Why Was Israel Expected To Follow The Law?



Question: Why was Israel under the law? And why don't we follow the law today?

Answer: There are a few reasons. Let's take a look.

Deuteronomy 11 answers the questions of why:

"Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey." (Deuteronomy 11:8-9)

You'll notice two things he says here. They need to observe the law so that they can (1) possess the land and (2) keep the land (or live long in the land). I'd encourage you to go and read Deuteronomy 11 in its entirety since it gives much more information than this.

The passage goes on to say that:

"It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end." (Deuteronomy 11:12)

Leviticus 18:28 says:

"And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you." (Leviticus 18:28)

Keeping the law would ensure that they do not "defile the land." So the stakes were set. If the people wanted to possess and keep the land, they needed to obey the law. God pointed out this tract of land is special to him. He allows a lot of stuff to happen in other places that he does not allow to happen in the land of Israel.

There is an answer to your second question in this verse. You asked why we don't observe the law today. Part of the answer is because the law was designed for those "living in the land." The law is a good model for all nations to follow, but it was specifically given for those who lived in the land. There are other reasons for the law as well, but this is one of them.

There's more though. In Isaiah 49:7:

You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor... I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:3, 7)

In this, we find another purpose of the people living in the land. The nation of Israel was supposed to be a light to the whole world. They were supposed to shine out the light of salvation. They were supposed to evangelize every nation. However, they couldn't do that if they were worshiping other gods and living in complete disobedience to God's law.

There's more still. Toward the end of Deuteronomy God gives the people a vision of what they can expect if they follow the law. Not only will they be able to keep the land, but they will be abundanly blessed.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God...
The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you...
...if you keep the commands... all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground... The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. (Deuteronomy 28:1-13)

I've abbreviated the above passage, so I'd encourage you to go and read Deuteronomy 28 in its entirety to get the full picture.

So here is the summary of what could be expected if Israel kept the law.

ISRAEL WOULD BE ABLE TO:
(1) Possess the land
(2) Keep the land
(3) Have wealth and prosperity
(4) Be the main world power
(5) Evangelize the nations

That's not the end of the story though. The law benefits, not only Israel, but all people. Even people who don't live under the law can see in it, a powerful truth. Paul tackles the very question your asking in Galatians. He says:

"Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people." (Galatians 3:19)

In another place he says this:

"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19)"

So as it stands here are the reasons that the law was given.

FOR ALL PEOPLE TO:
(1) Be held accountable to God
(2) Be unable to claim they are righteous
(3) Realize they are sinners (and need a savior)

Now let me wrap up with explaining why we don't follow the law today.

Why don't we follow the law today?

Well we actually do. At least parts of it. We don't follow the ceremonial law. I mean, we don't worry about animals that are clean and unclean. We don't do ceremonial washings, and things like that.

However, for the most part we follow the moral law given by God. Think of the ten commandments, A big part of the law.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not make for yourself an image...
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God...
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy...
5. Honor your father and your mother...
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not give false testimony...
10. You shall not covet... (Exodus 20)

Personally, I can say that I have broken a few of these laws. Generally speaking, however, I try to keep them. They set a good moral standard. Just about everyone in a modern western society agrees that these are good rules. Most every Christian would agree that these OT laws are valuable and set a good moral standard. Most Christians try to keep them.

The Question, I think you're trying to ask is:
Why don't we keep the ceremonial laws anymore?

That was actually a big question that the early church had to face. It's covered in the first chapters of the book of Acts. The early church noticed that God seemed interested in bringing gentiles (non-Jews) into the fold. There were some difficulties with this since Jews were not to fraternize with gentiles.

In the 10th chapter of Acts, we see the breaking point. God directs a gentile to call for Peter (who was is a Jew and a leader of the early church). Before the message got to Peter, God gave Peter a vision in which he declared all animals and people clean (instead of some being unclean). In this, we get a view to the big change. After this point, the church worked hard to bring gentiles into their numbers, despite the fact that they were not going to follow the Jewish law. I'd encourage you to read Acts 10 and the following chapters.

The very early church and the Jewish religion looked very similar with one stark difference. The church believed Jesus was the Messiah and the Jews not in the church did not. As time went on, the church grew less Jewish. They were free to live outside of the Jewish ceremonial law. Through prophecies and counsels of the early church leaders, they determined that the law did not need to be followed to have salvation.

Paul said it this way:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So, while the moral law is good for discipleship and moral living, it does not provide a way to be saved. Salvation comes by faith in Christ.