Every Word of God
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. A classic Bible passage often quoted but seldom applied! What is the word of God? How does one live by it? And why is it important to do so?
It was Jesus Christ himself who said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). If we are to live by every word then it is important to know what those words are.
Mention the word of God and most people think of the Ten Commandments. When delivering the Ten Commandments, or words, to the children of Israel Moses said that, “God spake all these words,” (Exodus 20:1). They are known as the Decalogue from the Latin which means ‘ten words’ (deca – ten, logos – words). ‘Ten words’ is a more literal rendition of the Hebrew than ‘Ten Commandments’. Were those the words Christ meant when he said we are to live by every word? It is a question that must be addressed if we are to follow Christ’s teaching.
Many have assumed that the Ten Commandments are part and parcel of the old covenant and believe they became obsolete along with that covenant two thousand years ago. Paul confirmed that the old covenant was obsolete and that Christ was mediator of a new and better one,“…he (Christ) is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” And, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:6-7, 13). However, Christ said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18). Either Paul contradicted Christ, or they were talking about entirely different subjects.
The first part of this paper proves that there is no contradiction, the second part examines the meaning of the words ‘till all be fulfilled’, and the third addresses the subject of grace. If we are to live by every word of God then it is important to understand these issues.
Paul’s statement about the covenant’s obsolescence did not contradict what Christ said about the law remaining in force. There are fundamental differences between covenants and laws. Laws are constitutional decrees enforced by an authority over those who are subject to that authority. The authority concerned has the power to make and administer law. As creator and supreme authority of the universe God’s word is undisputable law. His law defines sin, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (I John 3:4). Sin cannot be attributed without it, therefore punishment cannot be administered “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13). Law is indisputable and absolute.
A covenant on the other hand is mutual agreement, or contract between parties. Covenants contain agreed conditions and are typified by the ‘if…then’ format. If one party fulfills their part of the agreement then the other party is bound to fulfill theirs. The old covenant was a special agreement between God and Israel. If Israel obeyed God’s voice (word), then God would bless them with a special relationship, “…if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:” (Exodus 19:5. See also Deuteronomy 7:12-13 and 8:6-7). Israel’s blessings were conditional to keeping God’s law (word). The covenant itself was not the law it was only an agreement to keep the law. The law existed a long time before the covenant was established.
Pre-existence of Law
There is clear Biblical evidence that the law was in force prior to the establishment of the old covenant. As we have already read in I John 3:4 and Romans 5:11 sin can not be imputed unless there is law. For Adam to be guilty of sin the law must have existed in his time, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” And, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” (Romans 5:12 and 14).
Similarly Adam’s son Cain was punished for transgressing the law when he killed his brother, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”. And “Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Genesis 4: 7-8 and13).
When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph he knew that adultery was in breach of God’s law, “…how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). This was prior to the time of Exodus 20.
Since the creation it has been a requirement for man to obey God’s word (law), “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The Hebrew word translated ‘man’ refers to mankind in general. Christ confirmed the concept in new testament times by repeating those same words in Matthew 4:4.
Even prior to the creation of man law applied to the spirit realm. When speaking to the Pharisees Christ told them, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44). Satan sinned. To sin he must have transgressed the law. It is believed that Satan had been an angelic being of the highest order. His fall from grace to a state of sin pre-dated the creation of man, “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.” (Ezekiel 28:14-16).
Satan also caused other angels to sin, “And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth:…”. And “ And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9).
For Satan and his angelic followers to sin prior to the creation of man the law must have predated the creation of man. The law was not created at the time the old covenant was established, it existed from the beginning. Exodus 20:3-17 is merely the first written record of the law that we have today.
Abraham and Law
The old covenant was similar to an earlier covenant God established with Abraham four hundred years prior to Mount Sinai, “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1-2). If Abraham walked before God, (i.e. walked in His ways) and was perfect then he would be blessed with many descendents. Abraham agreed to walk before God. He did this by obeying God’s word and keeping His law, “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:5). Because Abraham fulfilled the condition God kept His part of the bargain,“Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the LORD thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.” (Deuteronomy 10:22)
God knew that Abraham would teach his children to live by those laws, “For I know him (Abraham), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19). Clearly Abraham ‘walked before God’ and taught his children ‘the way of God’ by keeping God’s commandments and statutes hundreds of years before the old covenant was established with Israel at Mount Sinai. However, during the four hundred years from Abraham to Moses, culminating in Israel’s slavery under rigorous taskmasters, they lost sight of many aspects of the law. After God rescued them from slavery He proposed to enter into a covenant with them. If they kept the law then they would be blessed. To ensure they understood what was required of them before entering into the covenant the law was proclaimed in their presence (Exodus 20).
Israel and Law
In preparation for the covenant God demonstrated to Israel the ‘if.. ..then’ principle on which the covenant was based when they were only three days into their journey from Egypt. If they obeyed the law then they would be protected, “…and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.”. And, “…If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:22, 26).
During their journey God provided the Israelites with manna for sustenance and used it to demonstrate the importance He placed on the Sabbath commandment. The Sabbath was not unique to Israel. It had been part of the law from the creation described in Genesis and would have been one of the commandments that Abraham taught his children, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 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.” (Genesis 2:1-3).
Under the harsh regime of slavery the Israelites had been unable to keep the Sabbath, but once they were freed from slavery God no longer allowed them to ignore it, “Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” (Exodus 16:4). Because God planned a special relationship with Israel He needed to draw their attention to that particular commandment, “Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Exodus 16:26-28).
As they continued toward Mount Sinai Moses taught and administered the law, “…Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” (Exodus 18:15-16). All this was prior to the establishment of the Old Covenant.
Mt Sinai Covenant
At Mount Sinai God proposed that Israel enter a covenant. If they obeyed the same law that had existed from the beginning and that had been kept and taught by Abraham, they would become a special nation, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6). Israel agreed to obey the words that proceeded from the mouth of God, “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.” (verse 8).
To ‘obey God’s voice’, to ‘walk in His ways’ and to ‘live by every word of God’ is to obey, walk in, and live by,His commandments. Keeping the ten commandments which are words that proceeded out of the mouth of God is a requirement that applies to all mankind. Out of a world that had largely rejected God’s way, Israel had been chosen to demonstrate the benefits of a relationship with God. The law which they agreed by way of the covenant to keep was not new to the world.
The ten principles of the law were formally proclaimed to Israel when the covenant was proposed so they knew what was required of them (Exodus 20:1-17). This was followed by judgments that prescribed how the principles applied in every day circumstances detailed in Exodus chapters 21 through to 23. Moses recorded the law and judgments as conditions of the covenant in the book of the covenant. Israel then agreed to abide by those conditions and the covenant was ratified, sealed with blood and the elders ceremonially celebrated the event before God (Exodus 24:4-11). After the covenant had been sealed and ratified Moses returned to God for further instruction concerning the tabernacle, the priesthood, sacrifices and ceremonies as detailed in Exodus chapters 25 to 31. After giving this instruction God wrote the ten commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18).
It should be noted that the book of the covenant was written by Moses at the time the covenant was sealed whereas the law was inscribed on tables of stone by God some forty days later signifying their holy and permanent nature apart from the covenant. The covenant and the law were two separate items. The covenant was merely an agreement to keep the law (Deuteronomy 4:13).
Some commentators refer to the commandments as the moral law, the judgments as civil law and the laws Moses received after the covenant was sealed as the ceremonial law.
While Moses was still receiving the ceremonial law, Israel was already breaking the covenant by worshipping a golden calf. Had Moses not pleaded directly with God they would have been destroyed at that time (Exodus 32:1-14). As a result the covenant was restored (Exodus 34:1-10) and the law rewritten by God on the tablets of stone (Exodus 34:1, 28 and Deuteronomy 10:2, 4). This was the law Israel once again agreed to obey and the tables of stone were stored in the Ark as a witness of their agreement with God (Exodus 25:21).
Statutes and Judgments
It is important to understand the meaning of terms like commandments, statutes and judgments. God’s law (word, commandments) defines overall principles of conduct. They are distinct from statutes that provide a guide as to how the law is to be applied under prescribed circumstances. Judgments on the other hand are generally the decisions made by those who have authority to judge and they set precedents in the application of the law when circumstances are not so clear cut. The fact that judgments were recited at Mount Sinai (Exodus 21:1) implies that these were past decisions made in regard to application of the law and further indicates that the law had already been in force. The statutes and judgments described how the law was to be applied in the circumstances of that time.
Later in Deuteronomy God modified some of the judgments because they were about to abandon their nomadic life to settle permanently in the promised land. This was something that only God as supreme authority and law maker had the power to do. The over riding principles of law (ten commandments) remained unchanged. It was only the application of the law prescribed in some of the judgments that was modified.
Ceremonies and Rituals
In addition to the commandments, statutes and judgments which Israel had agreed to keep, Moses received ceremonial laws including rituals and sacrifices. These laws had a prophetic element in that they foreshadowed future events such as the sacrifice of Christ and his future role as high priest, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things,” (Hebrews 10:1). And, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;” (Hebrews 3:1).
When the prophetic elements of these laws were fulfilled by Christ who became our high priest they were of no further use and were discarded accordingly, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Hebrews 7:12). They had been given to Israel after the covenant had been sealed and were quite separate from the 10 commandments. There was nothing to be gained by continuing to worship the shadow that had since been manifested in Christ, “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.” (Hebrews 7:18). Paul said, “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;” (Hebrews 8:1). For more information on this subject see our series of articles entitled Chasing Shadows.
Through the resurrected Christ as our High Priest the ceremonial laws had been fulfilled to their fullest spiritual intent. The Ten Commandments which were quite separate remain in force as he indicated in Matthew 5:17. Through his teachings Christ expanded the application of the law to its spiritual intent under the new covenant so they too can be fulfilled.
The Jews understood that the Ten Commandments are divided into two groups, ‘Items of the Decalogue are arranged in two groups. Duties toward God came first.’, and, ‘The second group contains duties toward fellow humans, which are depicted as being of equal concern to God.’ (Jewish Study Bible- JPS Tanakh Translation, notes on Exodus 20).
Christ acknowledged this concept in his teachings. When asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”. He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
He advised one young man that if he wanted eternal life then he must keep the commandments, “…there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17). He reminded him of the first great commandment and his duty toward God when he said, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” (verse 18).
Then he specifically mentioned five of the commandments from the second group, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.” (verses 19). He saved the sixth (thou shalt not covet)until last because the one fault this man had to deal with was his desire for wealth, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (verses 21-23).
Christ not only acknowledged the continuing application of the Ten Commandments but also made it clear that keeping the commandments is a pre-requisite for eternal life. He spoke out against those who broke the commandments and taught that it was acceptable to do so, “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20).
Instead of doing away with the law that express God’s divine nature he continued expanding the law to greater spiritual depth, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (verses 21-22).
This provided a better perspective of what God requires of believers, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (verses 27-28). And, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:” (verses 43-45).
Christ not only re-iterated the commandments in greater depth but also expanded some of the judgments by which the law had been applied in ancient times to give them a more appropriate application for this age (e.g. Matthew 5:31-32, 33-34 and 38-42).
Who Was Christ?
Who was Christ? And on whose authority did he speak when he said that he had not come to destroy the law? Paul said that Christ was the one who brought Israel out of Egypt, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (I Corinthians 10:1-4). In other words he was the one with whom Israel had a covenant relationship.
Christ the son of God was the Word through whom God created the universe. He existed with the Father as a member of the Godhead, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3). The Word, or spokesman became Christ, “…the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14-17). Christ is the spokesman of God the Father.
It was through Christ that the Father speaks to those of the new covenant, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2). He came with the full authority as spokesman of the Father to say that the law still remained in force under the new covenant which he was to mediate. He came to teach believers how to keep the law to its fullest spiritual intent so they can receive eternal life, a promise that far exceeded the physical promises made to Israel under the old covenant.
The old covenant that applied to Israel alone has now been replaced by the new and better covenant that applies to all mankind as they are called according to God’s timing. It is still an agreement to keep God’s eternal law which has not been destroyed, but can now be kept to its fullest spiritual intent with the help of the Holy Spirit. The statutes and judgments that previously defined how the letter of law could be kept had been superseded by the teachings of Christ that define how the law can be kept under the new covenant to its fullest spiritual intent in a way that fulfills the law.
The teachings of Christ are in effect the statutes and judgments of the New Covenant.
As the spokesman of God the Father, with His full authority Jesus Christ said that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). And when he spoke about the law he said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18). God expects man to live by His every word and your eternal life depends on how you obey His words.
God’s law is permanent. It has not been destroyed. But it will be fulfilled! Just as the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled with the advent of the resurrected Christ to be your High Priest, so too will the ten commandments be fulfilled in a spectacular and magnificent way that involves you! We shall see more about this in articles to follow.