Law is an authoritative prescription of values, distinguishing between permitted and prohibited behavior, between right and wrong, and between good and evil. Most law provides for the punishment of those who break it. That is the case when it comes to God’s Torah, whether we call it Teaching or Law. What He says is a manifestation of who He is. He cannot be separated from His Word.

As long as God is, there is Divine law that prescribes what is acceptable and what is not, what is good and what is not. There cannot be any existence without the law of God. He does not create moral "neutral zones" which are unrelated to who He is. Wherever He is, there is a distinction between what is acceptable and what is not, what is good and what is evil.

Was it wrong for Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? If it was wrong, did they know it was wrong? God had commanded them, "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Gen. 2:17 They knew that they had done something wrong. Disobeying the command of God, transgressing the law of God, they sinned. cf. Rom.5:14-19 They hid from God, fearing the consequences of what they had done. In response to their sin, God brought judgment on them, on all their descendants, and upon the earth itself.

Was it wrong for Cain to kill Abel? Did he know it was wrong? Did he sin in killing Abel? God acted as though Cain knew it was wrong to murder. He pronounced a curse and judgment on Cain. "Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." Gen. 4:11-12

Was it wrong for the people of Noah’s generation to fill the earth with violence? Was it sin? God brought judgment on them. "The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time....So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth –men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air –for I am grieved that I have made them." Gen.6:5,7

When Abraham said that Sarah was his sister, King Abimelech took Sarah into his harem. God appeared to Abimelech in the night and said, "you're a dead man because you've taken another man's wife." Gen.20:3 The commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" had not yet been given at Sinai, and would not be given there for another 400 years. King Abimelech was not Jewish anyway. He lived without the Ten Commandments engraved in stone.

Why did God say Abimelech was close to being put to death for adultery? God would not have commanded judgment for Abimelech unless he had known it was wrong to commit adultery. Abimelech’s response was, "Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." Gen. 20:5 cf.Gen.26:10 Abimelech knew that adultery was wrong. How did he know without having been given the law at Sinai?

Hundreds of years before the Law of Moses was given, God affirmed His promises to Abraham, "because Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My decrees, and My laws (ytrwt)." Gen.26:5 God decreed the destruction of the nations in the land of Canaan because of their idolatry and immorality. He warned Israel not to commit the same sins. "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you." Lev. 18:24-28, cf Lev. 20:22-23

It is only through law that sin is identified for us, because it is law that commands what is and what is not to be done. As Paul writes, "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law." Rom. 7:7 As John reminds us, "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness." 1John 3:4 Law defines sin. Sin is breaking God's law. So if there is no law, then there would be no sin and no sinners. There would be no cause for judgment, since there would be nothing to offend against or to be judged by. No one could do anything wrong because nothing would be defined as wrong. Then there would be nothing from which to be saved, and no need for God’s grace.

The Bible, however, clearly teaches that God is going to bring every person into judgment. Every thought, word, and deed will be judged according to God’s holy, eternal law. Those who break His law will be judged accordingly. There are laws of God that apply to everyone, and everyone can sin.

For some, the revelation of that law is what is written in every person’s conscience. To them God proclaimed His law in the core of their being alone, rather than in written words. For others God's revelation includes what was written on tablets of stone.

God has given to everyone a measure of understanding of right and wrong. To say "right" and "wrong" is to indicate a standard of God, a standard for judgment, a law and commandment of God. Adam and Eve sinned in disobeying God. Cain sinned in murdering Abel. Abimelech would have sinned had he committed adultery with Sara. Abraham was faithful to obey the laws of God. The nations living in Canaan were destroyed because of their sins against God.

How much detail is there to the law of God which He has put in the heart of every human being? Moral and political philosophers through the ages have tried to delineate God’s "natural law", i.e. the law which He implanted in the very nature of His Creation. Their conclusions have varied.

To begin to come to an understanding yourself, consider the individual laws of God’s covenant with Israel which were singled out as specifically bringing a curse on those who broke them. All the people were to verbally acknowledge God’s righteousness in cursing "the man", i.e. anyone, who broke these laws.

"Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol –a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman’s hands –and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who has sexual relations with any animal." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" Deut. 27:15-25

Were any of these laws not applicable to all people? God’s law did not begin at Mt. Sinai. It is not for Jews only. If it were, there would be no basis for God to judge the Gentiles.

"Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Rom. 2:14-15

People are judged for doing what they know is wrong. From the beginning, God put within each person some light. We read in Romans 1 that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of every person who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. People know the truth, but they suppress it.

"Since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power, His divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been. So they are without excuse, for even though they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and of four-footed animals and crawling creatures." vv.20-23

These people committed idolatry and God holds them accountable for that. They were not Jewish. They did not enter into God's covenant of the law made with Israel at Sinai, but they still had the law of God in their hearts. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator....And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind....And although they know the ordinance of God that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them;" vv.25, 28, 32

They are responsible, as all people are, for their actions against God’s righteousness. Long before the covenant of the law was given, God revealed these things and called men to account for them. Non-Jews are not under the law given at Sinai, but God already placed much of that law in their consciences.

The Law of Moses, contained in the covenant made at Sinai, is a specific revelation of God's righteousness in relationship to His people Israel. It was given so that He might reveal Himself in very specific ways through it. The law is our tutor to teach us faith and righteousness, and to lead us to Messiah. It was also given to set Israel apart from the Gentiles.

In the Talmud, the Rabbis discuss the universal nature of much of the law that God included in His covenant with Israel. cf. Shab.88b, Zeb.116a They often speak of the laws that are binding on all the descendants of Noah. After the flood, God said to Noah, "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything, but you must not eat meat with its life, which is its blood, still in it." Gen.9:3-4 This was and still is binding on every descendant of Noah, whether he or she is a believer or not.

God will call every person to account according to the commandments He has given to each. God has given light to everyone. Everyone is without excuse. The first-century Jerusalem Council of Jewish believers issued four specific decrees for all the Gentile Christians to obey. "You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." Acts 15:29 These were all laws which God already required all Gentiles to obey. The Council was merely restating them because some of the Gentile believers were ignorant of, or hardened to, the Biblical teachings.

Idolatry, which includes sacrificing food to idols, had always been forbidden and condemned. All the descendants of Noah were already commanded not to eat the blood of any animal. The meat of a strangled animal would have its blood still in it. And God had expressly forbidden sexual immorality.

The Bible is very clear in teaching that Gentiles who break God’s law are guilty of sinning against God. In the wilderness, God spoke of the immoral practices of the Canaanite tribes, and warned Israel, "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants." Lev. 18:24-25

Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar, "Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." Dan. 4:27

The king of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and urged the people, " ‘Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." Jonah 3:8-10 They knew the evil of their ways, and they chose to repent.

God sent Peter to preach to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and his family. The other Jewish believers rebuked Peter for eating with these Gentiles. Peter explained how Cornelius and his family feared God, and had received the Holy Spirit. "When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’ " Acts 11:18

Gentiles can repent of their sins, turning away from their lawless deeds, and find atonement through the death of Messiah, the King of the Jews. This is, in fact, the message that Israel, as a light to the goyim, is to bring to all the earth.

This is the message that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, proclaimed throughout his ministry. Even as Paul was on trial, he steadfastly continued to proclaim this message. "As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ " Acts 24:25 Some repented and believed. Some didn’t. All will stand before God for judgment.

Next: The Alien in the Land

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