Theology 101

What Does Old Testament Law Have to Do With Flourishing Today?

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If your New Year’s resolution was to read the Bible in a year, by now you have reached what many have found to be an insurmountable barrier—the book of Leviticus.

Written by Moses, Leviticus contains all the laws and instructions given by God to the people of Israel in the wilderness at Mount Sinai.

Those who get through Leviticus run headlong into another difficult text soon afterward—the book of Deuteronomy. This book consists of Moses restating the law to the second generation of Israelites before they enter the promised land:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:6-7).

Many modern reading plans have abandoned the read-straight-through approach, which is understandable. However, even though this part of the Bible can be difficult to get through (even boring, to some), there is a wealth of wisdom in Old Testament law that, if followed, will bring great benefit.

Design Principles Expressed Through the Law

Here at IFWE, we write a lot about creation (Gen. 1-2) because here we find both God’s design and purpose for his creation and his people. God’s design is based on principles that reflect his nature. These principles are woven into the very fabric of creation.

God’s design principles can be identified by observing the created world (general revelation) and by studying God’s word (special revelation).

As the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy regarding special revelation,

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God and fit him fully for all branches of his work (2 Tim. 3:16-17, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

As we study God’s word, his design principles are most clearly seen in Old Testament law, including Leviticus and Deuteronomy. For example, behind the eighth commandment, “thou shall not steal,” is the principle of private property and ownership. The prohibitions against moving boundary markers also reinforce this principle (Deut. 19:14; Deut. 27:17). Examine the rest of the Old Testament laws and you will find within them God’s design principles, like the idea of property rights.

But does such a focus on the law undermine grace? Reformers like Luther and Calvin echoed Paul’s teaching that salvation was founded on grace, not the law. Yet, they did not reject the law. John Calvin believed there were three important uses of the law: bringing us to Christ, limiting sin, and helping believers do the will of God. (The last of these is important to our discussion here.)

The law in the Bible also reveals what is pleasing to God. As R.C. Sproul writes in his book, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it.…This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.

Uncovering the Principles in the Law—The Why Behind the Law

How then can we read the law in the Old Testament in a way that will help us uncover its underlying principles?

Historically, God’s law in the Old Testament has been categorized into three parts—sacrificial law, civil law, and moral law:

  • Sacrificial Law is the detailed law of the sacrificial system God gave to Moses. It applied specifically to the nation of Israel as a theocracy. These laws detail the requirements and role of priests and how and when to perform sacrifices, and include laws regarding cleanliness, food or diet, festivals, and tithing. While the New Testament clearly demonstrates that we are no longer under these laws, the core principle (justice—a price must be paid for sin) is still important and points to Christ as the ultimate sacrifice.
  • Civil Law was given to Israel as a body politic. These laws dealt with the proper resolution of disagreements between citizens and were designed to create and enforce a system of moral values among the people of Israel. And while it is clear that these laws were intended for a particular time and place, we still can use them as case law and discern the embedded principles. For example, we no longer put adulterers to death (Lev. 20:10), but the punishment for this offense in Old Testament law reveals the principle that doesn’t change—how gravely God views adultery because it profoundly damages family, God’s foundational building block for society.
  • Moral Law reflects God’s character and reveals his design in creation. This part of the law is still binding on Christians today. While we do not obey this moral law in order to gain salvation, we do obey it in order to live in ways that are pleasing to God. The Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17) are an excellent example of this type of law. God commands us not to kill. The principle behind this law is that we are all God’s image bearers with inherent and equal value before him and have no right to take the life of another.  

These foundational biblical principles, which undergird the law of God, are to guide everything we do, including our work and, by extension, our businesses.

Hopefully, as you discover the richness to be found in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you will not only get back to your reading plan, but begin to apply these principles in your lives in a way that leads to real flourishing.

 

Editor’s note: Learn more about working in alignment with God’s design and desire in Monday Morning Success: How Biblical Stewardship Transforms Your Work.

Help more people learn the biblical and economic principles that lead to a flourishing society! Support IFWE today. 

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  • Dennis Broughton

    Great discussion Hugh! I really appreciate the distinction between being obedient as a means to salvation (unsound) and doing so to glorify God out of gratitude for saving grace!

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