Old Testament Law: A Redemptive Movement

by Anthony Weber

In the previous posts, I noted two key points in relation to Old Testament law. First, the laws cannot be understood apart from their context and purpose. Second, many of the laws that seem unusually restrictive served an important purpose: God wanted a people who understood what it meant for something to be “holy” – separate, undefiled, and distinct.  God used laws governing seemingly insignificant things to help the Israelites understand what it meant for them to be distinct from the cultures around them.

Even with these caveats, it’s hard to read the Law without cringing at more morally significant mandates, such as those concerning slavery or the treatment of women.

It is important to note that while the Israelite Law was a solid move toward a better world, the laws were usually incremental instead of complete.  The laws were intended to show a redemptive movement in the broader context of the world.  In Christian terms, this means God at times used progressive revelation to reveal truth. The cultural climate of world was at a particular place; God used the Law to begin a redemptive movement away from injustice and toward justice.  It was a cultural shift that can only be appreciated by understanding what God was pulling people from and what he was pulling them toward.  The Old Testament shows the beginning of a restorative work in a very broken world through a particular group of people. This was the start of that process, not the finished product.

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We see this principle clearly in the New Testament. Let’s start with the broad principles of justice and mercy. Jesus himself taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” 

He was referring to an Old Testament priniciple of lex talionis  (Exodus 21:22-25).  Jesus continued:

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

The Old Testament standard limited revenge (a good and unusual move for that time period), but the New Testament showed an  ideal where mercy and forgiveness side-by-side with justice.

In spite of the misogynist label given to Old Testament law, the status of women also revealed a redemptive movement. According to the Mosaic law, a wife had a right not to endure physical abuse; she had the right to inheritance, as well as the right to initiate divorce and be protected from a husband’s frivolous divorce. The Law commanded improved treatment of suspected adulteresses, improved rape laws, and a more equitable household environment. In other words, a woman in Israel was not a powerless possession living at the social and economic mercy of the men around her…

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The Poached Egg ApologeticsOld Testament Law: A Redemptive Movement | TC Apologetics

 

RECOMMENDED APOLOGETICS RESOURCES FOR FURTHER READING:

Is God a Moral Monster?Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God

The Archaeological Study BibleThe Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture

 

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