I received the following question:
I am confused regarding the salvation of Israel during the Old Testament. I appreciate your helping me clear up my misunderstandings.
24. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day.
25. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.
This verse seems to say that keeping the law will bring righteousness.
4. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
And this verse seems to say that, prior to Christ, keeping the law would bring righteousness.
4. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
This verse seems to say that keeping the law could never bring righteousness.
Precepts: Jews vs Works
“The giving of the law was meant as a national law for Israel. What God was doing was establishing His government over that land and that people. As such, He was establishing the rules of the land and the code of conduct that they were to follow. The law was never really meant as a means of salvation. Instead, it was a revelation of a righteous way of living for those who were already redeemed by God (at the Passover out of Egypt) and therefore belonged to Him.
When we speak of salvation for an Israelite, we need to realize that we are talking about an entirely different thing than salvation for us. The reality of being born into Israel, at least prior to Acts 28, was that one who was thus born was born into a relationship with God. There was no need to seek to procure such a relationship and to enter into relationship with Him. This relationship was already established, and one received it by birth. The Israelites were born servants of God. This is clearest in the case of the Aaronic priests and Levites, who were born to this position, yet it was really true of every Israelite.
Now that is not to say that what we call “salvation” was guaranteed to every Israelite by reason of birth, by any means. The Israelite was expected to fear God and keep His commandments. If he did not, God could and probably would cut him out of Israel, and he would lose all the privileges he had by being a part of that nation. Yet for the Israelite, it was a matter of starting off with something and then forfeiting it, rather than attaining to it by some specific act somewhere along the way.”
This passage of yours says that the law was never really meant as a means of salvation.
What I wrote above is true. The Israelite entered into relationship with God by birth as an Israelite. That relationship was established when God took Israel as a nation to be His Own special people. From that time on, everyone who was born an Israelite was born into relationship with God. However, if they were unfaithful servants, they could lose their position. If they despised God and refused to walk in His ways, they proved unfaithful servants and unworthy to be a part of His household. However, if they served Him and walked in His ways, then their obedience to His commandments would earn them the right to remain in His household as His servants. This was the way the law and their relationship with God worked in Old Testament times. Keeping the LORD’s commandments was counted to them as righteousness.
That is not to say that even this was entirely separated from faith. It really was faith in them when they did what the LORD commanded them to do, since it was taking Him at His word and responding accordingly. If they did it simply because He said to do it, it became faith in them. Yet works can always be done for other reasons, and many times the hypocrisy of the Israelites showed that their “obedience” did not truly come from the heart, and God in the prophets is constantly chiding them for thinking that keeping certain parts of the law is sufficient while ignoring the spirit of it and failing to truly honor Him in their hearts.
The law only provided forgiveness for certain sins. Many today have the foolish idea that the law was God’s rule for the Old Testament, and that any time anyone broke the law, he was supposed to bring a sin offering to get forgiveness for it. The fact is that most sins in the law did not and could not be forgiven by a sin offering. Some of them required being cut off from Israel. Some of them, like stealing, required paying a fine, or making an exchange. Others required death to the one who had sinned. Only unintentional sins against the LORD, once realized, could be forgiven by a sin offering. Otherwise, the sin offering was just an offering to cover the sins of the nation, and was not offered for specific individuals or specific sins.
The blood of bulls and of goats cannot take away sins, as Silas so deftly argues, because if they had then they would no longer have needed to be offered, and yet they were offered again and again year after year. The blood of bulls and goats was provided as a covering for sin, yet only the blood of Christ could truly take away sin. Thus for any man to be declared righteous the blood of Christ has to be applied to him. In order for this to happen, he must be in relationship with God. Christ’s death paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind. He then can apply that blood to whomever He wishes, or to whomever will let Him do so. There is no magic thing that must happen first.
In the case of Old Testament saints like David, the blood of Christ was the only thing that could possibly take away his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, since the law demanded death as the penalty for both, and David deserved a double death penalty for both the adultery and the murder that he committed. Yet the LORD took away his sin, and He did it through the blood of Christ applied backward to him. No provision in the law could possibly have done the same. In this case, David had failed to keep the commandments, and righteousness could not be procured for him that way. Thus righteousness came from Christ for David, not from the law.
Yet if one kept the law, one could obtain righteousness that way. That way a relationship with God was maintained, and was maintained in the way God told the Israelites to do it. Therefore, He would see to it that their sins were forgiven as only He could do, applying the blood of Christ to them. Of course, their ultimate forgiveness and redemption would be at the resurrection to the Kingdom of God, at which point the blood of Christ has already been shed, and so their sins will be forgiven when their penalty of death is removed and they are raised to life in God’s eon. This will be through the blood of Christ that all will be raised and forgiven, but any particular Israelite will only be allowed to continue in the Kingdom depending on God’s own judgment, and whether or not they submitted to or rebelled against Him.
So it ultimately is always the blood of Christ that takes away sins. The law could not do that. Sin offerings covered the sins of the nation, but the salvation of any Israelite was always dependent upon his relationship to God, the only One Who could truly give him righteousness. A relationship with God was maintained by keeping His commandments in the law, and any Israelite who did this would be accepted by God. Yet it was not the law, nor the sin offering, but the faithfulness of the Israelite that won him that place. It was up to God to provide the means by which such an Israelite, or anyone else for that matter, could have his sins forgiven and be allowed to enter into relationship with Himself, and that means was provided in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
I pray this helps. Thanks for the good question. Keep studying the Word!