The Dispensation of the Law
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1. The Name of this dispensation is the Law.
It gets this name from the fact that God’s economy was being dispensed through the code of the Law, which is commonly referred to as the Mosaic Law. Within this Law there were a total of 613 specific commandments. This dispensation begins with the giving of the Law recorded in Exodus 19:1 and lasts until the birth of the Church as recorded beginning in Acts 2:1. The Dispensation of Law covered the entire span of time from Exodus 19:1 throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the intertestamental period, and through gospel history until Acts 2:1, when the dispensation finally changed. Therefore this dispensation spanned a considerable period.
2. The Chief Person was Moses.
3. Man’s Responsibility.
In this dispensation, man was responsible to the Mosaic Covenant. The covenant involved two aspects. First, they were responsible to obey the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses. Secondly, they were to obey the prophets whom God would send to provide additional clarification to the Law.
4. Man’s Specific Test.
The specific test of this dispensation involved two components. First, they were responsible to keep the entire Law, with all of its 613 commandments. The breaking of only one of these commandments meant to incur guilt for breaking them all (James 2:10). The second part of the test was to accept and believe the Prophet who would arise, the One who would be like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). In other words, they were to accept the Messiah once He came, because He was going to be the Prophet like unto Moses.
5. Man’s Failure.
Man failed in both aspects of the test. First, they failed to keep the Law in its entirety (Rom. 10:1-3). In fact, not only did they fail to keep the Law, they tried to get around the Law by establishing their own righteousness. By putting in their own laws and saying that because they obeyed their laws, therefore, they did not have to obey the laws of the Lord. Secondly, they also failed to accept the Messiah (Matthew 23:1-39). Jesus denounced the Scribes and Pharisees, the leadership of Israel of that day, not only because they rejected His messianic claims, but also because they were leading the nation to the reject those same messianic claims.
6. Man’s Judgment.
The judgment of this dispensation came in A.D. 70 and involved three things: One, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Two, the worldwide dispersion of the Jewish people occurred as they were exiled from the Land. Three, The Jews received much focused persecution since they entered the diaspora.
7. God’s Grace.
The concept of God’s grace was visible in this dispensation in two ways.
One, the sacrificial system was provided because the Jew was not able to keep all 613 commandments. Whenever the individual Jew failed, this could be covered by the sacrificial system as a means for restoring the sinner. In other words it was “temporary atonement” for the sinner. The sacrificial system would not take away their sin, and no Israelite was ever saved because he simply went through the motions of bringing a sacrifice to the Tabernacle or the Temple. As in every age, the ancient Israelites were saved by grace through faith. His faith was the factor that saved him, but his faith had to have content. In this case, the content of his faith was the sacrificial system. When he brought that sacrifice to the Tabernacle or Temple, he had the faith that by the means of the shedding of blood, his sins would be covered, and fellowship with God would be restored but always looking forward to the Perfect One whose blood would redeem them.
Two the second way God’s grace was displayed during this dispensation was through the judges, kings, and prophets. Judges were given by God to deliver the Israelites from the nations around them that tried to persecute them. Righteous kings in the Southern Kingdom of Judah were provided to imbue them a government of righteousness and justice. Finally God sent prophets to expound the Law, convict the population that they needed to turn back to obedience, and finally to promote God’s Word clearly communicating their failures, and to calling them to a genuine repentance.
Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.