(1) The aim and significance of God’s work in the Age of Law
Relevant Words of God:
The work that Jehovah did upon the Israelites established among humanity God’s earthly place of origin, which was also the sacred place where He was present. He confined His work to the people of Israel. At first, He did not work outside of Israel; instead, He chose a people He found suitable in order to restrict the scope of His work. Israel is the place where God created Adam and Eve, and out of the dust of that place Jehovah made man; this place became the base of His work on earth. The Israelites, who were the descendants of Noah and also the descendants of Adam, were the human foundation of Jehovah’s work on earth.
At this time, the significance, purpose, and phases of Jehovah’s work in Israel were to initiate His work on the whole earth, which, taking Israel as its center, gradually spread into the Gentile nations. This is the principle according to which He works throughout the universe—to establish a model and then broaden it until all people in the universe shall have received His gospel. The first Israelites were the descendants of Noah. These people were endowed only with the breath of Jehovah, and understood enough to take care of the basic necessities of life, but they did not know what kind of a God Jehovah was, or His will for man, much less how they should revere the Lord of all creation. As for whether there were rules and laws to be obeyed, and whether there was work that created beings should do for the Creator: Adam’s descendants knew nothing of these things. All they knew was that the husband should sweat and labor to provide for his family, and that the wife should submit to her husband and perpetuate the race of humans that Jehovah had created. In other words, this people, who had only Jehovah’s breath and His life, knew nothing of how to follow God’s laws or how to satisfy the Lord of all creation. They understood far too little. So even though there was nothing crooked or deceitful in their hearts and jealousy and contention seldom arose among them, nevertheless they had no knowledge or understanding of Jehovah, the Lord of all creation. These ancestors of man knew only to eat the things of Jehovah, and to enjoy the things of Jehovah, but they did not know to revere Jehovah; they did not know that Jehovah is the One they should worship on bended knee. So how could they be called His creatures? If this were so, what of the words, “Jehovah is the Lord of all creation” and “He created man in order that man might manifest Him, glorify Him, and represent Him”—would they not have been spoken in vain? How could people who have no reverence for Jehovah become a testimony to His glory? How could they become manifestations of His glory? Would not Jehovah’s words “I created man in My image” then become a weapon in the hands of Satan—the evil one? Would these words not then become a mark of humiliation to Jehovah’s creation of man? In order to complete that stage of work, Jehovah, after creating mankind, did not instruct or guide them from the time of Adam to that of Noah. Rather, it was not until after the flood destroyed the world that He formally began to guide the Israelites, who were the descendants of Noah and also of Adam. His work and utterances in Israel gave guidance to all the people of Israel as they lived their lives throughout the land of Israel, and in this way showed humanity that Jehovah was not only able to blow breath into man, that he might have life from Him and rise up from the dust into a created human being, but that He could also incinerate mankind, and curse mankind, and use His rod to govern mankind. So, too, did they see that Jehovah could guide man’s life on earth, and speak and work among humanity according to the hours of the day and of the night. He did the work only so that His creatures might know that man came from dust picked up by Him, and moreover that man had been made by Him. Not only this, but the work He began in Israel was meant so that other peoples and nations (who in fact were not separate from Israel, but rather had branched off from the Israelites, yet were still descended from Adam and Eve) might receive the gospel of Jehovah from Israel, so that all created beings in the universe might be able to revere Jehovah and hold Him to be great. Had Jehovah not begun His work in Israel, but instead, having created mankind, let them live carefree lives on the earth, then in that case, owing to man’s physical nature (nature means that man can never know the things he cannot see, which is to say that he would not know that it was Jehovah who created mankind, and even less why He did so), he would never know that it was Jehovah who created mankind or that He is the Lord of all creation. If Jehovah had created man and placed him on the earth to be an object for His own enjoyment, and then simply dusted off His hands and left, rather than remaining among mankind to give them guidance for a period of time, then in that case all humanity would have returned to nothingness; even heaven and earth and all the myriad things of His making, and all of humanity, would have returned to nothingness and moreover have been trampled upon by Satan. In this way Jehovah’s wish that “On the earth, that is, in the midst of His creation, He should have a place to stand, a holy place” would have been shattered. And so, after creating mankind, that He was able to remain in their midst to guide them in their lives, and speak to them from within their midst, all this was in order to realize His desire, and to achieve His plan. The work He did in Israel was meant only to execute the plan He had set in place before His creation of all things, and therefore His working first among the Israelites and His creation of all things were not at odds with each other, but were both for the sake of His management, His work, and His glory, and also in order to deepen the meaning of His creation of mankind. He guided the life of mankind on earth for two thousand years after Noah, during which He taught humanity to understand how to revere Jehovah the Lord of all creation, how to conduct their lives and how to go on living, and most of all, how to act as a witness for Jehovah, render Him obedience, and give Him reverence, even praising Him with music as did David and his priests.
Prior to the two thousand years during which Jehovah did His work, man knew nothing, and almost all humanity had fallen into depravity, until, before the destruction of the world by the flood, they had reached a depth of promiscuity and corruption in which their hearts were empty of Jehovah, and even emptier of His way. They never understood the work Jehovah was going to do; they lacked reason, had even less of knowledge, and, like a machine that breathes, were consummately ignorant of man, God, the world, life and alike. On earth they engaged in many seductions, like the serpent, and said many things that were offensive to Jehovah, but because they were ignorant Jehovah did not chastise or discipline them. Only after the flood, when Noah was 601 years old, did Jehovah formally appear to Noah and guide him and his family, leading the birds and beasts that had survived the flood along with Noah and his descendants, until the end of the Age of Law, in all 2,500 years. He was at work in Israel, that is, formally at work, for a total of 2,000 years, and at work simultaneously in Israel and outside of it for 500 years, together making 2,500 years. During this period, He instructed the Israelites that to serve Jehovah, they should build a temple, put on priestly robes, and walk barefoot into the temple at dawn, lest their shoes sully the temple and the fire be sent down on them from the top of the temple and burn them to death. They carried out their duties and submitted to Jehovah’s plans. They prayed to Jehovah in the temple, and after receiving Jehovah’s revelation, that is, after Jehovah had spoken, they led the multitudes and taught them that they should show reverence to Jehovah—their God. And Jehovah told them that they should build a temple and an altar, and at the time set by Jehovah, that is, on Passover, they should prepare newborn calves and lambs to place on the altar as sacrifices to serve Jehovah, so as to restrain them and put reverence for Jehovah in their hearts. Whether they obeyed this law became the measure of their loyalty to Jehovah. Jehovah also ordained the Sabbath day for them, the seventh day of His creation. The day after the Sabbath He made the first day, a day for them to praise Jehovah, to offer Him sacrifices, and to make music for Him. On this day, Jehovah called together all the priests to divide the sacrifices on the altar for the people to eat, so that they could enjoy the sacrifices on Jehovah’s altar. And Jehovah said that they were blessed, that they shared a portion with Him, and that they were His chosen people (which was Jehovah’s covenant with the Israelites). This is why, up to this day, the people of Israel still say that Jehovah is only their God, and not the God of other peoples.
During the Age of Law, Jehovah laid down many commandments for Moses to pass on to the Israelites who followed him out of Egypt. These commandments were given by Jehovah to the Israelites, and bore no relation to the Egyptians; they were meant to restrain the Israelites. God used the commandments to demand of them. Whether they observed the Sabbath, whether they respected their parents, whether they worshiped idols, and so forth: these were the principles by which they were judged sinful or righteous. Among them, there were some who were stricken by Jehovah’s fire, some who were stoned to death, and some who received Jehovah’s blessing, and this was determined according to whether or not they obeyed these commandments. Those who did not observe the Sabbath would be stoned to death. Those priests who did not observe the Sabbath would be stricken by Jehovah’s fire. Those who did not show respect to their parents would also be stoned to death. This was all commended by Jehovah. Jehovah established His commandments and laws so that, as He led them in their lives, the people would listen to and obey His word and not rebel against Him. He used these laws to keep the newborn human race under control, the better to lay the foundation for His future work. And so, based on the work that Jehovah did, the first age was called the Age of Law. Though Jehovah made many utterances and did much work, He only guided the people positively, teaching these ignorant people how to be human, how to live, how to understand Jehovah’s way. For the most part, the work He did was to cause the people to observe His way and follow His laws. The work was done on people who were shallowly corrupted; it did not extend as far as transforming their disposition or progress in life. He was only concerned with using laws to restrict and control the people. For the Israelites at that time, Jehovah was merely a God in the temple, a God in the heavens. He was a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire. All Jehovah required them to do was obey what people today know as His laws and commandments—one could even say rules—because what Jehovah did was not meant to transform them, but to give them more things that man ought to have, to instruct them from His own mouth, because after being created, man had nothing about what he ought to possess. And so, Jehovah gave to the people the things they ought to possess for their lives on earth, making the people that He had led surpass their ancestors, Adam and Eve, because what Jehovah gave them surpassed what He had given Adam and Eve in the beginning. Regardless, the work Jehovah did in Israel was only to guide humanity and make humanity recognize their Creator. He did not conquer them or transform them, but merely guided them. This is the sum of Jehovah’s work in the Age of Law. It is the background, the true story, the essence of His work in the whole land of Israel, and the beginning of His six thousand years of work—to keep mankind under the control of Jehovah’s hand. Out of this was born more work in His six-thousand-year management plan.
from “The Work in the Age of Law” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
In the beginning, guiding man during the Old Testament Age of Law was like guiding the life of a child. Earliest mankind was newly born of Jehovah; they were the Israelites. They had no understanding of how to revere God or how to live on earth. Which is to say, Jehovah created mankind, that is, He created Adam and Eve, but He did not give them the faculties to understand how to revere Jehovah or follow the laws of Jehovah on earth. Without the direct guidance of Jehovah, no one could know this directly, for in the beginning man did not possess such faculties. Man only knew that Jehovah was God, but as for how to revere Him, what kind of conduct could be called revering Him, with what kind of mind one was to revere Him, or what to offer up in reverence of Him: man had absolutely no idea. Man only knew how to enjoy that which could be enjoyed among all the things created by Jehovah, but regarding what kind of life on earth was worthy of a creature of God, he had no inkling whatsoever. Without someone to instruct them, without someone to guide them personally, this mankind would never have led a life properly befitting humanity, but would only have been furtively held captive by Satan. Jehovah created mankind, that is to say, He created the ancestors of mankind, Eve and Adam, but He did not bestow upon them any further intellect or wisdom. Although they were already living on earth, they understood almost nothing. And so, Jehovah’s work in creating mankind was only half finished, and was far from complete. He had only formed a model of man from clay and given it His breath, but without bestowing unto man sufficient willingness to revere Him. In the beginning, man was not of a mind to revere Him, or to fear Him. Man only knew how to listen to His words but was ignorant of the basic knowledge for life on earth and of the proper rules of human life. And so, although Jehovah created man and woman and finished the project of seven days, He by no means completed the creation of man, for man was but a husk, and lacked the reality of being human. Man only knew that it was Jehovah who had created mankind, but he had no inkling of how to abide by the words or the laws of Jehovah. And so, after mankind came into being, the work of Jehovah was far from over. He still had to fully guide mankind to come before Him, so that they might be able to live together on earth and revere Him, and so that they might be able, with His guidance, to enter upon the right track of a normal human life on earth. Only then was the work that had been principally conducted under the name of Jehovah fully completed; that is, only then was Jehovah’s work of creating the world fully concluded. And so, having created mankind, He had to guide mankind’s life on earth for several thousand years, in order that mankind might be able to abide by His decrees and laws, and partake in all the activities of a normal human life on earth. Only then was Jehovah’s work fully complete. He undertook this work after creating mankind and continued it until the era of Jacob, at which time He made the twelve sons of Jacob into the twelve tribes of Israel. From that time onward, all the people of Israel became the human race that was officially led by Him on earth, and Israel became the particular location on earth where He did His work. Jehovah made these people the first group of people on whom He officially did His work on earth, and He made the entire land of Israel the point of origin for His work, using them as the beginning of even greater work, so that all people born from Him on earth would know how to revere Him and how to live on earth. And so, the deeds of the Israelites became an example to be followed by the people of Gentile nations, and that which was said among the people of Israel became words to be listened to by the people of Gentile nations. For they were the first to receive the laws and commandments of Jehovah, and so too were they the first to know how to revere the ways of Jehovah. They were the ancestors of the human race who knew the ways of Jehovah, as well as the representatives of the human race chosen by Jehovah.
from “The Vision of God’s Work (3)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
So, you’ve read these regulations and principles of the Age of Law, yes? Do the regulations encompass a broad range? First, they cover the Ten Commandments, after which are the regulations for how to build altars, and so on. These are followed by regulations for keeping the Sabbath and observing the three feasts, after which are the regulations for offerings. Did you see how many types of offerings there are? There are burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and so on, which are followed by regulations for priests’ offerings, including burnt offerings and grain offerings by priests, and other kinds of offerings. The eighth regulations are for the eating of offerings by priests, and then there are regulations for what should be observed during people’s lives. There are stipulations for many aspects of people’s lives, such as the regulations for what they may or may not eat, for the purification of women following childbirth, and for those who have been healed of leprosy. In these regulations, God goes so far as to speak about disease, and there are even rules for the slaughter of sheep and cattle, and so on. Sheep and cattle were created by God, and you should slaughter them however God tells you to; there is, without doubt, reason to God’s words, it is undoubtedly right to act as decreed by God, and surely of benefit to people! There are also feasts and rules to be observed, such as the Sabbath day, Passover, and more—God spoke of all of these. Let us look at the final ones: other regulations—burning the lamps, the Year of Jubilee, the redemption of the land, making vows, the offering of tithes, and so on. Do these encompass a broad range? The first thing to be talked of is the issue of people’s offerings, then there are regulations for theft and compensation, and the observation of the Sabbath day…; every one of life’s details is involved. Which is to say, when God began the official work of His management plan, He set down many regulations that were to be followed by man. These regulations were in order to allow man to lead the normal life of man on earth, a normal life of man that is inseparable from God and His guidance. God first told man how to make altars, how to set up the altars. After that, He told man how to make offerings, and established how man was to live—what he was to pay attention to in life, what he was to abide by, what he should and should not do. What God set out for man was all-embracing, and with these customs, regulations, and principles He standardized people’s behavior, guided their lives, guided their initiation to the laws of God, guided them to come before the altar of God, guided them in having a life among all the things God had made for man that was possessed of order, regularity, and moderation. God first used these simple regulations and principles to set limits for man, so that on earth man would have a normal life of worshiping God, would have the normal life of man; such is the specific content of the beginning of His six-thousand-year management plan. The regulations and rules cover a very broad content, they are the specifics of God’s guidance of mankind during the Age of Law, they had to be accepted and honored by the people who came before the Age of Law, they are a record of the work done by God during the Age of Law, and they are real proof of God’s leadership and guidance of all mankind.
from “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II” in Continuation of The Word Appears in the Flesh
Earliest mankind knew nothing, and so God had to begin teaching man from the most superficial and basic principles for survival and regulations necessary for living, imbuing these things in the heart of man bit by bit, and giving man a gradual understanding of God, a gradual appreciation and understanding of God’s leadership, and a basic concept of the relationship between man and God, through these regulations, and through these rules, which were of words. After achieving this effect, only then was God able to, little by little, do the work that He would do later, and thus these regulations and the work done by God during the Age of Law are the bedrock of His work of saving mankind, and the first stage of work in God’s management plan.
from “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II” in Continuation of The Word Appears in the Flesh
The work of Jehovah was to directly lead and shepherd man through setting forth the laws so that man could live a normal life and worship Jehovah in a normal manner on earth. God in the Age of Law was One who could neither be seen nor touched by man. He was merely leading men first corrupted by Satan, and He was there to instruct and shepherd these men, so the words He spoke were only of statutes, ordinances, and common knowledge of living life as a man, and not at all of truths that supply the life of man. The Israelites under His leadership were not those deeply corrupted by Satan. His work of law was only the very first stage in the work of salvation, the very beginning of the work of salvation, and had practically nothing to do with the changes in the life disposition of man.
from “The Difference Between the Ministry of the Incarnate God and the Duty of Man” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
During the Age of Law, the work of guiding mankind was done under the name of Jehovah, and the first stage of work was initiated on earth. At this stage, the work consisted of building the temple and the altar, and using the law to guide the people of Israel and to work in their midst. By guiding the people of Israel, He launched a base for His work on earth. From this base, He expanded His work beyond Israel, which is to say that, starting from Israel, He extended His work outward, so that later generations gradually came to know that Jehovah was God, and that it was Jehovah who created the heavens and earth and all things, and that it was Jehovah who made all creatures. He spread His work through the people of Israel outward beyond them. The land of Israel was the first holy place of Jehovah’s work on earth, and it was in the land of Israel that God first went to work on earth. That was the work of the Age of Law.
from “The Vision of God’s Work (3)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh