An introduction to God’s Heavenly Law (Part 1)


As readers of the Bible we are introduced to God’s law in both the Old and New Testaments and yet the majority of us have no legal background to appreciate the work of the Lord Jesus Christ within the context of litigation as defined by God’s Heavenly Law (meaning that the law found in the Bible has its origin in heaven as the heavens are God’s [Psalms 115:16]).

Although there is no need for us to become experts in law, there may be a need to gain some basic understanding of the mechanics of law with the sole purpose of appreciating how the Lord Jesus Christ has become the prime ‘advocate’ in interpreting the Heavenly Law, not to our condemnation, but to offer us life and peace.

So, if we had to ask a ‘law student’ about the term ‘law’, we would certainly be told that there are different types of law, such as contractual law, tax law, administrative law, maritime law, etc. We may also be informed that the ‘law’ consists of common law, statutes and case law. God’s Heavenly Law is no different, in fact we will discover that man’s laws are based on God’s laws as God’s laws came first.

The Heavenly Law has its beginnings as a common law in the book of Genesis. But what is ‘common law’? Well it is a primitive form of law, i.e. society formulates an informal communal law, and if we turn to the Bible we find, for example, that the instructions we suppose Adam gave to Eve while they were in the Garden of Eden may be classified as a form of common law.

If we wish to define common law further, we will find traces of it pre-flood as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, clearly had communal rules (based on instructions received from God) pertaining to behaviour, marriage, violence, murder, etc. Interestingly, even today no law states, “thou shalt not kill”. Its origin is found with common law, and as students of the Bible we believe it had its beginnings in the book of Genesis with Cain and Abel. We know that Cain was a murderer (Gen 4:8) based on God’s judgement at the time. Today, this judgement forms part of every society’s common law and, maybe unknowingly, communities are in a way upholding one of the most basic laws of God, a common law dated back to Genesis 4.

Post-flood we find that common law develops further and we read of how Abraham’s concept of sacrifices is expanded as he is commanded to offer his son, Isaac. We also discover that God’s law makes provision for a specific priesthood as we read about Melchizedek and later Joseph – and all of this happened prior to God formulating a contractual agreement with the nation of Israel in the form of the tables of stone.

However, what should we try and glean when studying law? To my mind, within the context of the Word of God, we need to gain a basic understanding of how the ‘law’ operates, and in Genesis 26 we are given a glimpse of the mechanics of God’s Heavenly Law.

Here we are introduced to various aspects of God’s law. Notice how we are suddenly given detail about the law as if we are supposed to know that the law consists of various pillars: “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws”(Gen 26:5). Now although it may be difficult to fully understand what this verse is actually implying, may I suggest that this section of scripture is in fact introducing us to the various forms of law.

What I am suggesting is that, like man’s law, God’s Heavenly Law consists of various pillars that modern scholars of the law also assign to the law. In other words, I am suggesting that we are told that Abraham was obedient to various forms of law, and these forms of law can be described as:

  •          Common law, and
  •          Old authority, and
  •          A specific law such as contractual law, and
  •          Case law (where a judge has interpreted and applied a specific law to a case between a plaintiff [claimant] and a defendant).

If our understanding of the verse is correct, well then we are told that Abraham is indeed a man of God. What we are suggesting here sets Abraham’s obedience on a higher plane, and similarly we should ask ourselves the question: How do I match up against God’s various forms of Heavenly Law?  This question needs to be asked because James reminds us that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (ch 2:10). Maybe we are now in a better position to consider the full meaning and impact of James’ words and challenge to us.


Jurisdiction as part of the mechanics of the Heavenly Law:

Another aspect associated with the law is the very important aspect of jurisdiction. It is always critical to establish whether a court of law has the power of jurisdiction, i.e. has it authority to hear and judge a particular case?

In the Old Testament God provided cities of refuge, and the jurisdiction (influence of power) of the Law of Moses was not valid in these cities. Obviously this points forward to the Lord Jesus Christ, who nullifies the jurisdiction of the Law of Moses on our lives, thereby saving us all from the sure curse of death. We read the following in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Again, once we improve our knowledge of a specific field associated with spiritual matters we become so much more appreciative of what the Lord Jesus Christ did and still does for us. It certainly is a scary thing to know that a judge will show no mercy and proclaim the death sentence upon you and me. To then hear that there is a place of refuge, which falls outside the jurisdiction of this unsympathetic judge, makes us realise what a friend indeed we have in Jesus!

Case Law as part of the mechanics of the Heavenly Law:

In applying law and trying to give advice how a law will impact on a person, it is needful to study case law, as it not only refers back to the various laws, authorities, etc., but it also allows us to predict how the judiciary stands on certain legal issues.

As these principles are based on and come from, the God of Israel, it therefore stands to reason that we too can learn a great deal of God and His high standards if we consider the case law where Jesus is acting as judge and therefore referring to, and interpreting, God’s Heavenly Law.

To purposefully express a point, we will consider two cases, not because the subject matter is a fundamental teaching of Bible study - which it may be – but because these two issues serve to illustrate what we are trying to establish, i.e. that case law plays a prominent role in matters associated with God’s Heavenly Law.

The following table, which deals with the first example, i.e. sabbath-keeping in the Old Testament, endeavours to highlight how case law encapsulates the other aspects of a particular law:

 Common Law:  Statutes:  Opinion:  Judgement:
Sabbath keeping instituted in the beginning: And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:3)Sabbath keeping as part of the Law of Moses: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy… (Exo 20:8-11) No legal opinion available on ‘sabbath-keeping’ at the time: And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. (Nu 15:34)


Case law formulated on breaking the Sabbath both within the framework of common law and the Law of Moses (Torah): And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. (Nu 15:35)


Based on this table, it is clear that in the legal world, case law forms a very critical part of judging, as it indicates how the court and a judge interprets and applies law in practice. What is absolutely fascinating is how the Old Testament’s case law always results in death, whereas the New Testament’s case law always brings about hope. Let’s now do a similar exercise, considering adultery, and see how the Lord Jesus Christ, as a judge, ushers in a new case law and therefore improving on old case law:


 Common Law:  Statutes:  Opinion:  Judgement:
Adultery instituted in the beginning: And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. (Gen 38:24)Adultery as part of the Law of Moses: And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Lev 20:10-16) Pharisees asking for Jesus opinion on the subject of adultery: Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. (John 8:5-6)


New case law formulated on committing adultery within the framework of the Law of Christ: So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her… She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:7, 11)

Now that we have a very basic understanding of the mechanics of law we can begin to appreciate better the conflict which took place between the Lord Jesus and the champions of the Law of Moses, the Pharisees.

And is it not wonderful to witness our Judge in action, to taste his mercy, and to see how he introduces new case law without an objection being raised by the Pharisees! The woman we read of in John 8 had no hope of life, but with Jesus at her side she suddenly fell within a jurisdiction where the Law of Moses had no say. However, the Lord Jesus Christ, in formulating his judgement, refers to the Heavenly Law (of which the Law of Moses is a part), and so dynamic is the Son of God that he interprets and applies the Law of Moses to offer life instead of death.

We leave Jesus here, having learned so much, but also realising that the Lord Jesus has left us with a greater responsibility than before. If the Law of Moses required much detail in application, well then the Law of Christ requires much application in the smallest detail. None of us is without sin too, so we pray that God may instil in us a lasting memory to remember this case law as we deal with one another.

God willing, we will continue next time to consider the various options that the law may offer us, the choice of being judged or not, and then draw Part one to a conclusion.                (To be continued).

Bro Ronnie van Rooyen (South Africa)

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