God’s Law: Liberty and Justice for All

It has been suggested that the law of God as it was given in the Old Testament applied only to Israel: that God held Israel to a different standard than the other nations.  After all, God gave the law to Israel through Moses.  Some people have supposed that since the other nations were not given a written revelation of God’s law, that God had different standards for them.  I am convinced that the Bible specifically refutes this claim in a number of ways.  But before we turn to some specific verses, let’s consider the general philosophical implications of the notion that God holds different people in different locations or nations to different standards.

Civil laws (those laws established by the local government) do vary from one location to another.  The maximum speed limit in Colorado is higher than the speed limit in Ohio.  Thus, what is legal in one state can be illegal in another.  But are moral laws that way?  Can what is right in one state be wrong in another?  I suggest that the notion that moral standards can vary from one location to another or from one people-group to another is absurd on the face of it.

Consider a man on trial for murder.  There is no doubt of his guilt; several people witnessed the crime, and it was even caught on camera.  But then the judge learns an interesting fact.  The murder actually happened in the kitchen, not the living room.  So he finds the man ‘not guilty’ and explains, “had you murdered the victim in the living room, you would be guilty of course.  But since you were in the kitchen at the time, you have done nothing wrong and are therefore free to go.  Case dismissed!”  Wouldn’t that be an absurd ruling?  Likewise, if the judge let the man go simply on account of his ethnic background, wouldn’t that be just as ridiculous?  Either a particular action is right in the eyes of God or it isn’t.  The location or ethnicity of the person involved is logically irrelevant.

God does not have a double standard (Romans 2:11, Deuteronomy 10:17).  He detests a double standard (Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:10, Deuteronomy 25:13–14) and commands us to treat people without partiality (Deuteronomy 1:17, Proverbs 24:23, James 2:9).  Therefore, it is fundamentally impossible for God to have one standard for Israel, and another standard for everyone else, for that would violate His Holy character.  God holds all people to the same moral standard.  Israel was blessed with a written revelation of God’s law, and that is a wonderful gift indeed!  But the other nations also knew about God’s law from their own conscience; it was “written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14–15).  And God held them accountable to the same standard.

God’s law is the universal standard of justice for all groups of people on earth.  Israel was supposed to be an example of righteousness for the other nations to emulate.  Moses clearly teaches this in Deuteronomy 4:5–8 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.  So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?  Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Some people try to get around this by saying that the Ten Commandments applied to all cultures, but that the other Old Testament laws were only for Israel.  This separation is artificial and arbitrary.  Actually, the Ten Commandments are not alternatives to the other laws, but are simply summary generalizations of those laws; we will deal with this in a later entry.  But notice that the claim is specifically refuted in verse 6 above.  “ALL these statutes” were to be an example for the nations, not “some of these statutes.”  Granted, some laws are only binding in certain situations: for example, the ceremonial laws only applied to God’s redeemed people.  But the point is that God’s standard of right behavior (His moral law) is universal; it doesn’t depend on location or nationality.

Although Israel was blessed with a written revelation of God’s standard, He nonetheless holds all people to the same standard, whether they have read the Scriptures or not.  The city of Sodom was known for its pervasive sin of homosexual behavior (Genesis 19:4–5); and God judged that city for its sin (Genesis 19:13,24–25).  Notice that this happened long before God gave a written prohibition against homosexual behavior (Leviticus 20:13).  God expected people to know what is right based on their conscience (Romans 2:14–15) and creation (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4–5), and He held them accountable to His law even before it had yet been physically inscribed.

God has the same moral standard for all nations and He applies the same penalty for disobedience as well.  God punished the pagan nations for their disobedience to the law by giving their land to the nation of Israel.  In Leviticus 18:24–25 God states, “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.  For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”  And what does God promise to do if Israel disobeys His law?  He’ll do exactly the same thing!  In Leviticus 18:26–28 we read, “But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations…  so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you.”

Again in Deuteronomy 8:19-20 we see that the Lord promises to treat the nation of Israel by the same standards as other nations. “It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God.”

God promised to treat the Israelites exactly the same way as the other nations if they behaved the same way as the other nations (Leviticus 20:22–23)!  He does not have a double standard.  God is fundamentally fair, and His law is for everyone.  The apostle Peter states it well in Acts 10:34–35, “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’”

6 Responses to God’s Law: Liberty and Justice for All

  1. Stephen Ray Hale says:

    I disagree with the author saying that the ten commandments were but generalizations.

    The ten commandments WERE to be the laws, but Israel did a foolish thing. They refused to go near to God to meet him truly face to face as invited to do so for that one time. They were scared and refused to see the face that would have surely help engrave the importance of the ten commandments and its spirit in their hearts.

    Instead, they challenged God when they told Moses, who seemed immune to the effects of the face of God, to go to God and bring them back what they must do and THE WILL DO THEM.

    It seems almost pitiful the reply of God when Moses told him the people’s reply. He said that He would have wished they WOULD follow His words, but with a sigh God set out a plan for the people to follow laws they COULD not do entirely, and though He gives them remedy, He set out to show the people they could not do EVERYTHING God says for them to do even to save their life…which was the only penalty outside of living IN THE LAND. Two things LONG LIFE, and IN THE LAND, were the promises of following these extended statutes, details and expansions of the original design of God for their lives.

  2. Tony says:

    thats not true if god had the same standard for everyone at all times than why would he “overlook” ignorance but NOW commands all men everywhere to repent, thats saying that there are different standards for different people at different times! Acts 17: “30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,

  3. Dr. Lisle, thank you for upholding Yahweh’s triune moral law (His commandments, the statutes that explain them, and the judgments that enforce them) and thereby Yahweh’s very righteousness, which the Psalmist declares is everlasting (Psalm 119:142). Because Yahweh is everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2), His righteousness is, therefore, everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 103:17), and because His righteousness is everlasting to everlasting, His moral law that reflect His righteousness is everlasting to everlasting.

    My last message is entitled “Yahweh’s Everlasting Righteousness” and devoted to this very subject. You can listen to it at http://www.kingdompromises.org/kingdompromises_audio/everlasting.mp3.

    I would also recommend our free online book “Law and Kingdom: Their Relevance Under the New Covenant.” It can be found on our Online Books page at bibleversusconstitution . org.

  4. Norm Farnum says:

    I would sure like to encourage Dr. Jason Lisle and Pastor Ted Weiland (who also commented here) to further network and corroboration on this most important of cultural subjects! You men are both “right on target” here. God bless you gentlemen.

  5. Lex Rex says:

    Excellent article! Too bad mankind is so reprobate that we can only obey Yahweh’s Law if He puts his Spirit in us. In other words, He has to make us do it. We are dead in trespasses and sins. As spiritually dead as Lazurus was physically dead in the tomb.

    What progress humans have made in technology! But there is no progress in morality. Three thousand years ago King Solomon spoke against the sin of drunkeness. Since that time mankind has learned nothing. Now drunks are really dangerous if they drive cars. Back then they would have fallen down walking, or fallen off a donkey, or fallen off the back of their chariot.

    We are in the Golden Age of Technology, but every other field is in a dark age.

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