Though we made it to the Final Four in his first year, something wasn’t right. Something about him, about his methods, about his coaching philosophy, about his treatment of players – something about his way of life was not The Carolina Way. It was hard to put a finger on it, but everyone knew it.

When Roy Williams arrived from Kansas, a new era of The Carolina Way began. One could argue a more successful age began – more championships, faster pace, lots of guys going pro, boost in ticket prices, national prestige after years of mediocrity – but The Carolina Way (at least until recent days) was intact.

Frank_McGuire Dean Smith Bill Guthridge Matt Doherty Roy Williams

Roy is not Dean. Matt was not Dean. Both systems were startling changes to the tradition established before them. But you could tell which one was of the same essence with that which came before, and which was not. One was the further development and flowering of the same basic thing, while the other was a huge departure. Matt’s system was “new” like a new healthcare system is “new”: yeah, it’s still basketball, but it is totally and dramatically different at its very core. Roy’s system is “new” like a new iPhone model is new: same basic philosophy but changes and improvements here and there.

I think the latter is something like what we have when we see the Old Covenant flower into the New Covenant.

What does it mean for the covenant to be “new”?

In this series I have been building an argument that the Law of Moses is not fundamentally antithetical to the grace principle in the Covenant of Grace, but that it fits fully within the stream of development of the one Covenant of Grace as it unfolds from Adam, to Abraham, to Noah, (to Moses), to David, and, at long last, to Jesus Christ.

In prior posts, I’ve dealt with a variety of Old Testament-related issues, such as the basis of the covenant, its structural features, and the principles of obedience and disobedience. In this fourth and final post, I plan to map out the forward connectivity of the Mosaic Covenant to that which comes after it – ultimately leading to the consummation in Jesus Christ.

When we think about connecting the Law, which can also be denoted the Mosaic Covenant or the Old Covenant, to the New Covenant, we have to ask the question that lay behind the whole Carolina Way discussion. What does it mean to be “new”? What does it mean for the New Covenant to be “new”?

  • Is it “new” in the sense of completely demolishing the old, departing from it in every possible way, demonstrating itself to be of an entirely different essence altogether (i.e., the Matt Doherty era)?
  • Or is it “new” in the sense of extending, developing, improving upon, and bringing to greater fulfillment something that was antecedent to it, but to which it remains vitally and essentially connected (i.e., the Roy Williams era)?

I aim to argue that the Mosaic Covenant demonstrates significant “forward connectivity” to the stages of the Covenant of Grace that came after it, culminating, of course, in the New Testament’s proclamation of the new covenant established in Christ’s blood. If this is true, then the Mosaic Law Covenant must necessarily be a part of the Covenant of Grace.

Forward Connectivity

I hope to have made a halfway decent case that the Mosaic Covenant is strongly related to the preceding administrations. However, we must look forward to see how it relates to what comes afterwards, which I will discuss under three categories. As before, I will focus on how Moses describes things from his end.

1. Universalizing principle: extension to Gentiles

First, while many scholars have labored extensively to demonstrate what they believe is the exclusively ethnic thrust of Sinai (that is, that the Mosaic Law relates only to ethic Israel and the Jews that came later), it vital to recognize that the law in actuality includes provisions that both build on Abraham’s universal scope (“blessing to the nations”; see prior posts) and prefigure the later, broader extension of the covenant to the Gentiles.

I love online artwork. So is Jesus throwing an orb of light to the Gentiles? Is he E.T.?
I love online artwork.
So is Jesus throwing an orb of light to the Gentiles? Is he E.T.?

Where do we see this? During the celebration of the Passover in Sinai, Moses provides a means by which strangers and sojourners could participate in the Passover in the future (Num 9:14), concluding, “You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.” This is astounding language: even in the time of Moses, non-Jews are given equal access to the covenant family meal, the pinnacle of the feasts, and were subject to the same, unified law. So often we look at the NT and draw big conclusions from the ritual separation of Jews from Gentiles at meals, but we have to remember that Judaism (as it developed later) does not equal the Torah community led Moses. While Moses was most certainly focused on ensuring Israel was ceremonially set apart from the pagan nations, God also gave him provisions that anticipated how Israel’s and believing Gentiles (sojourners who entered the covenant) had equal footing, even at something as central as the Passover. While later Judaism may have obscured this “universal” idea – that God is redeeming all his elect from every nation – it was there in Moses’ day.

Some other data points may be added:

  • Non-Jews who have become part of the visible community are required to keep the Sabbath (Exod 20:10), participate in select purity rituals (Lev 17:15), and submit to the lex talionis of Jewish jurisprudence (Lev 22:22).1
  • Other laws provide food for sojourners (Lev 19:10; 25:6,35)
  • Non-Jews are allowed to offer burnt sacrifices (Lev 22:18)
  • Sojourners are required to hear the law read yearly (Deut 31:11–12)
  • And, strikingly, sojourners who participate in the covenant life of Israel are subject to the same penalty of death by stoning for blaspheming Yahweh (Lev 24:16).

Thus, the principle of Gentile inclusion that begins with Abraham (Gen 17:4–5) is further developed and defined within Moses’ legal provisions, which extend the Torah beyond the mere ethnic community.2 This concern for extending the covenant community beyond ethnic Jews to Gentiles receives even greater expression when the prophets begin anticipating the messiah who would inaugurate a “new” covenant and be a “light” to the Gentiles (e.g., Isa 42:6; 49:6). It culminates, of course, in the NT emphasis that, through Christ, the Gentiles have been brought into the covenant family on equal terms (e.g., Acts 15; Eph 2; Rom 9–11; Gal 3; much more).

2. Anticipating the Davidic Covenant

In the Davidic stage of the covenant, God promises David two things: (a) an eternal kingship, and (b) a permanent house of the Lord that the king will build (2 Sam 7:12–13). In the scholarship on the covenants, David is always seen as Abraham’s near-equal in how the coming of Christ is so clearly pictured (whereas Moses is, again, the odd-man out).

However, note that Moses foretells Israel’s desire to appoint a king once they settle in Canaan – ultimately leading to Saul, David, and Solomon – and describes what the Israelite king should do (Deut 17:14ff). Notably, Moses declares that the future king must abide by the law covenant “all the days of his life” so that “he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deut 17:19–20), a point which David himself reiterates (1 Kgs 2:3).3 In other words, Mosaic Law prefigures and, then, governs the future kingship of Israel – which Christ fulfills when he ushers in the spiritual Kingdom of God in his first coming.

Moreover, the tabernacle, which forms a central part of both the Law itself and the sacrificial system, also anticipates the Solomonic temple. Though David himself was not permitted to build it, his son was, and it became the permanent place of God’s visible manifestation on earth for nearly 500 years. Notably, however, it was Moses’ concept of the tabernacle that formed the archetype for Israelite worship throughout its history (not the temple), as illustrated by the writer of Hebrews: in discussing the heavenly reality of God’s dwelling place, he uses “tabernacle” terminology (not “temple”).4 The tabernacle is logically prior to the more permanent temple structure, which was destroyed twice and, of course, no longer exists.

I wanna know where the seacow hides are in this replica?
I want to know where the seacow hides are in this replica?

3. The pedagogical use of the law … for Moses, too?

Finally, while the NT bears witness to the fact that Mosaic Law has a temporary role that exposes our inability to keep it and drives us to something better in Christ (the “pedagogical use of the law” found in, say, Gal 3:19–25), we have to recognize that Moses himself saw this very dynamic as well.

Again and again he predicts that the people will be unfaithful to the covenant, even though “this commandment … is not too hard for you … you can do it” (Deut 30:11, 14).5 He speaks in no uncertain terms that he expects the people to abandon the covenant (Deut 29:25), just as they have repeatedly done during the wandering. After installing Joshua and giving the book of the law to the Levites, Moses comments, in very pessimistic terms, “I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord” (Deut 31:29).

Moses knows that the law, however perfectly it reflected God’s grace, is no final path of salvation.6 The law’s demands point out our inability to keep it. In other words, Moses himself understands the pedagogical use of the law long before Paul. One might even say that Paul was actually rediscovering this originally Mosaic view of the law after centuries of Jewish teaching that had lost some of it.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this series, I observed that some strands of covenant theology within the Reformed community are reinterpreting the Mosaic covenant in ways that compromise its position in the Covenant of Grace. Such maneuvers, often driven by an overemphasis on ANE treaty formulations and an exclusively “pedagogical-use” reading of Paul,7 tend to muddle God’s covenantal workings, unravel elements of continuity between OT Israel and the NT church, and, ultimately, sever the so called “third-use” (tertius usus legis) that holds that the moral law is still normative for Christians.

My analysis of Moses’ own perspective on the covenant he mediated, however, demonstrates a large number of ways in which it rightly belongs within the broader sweep of the Covenant of Grace, not as a republished covenant of works or a separate covenant altogether.

  • Moses roots the Sinaitic covenant in the Abrahamic promise
  • Structures it in essentially the same way
  • Describes obedience and disobedience in similar fashion
  • Reveals God’s ultimate focus on a heart relationship (not legal merit)
  • Anticipates the Davidic king and heavenly tabernacle
  • And foretells the law’s pedagogical / typological function.

Obviously I have left a lot of the subtleties of Paul’s treatment of the law unaddressed, as my point has been to focus on Moses’ own portrayal of the covenant. While it goes without saying that Paul needs much detailed treatment when it comes to the law, I think the approach I’ve outlined here has a lot of benefits. It is much cleaner, given that it sidesteps the complicating factor of “what or who exactly is Paul arguing against” that clouds the NT discussion. And it is also dramatically overlooked. In short, the law in its original installment is not presented as a meritorious system that enables Israel to enter into covenant or stay in covenant; rather, “the law [is] administratively compatible with the promise”8 and serves the broader purposes of the grace covenant in consecrating a people for true worship of God.

We're not allowed to have these anymore, right?
We’re not allowed to have these anymore, right?

Two final observations may be made to finalize this attempt at rescuing Moses from the exile imposed upon him.

  • If Mosaic is not part of the Covenant of Grace as has traditionally been understood, then the laborious argument made by Hebrews to show the fulfillment of the old covenant by the new covenant would make little sense; the typological connections would be severed, and the redemptive-historical progression from lesser/“obsolete” to greater/“better” would be unintelligible. The new covenant in Christ cannot be a “consummation” of a prior covenant unless it does, in fact, share the same fundamental essence with its antecedent. That’s the difference between Roy Williams and Matt Doherty when it comes to The Carolina Way: Doherty’s era was emphatically NOT the Carolina Way because it broke with the essence; Roy’s era IS the Carolina Way because it does share in that essence despite it’s many modifications and improvements.
  • Moreover, it bears repeating that the Mosaic Covenant perpetuates the Immanuel Principle9 that undergirds the entire covenant structure.10 Moses writes, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev 26:12), echoing the promise of God to his people through all generations, from the time of Abraham to the second coming (Rev 21:3). Truly, Moses sees grace in the law.

Connecting to the pew

I’ve outlined several points before, but I’ll conclude with a few parting thoughts:

  • Reading the OT from the lens of the OT is still valid. Often in Reformed circles, we value the “analogy of Scripture” (letting Scripture interpret Scripture) and the so-called Emmaus Road hermeneutic (from Luke 24, whereby we see all the OT as pointing to Christ) so much that we lose our ability to read the OT on its own terms. We should, no doubt, read the OT through the lens of the NT, which embodies God’s clearer revelation of his purposes “this side” of Jesus’ first coming. But that doesn’t mean we only use that lens. Or, put differently, that doesn’t mean we artificially impose what we think the NT means on what we think the OT means. There’s a place for “letting the OT speak for itself,” since that is how Jesus and Paul and the rest of the NT writers would have read it. Another way to put this would be thus: when in doubt, go to the OT itself, not to some theologian’s take on the OT filtered through his own presuppositions about Paul, Judaism, law, grace, etc.
  • The “second use” implies there are others that we shouldn’t ignore. In all the contemporary debates on sonship, justification / sanctification, Paul’s relationship to the law, covenant theology, and so forth, much of the agenda has been driven by a certain tendency to elevate the “second use” (pedagogical) of the law above all others. By this I mean that many folks read into the NT an assumption that, because of Christ, the only function the Mosaic Covenant plays is pedagogical: showing us our sin, revealing how we cannot keep it, and driving us to Christ (and, by implication, away from the bogeyman of law). The distinction between law and “works” is blurred, and law is seen entirely as a bad thing that is (thank God) demolished in Christ. There are true elements to this line of thought, for sure: but we have to remember that the “second” use of the law is “second” of three. The third use – namely, that the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law are still binding on how even NT Christians are to live as disciples of Christ – is still very much alive and well. Christ did not destroy this aspect of the Law Covenant but rather (a) fulfilled it in principle on our behalf (Matt 5:17; also Rom 10:4) and (b) reaffirmed as the principle by which God works to govern and sanctify his covenant community (the Sermon on the Mount, for instance).
  • The Bible is wonderful. If nothing else, whether you agree with my assessment or disagree, please do take all this discussion as an effort to present the Bible as amazing, complex, and wonderful. The theology of the Covenant of Grace is such a rich blessing because it fleshes out how intricately the parts of the Bible relate, how sensitive and creative the authors were, and how sovereign and faithful God has been and continues to be in working out his plan to redeem lost sinners.

_____________

Footnotes:

1 Note the same language as before: “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native.”

2 Moses’ song encapsulates this principle in terms extremely similar to Paul’s teaching on Jews and Gentiles in Rom 9-11: “They have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deut 32:21, emphasis added).

3 See Robertson, Christ, 178 and 179.

4 Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1956), 19.

5 Notably, Paul picks up on this passage in Rom 10:8 to describe the role of God’s word in justification.

6 Estelle notes that likewise the Abrahamic covenant was “planned obsolescence” (Estelle, “Leviticus,” 130).

7 See Pettegrew, “Perspicuity,” 219. The author insightfully summarizes both prongs of this tactic: “By reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament, covenant theologians may in effect minimize the historical-grammatical interpretation of great sections of the Old Testament and produce allegorizers of the Old Testament. Covenant theologians in effect ‘undo, or replace the results that would have been obtained in performing a true biblical theology of the OT.’ The Old Testament is almost an afterthought in this procedure. The New Testament is used like the ‘presidential power of veto’ over legitimate exegetical results in Old Testament passages. So, there is no true Old Testament biblical theology that serves to form the production of systematic theology. The systematic theology is ‘one-legged.’”

8 Kline, By Oath, 25-31. Quite interestingly, Kline elaborates, “The difference between pre-redemptive [Adamic pre-fall] and redemptive covenant is not, then, that the latter substitutes promise for law. … The difference is rather that redemptive covenant adds promise to law. Redemptive covenant is simultaneously a promise administration of guaranteed blessings and a law administration of blessing dependent on obedience, with the latter foundational. … Far from being annulled by the covenant mediated through Moses, the promise was renewed in them” (emphasis added).

9 Robertson, Christ, 47.

10 Beckwith, “Unity and Diversity,” 101.

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