He who is the foundation of the covenant of grace, held also the highest rank in the giving of the law. (Calvin on Galatians 3:19)
As we continue our study of how Christ was administered to the Saints in the Old Testament, we move now to the Law of God. We have so far discussed the Seed, the Land, Circumcision, and the Sacrificial System, all of which were shown to be “for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 7.5). Of course, each of these are included in God’s Law as broadly defined, so we have done much of our work already.
But I would here like to begin a study of how even the moral aspect of the Law, the very “handwriting that was against us” (Col. 2:14), including the Ten Commandments, was also integral to the administration of the one redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this administration can be seen most clearly in the Sacrificial system and the many promises, but I believe it can also be shown that the Whole Law of God was part of the sufficiency and efficaciousness of Christ’s redeeming work in the Old Testament. After all, that is the underlying thesis of this whole series—that Christ’s work was dispensed by means of the Old Covenant, not in spite of it.
In this and the following three brief posts, I will explore four propositions toward this end:
- Christ, the Giver of the Law
- Christ, the Content of the Law
- Christ, the Purpose of the Law
- Christ, the Praxis of the Law
Christ, the Giver of the Law
A basic Trinitarian error lies at the heart of much confusion over the Law of God as an administration of Christ in the Old Testament. It is often presumed that the Father was the lone Law Giver on Mt. Sinai and, accordingly, the lone dispenser of judgement, whereas the Son was still yet to come, and that only on a mission of grace. Yet, as Herman Witsius has written concerning the promulgation of the Law, “we judge it criminal for any to doubt, that this is to be understood of the whole undivided Trinity, whose equal majesty, in one Deity, we are all bound to acknowledge and worship” (Economy of the Covenants, p. 163).
For starters, Paul tells us specifically that the Israelites in the Wilderness ate the same spiritual meat and drank the same spiritual drink as do we, that is Christ, the rock that followed them (1 Cor. 10:3-4). We are then warned, based upon the example of the Church of Old, that “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:9-10). Jude tells us much the same when he writes, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). In both cases, it is Christ who redeemed Israel, nourished them in the Wilderness, and was tempted by them, leading to their judgement.
In fact, in the following we see the whole of the Trinity involved in the redemption and subsequent judgement of Israel:
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely.”
And he became their Savior.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
and himself fought against them. (Isa. 63:7-10)
God redeemed His people according to His steadfast love and goodness, by means of “the Angel of His Presence”, and yet the people grieved His Holy Spirit and were judged. What we see here is the ordered yet inseparable operations of the Holy Trinity found in all God’s ad extra works of creation and redemption. As Gregory of Nyssa neatly summarizes:
[T]he Holy Trinity fulfils every operation […] not by separate action according to the number of the Persons, but so that there is one motion and disposition of the good will which is communicated from the Father through the Son to the Spirit. (On “Not Three Gods”)
Of most interest to our present discussion is the Son’s peculiar operation in the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. By general inference from the inseparable operations of the Trinity, we can conclude that the Son Himself promulgated the Law, as all the works of God are “through the Son”. We can also further our inference by the express statement of the Apostle John: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1:18). The Son is the revealer of the Triune God. We also must acknowledge that Christ is eternally the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), the Truth of God (Jn. 14:6), and the Word of God (Jn. 1:1); none of which could conceivably be absent from the promulgation of God’s perfectly wise and true words.
But we have even more direct and specific mention of the Son of God giving the Law on Mt. Sinai in Stephen’s speech, recorded in Acts 7:
“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. […]This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. (Acts 7:35-38)
Who was this Angel that met Moses at the burning bush and who gave “living oracles” to us on Mt. Sinai? It is the same Angel that we encountered in the hymn of Isaiah above, the Angel of God’s Presence. He is the Angel through whom God promised His presence among the people of Israel, bearing God’s Name within (Ex. 23:20; 33:14). He is the Angel that proclaimed Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:6); the Angel that called Israel His people (3:7) and was the commissioner of Moses (3:10); the Angel that called all Israel to give Him Divine worship in the Wilderness (3:12). It is He that was with Israel in the cloud and fire (14:19). He is the “Angel of YHWH” and indeed YHWH Himself (13:21). He was the very presence of God because He is and has always been “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), viz., the Son of God who reveals the Father. He appeared in the form of a man to Abraham and wrestled with Jacob (Gen 18, 32), in both cases addressed as YHWH, and even declares His name to be “Wonderful” to Samson’s mother (Judges 13:18; cf. Isa. 9:6: “For to us a child is born […] his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God”).
Further, when He spoke to Israel from Mt. Sinai, He struck great fear in the hearts of the people of Israel, He as yet unclothed in His mediatorial flesh, and they begged Moses that they no longer hear His thunderous voice. So Moses promised them prophets to speak on His behalf, the very prophets whom we read “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). It was the same Christ who spoke to them from the mountain who spoke in merciful condescension through the prophets.
And finally, as Stephen stated, Moses was certainly the servant by whom the Son of God delivered the whole of His Law to the people of the Old Testament. But it is nevertheless Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who gets the greater glory in this service, for
Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. (Heb. 3:3-6)
Christ was truly the builder of the house of Israel and Moses simply His servant. And as such, when Moses was sent by the Son of God to carry out this work, he agreed since “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26).
This is the basis for Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10, Jude’s argument in Jude 5, and Stephen’s attribution of He who gave the “lively oracles” in Acts 7:38. The Lord Jesus Christ formed this People of the Old Testament, redeemed them from Egypt, carried them on eagles’ wings through the Wilderness, and gave them His Law as their God. As we move on to the Content, Purpose, and Praxis of the Law, having our conclusion here firmly in place, it should become plain that even the Law itself was an integral part of administering the one redeeming work of Christ to the Saints of the Old Testament.
 Some texts read kurion (“Lord”) rather the Christon in each of these texts. Besides the obvious preceding references to Christ having been with them in the Wilderness, please see Roy E. Ciampa’s and Brian S. Rosner’s contribution on 1 Corinthians 8:1-6 and 10:6 in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Beale & Carson) for the interchangeability of the words in this context.