THE IRREPRESSIBLE QUESTION: WHY THEN THE LAW? (Continued, Gal. 3:19)
The great inheritance which is ours in Christ Jesus cannot be ours “out of law.” Such was not the specific term of the covenant ratified by God to Abraham by oath. It was by promise, pure and simple, which for its fulfilment was wholly to be a work of God in Christ Jesus. It was “graced” by God to us. That was its perpetual and unchangeable character. The verb in the Greek is “kecharistai,” the perfect indicative deponent active, underscoring that this was the completed condition of the promise and covenant from the time of Abraham till the coming of Christ, which could not be changed by the presence and actuality of the centuries of the law. God had given it by grace to Abraham. That stands unchanged and unmoved!
Then the law cannot be a way of salvation! As we said in the former essay, the law was there for the transgressions’ sake. Concerning this we must make a few more observations of an exegetical nature.
Bishop Trench in his New Testament Synonyms has a very interesting study of the term “transgression” (parabasis) in the writings of Paul. He insists, as do both Lightfoot and Greijdanus and others, that the words “for the transgressions’ sake” do not mean to convey the thought that the law came in order toprevent transgressions on the part of the people of God, but rather the law came as the “power” of sin, that the great transgressions of the Old Testament saints might come to manifestation in all their horrible sinfulness, as these culminated in the crucifixion of the Son of God. That is the only way one can interpret the great and consummate sinfulness of Israel. Such was, shocking as it may seem, the purpose of the law-giving at Sinai; therefore was it added to the promise. Writes Trench, among other things, “In the language of Paul this parabasis (transgression) of the commandment distinctly given, is more serious than hamartia (sin) (Confer Rom. 2:23; I Tim. 2:14; Hebrews 2:2, 9:15). “A bit later Trench writes, “He who, being under no expressed law, is, in Augustine’s language a ‘peccator’; he who, having such a law, is “praevaricator”. . . . Before the law came men might be the former; after the law they could only be the latter. In the first there is implicit, in the second there is explicit disobedience” SeeTrench’s Synonyms, page 229.
Paul adds that this power of the law will obtain “until the Seed should come.” After Christ (the Seed) has come, this law-dispensation will end because it then has served its God-intended purpose. When the promise is fulfilled the law falls away. Then it has served its pedagogical purpose of being a tutor to Christ. The law then is, in its pedagogical purpose, no longer needed. For the Seed is the One to “whom it was promised.” This was promised to Christ when God confirmed the promise over and over to Abraham and to his “Seed,” which is Christ. (Gen. 12:7, 13:15, 17:7, 22:18) Such were the terms of the Covenant. And hence this word stands. That is why the apostle writes “the promise hath been made.” He employs the perfect tense, impersonal passive. This emphasizes that this promise was thus in its completed state all along. It had never lost one iota of its validity throughout all the centuries that the law said “do this and thou shalt live.” It was ever given to Abraham by the sovereign grace of God which excludes all works of merit. (Rom. 11:5, 6) And, according to Scripture, this promise is in Christ for the elect, the remnant according to election, the believers. Otherwise grace is no more grace and works is no more works!
When the Seed has “come,” once and for all, in His lowly birth, suffering, death, and resurrection, then the dispensation of this “law” ends. We are crucified with Christ. Through law we died unto law! And what we now live we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and died for us. Hallelujah! (Gal. 2:20, 21) What we now live we live by the faith of the Son of God!
This law, therefore, had a good purpose. It showed the necessity of grace as the fulfilment of the promise in Jesus Christ, and by this law the saints, the believers, reached out and saw in hope that their salvation was in the Promised “Seed” alone. In the keeping of the law no flesh was justified before God. (Psalm 143:2) They looked for another righteousness “without law.” (Rom. 3:20, 28) For Christ is the end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. (Rom. 10:4) Thus they understood Deuteronomy 30:11-14. And the law-giving must serve that exalted end of pointing beyond itself to the promise, to the Seed, Christ.
THE INFERIORITY OF THE LAW CLEARLY SET FORTH IN THE MANNER IN WHICH IT WAS ORDAINED (Galatians 3:19, 20)
The apostle proceeds to state something more about this “law” which was only till the Seed should come. He points out that this law is inferior to the “promise” in thevery manner in which Israel received this law. God did not give this law directly by Himself as He “gave” the promise, but He ordained it through two creaturely agencies! The angels are creatures, and Moses is a creature. That this law is “ordained” (diatassein = giving orders in detail) by angels shows that this was a work which was less glorious than that giving of the promise. This could be relegated to the “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” (Heb. 1:14) To these angels God never said: “Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Heb. 1:4, 5, 13). This lesser matter in the economy of salvation can be performed by the “ministering spirits,” be they Gabriel and Michael and all their hosts together. Concerning this inferior way of giving the “law” when compared with the giving of the “promise” we shall see more presently.
Now Moses, in the book of Exodus, does not inform us of the presence of angels at Sinai at the time of the law-giving. But that is no argument that they were not present there in that awful glory, which caused even Moses to say, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” (Heb. 12:21) When Moses climbed the Mount of God to receive the law, the Lord was there with his “saints.” Moses tells us in Deut. 33:2 “The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with the ten thousands of his saints: from his hand went a fiery law unto them.” It was a very spectacular and glorious sight. The whole mountain range was lit up by the brightness of the LORD’S presence. And the Lord was there with ten thousands of his saints. This was a very great Theophany, indeed! Good Bible scholars point out that the term “saints” in the Old Testament refers to the angels of God, while in the New Testament the term refers to the glorified children of God who will accompany their Lord Jesus, to judge the living and the dead. For the usage of the angels in the Old Testament see I Kings 22:19; Job. 1:6; Daniel 7:10. These surround the throne of God. They are the assembly of the “Holy Ones” about God’s throne. (Psalm 80:6, 8, 68:17) The Chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; the LORD is among them as in Sinai, in the holy places. In Acts 7:53 Stephen tells the Sanhedrin of their rebellious heart that they did not walk as such as had received “the law by the disposition of angels.” And the very great sin of not obeying the law is underscored by the writer to the Hebrews when he says, “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience a just recompence of reward. . . .” (Hebrews 2:2)
From the foregoing it is quite evident that the law was given by angels. All the commandments were given by angels. This was a “fiery law” written in tables of stone, and there were many commandments both in the Levitical ordinances as well as in the civil laws of Israel. They were all given as the law-prescriptions for Israel. They were of such a nature that they could be given by such angelic emissaries from heaven. The promise could not be given to us by such in-between-agents. Yes, this law had a glory, but it had no glory compared with the glory of God in the promise. (II Cor. 3:6-10) And this inferiority, we are told, is seen even in the very law-giving itself!
There is one more fact of this law-giving which the text which we are considering underscores. It was placed in the “hand of a mediator: Moses. John writes, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth became (egento from ginomai: to become) through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) And so this “mediator” here does not refer to Christ, the Mediator of God and man (I Tim. 2:5, Heb. 12:24) but refers to Moses, the man of God who climbed up to Mount Sinai and who returned to Israel with the law. Here in the law-giving the order is: God-angels-Moses-Israel. See a similar order in Rev. 1:1where it is: God-Christ-the angel-John—the seven churches. Only in this latter case it is not the law-giving but the prophetic Word concerning the triumph of the Kingdom of God and of His Christ.
The point is that the law-giving, glorious as it was, was inferior to the giving of the Promise. That is pointed out when the apostle says “now a mediator is not of one, but God is one.” This phrase has given much difficulty to interpreters. We are told that there are between three and four hundred different interpretations. After much reflection and research we believe that Lightfoot and Greijdanus give the proper interpretation. The apostle, according to them, is here saying that “themediator” in any given case among men is always an in-between-man. There are always two or more parties where he is needed. Such it is in human-relations here on earth. He is ever dealing with human and divine stipulations and conditions which must be met shall he mediate. But such is not the case with God in dealing with His people in His giving and fulfilling of the Promise. The very term in the Greek verb for “to promise” is always in the middle voice. In Greek this means that the action of the doer is somehow in relation to himself. God gives His promise and fulfils it. He does this all alone. He, therefore, gave the promise to Abraham and appeared to him in Ur of the Chaldees as the “God of glory” without any angels or men representing Him. The “Angel of the LORD” came to Abraham’s tent in announcing the birth of Isaac, telling him that nothing is impossible with God. (Gen. 18:9-15. See also Luke 1:37) When God gives and fulfils His promise He is one. He is the sole giver and fulfiller of His Word. Behold, then, the excellency of the promise over the law even in the manner in which the one was “ordained” and the other “given.”