The Law of the Nations

Last week I posted a brief article on “The Law of the Church” to remind readers of the place God’s Law is to have in the congregation and to encourage in simple ways the restoration of its knowledge and practice. Today let us look at how the Law of God is to be sought after as a guide for the nations of the earth. I offer these meditations because the nations are spurning the ways of the Lord and, in their ignorance, are calling God’s further judgments upon them. The church has a sacred duty to warn them and call them to repentance.

To understand this, let us begin with Israel.  Upon her deliverance from Egypt, the Lord through Moses took his people to Mt. Sinai and with his own finger wrote the Ten Commandments upon stone tablets. Further insight into their application, along with ceremonial and civil laws, were delivered to Israel through Moses. The people had a responsibility to teach the Word of God diligently in their homes (Deut. 6:4-9). The eventual kings of Israel were to make their own copy of God’s Law in order to govern the nation by it and be prospered by the Lord (Deut. 17:18-20). The stone tablets were placed in the ark of the covenant, under the mercy seat of the Lord, representing his throne and gracious rule over Israel. Virtually no one argues that the laws of the Old Testament were given to the nation of Israel.

Now, remember one key aspect of Israel’s purpose, declared by God at Mt. Sinai prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  To his people, freshly redeemed from their slavery, the Lord says in Exodus 19:5-6:

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Again, clearly Israel was to be ruled by law as a kingdom devoted to God. Yet she was also a special possession of the Lord as a holy nation and she was to be a nation of priests.  Priests to whom? The other nations. Israel was to represent God and his ways to the nations of the earth. All the peoples of the earth – not just Israel – had an obligation to keep the moral law of God. Through Israel as his model or example, God was calling all men and nations to his obedience.

The reason all of mankind is under obligation to God’s Law is because of the Covenant of Works, which bound Adam “and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it” (Westminster Confession of Faith 19.1). At Sinai, the Lord was re-emphasizing (Note: not “republishing”) through Israel every nation’s duty to honor God and his Law. A careful reading of the Old Testament affirms repeatedly this statement of Westminster.

On the side of judgment, Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land and the warfare she executed there was God’s punishment on the Canaanite nations’ evil practices. God had told Abraham centuries before this judgment would occur and then waited patiently in his long-suffering to do so (Genesis 15:16). God sent his prophets to Israel to prosecute at important times in history his case against them, but not exclusively so. For the prophets either spoke to the various nations around them as they preached to Israel or were sent directly to address the wickedness in other lands, such as Jonah to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh or Daniel to Babylon. The nations were accountable to God’s Law.

On the positive side, God granted his covenant favors to peoples and nations who believed and obeyed him. Rahab the harlot saw herself and her family spared via the scarlet cord for her faith even as the rest of Jericho was sacked. During Solomon’s reign, many nations were at peace with Israel and sought her wisdom such as the Queen of Sheba. Nineveh’s repentance at Jonah’s preaching brought God’s favor to a whole city (though more than a century later her return to evil led to Nahum’s message of doom).

In anticipation of the fulfillment of these Old Testament types and hopes, the prophet Isaiah uses rich imagery to picture the time of the Christ as he speaks of nations coming to the church seeking the knowledge of the Lord and His Law:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war. (Isaiah 2:1-4)

How will this occur? When Jesus met with his disciples on a mountain after his resurrection, he told these first representatives of the church that they were to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). As I Peter 2:9 reminds us, the church is now God’s holy nation and kingdom of priests. As the new Israel, we have the duty to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all peoples and nations, which includes the message that “the moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof” (WCF 19.5). In lands where people are calling good evil and evil good, we must warn the rulers and peoples of the vanity of seeking to throw off the bonds of Christ’s Law and call them to his obedience (Psalm 2).

In case we have not the faith to believe the nations will eventually listen to us, let us remember Rahab, the Queen of Sheba, and Nineveh. Or, for a more recent historical example of an even greater response, note that several quotes in this post were taken from the Westminster Confession of Faith.   That document emerged in the seventeenth century as the English Parliament sought Biblical counsel from an assembly of ministers on ecclesiastical and political matters in England, Scotland, and Ireland.  Cannot the King of kings and Lord of lords move nations’ to seek him once again?

 

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