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The law of Moses was given to the children of Israel by God after they escaped their captivity in Egypt. Their leader, Moses, climbed Mount Sinai and spoke with God. During this meeting, God revealed to Moses His law for the Israelites. It included many rules and rituals, all of which were meant to point people’s minds to the coming of Jesus Christ. God gave the law of Moses as a preparatory law that would be replaced when the Messiah actually came.

The Children of Israel Are Given the Law of Moses

When Moses first spoke with God on top of Mount Sinai, he was given a law that contained the fullness of the gospel—a higher law that would bring great blessings to the children of Israel. When Moses came down from the mount, however, he found the children of Israel worshiping idols and committing all kinds of other sins in the process. In despair, Moses threw down the stone tablets that held this higher law and destroyed them.

Moses returned to the mount, where God gave him a lesser law that would not provide as many blessings to the people. This was used as preparation for the higher law. The law of Moses contained many aspects that governed temporal and spiritual life, and included what we know today as the Ten Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth…
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work…
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
  8. Neither shalt thou steal.
  9. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Deut 5: 7-21)

The Rituals of the Law of Moses

The law of Moses included many rituals which have symbolic meaning. For example, the Israelites were commanded to perform ritual sacrifice of animals. For many of these sacrifices, the animal had to be a firstborn without any physical blemishes. These sacrifices were symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was the only begotten, firstborn son of our Heavenly Father and a person without sin.

Over time, Jewish religious leaders added ceremonies and rules to the law, which came to be known as the “traditions of the elders.” By the time Jesus lived on the earth, the law of Moses had grown into something quite different from the commandments originally given to Moses by God. It had grown to the point where the people practically worshiped the law more than they worshiped God.

Jesus spoke against this version of the law of Moses championed by the Jewish religious group known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees took an extreme application of the law to show off their religious piety and were condemned by Jesus as hypocrites for missing the true spirit of the law.

Fulfilling the Law of Moses

When Jesus Christ had completed His sacrifice, death, and resurrection, it was no longer necessary for people to live the law of Moses. The law was meant to help people anticipate the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and so it was time for it to be replaced.

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ records the resurrected Savior’s words on this subject when He visited a group of people in the Americas:

Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses.  Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfill the law; therefore it hath an end. Behold, I do not destroy the prophets, for as many as have not been fulfilled in me, verily I say unto you, shall all be fulfilled. (3 Nephi 3:15)

Jesus then gave a higher law, one that was not so focused on rituals and performances. This law did not include long lists of things to do and things to avoid, but was encompassed by two great laws:

…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 22:37-40)

This is not to say that we should stop living the Ten Commandments. If we love both God and our neighbor with all our heart, soul, and mind, we will naturally live the Ten Commandments. We will also refrain from doing anything not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments that will harm our neighbor or our relationship to God.

More about “The Law of Moses”

“The Law of Moses” was written by Michael D. Young. The subject “The Law of Moses” is important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to know more about Mormons with no obligation, please click on the following links: