The Greater Lawgiver

Matthew portrays Jesus as the Greater Moses and Lawgiver who brings the Law and the Prophets to their intended fulfillment

Mount Shasta Dawn - Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash
In Matthew’s gospel, the life of Jesus echoes events from the history of Israel. The point is not that he reenacts what Yahweh did for Israel, but that he brings what God began in the distant past to fruition. He is the Greater Lawgiver foreshadowed in the story of Moses and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt - [
Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash].

This is not simply for literary effect. By presenting parallels between Moses and Jesus, the gospel of Matthew sets the stage for the teachings of Jesus, especially his Sermon on the Mount.

Moses delivered the Law to Israel at Mount Sinai, and so, on the “mount,” Jesus pronounces his definitive interpretations of the “law and prophets.”

After the “wise men” tell Herod of their intent to find the one “born king of the Jews,” he asks them to inform him when they find the child so that he, too, can pay homage to him. But the “wise men” are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and so they returned home another way – (Matthew 2:1-12).

OUT OF EGYPT


Similarly, at the time Moses was born, the “king of Egypt” ordered the “Hebrew midwives” to kill all male infants when they were born. But the women “feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them” - (Exodus 1:17).

In Matthew, an angel warns Joseph to take the infant and his mother to Egypt, “for Herod will seek to destroy the child.” And that is exactly what the king does when he orders the slaughter of all the males under the age of two in Bethlehem.

Joseph and his family remained in Egypt until Herod died in fulfillment of the prophecy from the book of Hosea, originally, a passage applied to Israel that referred to the nation’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt - “Out of EgyptI called my son” - (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:13-16).

Likewise, Moses fled Egypt because Pharaoh sought to slay him, and he remained in Midian until Pharaoh died. Only then did Yahweh “hear the groanings of the children of Israel and remember his covenant with Abraham” and appeared to Moses, sending him back to Egypt to deliver Israel - (Exodus 2:15-25, 3:14).

After his baptism in the Jordan, the “Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil.” The temptations recorded in Matthew echo the tests that Israel faced in the wilderness, only she failed each test. In contrast, at each point, Jesus overcomes the Devil, and the scriptures he uses in response to Satan are chosen from that critical episode in Israel’s history - (Matthew 4:1-11).

THE WILDERNESS


In the wilderness, the Israelites complained about how they missed the “fleshpots of Egypt.” God responded by sending them “manna” to eat, which some of them came to despise.

Years later, Moses reminded the nation how God “fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh,” the very passage Jesus quotes to Satan in the wilderness - (Exodus 16:3, Deuteronomy 8:3).

At Massah, the Israelites grumbled about the lack of drinkable water, and in doing so, they “tempted Yahweh.” Before entering Canaan, Moses reminded them of the incident when he warned that “you shall not tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him in Massah.”

Jesus cites the same passage when Satan challenges him to throw himself down from the “pinnacle of the Temple” - (Exodus 17:1-7, Deuteronomy 6:16).

When the Devil offers Jesus political power, he responds by again citing the words of Moses issued to Israel:

  • Beware lest you forget Yahweh who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt. You shall fear Yahweh your God, and you shall serve him” - (Deuteronomy 6:12-13).

Next, Jesus returns to Galilee after successfully resisting Satan. Once there, he begins to proclaim the gospel. Consequently, “great multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea” began to follow him - (Matthew 4:18-25).


Galilee Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash
[Sea of Galilee by Dave Herring on Unsplash]


The geographic names point to crowds comprised of both Gentiles and Jews. In the same passage, Galilee is referred to as “Galilee of the nations,” and in the first century, it was populated by Jews and Gentiles. “Decapolis” refers to the confederation of ten cities with largely Greek-speaking and non-Jewish populations to the east of Galilee.

Matthew’s description of the “multitudes” is reminiscent of the “mixed multitude” that “came up with the children of Israel” when God brought them out of Egypt “with a high hand…and with signs and with wonders.”

Likewise, in Galilee, many members of the “multitude” that follow Jesus are attracted by his miraculous healings and exorcisms – (Exodus 12:38, Deuteronomy 26:8).

SERMON ON THE MOUNT


The background from Exodus and Deuteronomy prepares the reader for the first major block of Christ’s teachings, his Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5 of Matthew, after “seeing the multitudes,” Jesus leads his disciples “up into the mountain,” and there, he sits down and begins to teach them.

The Greek text uses the definite article or “the” with “mountain.” It was “the mountain.” However, the text does not name the mountain or provide any information about its identity. Instead, it includes a verbal allusion to the story of Moses when he “ascended unto the mount” at Sinai.

Matthew wants us to hear these parallels with the story of Moses. While Israel was encamped on the plain, Moses “went up to Yahweh” on the mount to receive the “ten words” inscribed by God on the stone tablets.

In the Greek Septuagint version of Exodus, Moses “ascended unto the mount” (anebĂ© eis to oros), which is precisely the same clause found in the Greek text of Matthew when Jesus “ascended unto the mount” (anebĂ© eis to oros). This is not coincidental.

Moses also set “bounds for the people” around the mountain to prevent the Israelites from even approaching it, so none would “go up into the mount” as he had done, and anyone who even touched it would “surely be put to death” - (Exodus 12:12-25).

When he ascended the mountain again into the presence of Yahweh, only Aaron went with him. Not even the sanctified priests were allowed on the mountain – “Let not the priests and the people break through to ascend up unto Yahweh, lest he break forth upon them.”

Thus, having ascended the “mount” like Moses before him, Jesus teaches the words of God to his disciples. Unlike Moses, he gives the definitive interpretation of the Law and the will of his Father. The “law came through Moses, but grace and truth came to be through Jesus.” The Son dwells in the “bosom of the Father” and therefore is the only one qualified to “interpret” the unseen God.



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