The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 32: The Law and the Covenants
Did God give more than one law?
If so, is one still in force today?
How can we know which one was nailed to the cross?
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
Adam and Eve, at their creation, had a knowledge of the law
of God; they were acquainted with its claims upon them;
its precepts were written upon their hearts. When man fell by
transgression the law was not changed, but a remedial system was
established to bring him back to obedience. The promise of a
Saviour was given, and sacrificial offerings pointing forward to
the death of Christ as the great sin offering were established. But
had the law of God never been transgressed, there would have
been no death, and no need of a Saviour; consequently there
would have been no need of sacrifices.
Adam taught his descendants the law of God, and it was
handed down from father to son through successive generations.
But notwithstanding the gracious provision for man's redemption,
there were few who accepted it and rendered obedience. By
transgression the world became so vile that it was necessary to
cleanse it by the Flood from its corruption. The law was preserved
by Noah and his family, and Noah taught his descendants the
Ten Commandments. As men again departed from God, the
Lord chose Abraham, of whom He declared, "Abraham obeyed
My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes,
and My laws." Genesis 26:5. To him was given the rite of circumcision,
which was a sign that those who received it were devoted
to the service of God—a pledge that they would remain separate
from idolatry, and would obey the law of God. The failure of
Abraham's descendants to keep this pledge, as shown in their
disposition to form alliances with the heathen and adopt their
practices, was the cause of their sojourn and bondage in Egypt.
But in their intercourse with idolaters, and their forced submission
to the Egyptians, the divine precepts became still further
corrupted with the vile and cruel teachings of heathenism. Therefore [p. 364] when the Lord brought them forth from Egypt, He came
down upon Sinai, enshrouded in glory and surrounded by His
angels, and in awful majesty spoke His law in the hearing of all
He did not even then trust His precepts to the memory of a
people who were prone to forget His requirements, but wrote
them upon tables of stone. He would remove from Israel all
possibility of mingling heathen traditions with His holy precepts,
or of confounding His requirements with human ordinances or
customs. But He did not stop with giving them the precepts of
the Decalogue. The people had shown themselves so easily led
astray that He would leave no door of temptation unguarded.
Moses was commanded to write, as God should bid him, judgments
and laws giving minute instruction as to what was required.
These directions relating to the duty of the people to
God, to one another, and to the stranger were only the principles
of the Ten Commandments amplified and given in a specific
manner, that none need err. They were designed to guard the
sacredness of the ten precepts engraved on the tables of stone.
If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his
fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would
have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if
the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which
circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into
idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a
life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in
mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed
from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And
had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments,
there would have been no need of the additional directions
given to Moses.
The sacrificial system, committed to Adam, was also perverted
by his descendants. Superstition, idolatry, cruelty, and
licentiousness corrupted the simple and significant service that
God had appointed. Through long intercourse with idolaters the
people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their
worship; therefore the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instruction
concerning the sacrificial service. After the completion of
the tabernacle He communicated with Moses from the cloud of
glory above the mercy seat, and gave him full directions concerning
the system of offerings and the forms of worship to be [p. 365] maintained in the sanctuary. The ceremonial law was thus given
to Moses, and by him written in a book. But the law of Ten
Commandments spoken from Sinai had been written by God
Himself on the tables of stone, and was sacredly preserved in
There are many who try to blend these two systems, using the
texts that speak of the ceremonial law to prove that the moral
law has been abolished; but this is a perversion of the Scriptures.
The distinction between the two systems is broad and clear. The
ceremonial system was made up of symbols pointing to Christ,
to His sacrifice and His priesthood. This ritual law, with its
sacrifices and ordinances, was to be performed by the Hebrews
until type met antitype in the death of Christ, the Lamb of God
that taketh away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial
offerings were to cease. It is this law that Christ "took . . . out of
the way, nailing it to His cross." Colossians 2:14. But concerning
the law of Ten Commandments the psalmist declares, "Forever,
O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven." Psalm 119:89. And
Christ Himself says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the
law. . . . Verily I say unto you"—making the assertion as emphatic
as possible—"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle
shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew
5:17, 18. Here He teaches, not merely what the claims of God's
law had been, and were then, but that these claims should hold
as long as the heavens and the earth remain. The law of God is
as immutable as His throne. It will maintain its claims upon
mankind in all ages.
Concerning the law proclaimed from Sinai, Nehemiah says,
"Thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with
them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true
laws, good statutes and commandments." Nehemiah 9:13. And
Paul, "the apostle to the Gentiles," declares, "The law is holy,
and the commandment holy, and just, and good." Romans 7:12.
This can be no other than the Decalogue; for it is the law that
says, "Thou shalt not covet." Verse 7.
While the Saviour's death brought to an end the law of types
and shadows, it did not in the least detract from the obligation of
the moral law. On the contrary, the very fact that it was necessary
for Christ to die in order to atone for the transgression of that
law, proves it to be immutable.
Those who claim that Christ came to abrogate the law of God [p. 366] and to do away with the Old Testament, speak of the Jewish age
as one of darkness, and represent the religion of the Hebrews as
consisting of mere forms and ceremonies. But this is an error. All
through the pages of scared history, where the dealings of God
with His chosen people are recorded, there are burning traces of
the great I Am. Never has He given to the sons of men more
open manifestations of His power and glory than when He alone
was acknowledged as Israel's ruler, and gave the law to His
people. Here was a scepter swayed by no human hand; and the
stately goings forth of Israel's invisible King were unspeakably
grand and awful.
In all these revelations of the divine presence the glory of
God was manifested through Christ. Not alone at the Saviour's
advent, but through all the ages after the Fall and the promise
of redemption, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto
Himself." 2 Corinthians 5:19. Christ was the foundation and
center of the sacrificial system in both the patriarchal and the
Jewish age. Since the sin of our first parents there has been no
direct communication between God and man. The Father has
given the world into the hands of Christ, that through His
mediatorial work He may redeem man and vindicate the authority
and holiness of the law of God. All the communion between
heaven and the fallen race has been through Christ. It was the
Son of God that gave to our first parents the promise of
redemption. It was He who revealed Himself to the patriarchs.
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses understood the
gospel. They looked for salvation through man's Substitute and
Surety. These holy men of old held communion with the Saviour
who was to come to our world in human flesh; and some of them
talked with Christ and heavenly angels face to face.
Christ was not only the leader of the Hebrews in the
wilderness—the Angel in whom was the name of Jehovah, and who,
veiled in the cloudy pillar, went before the host—but it was He
who gave the law to Israel. [* See Appendix, Note 7.] Amid the awful
glory of Sinai, Christ declared in the hearing of all the people the
ten precepts of His Father's law. It was He who gave to Moses the law
engraved upon the tables of stone.
It was Christ that spoke to His people through the prophets.
The apostle Peter, writing to the Christian church, says that the [p. 367] prophets "prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ
which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the
sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow." 1 Peter
1:10, 11. It is the voice of Christ that speaks to us through the
Old Testament. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
In His teachings while personally among men Jesus directed
the minds of the people to the Old Testament. He said to the
Jews, "Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye
have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of Me."
John 5:39, R.V. At this time the books of the Old Testament
were the only part of the Bible in existence. Again the Son of
God declared, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them
hear them." And He added, "If they hear not Moses and the
prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from
the dead." Luke 16:29, 31.
The ceremonial law was given by Christ. Even after it was no
longer to be observed, Paul presented it before the Jews in its
true position and value, showing its place in the plan of redemption
and its relation to the work of Christ; and the great apostle
pronounces this law glorious, worthy of its divine Originator.
The solemn service of the sanctuary typified the grand truths
that were to be revealed through successive generations. The
cloud of incense ascending with the prayers of Israel represents
His righteousness that alone can make the sinner's prayer acceptable
to God; the bleeding victim on the altar of sacrifice testified
of a Redeemer to come; and from the holy of holies the visible
token of the divine Presence shone forth. Thus through age after
age of darkness and apostasy faith was kept alive in the hearts of
men until the time came for the advent of the promised Messiah.
Jesus was the light of His people—the Light of the
world—before He came to earth in the form of humanity. The first
gleam of light that pierced the gloom in which sin had wrapped
the world, came from Christ. And from Him has come every ray
of heaven's brightness that has fallen upon the inhabitants of the
earth. In the plan of redemption Christ is the Alpha and the
Omega—the First and the Last.
Since the Saviour shed His blood for the remission of sins,
and ascended to heaven "to appear in the presence of God for [p. 368] us" (Hebrews 9:24), light has been streaming from the cross of
Calvary and from the holy places of the sanctuary above. But
the clearer light granted us should not cause us to despise that
which in earlier times was received through the types pointing
to the coming Saviour. The gospel of Christ sheds light upon the
Jewish economy and gives significance to the ceremonial law. As
new truths are revealed, and that which has been known from
the beginning is brought into clearer light, the character and
purposes of God are made manifest in His dealings with His
chosen people. Every additional ray of light that we receive gives
us a clearer understanding of the plan of redemption, which is
the working out of the divine will in the salvation of man. We
see new beauty and force in the inspired word, and we study its
pages with a deeper and more absorbing interest.
The opinion is held by many that God placed a separating
wall between the Hebrews and the outside world; that His care
and love, withdrawn to a great extent from the rest of mankind,
were centered upon Israel. But God did not design that His
people should build up a wall of partition between themselves
and their fellow men. The heart of Infinite Love was reaching
out toward all the inhabitants of the earth. Though they had
rejected Him, He was constantly seeking to reveal Himself to them
and make them partakers of His love and grace. His blessing
was granted to the chosen people, that they might bless others.
God called Abraham, and prospered and honored him; and
the patriarch's fidelity was a light to the people in all the
countries of his sojourn. Abraham did not shut himself away from
the people around him. He maintained friendly relations with
the kings of the surrounding nations, by some of whom he was
treated with great respect; and his integrity and unselfishness,
his valor and benevolence, were representing the character of
God. In Mesopotamia, in Canaan, in Egypt, and even to the
inhabitants of Sodom, the God of heaven was revealed through His
So to the people of Egypt and of all the nations connected
with that powerful kingdom, God manifested Himself through
Joseph. Why did the Lord choose to exalt Joseph so highly among
the Egyptians? He might have provided some other way for the
accomplishment of His purposes toward the children of Jacob;
but He desired to make Joseph a light, and He placed him in the [p. 369] palace of the king, that the heavenly illumination might extend
far and near. By his wisdom and justice, by the purity and
benevolence of his daily life, by his devotion to the interests of
the people—and that people a nation of idolaters—Joseph was a
representative of Christ. In their benefactor, to whom all Egypt
turned with gratitude and praise, that heathen people were to
behold the love of their Creator and Redeemer. So in Moses also
God placed a light beside the throne of the earth's greatest kingdom,
that all who would, might learn of the true and living God.
And all this light was given to the Egyptians before the hand of
God was stretched out over them in judgments.
In the deliverance of Israel from Egypt a knowledge of the
power of God spread far and wide. The warlike people of the
stronghold of Jericho trembled. "As soon as we had heard these
things," said Rahab, "our hearts did melt, neither did there
remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for Jehovah
your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath."
Joshua 2:11. Centuries after the exodus the priests of the Philistines
reminded their people of the plagues of Egypt, and warned
them against resisting the God of Israel.
God called Israel, and blessed and exalted them, not that by
obedience to His law they alone might receive His favor and
become the exclusive recipients of His blessings, but in order to
reveal Himself through them to all the inhabitants of the earth.
It was for the accomplishment of this very purpose that He
commanded them to keep themselves distinct from the idolatrous
nations around them.
Idolatry and all the sins that followed in its train were
abhorrent to God, and He commanded His people not to mingle with
other nations, to "do after their works," and forget God. He
forbade their marriage with idolaters, lest their hearts should be led
away from Him. It was just as necessary then as it is now that
God's people should be pure, "unspotted from the world." They
must keep themselves free from its spirit, because it is opposed
to truth and righteousness. But God did not intend that His people,
in self-righteous exclusiveness, should shut themselves away
from the world, so that they could have no influence upon it.
Like their Master, the followers of Christ in every age were to
be the light of the world. The Saviour said, "A city that is set on [p. 370] an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it
under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all
that are in the house"—that is, in the world. And He adds, "Let
your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew
5:14-16. This is just what Enoch, and Noah, Abraham, Joseph,
and Moses did. It is just what God designed that His people Israel
It was their own evil heart of unbelief, controlled by Satan,
that led them to hide their light, instead of shedding it upon
surrounding peoples; it was that same bigoted spirit that caused
them either to follow the iniquitous practices of the heathen or
to shut themselves away in proud exclusiveness, as if God's love
and care were over them alone.
As the Bible presents two laws, one changeless and eternal,
the other provisional and temporary, so there are two covenants.
The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden, when
after the Fall there was given a divine promise that the seed of the
woman should bruise the serpent's head. To all men this covenant
offered pardon and the assisting grace of God for future
obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised them eternal
life on condition of fidelity to God's law. Thus the patriarchs
received the hope of salvation.
This same covenant was renewed to Abraham in the promise,
"In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Genesis
22:18. This promise pointed to Christ. So Abraham understood
it (see Galatians 3:8, 16), and he trusted in Christ for the forgiveness
of sins. It was this faith that was accounted unto him for
righteousness. The covenant with Abraham also maintained the
authority of God's law. The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and
said, "I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou
perfect." Genesis 17:1. The testimony of God concerning His
faithful servant was, "Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My
charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." Genesis
26:5. And the Lord declared to him, "I will establish My covenant
between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their
generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee
and to thy seed after thee." Genesis 17:7.
Though this covenant was made with Adam and renewed to
Abraham, it could not be ratified until the death of Christ. It [p. 371] had existed by the promise of God since the first intimation of
redemption had been given; it had been accepted by faith; yet
when ratified by Christ, it is called a new covenant. The law of
God was the basis of this covenant, which was simply an arrangement
for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will,
placing them where they could obey God's law.
Another compact—called in Scripture the "old" covenant—was
formed between God and Israel at Sinai, and was then ratified
by the blood of a sacrifice. The Abrahamic covenant was ratified
by the blood of Christ, and it is called the "second," or
"new," covenant, because the blood by which it was sealed was
shed after the blood of the first covenant. That the new covenant
was valid in the days of Abraham is evident from the fact that it
was then confirmed both by the promise and by the oath of God
—the "two immutable things, in which it was impossible for
God to lie." Hebrews 6:18.
But if the Abrahamic covenant contained the promise of
redemption, why was another covenant formed at Sinai? In their
bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of
God and of the principles of the Abrahamic covenant. In delivering
them from Egypt, God sought to reveal to them His power
and His mercy, that they might be led to love and trust Him.
He brought them down to the Red Sea—where, pursued by the
Egyptians, escape seemed impossible—that they might realize
their utter helplessness, their need of divine aid; and then He
wrought deliverance for them. Thus they were filled with love
and gratitude to God and with confidence in His power to help
them. He had bound them to Himself as their deliverer from
But there was a still greater truth to be impressed upon their
minds. Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had
no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding
sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves,
to render obedience to God's law, and their need of a Saviour.
All this they must be taught.
God brought them to Sinai; He manifested His glory; He
gave them His law, with the promise of great blessings on
condition of obedience: "If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep
My covenant, then . . . ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests,
and an holy nation." Exodus 19:5, 6. The people did not realize [p. 372] the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was
impossible for them to keep God's law; and they readily entered
into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish
their own righteousness, they declared, "All that the Lord hath
said will we do, and be obedient." Exodus 24:7. They had
witnessed the proclamation of the law in awful majesty, and had
trembled with terror before the mount; and yet only a few weeks
passed before they broke their covenant with God, and bowed
down to worship a graven image. They could not hope for the
favor of God through a covenant which they had broken; and
now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were
brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic
covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings.
Now by faith and love they were bound to God as their deliverer
from the bondage of sin. Now they were prepared to appreciate
the blessings of the new covenant.
The terms of the "old covenant" were, Obey and live: "If a
man do, he shall even live in them" (Ezekiel 20:11; Leviticus 18:5);
but "cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this
law to do them." Deuteronomy 27:26. The "new covenant" was
established upon "better promises"—the promise of forgiveness
of sins and of the grace of God to renew the heart and bring it
into harmony with the principles of God's law. "This shall be
the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those
days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and
write it in their hearts. . . . I will forgive their iniquity, and
will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:33, 34.
The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone is
written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart. Instead
of going about to establish our own righteousness we accept the
righteousness of Christ. His blood atones for our sins. His
obedience is accepted for us. Then the heart renewed by the Holy
Spirit will bring forth "the fruits of the Spirit." Through the
grace of Christ we shall live in obedience to the law of God
written upon our hearts. Having the Spirit of Christ, we shall
walk even as He walked. Through the prophet He declared of
Himself, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is
within My heart." Psalm 40:8. And when among men He said,
"The Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things
that please Him." John 8:29. [p. 373]
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The apostle Paul clearly presents the relation between faith
and the law under the new covenant. He says: "Being justified
by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea,
we establish the law." "For what the law could not do, in that it
was weak through the flesh"—it could not justify man, because
in his sinful nature he could not keep the law—"God sending
His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned
sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be
fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 5:1, 3:31, 8:3, 4.
God's work is the same in all time, although there are different
degrees of development and different manifestations of His
power, to meet the wants of men in the different ages. Beginning
with the first gospel promise, and coming down through the
patriarchal and Jewish ages, and even to the present time, there
has been a gradual unfolding of the purposes of God in the plan
of redemption. The Saviour typified in the rites and ceremonies
of the Jewish law is the very same that is revealed in the gospel.
The clouds that enveloped His divine form have rolled back;
the mists and shades have disappeared; and Jesus, the world's
Redeemer, stands revealed. He who proclaimed the law from
Sinai, and delivered to Moses the precepts of the ritual law, is the
same that spoke the Sermon on the Mount. The great principles
of love to God, which He set forth as the foundation of the law
and the prophets, are only a reiteration of what He had spoken
through Moses to the Hebrew people: "Hear, O Israel: The
Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
might." Deuteronomy 6:4, 5. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself." Leviticus 19:18. The teacher is the same in both
dispensations. God's claims are the same. The principles of His government
are the same. For all proceed from Him "with whom is no
variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1:17.
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"From Sinai to Kadesh"