Sunday, 16 December 2007

What is the place of the OT Law for believers today? (6)

This posting is the last of the role of the Law in the Old Testament, providing context for what we read about the Law in the New Testament.

What I have endeavoured to show is that I believe that the Law has a very realistic view of human nature. The very fact that the sacrificial element was included in the Law points to this reality. As Chris Wright writes, ‘Without lessening the great moral absolutes of God’s demand, [the Law takes] full account of man’s moral predicament, ranging from sheer fragility to outright obstinate rebellion. […] The starting point to [walking in the way of the law] was God’s objective provision of atonement and the subjective experience of forgiveness.’

Alongside this, we have also seen that Israel’s fundamental problem in the Old Testament was not just a failure to keep the Law, but also a lack of desire and willingness to keep the Law at all. Israel showed a lack of faith in God. This showed itself in, amongst other things, idolatry, self-righteousness, syncretism and complacency. And for this reason, Israel faced God’s anger.

As that anger played out in the form of judgement and exile, the prophets began to promise a new covenant that would fulfil all of the earlier promises made to God’s people in a new and wonderful way. This new covenant is prophetically described like this (emphasis mine in both passages):

24 "'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” [Ezekiel 36:24-28]

31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.

33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.

"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." [Jeremiah 31:31-34]

Note that the prophesied ‘new covenant’ will deal with the root of Israel’s failings. It will be unconditional (Jeremiah 31:34), with no possibility of being broken by God’s people; an indication that atonement will be made in full. Additionally, it will move the people to willing obedience to God's decrees, because God will put his Spirit in their hearts (Ezekiel 36:27 and Jeremiah 31:33): God will have an ‘internal’ relationship with his people.

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