In our last post we looked extensively at the land as the sphere in which God's people experienced God's blessing for living God's way. In this post we want to start fleshing out a very broad picture of how living God's way relates to the theme of judgment,. In this post we will focusing particularly on the law in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, living God's way is clearly spelled out. The middle of Exodus through Deuteronomy provides us with God's law, the rules that were supposed to govern life in the land. As we looked at in our last post, keeping the law meant reward in the land. A pattern of breaking the law brought on judgment and could ultimately result in expulsion from the land and thus from God's presence.
I believe, though, that that is an incomplete explanation. When looking at the Law we need to consider the wider narrative framework in which the law is situated. First, we must keep in mind that the covenant came first, both with Abraham and then again at Sinai. This means that we have to understand the law as functioning within the covenant. It was the means God used to tell his people how to relate to him, to one another, and to creation (both to the land and to animals). The second element of the narrative framework that we must remember is that the law was given to God's people, to a people whom God had already acted to liberate and save. Thus following the law was meant to be a response to the grace God had given them (this is clear when you read the ten commandments). Finally, we need to look at the purpose of the law. I believe (following Christopher Wright), that the law was given with the intention of Israel being a model to the nations. They were supposed to live in a distinctive manner that showed that their God was different from the gods the neighboring nations worshiped.
All of this should make at least one thing crystal clear. The law was not intended to bring people into relationship with God. It was given to a redeemed people. While it was supposed to regulate relationships within the covenant, the goal of the law was not for individuals to try to curry favor with God by their own effort. Rather than opposing grace, I would claim that the law was a form of grace because it revealed God's will.
In our next post we will look a bit more at understandings of the function of the law that the New Testament opposes. A discussion of the New Perspective on Paul is inevitable at this juncture.