AUTHORITY AND THE OLD TESTAMENT

Mike Johnson

 One of the most vital questions involved in the study of Christianity is the question of supreme authority.   During the life of Christ, this question was discussed as the chief priests and elders asked, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Mt. 21:23)  Authority is certainly needed, and we must recognize the importance of the authority of God, Christ, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word.

There are a number of passages in the Old Testament which emphasize the need for adhering to God’s Word.  These passages make it clear that we are to obey the instructions of God and not deviate from them in any way.

An example of this is found in Deuteronomy 4.  Earlier Moses had addressed the people and had given a survey of the events which had occurred in their history showing what God had done for them.  In this chapter, he admonishes Israel concerning what they should do as subjects of God.  Verse 1 says, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.”  It was not enough for them to “harken” to God’s commandments; they also had to obey them.  Many today are interested in religion, and might even enjoy a good sermon from time to time, but they have no desire to obey God.  It is not enough just to listen to teaching from God’s Word; we must also be willing to obey.    Verse six points out that we must “keep” and “do” God’s commandments.  So, the law was not simply given “for their information” as they were expected to obey it. Verse two says, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”  The NASB translates this “add to,” nor “take away from.” (Note also Rev. 22:18-19.) An example is brought up in verse three where they had disobeyed the Lord and the result was that many were destroyed.  Verse four says, “But ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.”  The Pulpit Commentary points out that the word used here “is expressive of the closest, most intimate attachment and communion” and that it is “frequently used of devotion to the service and worship of the true God.”  (p. 58)

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses pointed out to the people the importance of strictly obeying God’s commandments.  It says, “Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. (v.  32-33)”  God’s Word is pictured as a highway from which a person is not allowed to deviate from in any direction.

After Moses died, Joshua became the new leader of the people, and he also pointed out the importance of obeying God’s Word.  Israel was now on the verge of entering the land that God had promised them, and Joshua told them (Josh. 1:7), “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”

In Numbers 22, Israel was about to battle Moab.  Israel had been very successful militarily, and Balak, the king of Moab, was afraid of Israel.  As a result, he tried to get Balaam to prophecy against Israel.  Balaam, a greedy person (Jude 11), wanted to prophecy against Israel for the rewards which were offered.  Nevertheless, Balaam stated it correctly when he said to the servants of Balak, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.”  (22:18)   Later, he told Balak that he could not go “beyond the commandments of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak” (24:13).   We need to have the same attitude today that Balaam expressed toward the Word of God.

Consider a few other passages which emphasize the need to adhere strictly to God’s Word.  Proverbs 4:26-27 says, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.  Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”  Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.  Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”  In Leviticus 18:4-5, God told Moses to tell the people, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God.  Ye shall therefore keep my statues, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.”

Today we are no longer under the Old Testament (Col. 2:14).  The Old Testament, however, is for our learning today (Rom. 15:4, I Cor. 10:11).  God’s Word had to be respected under the old law, and various passages in the New Testament make it clear that it must be respected today.  What is your attitude toward God’s Word?