What Is the Law of Moses?
As we have seen, almost universally the Torah refers to the law of Moses, written down in the Bible’s books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is sometimes called the “Pentateuch,” which is a Greek word meaning “five” (penta) and “scrolls” (teuchos).
Tradition tells us that the first five books of the Bible were written down by Moses. However, does this mean that Moses was the inventor and originator of all the things written in these books, or was he merely the “scribe,” so to speak, or the secretary, who “took dictation” of the words of these books, all of which were spoken from the mouth of God Himself?
Whose law is it really?
Is it the “law of Moses,” or is it the law of God, written down by Moses His servant? Let’s see what Scripture says.
Given at Sinai
Moses himself tells us that the commands and laws were given directly by God Himself.
“And Moses went up unto God, and YHVH called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:3).
“And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which YHVH commanded him” (Exodus 19:7).
In Exodus 19, we find the children of Israel camping in the Desert of Sinai (Exodus 19:1), three months after leaving Eqypt. In this chapter, God prepares the people to receive His covenant, and in Exodus 20, God begins the covenant by giving what we call the “Ten Commandments.”
“And God spake all these words, saying,
I am YHVH thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I YHVH thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of YHVH thy God in vain; for YHVH will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of YHVH thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days YHVH made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore YHVH blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which YHVH thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:1-17).
So who was the author of the Ten Commandments? It clearly says, “And God spake all these words.“
What was the response of the people?
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
And YHVH said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel… (Exodus 20:18-22).
They were terrified, and they begged for God to speak through Moses, rather than speaking to them directly.
So this is what God did!
“[And YHVH said unto Moses], Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them” (Exodus 21:1).
So what happened after YHVH spoke to Moses and gave them judgments to set before the people of Israel?
“And Moses came and told the people all the words of YHVH, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which YHVH hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of YHVH… (Exodus 24:3-4).
What did YHVH ask Moses to do with the commands He spoke? He asked Moses to teach them to the people.
“And YHVH said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law (torah, or instruction), and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them” (Exodus 24:12).
The next chapters of Exodus continue with “The YHVH spake unto Moses, saying…” (Exodus 25:1). The rest of the book of Exodus continues, time and again, by telling us the words and instructions (covenant, law or torah, and commandments) of YHVH.
“And YHVH said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with YHVH forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exodus 34:27-28).
As we continue through Exodus 35 to 39, we see that Moses directly commands the people what YHVH has commanded. Whatever Moses told them, they obeyed. Did they obey because they were the words of Moses? No, they were obeying YHVH Himself.
“Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation finished: and the children of Israel did according to all that YHVH commanded Moses, so did they… According to all that YHVH commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as YHVH had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:32, 42-43).
The final chapter of Exodus emphasizes this!
Thus did Moses: according to all that YHVH commanded him, so did he (Exodus 40:16).
And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:19).
And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the vail of the covering, and covered the ark of the testimony; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:21).
And he set the bread in order upon it before YHVH; as YHVH had commanded Moses (Exodus 40:23)
And he lighted the lamps before YHVH; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:25).
And he burnt sweet incense thereon; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:27).
And he put the altar of burnt offering by the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the meat offering; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:29).
When they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as YHVH commanded Moses (Exodus 40:32).
When Moses wrote all these things down for us, do you think he was trying to make it extremely clear whose commands these were?
Spoken from the Tabernacle
The book of Leviticus picks up the same theme, but this time the Tabernacle has been built (according to the instructions of YHVH to Moses), and now YHVH speaks from there instead of Mount Sinai.
“And YHVH called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying…” (Leviticus 1:1).
“And YHVH spake unto Moses, saying…” (Leviticus 4:1).
“And YHVH spake unto Moses, saying…” (Leviticus 5:14).
Moses remembers to tell us that these are the commands of God, not his own words.
“And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of YHVH; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity” (Leviticus 5:17).
We find the phrase “the Lord spake unto Moses” 120 times in the Pentateuch! 1https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?qs_version=KJV&quicksearch=the+Lord+spake+unto+Moses&begin=3&end=3
Hear the conclusion of the book of Leviticus:
“These are the commandments, which YHVH commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34).
Continued in the Second Year
And so it continues into the book of Numbers:
“And YHVH spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying” (Numbers 1:1).
“And the children of Israel did according to all that YHVH commanded Moses…” (Numbers 2:34).
YHVH required obedience to Moses and had a very special relationship with him, to be sure, speaking with him directly.
“Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I YHVH will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of YHVH shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8).
Even though Moses was privileged to be in the presence of YHVH and speak directly with Him, Moses concludes the book of Numbers by saying,
“These are the commandments and the judgments, which YHVH commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho” (Numbers 36:13).
Declared and Written Down
The book of Deuteronomy has a different style from the other books. In this book, Moses himself talks to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. Of all the books of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy could most easily be called “the law of Moses.”
These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.
(There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea.)
And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that YHVH had given him in commandment unto them;
After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, which dwelt at Astaroth in Edrei:
On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying…” (Deuteronomy 1:1-5).
Even here, though, we see that Moses “declared” the law, “according unto all that YHVH had given him in commandment unto them.”
To “declare” (Strong’s #874) means to make it plain or distinct.
Whose commands did Moses “declare”?
“Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which YHVH God of your fathers giveth you.
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of YHVH your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2).
“Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as YHVH my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it” (Deuteronomy 4:5).
Notice that Moses said “he added no more” to the words spoken by YHVH.
“These words YHVH spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me” (Deuteronomy 5:22).
Notice also that any prophet — not just Moses — who claimed to speak the words of YHVH would never add his own words to what he spoke, but he was to only speak the words of YHVH.
“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him… But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die (Deuteronomy 18:18, 20).
Notice also that Moses was careful to write down everything YHVH said.
“If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of YHVH thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law…” (Deuteronomy 30:10).
“And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of YHVH, and unto all the elders of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:9).
“When all Israel is come to appear before YHVH thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (Deuteronomy 31:11.)
“And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished…” (Deuteronomy 31:24).
So while we know that Moses commanded the law, all the things he gave us were the words of YHVH Himself.
“Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words. Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:3-4).
Remembered by Israel
Joshua clearly remembers that the words of Moses were the direct commands of YHVH and that they had been written down in their entirety.
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:7-8).
“And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them” (Joshua 8:34-35).
Of course, we know the history of Israel, that by the next generation, the laws of YHVH given to Moses would start to be forgotten. Even through the times of the kings, only a very few actually listened and obeyed.
“And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of YHVH, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (Judges 3:4).
“And keep the charge of YHVH thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself” (1 Kings 2:3).
“For [Hezekiah] clave to YHVH, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which YHVH commanded Moses” (2 Kings 18:6).
“Because they obeyed not the voice of YHVH their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of YHVH commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them” (2 Kings 18:12).
“Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them” (2 Kings 21:8).
We do see a gradual drift in terminology, however, as we move through the centuries. By 641-610 B.C., we see that the commands of God are simply called “the law of Moses.”2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah
And like unto [Josiah] was there no king before him, that turned to YHVH with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him (2 Kings 23:25).
Only one time is the Torah called the “law of Moses” in the writings of the prophets, but even here, the prophet is careful to equate the laws of Moses with the commands of YHVH.
“Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Malachi 4:4)
From the time of the Babylonian exile and after, it became the norm in Scripture to simply refer to the Torah as the “law of Moses.” (See Daniel 9:11-13, Ezra 3:2, Ezra 6:18, Ezra 7:6, etc.)
But even Nehemiah is clear that the “law of Moses” is really just the law of YHVH which had only been written down by Moses.
“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which YHVH had commanded to Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1).
Confirmed in the Gospels
In the centuries after the return from Babylon, we see that it became the norm to refer to “the Law” as “Moses.” In fact, it evens seems the sometimes people forgot that Moses was not the actual author of these laws.
- The law of Moses – Luke 2:22
- “Moses did write” – John 1:45
- Law given by Moses – John 1:17, John 7:19
Yeshua referred to the laws of Moses, and we see that He upheld them and expected obedience to them.
“And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Matthew 8:4). (See also Mark 1:44, Mark 10:3, Luke 5:14, John 8:5.)
“And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (Mark 7:9-10).
“And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” (Mark 12:26).
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27)
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).
Most of all notice what Jesus said about the law of Moses in John 6.
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32).
The “bread from heaven” is a direct reference to the Torah, as we see in these verses:
“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of YHVH doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
“And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).
In other words, in John 6:32 Jesus is saying that it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven. The true bread from heaven came from the Father!
Used by the Apostles
In the first century, it was common to confuse the oral traditions of the various sects of Israel (Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, etc.) with the original and written words of Moses. Because these oral traditions were based upon the laws of Moses, they were often all lumped together and called “Moses.” (We’ll discuss this more in a later post.)
“For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us” (Acts 6:14).
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).
Even though traditions of men and commands of God were often mixed and confused (Matthew 15:3-6, Matthew 23:23-24), the Apostles were careful to take these sticky situations and refer back to the written Law of God, as given to Moses. (You can see this specific discussion in a post here.)
We also see that the Apostles had a high respect for “Moses” and expected that the law of Moses would continue to be read, studied, and used to persuade men.
“For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 15:21).
“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23).
In their writings, the Apostles often quoted the Torah and used it as a source for their beliefs.
“For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Romans 10:5).
“For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?” (1 Corinthians 9:9, just one example of many where Paul quotes directly from the Torah).
“But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:15).
The Apostles credited the words of Moses as being from God and not originating within himself.
“Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:5).
So when we see a reference to “Moses,” it is fair to be able to substitute “the Law of God” in its place.
“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law” (Hebrews 9:19)
“He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:28).
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