In my first post on why I own up to the fact that I, like almost every other Christian, do not keep Sabbath, I began with what is perhaps the hardest obstacle of all for most Christians to surmount when wrestling with this issue: it is part of the Decalogue. The Ten Words. The Top Ten List.
Isn’t this, in some sense, conclusive?
Yes, of course it is. Now all we have to do is figure out what sense that is!
Last week, I argued that the identification of God with the Exodus event was one reason to approach the Decalogue with caution: the indicative of our salvation, from which our commands flow, is no longer being brought out of Egypt, but having been ransomed by Christ.
More needs to be said here.
Yes, they were in relationship before. Yes, there were other covenants to which YHWH was committed.
But this is the forming of a new national constitution, delineating what it would look like for YHWH to be Israel’s God and Israel to be YHWH’s people.
Second, the prophet Jeremiah anticipates that this very covenant that God made when he brought the people out of Egypt is going to be the point at which God’s greater act of deliverance supersedes what came before.
Jeremiah 31:31 says, “I will make a new covenant.”
The subsequent verse clarifies that this stands in direct contradistinction to the Sinai covenant: “It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Jer 31:32, CEB).
The point of difference? Where the commandments are written:
No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. (31:33, CEB)
This is part and parcel with Jeremiah’s earlier claim:
So the time is coming, declares the LORD, when no one will say, “As the LORD lives who brought up the Israelites from the land of Egypt.” Instead they will say, “As the LORD lives who brought up the descendents of the people of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where he has banished them…
The preface to the Decalogue is overshadowed. The covenant of the Decalogue is overshadowed. And the Law on the heart replaces the Law written on tablets of stone.
The point in all this is to see two things: (1) the Decalogue is associated with the Exodus and holds its place as the defining covenant document of the people; (2) the OT expected that with a greater act of salvation, a new covenant would come, and this new act would transform the nature of God’s Instruction among God’s people.
It is in light of both of these dynamics that we make sense of what Paul will say about the place of the Law among the people of God. We’ll work that out a bit more, perhaps on Thursday, but here’s the summary:
The Decalogue, as the central component of the covenant identity of Israel, is precisely the point at which Paul insists that there is radical discontinuity in the story of God’s people because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.