Dispensationalism, the idea that there are different ages in which God works differently with people through time, sounds good on the surface. However, it does begin to break down when analyzed closely. The Law is only one area where changes are claimed to have been made, but it is usually the starting point. In the sense that the administration of the Law was different, there certainly is a case. However, it is usually taken to the extreme to say the Law itself has been done away.
We have examined that there was a version of the Law since the very beginning. There is the Sabbath, the Holy Days and marriage seen in the very first 2 chapters of the Bible. Law against murder, of clean and unclean meats, of the sacrifices of firstfruits and of tithing are all seen within Genesis.
However, there are passages showing that the formal sacrificial system instituted during the time of Moses was added. The priesthood shifted from Melchizedek to Aaron. The location was to be the Tabernacle. These were all additions and changes, and we see this in Gal 3:17-19. However, the core moral Law remained the same, including the Sabbath and Holy Days.
The other change we saw in the time of Moses was the split of the religious and civil authority. The patriarchs were the head of their tribes. They were also the priests who offered sacrifices. This is important because the Law contains civil as well as religious regulations.
Israel had been slaves in Egypt. Most likely, that is all the generation that left Egypt had ever known. They were suddenly free, but they required the stability of a civil government. The entire framework of laws and statutes as well as a system of judges was established.
That means there was a responsibility for the civil authorities to execute the civil laws, and there was a responsibility for the religious authorities to execute the religious laws.
Government is a gift. After the flood, we see that God decreed that there must be a limiting factor of humans by other humans (Ge 9:6). Violence filled the earth before the Flood, so it is natural that restraint would be placed on it. God’s purpose in government is to restrain evil (Ro 13:1-4). Otherwise, human nature would plunge people quickly into the same type and same speed as prior to the Flood.
Christians are supposed to be self-regulating (v 5). Christians should be guided by their conscience and the Holy Spirit.
Individuals in Israel were supposed to be self-governing as well. Yet, we see over and over in the Book of Judges that “there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). There was no restraint upon evil men.
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.
~ Pr 29:18 (NKJV)
So, we come to the time of Samuel, and the people demand a king. The problem was that they already had a King (1Sa 8:7-8). They had a King that expected much out of them individually, One that expected them to be willingly obedient. However, they wanted a king like all the other nations around them (v 6). They wanted one that could potentially oppress them, not One that gave them freedom (vv 11-20)!
Actually, it isn’t that different today, seeing as the US has been more than willing to give up all sorts of freedoms in the name of “security”, but I digress.
So, the administration of the civil government of judges changed again so that there was now a human king that ruled over the land. Of course, God was and is ultimately in control.
After Solomon, the kingdom splits into two. The northern Kingdom of Israel was ruled by Jeroboam and the southern Kingdom of Judah was ruled by Rehoboam. Yet, God was willing to work with both. If this isn’t proof that God does not always work through only one man, then nothing will convince you. God decreed this arrangement, and so now we have 2 civil governments.
At any rate, Jeroboam was not willing to work with God, and so he changed God’s Feast of Tabernacles from the 7th month to the 8th month and setup golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Israel never really recovers from this departure from true worship, and eventually the northern kingdom goes into Assyrian captivity, never to return prior to Christ’s return. We now have one civil government again.
The southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, survives a while longer, wandering into and out of paganism and syncretism. Eventually, they too are taken captive, but by the Babylonians.
So, while Judah was in captivity, it is evident that they were no longer in charge of their own civil government. Even when the Jews return to Judea, it is under the authority of the Medo-Persian empire. Later, the Greek empire too over, and then of course the Romans. Each of these was a civil government imposed over by alien forces.
Was the civil government the same in all these cases? Of course not. Were the Jews restricted in what they could or could not do during the time of Christ? Of course.
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
~ Jn 18:31
So, to paraphrase what skeptics like to say: Did they stone disobedient children? Did they stone adulterers?
You do remember the adulteress they brought before Jesus, do you not? If He said simply to forgive her and let her go, He would be declared a false prophet. He would be casting aside the Law. However, if He said to stone her, then He could be arrested for going against the Roman authority. The Pharisees thought it was a lose-lose situation for Him.
Jesus did not rail against the Pharisees for following Roman laws. Paul said the civil authorities are put over us to suppress evil. The civil authorities are responsible for carrying out civil law.
We, though, each have authority over ourselves and our own households. We need to become self-governing, something that ancient Israel could not become. We can succeed where they did not because we have God’s Holy Spirit.
Notice that very few changes occurred in religious administration sanctioned by God through this time period. In fact, the Levitical priesthood was re-established when the exiles returned from Babylon. Undoubtedly, there were restraints upon their religious observances while in Babylon, but the thing to remember that it was disregard of true worship that got them put into captivity to begin with. Daniel and the prophets of the time stirred people to turn back to God and true worship, however.
Jesus upheld obedience to the religious authorities, but instructed His disciples to not follow their example (Mt 23:1-3). Obviously, that does not mean following them when it violates a clear directive of Scripture, but it does recognize their authority over religious matters.
So, it appears that the Law, once again, seems rather consistent. Administrations changed, and men certainly made unacceptable changes of their own (Jeroboam in particular), but the Law itself held up even to the time of Jesus.
However, there would still be those who would claim that the Law was done away, that it was nailed to the cross or that it was “fulfilled”. Really? Part 4 will examine that in more detail.