Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
Throughout the Old Testament there were laws given to humanity and the people of Israel. Looking at these different laws will help us understand the New Law given by Jesus Christ.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve were given two laws. First, they were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”, to fill and subdue the earth, and have dominion over every living thing. In fact, man was put in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. Second, Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of violating this command was death.
After the flood, God commanded Noah and, through him, all humanity to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. This time, God prohibits killing other human beings, recalling to mind the sin of Cain: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).
God commands Abraham to walk before him and be blameless (Genesis 17:1) and to keep his covenant (17:9). Sirach says that Abraham: “kept the law of the Most High, and was taken into covenant with him; he established the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he was found faithful” (Sirach 44:20). Israel will be invited
The law given at Mount Sinai begins with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-7), and continues with laws about sacrifice, slaves, violence, restitution, religion, justice, the Sabbath, feasts, offerings, the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle, liturgical garments, etc… The idolatry of the golden calf leads to reservation of priesthood to the Levites who did not worship the idol. A division in the law occurs: the Book of Leviticus gives further instruction to the priests; the Book of Deuteronomy largely concerns the religious observance of the people, criminal law and civil matters.
The law of Deuteronomy was the “second law” given to the people of Israel through Moses. It was a hard law that sought to keep the people from defilement by distinguishing them culturally and ritually from the pagan nations. The Book of Deuteronomy was given before the renewal of the covenant on the plains of Moab, after Israel’s 40 year exodus in the desert (Deuteronomy 29). It even contains some laws that Jesus will have to correct (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5).
The covenant with David (Mount Zion) brings with it a new Law for mankind (2 Sam 7:19). David fulfilled the conditions of Deuteronomy 12:10-14, and Wisdom finds a place of rest on Mount Zion (Sirach 24:8-12). “Through the Davidic covenant, God brings His law to the nations, not through an exclusive Israelite ritual law code, but through the universality of the Wisdom literature” (M. Barber, Singing in the Reign, 74). In brief, the Mosaic Law of Sinai was meant to make Israel a light to the nations; the Wisdom literature of Zion, on the other hand, is the law of the Davidic covenant.
The prophets, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, foresee the day when God’s law will no longer be written on stone tablets, but inscribed in the human heart: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant […]. I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33; see also Proverbs 3:1-3; Ezekiel 11:19; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10).
Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel and states that he has not come to abolish the law – referring especially to the law of Moses – but to fulfill it. The New Law given by Christ is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given to those who believe in him and works through charity. It is an interior law of freedom that produces the spontaneous action of friends instead of servants. The New Law fulfills and perfects the Ten Commandments (concerned mainly with external actions) and regulates man’s interior acts at the level of the heart (S. Pinckaers, “An Encyclical for the Future”, 26). In the New Law of grace, the Ten Commandments are internalized and the virtues are perfected in a deeper love for and union with God.
We are called to conform our lives to the New Law of grace. This New Law was taught by Christ and established for us by Christ on the Cross. Through his passion and death, he merited for us the grace that enables us to fulfill the New Law, to respond to the action of the Holy Spirit, and to go beyond the demands of justice in our dealings with others. It is the Law of the children of God the Father that fills our minds with the Wisdom of the Word and directs us to act in accord with the Love of the Holy Spirit.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.